My story of contracting HIV begins at home. I’m originally from Oakland, CA, where I grew up with my mother, brother, and grandmother. In my early 20s, a lot of social strife prevailed within my family, so I decided to move to Oklahoma with my boyfriend. After moving, depression hindered me and I used sex as a coping mechanism. The open relationship my boyfriend and I had was unhealthy because even though he told me he was OK with it, we both knew he was not. I contracted HIV from one of my partners but, fortunately, my ex did not get it from me.
The diagnosis came right before I entered medical school, which ended up being a brutal transition especially since I was a first-generation college student. I barely passed exams, still wrestled with depression, couldn’t pay off medical fees, kept my HIV-positive status a secret from family and friends, and had a continual stream of financial and familial problems. The question, “How could I let this happen to me?” persisted. To cope with all of this, I immersed myself in school and extracurricular activities. But, by doing so, I never made the time to deal with my HIV diagnosis or anything else. Eventually, I broke up with my then-boyfriend because I had caused too much damage to our relationship.
I frequently found myself crying while I was studying because I was reading about my exact experience as a gay black man with HIV. I didn’t realize that studying and talking about depression, suicidal behaviors, and HIV in my classes would be so triggering. I ended up taking a leave of absence in the summer and fall of 2017. I had no idea how much I was suffering. I sought therapy, began taking anti-depressants, and found a community with individuals like me. I began to put my health first because, with all the things I was dealing with, I knew that my institution, family, and friends wouldn’t be able to prioritize me the way I needed.
I am still trying to figure out what self-care looks like for me and, as a medical student, I will always learn more about what it may look like even as I begin to practice.
What I wish others knew about those with HIV is that we come from different walks of life, but we’re all valuable members of their community. We don’t all have substance abuse disorders or struggle with housing. Some of us are changing into scrubs in the locker rooms right next to you. And, while many of us do have complex social needs and are many times overlooked, our humanity is not diminished because of our HIV status.
I couldn’t be more excited as I was just approved to study abroad in Spain. While I was at the health department getting my shot records in order for the trip, I decided to get free HIV testing while I was there. I went in thinking, “I’m fine, but better safe than sorry.” As you can imagine, I was dumbfounded when the rapid test came back reactive. The thoughts that run through your mind once taking in that kind of news are quite frightening. It’s almost as if you start numbering your days, trying to figure out what you can accomplish before it’s all over. By now I know that’s not true, but it was those kinds of thoughts that drove me to fear.
When you are in college, the last thing you expect is to be diagnosed with HIV. I was just like everyone else, enjoying myself in college and indulging in new experiences. I had a careless moment when it came to having sex. I had unprotected sex with someone I knew from my university. This person did not tell me they had HIV or were unaware of it.
Fast-forward to one month later… I began taking medicine but the side effects and I didn’t get along. I had severe anxiety, fear, and depression. I was faced with trying to figure out if it was me or the medicine’s side effects. I ended up switching to a new medicine and felt immensely better afterward. Moving forward was and is all I can do, and it is no easy task. One way that I decided to cope with the news was by starting my own social media campaign called “Journey with HIV.”
The numbers were steadily growing as the page continued. Through this campaign, I offered encouragement to college students who had contracted HIV and were struggling with coping. Weekly, I uploaded inspirational thoughts, videos, and HIV awareness information. I have since taken a step back from this project, but, during that time, helping others cope with HIV really helped me to come to terms with my own experience with the virus.
HIV has impacted my life in so many ways. I had to learn to be okay with not being okay. I had to learn to ask for help. Putting my pride aside was a step that led me to open up to my friends and family about my HIV status. Thankfully, they received the news in a caring manner and wanted to know more so they could help me accept the diagnosis better.
I joined a support group for those living with HIV. I met a sweet older woman who about 35 years ago contracted HIV in Africa. The constant reassurance that she gave me every day helped me accept the fact that I had HIV. I’ve explained to her how I think or feel and she usually has had similar experiences and shares them with me. This woman being introduced to my life has transformed me from someone who merely exists to someone who is always living.
Actually seeing someone who has had HIV for so long helped me realize that life does not end after the diagnosis, but it often starts up a beautiful transformation. I felt inspired to take better care of my health. I’ve begun working out 4 days a week, am omitting fried/fast foods, and try to have mostly vegan meals throughout the week. Taking my medicine every day is a definite change not only because I wasn’t taking it before, but also because each day I’m reminded that I have a responsibility to make sure that this virus is not spread further. It underlines to me that I am an activist for HIV and to end the stigma around HIV/AIDS.
