Search Results for: EMILY DEPASSE

College students and cold sores

By Emily Depasse

Alumni

Three Mondays ago, the click-clacking of my nude pumps echoed throughout Maggs Gym. I returned to campus as a guest speaker in a health course focused on chronic and communicable diseases. I have presented myself and my story in front of friends, family members and in middle school sexuality classes, but never to students in a college setting. I was unsure of how they would respond. Upon receiving some negative remarks from extended family members a few days prior, this speech became increasingly significant to me on a personal level. Needless to say, I was nervous.

College is often seen as a time of independence and exploration of self—including one’s sexual identity. The average American loses his or her virginity around age 17, but herpes exposure often happens much sooner than that. You can contract herpes from a kiss from a family member as a child. It is estimated that 67 percent of the world population carries HSV-1, the strain of herpes that is most likely to cause cold sores. Over the last several years, there has been an increase in oral-to-genital transmission of the herpes virus. When engaging in oral sex, one’s cold sores can potentially cause a genital presentation of HSV-1. While this strain typically prefers to take residence in the mouth, it sometimes decides to nest in the south. When we are in the heat of the moment with someone at a house party, in our dorm room or at Brew, we kiss. A lot. How many of those who have cold sores feel a need to disclose to their partners? How many of those with cold sores even know and identify that they have a strain of the herpes virus? Or that they may transmit that virus to their partners during oral sex, even if an outbreak is not present?

“Cold sore” provides a safety net. It helps fulfill society’s need to conceal the “dirtiness” of the herpes virus. The terms are interchangeable, but we choose to keep and maintain a distance between them. Unfortunately, the linguistic difference between cold sores and herpes also prevents disclosure from happening, which is likely a reason for the increase in oral-to-genital HSV-1 transmission.

The reality is that we all will come into contact with the herpes virus at some point during our lives. My goal in highlighting this is not to instill fear, but to reach a level of awareness and education. I believe that one potential way to remove the shameful stigma of herpes is for those who have experienced a cold sore to talk about it. Start the conversation with yourself by replacing “cold sore” with herpes just to see how it feels. A word should not make anyone inferior, but words are powerful and so are the stigmas attached to them. How did it make you feel? Although it is easier to discuss sexuality in this time, our language reveals there is still a long road ahead of us.

After finishing my lecture at Salisbury, I was shocked at one of the responses I received. A young man approached me afterword and thanked me. He shared that my presentation caused him to critically think and reevaluate how he viewed sexually transmitted diseases and infections. A smile grew across my face. As I exited the gym with my Rise Up cappuccino in hand, I strutted toward the new Academic Commons with tears in the corners of my eyes. Most of my interaction is virtual, so to be in the presence of critical thought, to see the effect of sharing my vulnerability, is not something I experience every day. This is the magic in sharing your story.

 

Health Services Helps Herpes (and other diseases, too)

By Emily Depasse

Alumni

Sex is associated with feelings of pleasure, and with that pleasure, comes risk.

Most have probably heard the, “Sex is like riding a bicycle,” cliché. When we coast along on our bicycles across campus, we risk the chance of losing our balance and falling against the pavement. When we engage in sexual contact, we risk not only infection, but also the increased chance of a broken heart.

Remember that cute boy that helped you carry your bags up to the sixth floor of Severn? The one you talked about during the walk from Conway Hall to Commons? The one you haven’t stopped thinking about? It’s been about two weeks since you first slept with him. You don’t know which direction things are headed, but you do know that he is your only sexual partner at the moment. You wake up early Wednesday morning for your dreaded 8AM math class, and something just feels off. Your mind is cloudy, you feel a deep achiness, and walking becomes unbearable. At first, you thought it was a minor yeast infection, very common and often happens with sexual contact. It’s been a few days, and your normal, go-to treatment method has done nothing to alleviate the pain between your legs. You look at yourself in your mirror that’s double-taped beside your bed and begin to cry. “What if’s” and “things like this don’t happen to me” immediately flood your brain.

