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Herpes: Gemma's story

Genital herpes is caused by a highly contagious virus called Herpes Simplex (HSV) and causes very sore, painful blisters on the genitals. 

Read Gemma's story of getting genital herpes when she was 19, written in her own words and told to Brook.

You can read about genital herpes in more detail here.

Gemma's story

I was about 19 and it was my first year at college. I had never had an STI before and had never had unprotected sex (I was too terrified at the thought of getting pregnant) but I had a boyfriend and he had a cold sore. At the time, we didn’t think of it as being a cold sore and assumed it was just a spot. We had oral sex and that must have been how I got herpes.

A few days later, I started with the rash between my legs. It stung but didn’t hurt too much at first but I was so worried. I had no idea what it could have been and couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Then when the blisters burst, it was agony. Every movement caused me pain and going to the toilet was so painful. The blisters felt like cigarette burns. After a few days of hoping it would go away, I realised I’d have to go to a GUM clinic. I remember being in so much discomfort that I couldn’t face the two buses and a walk it would take me to get there so I just paid for a taxi. I remember watching the meter and hoping I’d get there before it was too expensive.

I’d never been to a GUM clinic before and I was asked all kinds of questions about my sexual health. I decided to accept the offer of tests for everything. I knew I was careful but I thought it was better to be safe than sorry.

When they examined me, they immediately knew what it was – herpes. I remember them saying it was one of the worst cases they’d seen and suggested that I come back another time for a full examination and all the tests. I said no and that I wanted everything doing there and then. I did not want to have to pay for another taxi!

They gave me antivirals but explained that they wouldn’t help the pain. For that, they suggested ordinary painkillers and they gave me a great tip, which was to bathe myself in salt water. They also suggested that when I went for a pee, I poured salt water over myself  so that it would dilute the urine and sting less. That advice turned out to be a lifesaver and it became much less painful from then on.

I think they also gave me some topical cream but I’m not sure it did much. It was just a case of waiting for it to heal.

I had a couple of outbreaks after this first time. I knew it was coming because of the tingling feeling and I dreaded it. The second time was bad, but not as bad. After that they got less and less painful.

My advice to other people who think they have it, is to go and get tested. I was really nervous about talking to the staff at the clinic but they couldn’t have been nicer to me and at that stage, I didn’t feel embarrassed. I was just so desperate to know what it was and to get it treated. I’ve got to be honest though, I have always felt very embarrassed about telling anyone else about it, apart from my partner at the time and my partner now. I suppose there is a stigma isn’t there? It certainly made me extra careful from then onwards.

Page last reviewed: June 2015
Next review due: June 2017