As for people living without HIV, I wish they knew that the stigma isn’t an accurate representation of what living with HIV is like. Today, HIV is the modern day leprosy, but I’d like to prove that it isn’t. We are people who live, think, and feel just like you. I want those that are newly diagnosed with HIV to know that it is going to be okay! You can still do the things that you wanted to do before as well as anything you would like to do one day.
I used to believe that HIV would never allow my life to be the same and that I’d no longer be a functioning member in society. I’ve come to realize that just is not true.
People without HIV need to know that it is manageable. And, once you have an undetectable load, it is not transferable to someone else. We are not contagious in the way most people think, but we are courageous and able to prove to the world that the stigma is wrong. Living with HIV is like living with high blood pressure. You take a pill once a day to keep everything in balance, but you continue to live life like everyone else. I want to encourage everyone to live life to the fullest no matter the circumstances because we all have a purpose.
I am a 26-year-old African American male. I have been through so much to get to the place that I am today. I would like to give you a brief history of myself so that you may get to know who I am better.
At the age of two, I experienced a moment in my life that no child should. I was molested by my cousin. I can remember it so well. I told my mother what happened but she told me that it never did. Imagine a 2-year-old telling their parent this and they dismiss it. I know it happened because it happened several times. It was not until I was 21 when my cousin was on his deathbed did he confirm what he had done. He told my family that I was telling the truth and that he was sorry for what he did. I know that I should forgive him, but deep down I don’t forgive him at all.
At the age of three, my mother left me in the care of my aunt because I was not the child she wanted. When I would say, “Mommy I love you.” She would respond, “I don’t love you. Maybe if you were a girl, I would love you.” That is something that hurts me to this day whenever I think about it or see her. She eventually moved to another state, so I only saw her during family gatherings until she moved back home when I was 4. She had my little sister that same year. I was still trying to make her love me then, but I never succeeded. She would pay attention to every child in our small neighborhood except me.
Despite this, I survived.
I lived with my aunt when I was two, by four she took guardianship over me. My aunt’s boyfriend at the time was the father figure I never had. He was the best man in my eyes; he helped me with my homework, taught me how to ride a bike, how to hunt, fish, and so much more. He took care of me.
He died when I was 13.
Sometime after his death, my aunt started dating another guy who was okay at first. But then, when I was 14, he moved in with us and things started to change. He would do little weird things that made me uncomfortable. I would try to shake them off and act like they were nothing, but then, one day, he waited until my aunt was gone, held me down, and forced himself inside me. I had engaged in consensual sex before, but this was not something that I wanted from him. I told my aunt and she just told me to stop lying. It happened a few more times, and I kept telling her, but she would just brush it off. At this point, I was feeling all alone…like no one cared about me.
I tried to kill myself. After my attempt, I woke up in the hospital. Later I was sent to a residential treatment center where I learned to love myself again. During this time away from home, my biological mother and little sister’s house burned down, so they moved in with my aunt. While they were there, my aunt walked in on her boyfriend trying to mess with my sister and a cousin that she was babysitting.
After that, she believed what I had told her about him, so we decided to take him to court. But, when if was finally time to go to court, she changed her mind. She began to treat me unfairly and the Department of Human Services was always at our house. Eventually, I ended up in the care of Child Protective Services, with other children my age. Those kids didn’t have goals nor a drive like I did. They weren’t motivated to turn their negative situations into positive ones.
Instead, they became more lost in the system; a system I refused to get sucked into.
Rather than do that, I learned how to make the system work for me, and I emancipated myself but, despite this, at 18, I went back to take care of my now dying aunt. I took care of her even though she hadn’t believed me or taken that guy to court. It was not easy taking care of her, but I did it until the very end.
I didn’t go to college until I was 22. Initially, I was not focused. I was partying and enjoying living away from the people who didn’t care about me. Eventually, I settled down, and I started dating a guy who I was crazy about.
I normally practiced safe sex, but, with him, it was different. Unbeknownst to me, he had HIV and was not taking medication. He knew that he would give me the virus, but he gave it to me anyway. I didn’t realize until I started to feel sick for no reason. I was due to get checked out anyway so I went, and at my appointment, I was diagnosed with HIV. I cried for weeks and lost my way in school.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I could still be myself and live with this virus. At the age of 24, I realized that I needed to accomplish the dream I’d had since I was 16: becoming a social worker. I knew that was my calling. I kept telling myself I needed to get my stuff together to meet this goal.
