Herpes Symptoms: Naomi’s life changed when she contracted genital herpes. She wants others to know they’re not alone
When Queensland waitress Naomi Santarossa hit it off with a man she met on a dating app, she never imagined the night would forever change the trajectory of her life.
The encounter did not send her on the path to true love. Instead, it led to a doctor’s appointment that ended with a daunting diagnosis – genital herpes.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Advice from an Australian woman on how to live with herpes.
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Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV1 or HSV2) – the same type of virus that causes cold sores.
HSV1 is usually transmitted by oral-to-oral contact, causing oral herpes, including cold sores – but both HSV1 and HSV2 can cause genital herpes.
But despite 75% of Australians living with HSV1 and about 12 in 100 with HSV2, those living with genital herpes say it carries a damaging stigma.
“When I was diagnosed I started crying and I was like, ‘This is one thing forever, I won’t be able to do anything,'” Santarossa told 7NEWS.com.au.
“It’s way too stigmatized.”
Instead of letting the stigma get to her, the 23-year-old took to TikTok to speak out.
‘Your life is over’
Sitting in the doctor’s office six months ago, an uneasy Santarossa hoped and prayed for “everything is clear.”
“When I started showing symptoms, in the back of my mind I knew it was herpes,” she said, but she couldn’t believe it.
“I was googling and looking at pictures like ‘No it doesn’t.’ I convinced myself I had genital warts.
The thought of a herpes diagnosis was terrifying. The stigma of shame that comes with it was even more so.
“Growing up, you had sex education at school, but they don’t explain herpes properly,” Santarossa said.
“They walk past and say ‘don’t understand, your life is going to be over’.”
Fear hung over her head as the doctor looked at Santarossa’s symptoms and said, “Oh my love, you have genital herpes.”
“It takes away a lot of your self-confidence and you have to rebuild it,” Santarossa said.
“I was very up and down at the start.
“I’m lucky to have a very supportive family life, with my mother, my sister and my friends – they spent hours with me sobbing.”
But some of the new weight on Santarossa’s shoulders began to lift when she learned how common the infection was.
In the United States, genital herpes, caused by HSV1 or HSV2, affects one in six people from 14 to 49 years old.
Closer to home, as much as 1 in 8 sexually active Australian adults have genital herpes.
“I just dove right into the research and looking at the stats and realized how common it is and how undereducated most people are,” Santarossa said.
The embarrassing moment
HSV is spread through close skin-to-skin contact and can cause blisters or sores to break out on the genitals.
After the first episode, the virus remains dormant, which means recurrent outbreaks of sores and blisters can occur in the oven.
Outbreaks are managed with antiviral medications, and many people with herpes find that the outbreaks become milder and less frequent over the years.
However, it is possible for herpes to spread from an asymptomatic person who may not even know they have it, making disclosure and protection paramount when having sex.
Telling a potential partner she had herpes was daunting at first, Santarossa said, but she soon realized it wasn’t as bad as society made it out to be.
“I had a very embarrassing revelation with a guy, he came over and he couldn’t leave my house fast enough,” she said.
“It just comes with that. People are undereducated. »
Luckily, Santarossa’s partners generally agree with her diagnosis, but she’s learned to be thick-skinned.
“If I don’t know them personally and it’s not someone I’ve met before, I tell them right before I meet them because I don’t want to waste their time if they’re not comfortable with it, or wasting my time,” she said.
While she’s had to change the way she approaches dating, Santarossa wants other people with herpes to know they can still live fulfilling lives.
The diagnosis does not mean that they cannot be loved, have relationships and experience intimacy.
“The very first (outbreak) I had was terrible but, after that, it’s really nothing,” Santarossa said.
Break down the barriers
In social circles, herpes is a taboo subject considered shameful, humiliating and isolating. But it doesn’t have to.
Breaking the stigma is Santarossa’s latest mission as she brings what she’s learned to TikTok in hopes of helping people know they’re not alone.
“I realized how common this is and thought I would start spreading this information,” she said, adding that change needs to start at a younger age.
“We have to express it. I’m not disgusting.
With over 10,000 followers and counting, Santarossa, also known as @NaommiiGraccee, shares facts and stories about living with herpes to her supportive followers.
“The response has been incredible,” she said.
“I opened my DMs for anyone to message me and since then I haven’t even been halfway through my message requests. It’s all people asking questions or asking for advice and information about herpes.
“Even people with herpes are often still very uneducated.”
Santarissa says she was pleasantly surprised by the engagement on her account, adding that she thinks she must have found her way to the good side of the internet.
“I almost always get positive feedback, everyone is so sweet or curious,” she said.
“It’s actually pretty awesome because the mean comments I get, my followers support me.”
But it took her time to develop the level of confidence that allowed her to come out with her diagnosis to the world – and not everyone can do that.
Santarossa wants people to be more considerate when discussing sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and to be aware of how their harmful words could unknowingly hurt loved ones.
“I want people to realize that you could have herpes and not even know it, I’m just one of the people who have symptoms,” she said.
“People can live their whole life and die without knowing they had it.
She wants sex education to move away from “scare tactics” and towards open conversations.
“We did sex education about STDs and all they did with herpes was show us pictures and say, ‘This is bad, this is going to ruin your life’.
“They need to dig deeper and say, ‘If you catch this, it’s okay’ and show the kids how common it is and how you can go on living.
“It’s not the end of the world and you’re not alone.”