Newsflash! Stress Causes Herpes Outbreaks

Yeah, I know, this isn’t exactly news, certainly not for anyone who’s been living with herpes for any amount of time. I get herpes so often though, that I’ve generally stopped associating my outbreaks with anything in particular. But this past weekend was a doozy and my body did that thing where it reminded me of how everything is connected. Which, I’ll admit, is very cool, even if the outcome kind of sucks sometimes.

I’ve been attending this amazing program called the Sexual Health Educator Certification through Options for Sexual Health in Vancouver. I’ve been going back and forth to BC for long weekends to complete the program and still have a few trips to go. Traveling, in and of itself, doesn’t have to be stressful, but traveling some distance for a quick trip and a whole lotta learning, is something that I find pretty tiring. Learning how to become a better sex educator is a dream come true, but also a very challenging process. We get a chance each weekend to practice teach, on camera, for our fellow students. We pretend that they’re a group of grade 8’s or 10’s or 2’s and then we deliver our session with learning outcomes in mind. This past weekend, me and my team were teaching the importance of getting tested for STI’s to a group of ‘grade 8’s’. Amazing, right? But my body and brain freaked out at the thought of being watched by all these professional educators (some of whom are actually teaching kids of this age), my incredibly talented and intimidating instructor and that video camera rolling. We were presenting on Sunday, so on Friday night I did some preliminary research and by Saturday night, I had my portion written and my cue cards ready. Both nights I was quietly fretting about my performance. I rehearsed in front of a mirror (and felt ridiculous), and I studied extra info about STI’s in case of questions, so my brain thought I was pretty prepared. My gut, however, was not happy. My whole body was in a cold sweat every time I thought of my presentation and I just couldn’t shake it. To put this into context, I have delivered probably 400 talks to a wide variety of audiences, from tiny in home presentations where everyone is in a party mood, to conferences for health professionals and everything in between, I love talking about sex and I’m pretty comfortable speaking to groups of whatever make up and size. I spend most of my days talking to folks in the shop too, and have been for 17 years. This is my topic, I love talking about everything related to sex, this is what I love to do. So the idea that I’m under so much duress about this short presentation, is just as uncomfortable as the presentation itself. So, you probably know where this is going. I woke up on Sunday morning with herpes. And not just your garden variety, man that hurts but I’ll get through it kind of herpes, this was the mother load. My little virus friend who’s been living with me for almost 30 years took this opportunity to come out in full force. I haven’t had an outbreak like this for so many years that I don’t remember the last time. I’ve got parallels of blisters running up and down either side of my labia and a whole vulva that’s participating by being swollen too. Everyone wants in on this little viral party, it would seem. So I gave my presentation with swollen glands, a headache and the vulva of doom, and once I start talking, I got flustered a couple of times in front of everyone, and then I started to cry. 400 presentations under my belt and on number 401, I start to cry. I’m crying because I got flustered, because I’m in pain, because my body is yelling at me for getting so worked up and over-tired, cause I don’t feel qualified or particularly talented. I’m crying cause I feel awful. They stop the video, I pull myself together in the bathroom, my lovely and intimidating instructor gives me a sweet pep talk and then I try again. It works, I forget some important points, but it’s fine and it’s done. I spend the rest of the day listening to others speak and my body goes into full viral bloom. This outbreak starts coming to a head, I feel nauseous, my head is pounding, I’m full blown sick and all because stress allowed the herpes virus to make it’s way down my nerve pathways and explode through my skin.

It’s two days after my presentation and I’m trying not to wear pants or underpants. I’m considering only peeing in the bath tub, and I’ve asked my girlfriend to blow on my sores for some relief. I’m giving my body what it needs to recover; lots of kale, vitamin c, sleep and skirts. Nobody can eliminate stress from their lives, but sometimes a good kick in the pants about how our bodies are fighting to stay ahead of the stress is a good reminder to keep some perspective and cut ourselves some slack.

Shelley

Blog Hop!

It’s been a long time! Thanks to Andrea Zanin for encouraging me back to the herpes blog by asking me to take part in the Blog Hop. The Hop is basically a blog chain letter where writers answer some questions about their upcoming book (or not, as is the case for me), and then include a few other bloggers to take part by including them in the post (see below). Andrea is one of my favorite sex, relationship, and kink bloggers as well as being a lovely human and excellent facilitator!
 
