“Having herpes isn’t pretty, but I won’t hide”

"Having herpes isn't pretty, but I won't hide"

A 26-year-old woman with genital herpes has spoken about her experience in a bid to break the stigma surrounding the virus.

After navigating the dating world as someone with a contagious STI, Rosie Bailey feels there’s a lack of herpes education and wants to start a conversation to change that…

Rosie Bailey became very ill after contracting herpes for the first time. Image: Rosie Bailey

At first, Rosie wasn’t fazed when her then-boyfriend revealed to her five years ago that he had herpes.

“It didn’t mean anything to me at the time,” he recalls.

“I wasn’t really brought up on it.

“They teach you ‘put on a condom or you’ll get chlamydia or you’ll get pregnant,’ and that’s it. So I was pretty ignorant.

“We practiced safe sex, but there are times when the rules slip, and getting herpes was something we were anticipating would happen at some point, like it was inevitable.”

“You’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is the worst thing in the world’…”

There is no cure for herpes and the virus comes in two forms: genital herpes and oral herpes, the latter causing cold sores.

In December 2017, Rosie became unwell and was diagnosed with genital herpes on Christmas Eve.

“It was really, really bad,” he recalls. “It hurt so much to go to the toilet, I had feverish symptoms, my glands and my throat were so swollen.

“It was a really horrible time.”

Rosie, who grew up in Whitstable and went to St Anselm’s School in Canterbury, describes the genital sores as “like little spots or bites”.

“They can feel like little cuts or just generally quite uncomfortable and itchy,” she said.

Rosie Bailey is helping to break the stigma surrounding herpes.  Image: Rosie Bailey
Rosie Bailey is helping to break the stigma surrounding herpes. Image: Rosie Bailey

“Your first outbreak is always the worst, which is always a very scary and intimidating time.

“You’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is the worst thing in the world.’

After her initial breakouts, Rosie had flare-ups a couple of times a month, mostly when she was run over, stressed or menstruating, with the sores accompanied by leg pain, fatigue and severe headaches, all on antiviral pills.

But since his partner already had herpes, it was a known entity.

“I felt I was in a safe environment,” Rosie said. “I wasn’t going through it on my own. My partner was so I felt very supported.”

“We were sitting on the sofa drinking wine, and he moved further away…”

Things changed for Rosie when, a couple of years later, she and her boyfriend broke up at the start of the Covid pandemic.

She recalls: “I said, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to explain this to future partners? Will they judge me?”

Unfortunately for Rosie, during her first foray into dating, her revelation about having an STI didn’t go over well.

“We chatted on a dating app and hit it off really well,” she said.

“We met, went for a drink in a park and then I went back to his place.

“It was a good date and things were going well.

Rosie Bailey is a former pupil of Canterbury School and grew up in Whitstable.  Image: Rosie Bailey
Rosie Bailey is a former pupil of Canterbury School and grew up in Whitstable. Image: Rosie Bailey

“I didn’t really think anything sexual was going to happen, but we were talking about who we’d dated from our previous relationships and I said ‘oh, I haven’t dated anyone because I have herpes and I’ve been.’ a little nervous.”

Rosie says her date was immediately “bowed” and freaked out.

“We were sitting on the couch drinking wine, and he pulled away,” she said.

“I said, ‘You’re not going to catch it just by talking to me, it’s not coronavirus.’

Rosie tried to explain more about herpes and how it is transmitted.

“No more to be despised…”

“I was trying to calm him down, but it really threw him off his feet,” she said.

“I’m not sure if he didn’t expect it or if he was worried about it infecting him, like he was some kind of zombie.”

Since then, Rosie’s experience has been much more positive.

During the lockdown in July 2020, she decided to harness the power of social media by making her condition public on Instagram, to help spread awareness.

She wrote about her experience and urged others to be more open about herpes.

“I’ve discovered that many people have herpes and it’s a shame how many of them keep it a secret, refuse to believe they have it, or avoid the conversation,” she wrote in the post.

“It’s something that’s made fun of and joked about, as it’s considered ‘dirty.’

“It should not be looked down upon any more.

Rosie Bailey has received messages from people all over the world asking for advice.  Image: Rosie Bailey
Rosie Bailey has received messages from people all over the world asking for advice. Image: Rosie Bailey

“I need you to understand how common the virus is, so no one should feel or be ashamed of the negative connotations attached to it. It’s time for the stigma to break and people see in another light”.

Rosie also urged people to take contraception and sexual health “more seriously”.

Since his post, people from all over the world have sent him messages asking for advice.

He also runs a private Facebook page for people living with herpes.

“People from Australia, South Africa and America have sent me messages,” he said.

“It really shows, all over the world, that people just don’t talk about it.”

“You can learn to live with herpes and live a very happy and normal life…”

Rosie says it’s important for people with herpes to be more open, to increase awareness and understanding.

“There are a lot of people who have it and don’t tell anyone, and that puts other people at risk,” he says. “Or they have it and don’t know what it is, which also puts other people at risk.

“It’s very sad to see that many women, especially, are afraid to disclose their herpes to partners or dates, or to talk about it with their girlfriends or families.”

But not everyone’s experiences are as positive as Rosie’s.

“A lot of people’s stories have been ‘a guy blocked my number and now I have herpes,'” she says.

“Some circumstances are tragic and horrible to hear.

“But at the end of the day you can learn to live with herpes and live a very happy and normal life.

“It’s okay to have it, you’re not alone.”

“It has made me much more of a loving and cautious person…”

Today, Rosie’s outbreaks are infrequent and managed with medication and lifestyle, and she is in a relationship with someone who does not have herpes.

“We’ve been together for a year,” she said. “We are very sensible and responsible.”

“In any case, I’m very glad and happy that I got herpes,” she adds.

“Because it’s made me much more of a loving and cautious person, it’s made me much more grounded.

“Whereas before I didn’t really think about my actions and was very young and wild and free, now I’m much more careful and try to reassure others that they should be more responsible.”

What is herpes?

There are two types of herpes.

Herpes type 1 – HSV1 or oral herpes – usually causes cold sores around the mouth and lips.

Herpes type 2 – HSV2 or genital herpes – is a sexually transmitted infection.

It causes sores around the genitals and can occur elsewhere, usually below the waist.

Both types of virus can spread to the face or genitals through close contact, such as kissing or oral sex.

Some people with genital herpes only have mild symptoms, which means they may have it without realizing it.

Most people with oral herpes get it after being exposed to the virus when they are young through close skin-to-skin contact, such as kissing, with someone who has cold sores. It doesn’t usually cause any symptoms until you’re older.

The virus (HSV) that causes both genital and oral herpes stays in the body indefinitely.

It remains inactive most of the time, but can burst into an outbreak.

Outbreaks of both types of herpes can be triggered by things like getting sick, menstruation, stress, and the sun.

There is no cure for herpes. Symptoms clear up on their own and can be controlled with treatments such as antivirals and creams.

More than 66% of people are believed to have the herpes simplex virus.

In 2016, the World Health Organization said about 491.5 million people were living with HSV2, equivalent to 13.2% of the world’s population aged 15-49.

Meanwhile, an estimated 3.7 billion people had HSV1, about 66.6% of the world’s population aged 49 and under.

#herpes #isnt #pretty #wont #hide

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.