That is how I got to where I am today. I must say being HIV positive has taught me that I am tougher than I ever thought. I can do things that I never thought I could.
The one thing that I want people to know about the virus is it will kill you if you let it.
You cannot let this take you down, because if you do, you just might not get back up. That is the absolute truth. I have seen people who have HIV just let it get them down and they stay there. HIV is something that you can live a normal, healthy life with. I do have health issues, but my HIV is undetectable thanks to medication. The medicine also allows me to have sex with others and not pass this virus on to them. I know that most people think that HIV is AIDS which is not true. You can live with HIV and never get AIDS if you take care of yourself.
This is my first time sharing my story willingly so bear with me. Hi, my name is ****, and I have always been very prudent about who I share my temple with. I’d had only five consistent partners before I was betrayed.
It was a calm August evening when Ed* approached my car and started speaking to me in code. He said, “You’ll want to read Chapter 3 of that book we got for class.” I replied, “You ready?” and he responded, “Go!” and just like that, it happened. Ed was a football player and had a good reputation to uphold. I was the leading tenor of the university’s choir and my reputation was that of crème de la crème within the collegiate social structure, but it happened. I mean I was hot stuff: debate team’s founder and president, modeling team’s secretary, and the student government association’s health and wellness senator, and yet, I did not use a condom.
I did not see Ed for a while, but I trusted him. Then I noticed he started to behave differently, as though he owed me an explanation yet did not know what to say. He was contacting me at an abnormal rate just to check on how I was feeling or if I felt under the weather. I can’t describe the feeling of contracting a sexually transmitted disease because I felt normal. I felt like nothing could go wrong because I had slept with him and only him for a year, and I knew, or at least I thought I knew, he was not sick.
Then he started to demand that I not be on Facebook. He said, “Facebook is for thirsty people trying to get attention. If they are your real friends, they would have your number.” Being as gullible as I was, I went on a social media fast. This boy must really like me, I thought to myself because only men who are in love freak out over Facebook. I was so naive to think that everything was just that perfect. Little did I know, his baby’s mother had HIV, and she had outed him as HIV-positive via Facebook. I was not told by any of my friends because none of my friends were his friends. We were so secretive about us that no one even knew we knew each other, but then I started losing weight at an alarming rate. Again, being the gullible person that I was, I thought that the various health programs I had committed to were working; then… I was told.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was December 23, 2015, I was on winter break and went to a clinic in Chicago where they do rapid HIV testing and a full blood panel for all STIs for free. I got the blood draw, did the mouth swab, and then sat down and heard, “Your test came back and you are positive, sir.”
Death was upon me and I didn’t even notice. I didn’t even hear the nurse say positive; I wholeheartedly heard negative so I said, “Okay thanks for the results.” Smiling, I gathered my things and proceeded to the door. The nurse stopped me and said, “Sir, maybe you did not hear me right, but you are HIV-positive.” I stumbled back into the chair. Her words were like a dry, cold bullet, “Me? Positive? No, do the test again,” I pleaded. She then explained that the blood samples would take two weeks to process and confirm, however, it was conclusive from the oral swab that I was positive. She also explained the procedure of informing my sexual partners.
Now I had had sex with my ex within the past week, so I called him as soon as I got home. When we got off the phone, he was but I had already given the nurse his number and he called back and we just cried on the phone together. More or less, I was asking him to forgive me because I had not known my status [when we hooked up]. He told me that it would be okay, but I couldn’t take his word on that. I am from an African family that does not accept homosexuals. Back in Liberia, the fourth poorest nation in the world, having HIV meant that you would die a painful death, and nobody would show you mercy because they believe that by letting you die and broadcasting it to everyone, no one else would get sick. I felt nothing, I was nothing. I became was the absence of all the hopes and dreams I had gathered within me my inner being and was now a funnel; I always lost any and all hope that tried to enter of beaten hopes. I was so empty. Figuring out how I could get help was the hardest truth to swallow. I couldn’t go back to the clinic because I had church members who worked there. I couldn’t tell my family because they would turn their backs on me. So, the next day, I got a flight to Africa.
I felt that all I needed to do to escape my diagnosis was leave the USA and go visit my family, whom I had only met once, but it did not help. See, my family is from a different world: in the nation of Liberia, when people get sick, they die. I was hoping for just that: to die in Liberia. Just drop dead and perish, but I was not lucky enough to die like that.