What is the work­ing title of your next book?
 
I’m not writing a book, just trying to come up with new blogs more than I have been recently. Sometimes I’m full of the herpes blogging energy, and sometimes I’m not. I’m using the blog hop as an excuse to remind myself that I love talking and writing about sex.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
 
The herpes blog came out of my own personal experience of contracting herpes when I was 18. I was clueless about sex and STI’s at the time and was devastated by the diagnosis. Herpes had a giant impact on my life and it took years to (almost) eradicate the shame I felt from living with the virus.
What genre does your book fall under?
 
‘Sexual Health Information’? That sounds so dry, maybe ‘Sex Positivity Through Shameless Fucking and Dealing with the (Good and Bad) Consequences’ would be a better, yet slightly more awkward description.
Which actors would you choose to play your char­ac­ters in a movie ren­di­tion?
 
Tilda Swinton and Jennifer Tilley. They would wear a lot of transparent clothing and talk in those fucking sexy voices. They would also have a lot of lovers.
What is the one-sentence syn­op­sis of your book?
 
Girl gets herpes and it makes her a better person. Ugh, sorry.
Will your book be self-published or rep­re­sented by an agency?
 
WordPress is about as self-published as one can get.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your man­u­script?
 
The first blog had been rolling around in my head for years so when I finally sat down to write it, things came pretty quickly. Editing, not so much…
 
 
What other books would you com­pare this to within your genre?
 
Hmm, I’m not sure. There are books out there about herpes but they’re mostly pretty clinical and I’ve never found a blog like mine. Most of the herpes information on line are either ‘how to meet other singles with herpes’, or medical/health blogs.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
 
Like I said earlier, this was very much a project based on  personal experience and coming to terms with my life after getting herpes.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s inter­est?
 
What could be more interesting than first person accounts of people living (quite well for the most part) with herpes?! Also, Midori has contributed, so there’s a little star power to pique the interest.
Here are the writ­ers whose work you can check out next:
 
Adorkable Undies is the witty and sweet brainchild of Nadine Thornhill. Nadine is an Ottawa girl with a sordid past that involved working for Venus Envy and Planned Parenthood as well as a penchant for taking her clothes off on stage. Adorkable Undies cleverly and skillfully tackles a wide range of sex, feminist and relationship issues plus there’s Fashion Fridays, something that always makes me smile.
Ignacio Rivera is a Queer, gender-shifting, Trans-Entity, Black Boricua, lecturer, activist, filmmaker and performance artist. Ignacio has shared their poetry, spoken word and storytelling for over 10 years. Ignacio’s blog, Poly Patao Productions is a smart and thoughtful collection of personal musings on sex, kink, class, race, gender, and culture as well as sex toy reviews, a Q&A column and events.
Filthy E-Mails is a blog dedicated to publishing sexy, sweet and just filthy messages sent across the web for all to see. A forum for people to anonymously post erotic messages they have sent online (today’s love letter… but more smutty).
Any blog called A Finger in the Pie is going to get my attention. This super cute food blog has restaurant reviews, photos, and recipes for late night (and late morning) creations, as well as some useful and entertaining cooking and food tidbits. And the ice cream on this pie? A kick-ass sound track suggestion for every recipe!

Outing Myself

You’d think that once you’ve come out as having herpes on the CBC, as well as publishing a blog about having herpes that the work would be done. But, in reality, I think about having herpes all the time and worry that people will judge me, find me unattractive, think I’m diseased and therefore disgusting all the time, no matter how often I say it out loud.

Tonight I was at a gathering, and it was really fun and someone asked me what my ‘claim to fame’ was. I said it was telling the world, through the CBC that I have herpes. He was a lovely young man and his response was ” wow, you have herpes”.  Since he’s an aware and wonderful person, he meant it like ‘great, so many people do but I never meet anyone who actually says it’ kind of way. But I clenched and felt judged. Which is my stuff, not his and I wonder if I’ll ever get over it. And then I wonder how people who keep herpes a secret manage to tell others or come out about having herpes when it feels like such a challenge to me, even after telling the whole world about it.

