by Sandra Julian Barker
This is the most difficult letter I’ve ever had to write. I considered keeping my secret, not wanting to tell you, my little sister, what I’ve done. Then I realized how much I love you and how important it is to keep you from making the same mistake I did. Ever since you were a baby, my first instinct has been to protect you — and so, I send you this letter.
You’ve heard the old saying, “Ignorance is bliss”? Well, I’m here to tell you it ain’t so! What is so is the verse “Be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). That’s right on target.
I guess by growing up in a Christian family and going to a Christian school, we were spared the crash course on certain facts of life. Oh, Mom warned us not to let guys touch us in what she termed “private areas,” but when she’d leave the room we’d laugh at her ideas, never really understanding the importance of her words. I sure wish I’d listened to her, because last semester I made a discovery that has changed my life. I learned that you don’t have to lose your virginity to contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Surprised? Yeah, I was too.
I can hardly believe it, Jessica, but I have genital herpes. If I, a 23-year-old pre-med student, was unaware that there was danger in fooling around with a guy, what about my 15-year-old sister? I never want something like this to happen to you, Jessica. It’s worse than you can possibly imagine.
You’re probably frowning about now, wondering what gives. After all, I’m still a virgin.
You remember Brad, the guy I was dating last year? We went to church together, we prayed together, but . . . we also fooled around together. I will regret those actions for the rest of my life. Oh, we never actually had sexual intercourse. I was in junior high when I made a commitment to remain a virgin until marriage, so what did we have to fear, right? Wrong! I thought I could play around the edge of passion’s fire and not get burned. I thought I was safe.
My rude awakening came in front of a doctor I visited for what I thought was a really bad urinary tract infection. When he calmly informed me I had herpes, I went ballistic! That poor doctor looked almost as freaked as I was.
I knew Brad had slept with a couple of girlfriends before he was saved, but he’d had a blood test earlier that year to check for stuff like AIDS and hepatitis. He thought he was clean. On top of that, he’d never had a single symptom of herpes, and he still hasn’t! Ironic, isn’t it? He gives me a disease he got while sleeping around, while I, still technically a virgin, suffer like crazy. It’s not even close to being fair!
Now here I am, stuck with an incurable STD that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Oh, it’s not fatal and I won’t die from it, but it’s still there and always will be, ready to show up in painful genital sores during times of stress or sickness.
As if that’s not enough, I now have to confess to those I love about my shameful actions and the contagious virus I carry in my body. Jessie, I just don’t know if I can bring myself to tell Mom and Dad. I know they will be so disappointed in me. It’s bad enough confessing to you (although I couldn’t do it face-to-face), but Mom and Dad?
Then I think of the future and the man I’ll someday want to marry. I realize that before we get too serious I’ll have to tell him about the herpes. Even now I shudder and cringe at the thought of that moment. Will he still want me, knowing he will not only share my life, but also my herpes? Or will the man of my dreams suddenly view me through different eyes and turn away? I can’t bear to think about it.
Well, I’ve done what I set out to do: cry out a warning to the dearest person in the world to me. I’m so ashamed I could crawl into a hole, but there’s no way I can let my shame and embarrassment stop me from begging you to commit to true sexual purity. This doesn’t simply mean virginity, but a pure lifestyle. Avoid skin-to-skin or oral sexual conduct like the plague, Jessie, because that’s exactly what it adds up to — a plague.
Stay pure, little sister. Share my love, not my regrets.
All my love,
Some Startling Facts About Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Virgins don’t get sexually transmitted diseases.
You don’t have to “go all the way” sexually to contract an STD. The soft, moist skin in the mouth and genital areas are perfect breeding grounds for many dangerous viruses. Skin-to-skin contact in those areas is all that’s necessary to pass the virus from person to person.
A person will know if he or she has an STD.
Up to 60 percent of herpes carriers are unaware they are infected. Men are much more likely to be symptom-free than women. Other STDs that sometimes show no signs of their presence include gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis and genital warts (HPV). Whether you see them or not, they are just as contagious and just as dangerous to your health.
STDs are not common.
Here are the figures for a few of the most common STDs in the United States. An estimated one out of every five people over age 12 has genital herpes; an estimated 24 million people are infected with genital warts (HPV); over four million people get chlamydia every year.
Nice girls don’t get STDs.
Viruses don’t recognize nice from naughty. You can be the nicest girl in your Sunday school class, but if you fool around sexually with your boyfriend you open the door for deadly viruses to invade your body. The only sure protection against STDs is to avoid any form of close sexual intimacy.
What’s the Big Deal With Herpes?
The virus called herpes simplex comes in two forms. One generally causes fever blisters on the mouth (usually HSV-1) and similar symptoms in the genital area (usually HSV-2). Once the virus invades the body, it takes up permanent residence. Sometimes it “sleeps” in body cells and causes no trouble. Other times it “awakens,” activated by stress, sickness, your monthly period or even a sunburn. While medication helps, genital blisters can be very painful.
A person with herpes is contagious not only when the virus is awake and blisters pop out, but also just before symptoms occur. During that time, the herpes virus is very easily passed to someone else through skin-to-skin contact. Remember, a person can be contagious without showing symptoms.
If the herpes virus is awake when a woman is ready to give birth to her baby, she must have a cesarean section to protect the baby from getting the disease.
Note: If you are experiencing any discomfort or unusual symptoms in your pelvic or vaginal area, it is important to visit a doctor. Some STDs can be cured with antibiotics. Those that can’t be cured can at least be treated. It is dangerous to ignore the symptoms.
For more information visit the Medical Institute for Sexual Health Web site.
This article appeared in Brio magazine. Copyright © 2001 Sandra Julian Barker. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Photo/Illustration by Ron Nickel.
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