Genital herpes: Marian's story 

Marian contracted herpes from her boyfriend. She talks about the symptoms, how it can be treated, and the issue of discussing herpes with your partner.

Find out more about genital herpes

Transcript of Genital herpes: Marian's story

I'm Marian Nicholson

and back in my early 30s I was having sex with a very nice person

and suddenly one day I started to feel unwell

and a few days after that I started to get spots down there on the vulva.

So I went to a GUM clinic and they told me that I had herpes simplex.

Now, I didn't know anything about this and this was so long ago

that the herpes hype hadn't actually started,

so I wasn't particularly concerned.

They said it's a cold sore which is down there instead of on your face,

and that was fine.

The boyfriend that I caught it from didn't even know that he had it.

Looking back on it, when we talked about it,

we were able to see that actually he had sometimes had

little sort of chafed patches on one side only of his penis

which he hadn't bothered to think about.

But with hindsight and once we knew more about this

we realised that that's what it was.

He'd not been diagnosed

and he had sex one day when he had the little chafed places

and that was enough to infect me.

Now, I got it in the classic way,

so I had the flu-like symptoms, which lasted probably about five days,

and then the spots, which were very painful.

Not that many, probably only about four or five.

And then I was again very unlucky,

but it's the reason why I'm working for the Herpes Viruses Association,

because I was unlucky and needed help.

I got lots of outbreaks.

Unlike my boyfriend, who hardly got his chafed place more than twice a year,

I got lots of outbreaks,

so in the first year I probably had about 15 outbreaks.

It did make our love life rather difficult.

But since he wasn't going to catch it back from me because he already had it,

I didn't have that particular worry.

Then after about two years, I would say, that relationship ended

and now I was on my own

and I was more concerned about what another partner would think about this.

I wasn't helped by the fact that my sister, who was living in America then,

sent me a magazine with all sorts of scare stories in it about this.

I really got totally worked up about feeling like a leper,

feeling that no one would have me.

I'd got out of the way of thinking of it as just a cold sore

which was down there instead of up there,

and started really being most concerned about it.

I was lucky because I didn't get it very badly after those first two years,

so I've only used topical treatment,

either the lidocaine, which anaesthetises the area,

or a herbal cream with lemon balm mint in it,

because that prevents outbreaks.

I found recently two applications stop the outbreak.

But for some people who get it far more often,

it's really great that there are antiviral pills.

They can take those on a daily basis

to prevent the outbreak from ever coming out,

so three months, six months, a year,

or they can just take a big dose the moment they start noticing symptoms.

If a partner did catch it from me,

everyone imagines that they're going to get bad symptoms because I did,

and the answer is not.

Only one person in four even notices that they have caught it.

Their symptoms will be less or more aggravating

just according to their own immune system.

On our helplines we get people who are really concerned about it,

and there are two reasons for that.

One is the incurable word that has got attached to it.

Now, that really is unimportant.

We have masses of incurable viruses and bacteria and fungus all the time.

If people just called it a cold sore down there, it would be so much simpler.

But let's face it, anything you have down there

is going to be more embarrassing than having it on your face.

People are really glad when they get to our website

because they say it's so much less scary and freaky then the others.

I'd like to remind people that this is only a cold sore.

Their concerns are often too many outbreaks,

for people with physical symptoms.

They could be in a relationship but too many outbreaks are bothering them.

The other is "Will a new partner accept me? How do I talk about it with them?"

So we have workshops on that subject for people who are concerned.

If you're going along to a GUM clinic, do remember that they do this all day.

It might be embarrassing from your point of view,

but from their point of view it's nine to five.

Some clinics are walk-in, sometimes you need to make an appointment.

They will check you for all the various STDs,

so don't expect them just to find out whether it's herpes simplex,

they will check you for everything.

I think people should take a leaf out of my book.

If you're really worried about this, find out,

because finding out about it is going to alleviate all your worries.

The more I learned about this, the less I worried.

The less I worried, the fewer outbreaks I had.

There's a link to our website and to our helpline. People should use that.

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