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It took years for Davis, founder of The STD Projectwhich encourages awareness and acceptance of various sexually transmitted diseases, and spokesperson for Positive Singlesa dating site for people with STDs, to come to terms with the diagnosis she got at age When she was diagnosed with herpes almost three years ago, Whitney Carlson, 29, a social media editor in Chicago, had a similar reaction. The infection, which is caused by the herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 viruses and passed via skin-to-skin contact, can show up as a cluster of sores on the mouth area or genitals. Around two-thirds of people worldwide under age 50 have herpes simplex 1, according to the World Health Organizationand around one in every six Americans between ages 14 and 49 has genital herpes, usually caused by herpes simplex 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both Davis and Carlson eventually moved past their initial panic and saw herpes chat rooms for what it is: an infection many people have that happens to usually get passed through sexual contact. In the past, Carlson would put the herpes conversation on the table quickly.

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I'm not religious at all, I'd describe myself as an atheist, but when aged 21 I started getting sores around my penis, I must have prayed 50 times a day that it would be something other than herpes.

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I felt such shame and I think that's due to the fact no one seems to talk about it. It's strange there's such a huge stigma around it - especially when you consider two-thirds of the world's population under have the HSV-1 type of herpes.

This form generally appears as cold sores around your mouth but it can be passed to your genitals through skin on skin contact which is becoming a more common way of contracting genital herpes. Before I was officially diagnosed, I googled my symptoms and scared myself silly. Based on my internet research I diagnosed myself with herpes - and reading articles and forums full of false information made me feel like it was the end of my life as I knew it.

How to tell someone you have herpes

I basically read that it was incurable and could result in regular flare-ups. This made me think that nobody would ever want to date or sleep with me again. I'd struggle to get to sleep after compulsively reading articles online, then I'd jolt awake early in the morning, panicking.

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I got my first sore around September last year. At the time I thought it was an insect bite, but it stayed for a couple of weeks and I realised that the small red mark was something else.

The encounter

So then I thought it might be an allergic reaction to a new fabric softener. After a few weeks, I went to my GP who said she thought it might be herpes. My GP referred me to a sexual health clinic in September and I got tested the same month. They swabbed the sore and sent it off for testing, and my came back positive.

Common questions about herpes: analysis of chat-room transcripts

I crumpled into a heap on the floor. I got a text message from the doctor and was told after I called that I had herpes and I had to contact all my sexual partners. That was pretty much it. Normally you only get one flare-up a year, at the most. After I was diagnosed, I was scared of rejection and stopped dating entirely for a few months.

This is what no one tells you about getting (and having) herpes

But I knew that the longer I put it off, the scarier it would be. We went on a couple of dates but I didn't know when to bring it up.

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After our second date she asked me to come inside after I'd walked her home and kissed her goodbye, but I refused. I'd been drinking and I was far too afraid to talk about it then. The next day, I called a support line in a panic, and their advice was to tell her before we went on another date. I called and invited her round the same evening. That whole day, I thought about nothing else and felt sick when the time finally came. I told her as we sat on my couch, looking at the ground the whole time.

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When I looked up she just laughed at me for being so worried, and kissed me. The reason being that if I'm dating someone and think we might have sex at some point, I will tell them that I have HSV But I only want to go through that with someone I really like, who I know I can trust. No one has ever seemed to be put off by the HSV However, it has meant I've been less likely to date friends-of-friends for fear of everyone finding out.

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I even dated one woman who told me she also got a coldsore 'downstairs' and was so glad I brought it up because she was scared to. In terms of managing the condition, I take antiviral medication twice a day to control the symptoms. My immune system was so weak that I was getting sores every two weeks. The drug is a preventative but most people only use it when they have an outbreak to calm everything down a bit.

That herpes is not some kind of life sentence.

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