Shelley

Location, Location, Location

If you don’t have herpes, it’s likely you haven’t spent a whole lot of time thinking about where people get them. Yes there’s the mouth or the genitals, but there’s a whole lot more to consider than up or down. Some of the various sensitive bits are more sensitive than others, so when you get painful sores on the more sensitive bits, it’s much more uncomfortable than it might be otherwise. As someone with genital herpes, I get sores all over the place, from my butt cheeks to my labia to my mons. The first day with herpes usually means I won’t sleep very well and will feel generally cranky and under the weather. But if those sores are near my clit or my ass, one day of discomfort can stretch into three with the first two being so painful that I take tylenol and can’t ride my bike. I find this moving about business to be pretty strange and frustrating. Do others have the same experience? I was lead to believe when I contracted herpes that I would get sores in the same place, the place of first contact over and over, and I’ve read almost nothing that talks about this phenomenon. So, is it just me? Or do you also have a wide range of eruption sites? I love the term eruption sites, I think that was what the very first pamphlet I ever read called them..

Shelley

How Herpes Saved My Life – by Midori

How Herpes Saved My Life – by Midori.

How Herpes Saved My Life – by Midori

I have genital and oral herpes—and I swear it saved my life. It sounds weird, I know, but it’s true.

I contracted herpes as an undergrad at Berkeley in the mid 80s. My boyfriend had a cold sore on his lips after the first sunny day of skiing. Since childhood he would get the same little blister after the first day on the slopes, so he didn’t think much of it. Both of us ignorant of the potential transmissions to genital areas, he went gloriously down on me.

If I hadn’t contracted herpes in college, I think I would have engaged in a lot of stupid, unsafe sex. I’d likely have contracted far more serious sexual transmitted conditions. Let’s be serious, I’d be… Dead.A week or so later my entire vulva erupted in horribly painful oozing sores. The nurse practitioner at the university health clinic coldly declared the diagnosis and bluntly dismissed me with a prescription slip. She was neither helpful nor comforting for this scared kid. Judgment hardened her face.

This initial outbreak lasted for a couple of painful weeks. For the next few years I suffered frequent and debilitating outbreaks. Why did I suffer so when others with the same disease got away with hardly an itch?

As I struggled with feeling contaminated and crippled during that first year, I was accepted into an excellent seminar on the mind-body connection in the Psychology department. As a coping mechanism of the grieving nerd, I decided to make herpes recurrences and triggers my research topic. Since this was before the Interweb, much less Google or medical information sites, it wasn’t uncommon for the average citizen to be totally in the dark about their medical conditions. Armed with treasured access to the university library, I combed through card catalog (how archaic!) databases on disparate current research. This research process, supported by a non-judgmental and brilliant professor, helped me to better understand the disease, manage outbreaks and, most importantly, normalized the situation for me.

But that’s not how herpes saved my life.

In college I claimed my sexual rights as an adult and became very sexually active and very experimental. I continued in my sexual growth as I moved from Berkeley to San Francisco. This was during the death-filled days of the AIDS pandemic. Having herpes was just so common that it just wasn’t a big deal under the shadow of HIV’s certain death sentence at the time.

My Herpes—yes, I saw the disease now as mine; the very bugs that would now live in my basal ganglion and share my body with me, as common as the bacteria in my stomach and mitochondria in each of my cells, were part of me now. My Herpes became the little annoyance that gave me the best reason/alibi/excuse ever to whip out a condom or dam or gloves with that new hottie I hooked up with. I’d smile and tell them I have herpes and talk about it as a common nuisance. I’d then tell them I was hot for them and don’t want to harm them so I’d like to use a condom. I figured that if anyone had an issue with hot latex sex with me because of My Herpes, they didn’t like me, the whole person. I wouldn’t want to hang out with such a shallow sob.

It never caused a problem and no one ran away. With each occasion I felt stronger, smarter and sexier.

If I hadn’t contracted herpes in college, I think I would have engaged in a lot of stupid, unsafe sex. I’d likely have contracted far more serious sexual transmitted conditions.

Let’s be serious, I’d be…

Dead.

Herpes is most contagious right before an outbreak and continues to be transmittable through the outbreak. You may or may not know when you’re in a pre-outbreak stage. Some people feel a tingling sensation, others don’t.