The trip was originally supposed to be the celebration of my grandmother’s 82nd birthday, but it turned out to be me coming to terms with my diagnosis. It also made me realize how lucky I was to live in America, that I had health insurance, and that I would be able to seek medical attention in a private manner. Well, at least I thought I did. I spent two weeks in Liberia coming to those realizations, and when I returned to the United States, the hunt for medicine began.
I needed to get medication, and I thought that if I was to get it at school, I would not have to tell my parents. Little did I know, my university had strong ties within the area. I went to the nurse, and when she learned of my diagnosis, she laughed. Then I overheard her laughing on the phone as she told someone that I was at her clinic and that I had AIDS. I knew I was not safe from the word of my diagnosis spreading, nevertheless, I felt that I did not deserve safety. I was hot stuff at one point in life but now I was just burning; I felt that being exposed was my social punishment. Word spread like wildfire and soon, I became the #1 talking point of my university.
21 was my number. It was March of 2016 and 21 was the number of white blood cells I had left. She had the right to laugh. I was a fool, paralyzed in a reality where I had no resources. I started on Triumeq [HIV medication], but the individuals on campus knew that I was ill and started to bully me. I called Ed and asked him, “Do you have HIV? Because my world is falling apart, and I need to know why you did this to me.” He replied, “My health has not been compromised,” and hung up the phone. I haven’t spoken to Ed since that conversation. I went on Facebook and learned that he had gotten many people sick and that was another big thing at my school, so I dropped out for the fall semester.
I went home and told my family. It was the tiniest light amidst a sea of dark despair. They cried for three weeks. No talking, no consoling, they just cried. At the end of the third week they said, “You are our only son what bush can I throw you? I can’t leave you, but, my God, this is just too hard to bare!” That was when I knew my family would always love me, but I came to find out that society was a different animal.
While home for the remainder of that fall semester, the narrative at the university became that I got the football team sick. When I went back for the spring semester, I was getting confronted from all levels of the university; I mean teachers, students, staff, parents. And all I could say was they got me sick; I was not sick until them. I was dealing with drama more than classes, and I was always arguing to the point I was failing. My classmates used me as a scapegoat to release themselves from the guilt of their own sexual misconduct. I started smoking weed and using meth just to escape. I left school again and then returned, but scandal after scandal came out with me in the middle of every story, but, deep down in my heart, I knew that it shouldn’t have been me; it should’ve been Ed. But Ed was so popular that no one wanted to blame him. My friends turned against me, and I was even attacked at a party.
I felt my life was an island in the middle of a never-ending storm. I just wanted to die. Then my mother and father came to the school and demanded that I went home with them. They told me to forget the college and that my peers were weak and wrong. At this point, I was just abusing drugs, and my parents knew about everything that was happening, so I knew going home was the right thing. I withdrew from classes, packed up my apartment, and went home. I thought that was the best solution but, it was not because, as I stated, I had picked up a drug addiction. It took me a year to figure out I had a problem because I had every excuse as to why I needed drugs. I got into a relationship that I thought was good because we both had HIV, but that soon became a nightmare when I found out he had cheated on me and had given me herpes, amongst other things. After learning that, I gave it all up, checked myself into a drug rehabilitation center, and completed seventy-seven days of treatment.
Living with HIV is like living with a sign attached to every facet of your life. You have to live a life better than you could ever imagine, but, now, in a body unwanted by everyone. You have to live because if you get pneumonia you could live no more. You have to live because there is someone out there [with HIV] who needs to know that they are worth existing. People without HIV just look at people with HIV as this cursed person, someone who is less than. I am not less than. I am the next international music sensation; I am the next leading scientist; I am next for greatness. You feel that you have to be something because all that you are is nothing. See when you are overweight, there are ways to become skinny. When you don’t like the way you look, there are way to alter your appearance. However, when you have HIV (or, in my case, AIDS), there are no alterations, healings, or remissions because all that can shift on a dime. Because of my insurance, my medication costs $3,000 for 30 days, so there’s always a chance that I might not be able to afford it. You never know how lucky it is to be normal until normal is all you are fighting for. It is like a mental illness that deems you’re unfit by society’s standards.