As humans, we have this habit of jumping to conclusions. We often become defensive if there is something “wrong” with us. We feel like we’re being attacked, but is a potential STI diagnosis really so scary? Society would have us believe that there is something inherently negative about contracting an STI. Amidst the presence of sexuality, sexual expression, and objectification presented through the media on a daily basis—it’s no wonder that we’re confused. Sexuality surrounds us, but bringing its effects into discussion implies shame and dirtiness. Even in most sexual health education programs, there is nothing we come across that lets us know that we will be okay; the conversations are cold, clinical, and present these infections as devastating. We are receiving mixed messages here. How can we so easily accept the side-effects that come with the bicycle but not with our sex lives?

Your roommate walks in as you wipe away the remainder of your tears and decide to confide in her about your speculation. You Google your symptoms, looking for answers of what they could and could not be. She convinces you to take the next step and schedule the seemingly daunting appointment with Student Health Services.

As you and your friend make your way across campus to Holloway Hall, despite its decrepit smell and humid stairwells, there is an unknown aura of history that lurks between its walls. While listening in on current campus conversations, it is difficult to imagine that sex was ever a taboo topic among Salisbury University’s attendees, but years ago, it was just that. In issues of The Holly Leaf, what we now know today as The Flyer, from the 1950s through 1960s, gossip columns, “Through the Keyhole” and “Snoopy”, were dedicated to divulging who was dating whom on campus and even frequently expressed marriage announcements. Nowadays, we do not need The Flyer to update us on campus relationships, we have social media for that. Additionally, men and women did not share dormitory buildings as they do now. The locations of the men’s dormitories were Wicomico and Pocomoke Hall, while the women’s dormitories were located in Manokin Hall and Holloway Hall. While there were no mentions of hook-ups in The Holly Leaf (although there was an interview with a Panty Raider) one can only imagine the gossip and stolen stairwell kisses that did not make publication.

As you begin to walk past the registrar’s office, your heart drops. You look at your friend as she grabs your hand and promises you that it will be okay. And she’s right, it will be okay, you will be okay. After all, herpes is a just a skin condition. If you’ve ever had a cold sore, you too have a form of the herpes virus. Recently, the CDC noted that genital HSV-1 has seen more prevalence due to the rise in oral sex. Although herpes does not have a cure, it is manageable. You may have one outbreak for the rest of your life, or you may have more frequently reoccurring outbreaks. Each body responds to the virus differently, and with your diagnosis, you will learn your body and its response in new light. What you cannot anticipate is how partners, and potential partners, will respond.

Telling your partner has not even been a thought in your head until now because of that fear of judgement. What happens when you fall off your bicycle on your way to class? It hurts. We’re embarrassed. What happens when our hearts become broken? They ache. How does it feel when we break our leg? It’s painful. How does it feel when you are having a symptomatic* herpes outbreak? It’s painful. The differences between these two pains? Shame. There is no shame associated with a broken leg, but there is rarely discussed and unnecessary shame attached to an STI diagnosis.

Before you walk across campus to Health Services, it is suggested that you first make an appointment through their web platform, or by telephone. The Health Services website also provides specific information about STD testing , including basic expectations. As a former student who has sought testing through the university during my undergraduate years, I can attest that it will probably be an awkward experience no matter where you go. What I do know is that that Salisbury University’s Student Health Services is equipped to test for STIs. And if you do happen to leave the clinic with a positive diagnosis for herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or the like, I know you will be okay. I know it is possible to survive the stigma, because I did, and continue to battle it each day. People are more than their medical conditions, diseases, and infections, and it’s about time that the world takes that into the bicycle equation.

 

*some outbreaks have no symptoms (asymptomatic)

 

Let’s Talk About Sex, SU

By Emily Depasse

@eld3393

*Disclaimer – Emily Depasse is a Salisbury University alumni and a contributing writer to the Flyer. In the featured picture, Depasse is shown sharing her story with middle school students during a human sexuality course.

depasse

As syllabus week comes to a close and the scent of Rise Up’s freshly-brewed pumpkin spiced lattes drift through the Academic Commons, many of us may find ourselves in the midst of a new fall romance.

