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Jenelle Marie Davis, 34, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will gladly explain why having herpes isn’t the end of the world. 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 16.“My mom says the entire way home from my appointment, I cried and said no one would ever love me, no one would ever want me, and I’d never get married,” Davis tells SELF.

When she was diagnosed with herpes almost three years ago, Whitney Carlson, 29, a social media editor in Chicago, had a similar reaction.

But all the self-acceptance in the world doesn’t erase the fact that a herpes diagnosis creates ripple effects of shame and social isolation, and the fallout is especially pronounced when it comes to your dating life.“It’s good to have the conversation because there is a potential risk of transmission,” Cherrell Triplett, M.

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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.

It can also be asymptomatic, so most people with herpes don’t know they have it, which is a large part of the reason why it’s so prevalent.

“This isn’t everyone’s experience, but when I started dating with herpes, I found out none of my partners cared.”Although she sees that it’s intriguing to potentially avoid attachment—and thus heartbreak—by telling someone right out the gate, she makes an excellent point in favor of taking your time: “Nobody tells you all of the things about themselves that you usually don’t find out for a bit, like they have really bad credit or they’re a horrible cook, until you get to know each other.” Of course, it’s different with a health condition you can pass to someone else, but it’s worth noting.

Although they tell potential partners at different points in the relationship, Carlson and Davis’ actual disclosure process is pretty similar.

They got engaged in 2015 and finally tied the knot last year in Napa, California.

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