Today, I am living free, but yesterday I was trapped within my own flesh, and tomorrow I might not want to wake up. The time spent between those ideas are moments I need to use to fulfill my purpose in life. I ask myself what is purpose when there is nothing left to live for? Why is there not a cure? Why do they just want to make money out of my sorrows? Why can’t I fix me? Why can’t God fix me? These are the questions that travel through my mind, day in and day out. What if this person finds out about me and they reject me? What if I get my dream job but my coworkers turn their backs on me [when they find out]? What if I die and my story is written by those who hate me? Why does nobody love me, when all I have is love to give? Then people say, “Well you are undetectable.” But what is undetectable but a few weeks of missed medication? I will soon be cut off my parents’ insurance and the search is already in progress. The search for normal, the search for acceptance, the search for love and happiness. This is all I can do in my days of long suffering. This is all my life has become. So, if you don’t have IT, then don’t get IT because IT is what nightmares are made of.
In late 2017, I went to a plasma center by my university to donate plasma and make a quick buck. As I began the new-donor application, an odd question asked to confirm I am not donating plasma as a method to test for HIV/AIDS; I answered no, and passively moved on to the next question. Once I completed the application, I was brought to a large room in the back of the building, where I saw dozens of people hooked to blood machines called “aphaeresis,” which separate the plasma from the blood before pumping the blood back into the body.
The nurse sat me on an examination table, and I became nervous as she hooked me up to my own aphaeresis. The dark maroon flowed out of me, but while it made me squeamish, it also fascinated me. I watched mesmerized as the blood rushed back through my vein while the faint yellow plasma sat in a translucent plastic container waiting to save a life. When I looked at the blood, a rush of adrenaline came over me, hypnotizing me of my mortality.
I visited the plasma center a total of two times, but the second time was not at my behest. Through a voicemail, I was asked to re-visit the plasma center to discuss the blood results from my initial visit.
This visit occurred on January 2nd.
When I returned to the plasma center on the same days as the voicemail, a nurse escorted me to a private office and explained that my blood results came back “reactive.” I did not understand what the nurse was saying, but the meeting concluded with a worried goodbye and my permanent expulsion from all plasma centers. Walking to my car, I urgently looked for answers on the internet: “reactive blood test meaning,” “reactive blood test plasma center NOT HIV,” and “blood test reactive mistake,” and the like.
After the diagnosis, I couldn’t focus on anything. I realized I wouldn’t be able to make my anxiety subside until I did like the nurse instructed, and got tested for HIV.
I hazily drove to a public hospital and waited two hours for the testing clinic to open. When the clinic finally opened, I was told I would need to make an appointment but I wanted – no, needed – immediate results, so I left looking. An hour later, I was parked in front of an AIDS Outreach Center. After filling out some paperwork, I sat in the waiting room, waiting for what felt like an eternity of confusion. Finally, a smiling person in scrubs greeted me. He spoke to me casually despite the not-so-casual circumstance as he walked me to the patient room to do the blood work. He drew my blood, added drops of another liquid, stirred the two, and examined the amalgamation like a jeweler looking for flaws on a diamond. I naively smiled at the technician, but he reciprocated a frown and apologized sincerely as he explained to me my results.
I don’t know how long, on average, it takes a person to go through the stages of grief, but the technician sat there with me while I experienced all of them in a matter of minutes. I was in denial that this was happening to me, I became angry at myself, I began bargaining with the past, and then felt an onset of depression immobilizing me, until, finally, the slow realization and acceptance of a new me came around. I was beginning to feel grateful for all the help and attention I was given at the AIDS Outreach Center.
Driving back home while contemplating the current events in my life, I had a firm grasp on the steering wheel and held the composure of a person having a bucket of cold water poured over them. My boyfriend greeted me at the door, unaware of what had just happened, and the fear I had for myself was only temporarily forgotten as I became worried that he may also have HIV and had no idea. He was still sleepy when I relayed the news to him, and he began to cry. My mind went to my boyfriend’s father, whose boyfriend died from AIDS years ago. I wanted to reassure him that the re-occurrence of HIV/AIDS in his family would not be the end of him nor I, but it would instead be met with full force with modern medicine and our courageous resilience; I was sure of this but had to convince him of it until he was tested. Eventually, he got tested, and the results came back positive for HIV as well.
How we contracted HIV while being in a monogamous relationship was easy to answer: I found out that my boyfriend of two years cheated on me. I know what he did was reckless, but what led him to it– the root of his infidelity– is what needed attention and nurturing. After I found out, I still loved my boyfriend, and I knew it was never his intention to put us both at risk. No one leaves this world unblemished, which is why I forgive both of us for what happened. An ancient Japanese practice, known as Kintsugi, involves piecing together a broken ceramic with gold lacquer, leaving the remnant traces of cracks embellished with gold. This practice is to show pride in resolution, the beauty from a loving tenacity, that calamity is inevitable, and love is unconditional. Most importantly, I was able to love myself enough to piece myself back together, admiring my cracks, and enjoying a newly found love for a new me.