Maybe we met him in our English 103 class, maybe he helped you carry your over packed suitcase to your sixth-floor room in Severn, or maybe it was that cute blonde with the dimples at Mojo’s last Friday night. While we try to figure this person into the context of our lives as a one-night stand, friend-with-benefits, or potential significant other, what we’re likely not thinking of is sharing our sexual histories.

Last July, after I graduated from Salisbury, I was diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The beginning of my story is similar to most that one might find while searching the internet.

There I was, lying on an urgent care table, searching for possible answers as to the cause of the pain below my waist—praying it was anything but an STD. That day, I walked out of the doctor’s office with a positive culture for herpes.  As I sat in the car, the scariest thoughts that echoed between my ears were, “Who will want me? Who will love me?”

These seemingly desperate questions continued to weigh heavily on me for some time. One of the first, and probably most important, lessons I have learned over the last 16 months occurred that day at the doctor. An STD does not have a “type.” An STD is not a punishment. If you engage in any kind of sexual activity, there is always a risk.

In my personal opinion, if you cannot have a discussion regarding your sexual history, or your health status — with yourself or your partners — you should not be engaging in sexual activity with others.

Part of the problem surrounding these conversations that we should be having (but would rather neglect) is the stigma of contracting an STD. Society presents STDs as punishments for being too promiscuous. Herpes, especially, is often the butt of many jokes. For example, in “The Hangover” the character Sid says, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Except Herpes, that shit’ll come back with you.”

This type of humor perpetuates the myth that only a certain type of person can contract an STD. I vividly recall trying to associate herpes into my identity on that first day—“But I’m not the type of girl to get an STD,” I thought to myself. This internal struggle serves as evidence that I, too, once fell victim to the stigma prior to my diagnosis.

During my time as an undergraduate student at Salisbury University, I majored in Gender and Sexuality Studies with aspirations of becoming a sex therapist. Despite a basic working knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, the factual information I acquired through my education did not delve deep enough to guide me through my herpes diagnosis.

There were questions I had that were still left unanswered by my coursework, so I searched further. Each night, I would spend hours researching the internet about herpes before falling asleep. Amidst a wealth of statistics, I was most surprised to find women like myself. Ella Dawson, another herpes positive writer, became somewhat of a heroine and inspiration for me. Ella’s writings provided an unanswered depth, and shed new light on issues neither my professors nor my doctors really addressed.

I discovered that vulnerability is an important piece of the puzzle that is absent from our educational system. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) throws facts and numbers at us, and our professors do their best to convey their meaning and importance, but these numbers are often difficult to believe when there is such a stigma revolved around discussion and disclosure. Currently, the CDC reports that about 1 in 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49 contract one form of herpes, yet we all seem to share in a sense of loneliness.

Since coming out about my herpes positive status, I have realized the power of conversation. I was inspired to start my own blog about the experiences I faced stemming from herpes to matters of the heart and, most recently, a combination of the two. And yes, there is the possibility of love and affection after an STD diagnosis.

When we think about revealing an STD diagnosis, or simply discussing our sexual history, a common theme appears.  Ella’s TED Talk sums it up best: “…there are a lot scarier things to tell another person in this world than ‘I have an STI.’ Things like: ‘I deserve a raise.’ Or, ‘I’m sorry that I hurt you.’ Or, ‘I think I’m falling in love with you.’”

These little conversations filled with tremendous honesty are what break down stigma; telling a close friend, confiding in a sibling, telling your parents. Even telling a stranger in a coffee shop. Revealing our innermost truths to people is scary, no doubt, but it is important to look at the depth they reveal about ourselves and the weight that each one carries.

Each time we engage in a sexual experience, we are taking a risk. Clothes seem to fall with such ease, yet, when the idea of conversation comes about, we take a step back. We are more hesitant to vocally share that side of ourselves—whether it’s a kink we’re into, an STD diagnosis or even prior history of assault or abuse.

As the semester begins and summer tan lines fade away, take that conversational risk. In sharing your sexual history with this season’s latest crush, you are not only beginning a conversation with that person, but building a place for honesty in your relationships with yourself and beyond.