It took years for Davis, founder of The STD Project , which encourages awareness and acceptance of various sexually transmitted diseases, and spokesperson for Positive Singles , a dating site for people with STDs, to come to terms with the diagnosis she got at age When she was diagnosed with herpes almost three years ago, Whitney Carlson, 29, a social media editor in Chicago, had a similar reaction. The infection, which is caused by the herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 viruses and passed via skin-to-skin contact, can show up as a cluster of sores on the mouth area or genitals. Around two-thirds of people worldwide under age 50 have herpes simplex 1, according to the World Health Organization , and around one in every six Americans between ages 14 and 49 has genital herpes, usually caused by herpes simplex 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Both Davis and Carlson eventually moved past their initial panic and saw herpes for what it is: an infection many people have that happens to usually get passed through sexual contact. In the past, Carlson would put the herpes conversation on the table quickly.
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Then I woke up one morning with pain around my vulva and told myself every possible explanation for what it could be—every reason that it couldn't be an STI. I arrived at the urgent-care center with my thoughts racing and heart in my stomach. Deep down, I knew it was something , but I still held onto the hope that maybe it was really just an allergic reaction to that new pair of underwear. But testing confirmed my positive herpes diagnosis—and my newfound identity as a herpes-positive woman.