Having been living with HIV for less than a year now, I’ve learned a lot about the disease and about myself. I have learned that I will persevere through almost anything and am proud of that. I’d like to teach people that your HIV status is not a measurement of character; no one deserves HIV/AIDs, but we all deserve love and support until a cure is discovered. I also want to say that if your partner has had an affair, cease all forms of sex, get tested with your partner, and have a serious talk with them about the state of your relationship and your boundaries. Risking your health due to a lack of protection is not worth the greatest love of all time.
…[I’m] enjoying a newly found love for a new me.
I’d also like to inform the world that living with HIV has not hindered my ability to chase my dreams. It’s immensely comforting to be a living testament to the power of love. Love is mobilizing millions of people to support those living with the virus, and also motivating the countless hours spent by the scientists innovating antiretrovirals while searching for a cure. I am the memory and the new legacy of the 35 million lives taken by the virus. It is impossible for me not to be moved by the amount of time, effort, and lives that were sacrificed in an effort for me to seek out and live my dreams.
On January 2nd, when I was diagnosed, I had a very different start to my year than I’ve ever had before. New Year’s is supposed to be an exciting time to accept your past, find peace in the present, and look forward to unreached potentials in the future. For me, it was a little bit different. I mulled over my past, I sat uneasily in my present, and I searched desperately for confirmation that I would have a future. Luckily, I found out just how far love can go. It is the hope and love humanity has that I dare everyone to remember when faced with challenges that seem overwhelming and inescapable. In the end, love will remind us that pain is an equalizer, no one escapes it in this life. Love will diminish the sadness in being so hurt. It will provide your spirit with a light that’ll illuminate the darkest corners of your life.
Short answer: No! You will not contract herpes from sitting on the toilet seat. But why should you believe us? We’re just the internet. The internet is just like… cat videos… and memes… and fake news.
Just kidding, we’re a super credible resource that is about to give you a whole slew of facts and figures on why you shouldn’t worry about herpes at all when using a public (or private) restroom. Buckle up kid, we’re going to blow your pants off.
Ever since you were little, you knew that the bathroom was a germy place. It’s one of our most basic truths. Wash your hands, don’t pick your nose, use your inside voice, and don’t sit on the toilet seat.
We are all collectively disgusted by bathrooms. And, don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying you should go lick a bathroom floor anytime soon. It’s a gross place. However, there are grosser things. In fact, a recent study found that your very own cell phone may carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats. Ick!
But even though a cell phone carries more bacteria than a toilet seat, we as a society still have this general dislike of bathrooms. And that “bathroom = disgusting” idea can bring about some pretty weird ideas like, “you can get herpes from a toilet seat.”
It’s Not Super Likely
PSA: Herpes or HSV dies extremely quickly outside of the body. It is transmitted primarily through skin to skin contact.
Even the CDC states, “You will not get herpes from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools, or from touching objects around you such as silverware, soap, or towels.”
Studies have shown that HSV when combined with saliva or other bodily fluids, cannot survive at room temperatures for longer than 30 minutes. And the quicker those bodily fluids dry, the faster the virus dies.
Additionally, you are most susceptible through mucous membranes, such as the mouth and the genitals. So, as long as you just sit your butt cheeks on the toilet seat, like a normal human being, and don’t lick anything while you’re in there, you will be fine.
How Exactly Can You Get Herpes?
Herpes can spread through vaginal, oral, or anal sex with anyone who has the disease. It can also spread by coming into contact with a herpes sore, bodily fluids (including saliva), and, sometimes, unfortunately, it can just spread through regular ol’ skin to skin contact, even if an outbreak isn’t happening.
That’s right, herpes can spread when no signs or symptoms are visibly present, and it can even spread when protection is used during sex, because, newsflash: protection doesn’t cover all exposed skin.
Genital and oral herpes are somewhat interchangeable. You can contract genital herpes after receiving oral sex from someone who has oral herpes, and vice versa, you are extremely susceptible to oral herpes when performing oral sex on someone who has genital herpes.
HSV-2 was thought to be the only herpes that would show up on the genitals. However, with the increased societal acceptance of oral sex, HSV-1 has been showing up more and more in the genital region.
