I received this email message from a high school health teacher today:
I have a student who is at a loss for words. She recently had sex for the first time and has now been diagnosed with herpes. She is a mess and is seeking guidance from me. I am unsure what to tell her. I did encourage her to get a second test taken just by the off chance the first one was a false positive. Any input you could provide would be appreciated!
I have offered to speak to the young lady when I return to her high school in two weeks; but I am not exactly sure what I will tell her.
Unfortunately, what has happened to her is not as rare as it should be. So, maybe I could tell her she is in good company because the latest statistics show that nationwide, 16.2%, or about one out of six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital HSV-2 infection.
I could also tell her that she needn’t worry about the STD impacting her ability to find a boyfriend in the future because there are now online dating services for people with STDs. Who would have thought that STDs would become so common that dating services would be dedicated to people who have them?
For some reason, I doubt either of the above pieces of counsel will make her feel better or help her overcome the emotional turmoil she is experiencing right now—emotional consequences no contraceptive will eliminate. As I ask my students in the classroom all the time, “Where is the condom that protects the heart and emotions?”
Many people would say, “If she had been responsible and practiced safe sex, this would not have happened.” Maybe she did practice “safe” sex; maybe she didn’t. We don’t really know. But the reality is that even if she used protection she could have still contracted herpes because it is spread through skin-to-skin contact and the condom doesn’t cover the entire genitals.
As a matter of fact, a study out of the University of Washington published in the August 2009 issue of The Archives of Internal Medicine showed that consistent condom usage reduced the chances of contracting herpes by 30%.
Isn't it time that we told young people the truth—that protection provided by any form of birth control is limited and will not totally eliminate any of the negative consequences of teenage sex?
We also need to make sure they understand that "Birth control is NOT Disease control!" and they have a greater chance of contracting an STD than they do of experiencing a pregnancy.
I cannot imagine the emotional turmoil this young lady must be experiencing as she deals with the fact that the consequence of ONE decision will be with her for the rest of her life.
I wish I did not have to try to find the words to comfort someone this young. One thing that I know I will tell her if I get the chance to speak with her is this: “Herpes is what she HAS, not WHO she IS!”
Yes, she will have to deal with it forever. But her life is not over. She can always make better choices. When you know better, you do better!
What advice would you give her if you were given the chance? I welcome your comments below!