If you want to know more about the real facts on herpes, the CDC’s website has some great info. One stat reads that 1 out of 5 sexually active adolescents and adults have herpes. That one may be you without even knowing it.

While not everyone with herpes experience recurrences, people with recurrent herpes usually have particular triggers or sets of triggers. These will vary from person to person. Obviously the college boyfriend was triggered by first exposure to bright sun light. Others are triggered by nuts, chocolate, stress, etc. You have to observe your own patterns.

My triggers turned out to be a combination of sleep deprivation, negative emotional stress, and a lowered immune system. So when I have an outbreak, I take that as my body’s alert system to get some sleep, consider the blessings in my life, pop some vitamin C and take care of myself. My Herpes behaves as my personal stress watch-bug.Herpes is a pain and a hassle—but in the dating world I turned it into an advantage to stay healthy, ethical and joyously sexual.

Yes, My Herpes saved my life.

http://carnalnation.com/content/34509/736/how-herpes-saved-my-life

Printed with permission.

The Leveller Article by Jonathon Braun

As the owner of the Lisgar Street sex, health, and education shop, Venus Envy, Shelley Taylor has been spreading messages of sex-positivity and talking openly and educationally about all things sex-related for years. Recently, Taylor has given others the opportunity to speak up. With her blogspot, “passtheherpes” that she says is “really more of a community forum” Taylor is encouraging discussion on a sex-related topic that often remains hushed and taboo: herpes.

 

Passtheherpes gives people the opportunity to discuss their experiences “living with herpes, contracting herpes, avoiding herpes, their experience with a partner who has herpes, whatever!”  By creating this blog Taylor says that “I want people to see herpes as something normal. I want people with herpes to feel like they are one of many, many people in the same position so they don’t feel isolated and shameful about having herpes.”

 

When Taylor found out at the age of 18 that she had genital herpes, she was devastated. “I felt dirty and disgraceful and ugly and I believed that it meant I would be alone for the rest of my life”, she writes. Even after getting over the initial shock and becoming calmer about her diagnosis, Taylor still had feelings of isolation and of being damaged and unattractive. Living with herpes was something that Taylor kept to herself except when she disclosed to a potential intimate partner. Several years later, when being interviewed by a paper about the reasons she opened Venus Envy, Taylor officially “outed” herself as a person living with the virus. She told the journalist that one of the reasons she opened the store was because she had contracted herpes when she was young and “wanted to promote safer sex as well as sex positivity to reduce the chances of transmission but also minimize the shame that can come with having herpes and other STIs”. After this act of openness, Taylor was amazed by the response. She states that her coming forward like she did “seemed to make people feel better about their status”. In starting her “forum”, Taylor is allowing this act of openness to be even more wide-reaching and hoping to combat the stigma that is so prevalent towards the virus.

 

According to the sexual health resource website sexualityandu.ca, Genital Herpes is a sexually-transmitted-infection (STI) that is transmitted through skin to skin contact. There are two types of the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). HSV-1 typically results in cold sores, and HSV-2 typically affects the genitals. However, transmission can still occur from mouth to genitals and from genitals to mouth. The result of the infection can vary from person to person. Some people with genital herpes have no symptoms, while others may experience outbreaks of small blisters in the genital or anal area varying in severity and frequency. These blisters can often burst and lead to painful sores. In very rare cases, herpes can pose serious health risks. This risk is heightened for infants who acquire the virus during childbirth. However, in most cases “HSV-1 and HSV-2 are generally not considered a serious health risk”.

 

Although physical health risks may be limited, herpes can have a tremendous psychological affect on those infected. Even for Taylor whose work has helped fight the stigma associated with this virus, the stress is still there. She writes, “I still feel worried each time I put out into the world that I have herpes. I almost passed out before going live on the CBC to tell all of middle Canada about having herpes. It was very scary. So clearly I haven’t gotten entirely past the feelings of shame or embarrassment yet”. Taylor says that much of the stigma surrounding herpes stems from the fact that the virus is usually spread through sexual contact.  “Consider that there’s almost no shame in having the exact same virus on your face, but when it’s on your genitals, it’s something completely different in how we relate to our bodies and how others relate to us.”

Originally printed in the Leveller, a Carleton University Publication

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