Herpes is More Common Than You Think
A lot of people get caught up on the terms HSV-1 or HSV-2 and oral or genital herpes, but the truth is, either strain can be found on either end of the body.
50 percent to 80 percent of the U.S. adult population has oral herpes.
45 percent of the U.S. adult population is estimated to have genital herpes.
Yup, that’s a lot of people with herpes. And the media would have you believe that these people got herpes from cheating on a spouse, having rampant, unprotected sex, or sitting on a dirty toilet seat. But we’re here to tell you, that’s probably not the case.
Humans get herpes. It’s a super common and super contagious virus, that, unfortunately, lives in the body forever. It sounds like a dirty word, but many people are more emotionally traumatized by the diagnosis than they are physically affected. Herpes is probably one of the least life-altering STDs to get. It doesn’t cause any long-term damage, it won’t affect other organs (like your brain), and it just hangs out there until it gets lonely and wants to pop up and say hello. Yes, we just personified herpes. Sorry, not sorry.
Many who have herpes are reluctant to tell others about their condition, for fear of ridicule and being ostracized.
This lack of normalization makes it seem like herpes is this disease that “good” people are naturally safe from, but again, all you have to do is look at the numbers, and you can realize that that’s just not the case.
There are a lot of people who aren’t even aware that they have herpes, due to the fact that it can lay dormant for years, sometimes even decades.
Be Aware of the Symptoms
Here are a few common symptoms of HSV-2 and/or HSV-1:
A burning sensation when you pee
Itching sensations around the affected area
Pain around the genitals
Pain in or around the mouth
Tired or achy feeling
The obvious blisters, outbreaks, or sores
It’s important to note that HSV-1 and HSV-2 are both often asymptomatic, which means they can exhibit no symptoms at all.
What Can You Get in the Bathroom?
We bet you’re thanking your lucky stars that your sweet heiny is safe from contracting herpes in the bathroom. In fact, you might be about to take the toilet seat cover off as you’re reading this right now. But wait … *suspenseful pause*… there’s more.
There are a myriad of other viruses and bacteria lurking about in the good ol’ wiz palace. Some of these germy germs include the common cold, hepatitis A, E. coli, and in one unfortunate case, gonorrhea.
Hiding in “Plane” Sight
According to this scientific journal, an 8-year-old girl was diagnosed with gonorrhea in 2003.
The young girl and her mother had been traveling with her mother for several weeks, prior to the diagnosis. Since they were always in close proximity to one another, it was unclear how she could have contracted the sexually transmitted disease.
Doctors and family were baffled after they failed to find any evidence of sexual abuse.
Eventually, the young girl mentioned that the toilet seat on an airplane had been very dirty, and she used her bare hands to wipe it off. After the seat was “clean,” she proceeded to use the bathroom, but she did not wash her hands before doing so.
The gonorrhea-infected toilet seat germs came into direct contact with her genitals, thus she obtained the STD.
This would be considered the first documented case of someone actually contracting an STD from a bathroom.
Wash Your Hands!
Do we really need to explain this one?
Wash your hands!
It’s so easy, and it prevents disease on the reg. Even though you won’t necessarily be protecting yourself from herpes, you will be protecting yourself from countless other germs.
According to the CDC, educating people on the importance of handwashing can reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21 percent and diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent.
If you read our blog regularly, we’ve probably told you to get tested once or twice before, it’s kind of our thing. Well, here it goes again: Get tested!
Take control of your sexual health and know your status. Even though having herpes isn’t really that big of a deal, yeah, we said it, there are still plenty of other STDs that can progressively get worse if left untreated.
Many other STDs are asymptomatic, meaning they could show absolutely no symptoms at all, and can quietly lead to some pretty dire consequences.
So What if You Have Herpes
If you do have herpes, we’re here to tell you that it’s a-okay. And if you don’t have herpes, learn about it now because it’s a very contagious disease, and chances are, you might get it later in life.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll get it from a future partner, a current partner, or, maybe it’s lying dormant in you right now.
The good news is, if you don’t have herpes, you can revel in the fact that you probably won’t get it from a toilet seat!
The main thing that we want to reiterate here: It’s really not that big of a deal. Having herpes does not say anything about a person’s character, even if it didn’t come from a mysterious toilet seat.
I became HIV-positive at the age of 20, by sleeping with a man whom I trusted enough to not wear a condom. He had HIV, knew, and did not tell me. Not only did he infect me, but he also infected several other people I know. I did not find this out until after getting tested. In the beginning, it made me so upset that I truly wanted to kill myself. I felt disgusting and I could not believe that I had contracted HIV. It made me feel like no one would want to date me or even talk to me again. Growing up, I always felt that HIV was the deadliest and worst STD you contract.
It was ingrained in my mind that if I contracted HIV, I was one of the “bad gays” or a stereotypical gay person that all straight people think as, “Oh you’re gay; you must have HIV.” All of this went through my head when I first contracted HIV. There was a moment when I almost drove my car off the road so I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. I ended my relationship with someone I thought was my true love because I didn’t want to pass HIV to him. I pushed him so far away that I burned all bridges because I felt it was the right thing to do to protect him.
Since then, I have grown to realize that having HIV is not a death sentence. I have to be careful when having sex with others, and I always tell whoever I am dating that I am HIV positive, so they are aware of what they are getting into. I’ve found that I can still live a normal life and do the things I wanted to do, even though I am positive. I’ve found that volunteering to help other HIV positive people like me, and those who are unable to afford their medication, to be quite rewarding. It is eye-opening to speak with others about how their lives been affected by HIV and to compare their stories to my own. I spoke with an older gentleman who had it way worse than I did when he first contracted HIV, and it was such an eye-opener to the fact that I haven’t had it nearly as bad as he did.
We live a normal life, just like they do.
I still worry about how my life will be in the future with HIV. I worried for a long time if I would still be able to become a nurse with HIV because I did not want to infect my patients. I have found since starting the nursing program that I have nothing to worry about because, as long as I protect myself, I will, in turn, protect my patients as well.
One thing I wish people who are not HIV positive knew is the fact that we are not all sex addicted, nor contagious at the touch. We live a normal life, just like they do. There have been times that people have run away from me when I’ve told them I have HIV; they freak out like have the plague. I think that people need to become more educated on HIV and other topics they are not informed on. Sharing food, cuddling, hugging, kissing, or simply sitting next to someone with HIV is not going to give you HIV. Yes,. that are things that need to be kept separate; toothbrushes, razors, etc. But, people need to know that you can’t contract HIV simply by being friends with someone who is positive. Everyone needs a friend and someone who has recently been diagnosed HIV positive needs one more than any other time in their life.
*The following narrative is from one of our HIV-positive scholarship applicants. It has been minimally changed for grammar and to remove any identifying information.*
Being HIV positive for the last three years has been very challenging. From finding out my diagnosis, to accepting it, to learning to live a totally different lifestyle. Life has really been a rollercoaster, but this by far is something that has been more of a tornado that has rearranged my life. With all I have been through, I do not wish this on anyone. This disease has controlled and killed many. Staying positive, continuing to live a positive lifestyle, and educating others on preventing HIV is the best way of coping with this.
HIV was never something that I thought would happen to me because I was a straight guy, and I thought HIV was a “gay disease.”
For many years, I was the one who took chances. I loved the fast life. Money and women were my obsessions. I lived a life doing many things I am not proud of. To say I was ever faithful or a monogamist would be a lie. My fast lifestyle was a big cause of my HIV contraction. I can not tell you of a specific time, person, or moment when it occurred. However, I can say using protection was not a priority. HIV was never something that I thought would happen to me because I was a straight guy, and I thought HIV was a “gay disease.” This is far from the truth, and I am a good example of that.
HIV has made me a person who is more responsible, careful, and open-minded. I take responsibility when it comes to my sexual health, and protect myself from letting my viral load become high or getting another STD. I am more careful with my health and careful not to infect anyone else. But most importantly, being HIV-positive has allowed me to be more open-minded and aware of how much one’s action can affect your whole life for the better or for the worse. HIV changes your view on life and forces you to reevaluate the decisions you make.
I wish that those living without HIV would understand that they always have a choice, that they are human, and that life is not to be taken for granted. They can choose to make wise decisions or be left with ones that will affect their whole lives. You can choose to use protection that will prevent HIV and any other STD. You are human, and no one is immune to HIV. Lastly, your life is precious so take care of it. Having to depend on a pill, getting your blood drawn all the time, and being prone to diseases is not a life you want. Do not take your life for granted, because you only have one.
My life’s challenges have made me reevaluate my life, given me purpose, and forced me to make changes. I am in school to obtain a degree in Human Services in order to help others. I have a purpose to live for my family, and especially for my wife who I am dedicated to. Finally, HIV has taught me that if I don’t make changes for the better, then a short life is all I can expect. My choices determine my life.