“Hello Everyone! Surely I need no introduction. In Western Culture I’m right up there with Leprosy (which totally baffles me). In the 20th century three Influenza pandemics occurred, each caused by the appearance of a new strain of the Flu virus in humans and killed tens of millions of people. In the 4,500 years of my existence on Earth, I have caused zero fatalities… That is ZERO, as in not one! Moreover, comedians capitalize on herpes jokes, but that says more about their lack of creativity that your living with me. I personally can’t stand them; most of their herpes material is so trite. Truth be told, I wish you and I could just be friends. I’m a virus seeking a host, and you just happened to be there. I’m sorry I’ve caused you so much heartache, distress, shame and anger. It was never my intention to hurt you; I’m just trying to survive like any other organism out there. Anyways, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I’ve asked my friend Carlos to put together a report where the mythology surrounding me and my so-called unclean nature is debunked. Again, now that we are linked together forever, I hope we can come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. My contribution to your pain is not deliberate, and I promise, as times goes by, my moodiness will lessen — like most humans — I too have bad days and flare up. I promise to partake in a stress-free lifestyle, if you do the footwork… And oh yeah, since Mother Nature created ME as well as She did YOU, heck, neither of us is going to be perfect 100% of the time; so let’s turn the self-loathing a couple of notches down… deal?”
The Herpes Simplex Virus
And here’s what I have to say …
Now that you know you have genital herpes, you’re out of the dating game, right? Absolutely not. There’s no reason to stop looking for love and fun. Genital herpes doesn’t detract from your many desirable qualities, which have drawn people to you in the past and will continue to make you a great catch. And it’s important to understand that genital HSV is very common, affecting about 20% of the U.S. adult population.
Broaching the Topic of Genital Herpes:
The first date after a genital herpes diagnosis may seem a little strange, however. If you hope to be sexually intimate with your date at some point, you may feel like you’re keeping a secret. If you are one to be candid with people, you’ll want to blurt it out. Don’t. There are some things you should reveal about yourself right away — for example, that you’re married, or that you’re just in town for the week — but some things are better left for the appropriate moment.
It’s up to you to decide the right time to tell a date that you have genital herpes. Follow two rules: First, don’t wait until after having sex. Second, don’t wait until you’re just about to have sex — in which case the attraction may be too strong for either of you to think rationally and act responsibly.
If in the past you tended to start a new relationship with sex, you now might want to change your approach. It might be better to break the news about herpes to someone who has already grown attached to you. Kissing, cuddling, and fondling are safe, so you don’t have to tell before you do that. But use your best judgment as to how physically intimate you want to get before telling. One thing could lead to another, and you might find yourself in an awkward situation.
Dealing with Rejection:
Anyone who dates should be prepared for rejection. The person you’re seeing may beat a hasty retreat when he or she finds out you have genital herpes. If you get the “I just want to be friends” talk after telling your sweetheart you have herpes, consider this: He or she may have already been looking for a way out, and herpes was as good an excuse as any. What’s more, anyone who disdains or humiliates you for having herpes was never worth your while.
Keep dating, and you will find someone who wants to be with you regardless of your condition. There are certainly some who wouldn’t mind keeping the intimacy level just short of doing things that could transmit the virus. And of those people, it’s likely that at least one will come around, and say, “Hey, I understand there’s a risk, but I’m crazy about you, so I’m willing to take it.”
The Herpes Stigma and its origins:
The word “stigma” is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Many ask, where does the herpes stigma come from and why is there such a stigma attached to the herpes virus?
Ever wonder where the stigma for herpes comes from, or why the stigma is so big?
HSV1 and HSV2 have been around for about 4500 years and was for the majority of that time just a minor skin condition that no one really gave a second thought to. It was just like having a cold. Everyone would get a cold sometimes and with HSV they would get an outbreak. It was never a big deal. Living with HSV was just the way it was up until 1975. That’s right! It has only been an issue for 36 of those 4500 years. So what is the fuss about? Why are we so ashamed now to have this virus when for so long people had it and no one cared? Why do we care now?
During the research and development of the drug Acyclovir (Zovirax) it was mentioned there was no market for this drug because most people had never heard of genital Herpes before. The solution? Market the virus. A campaign was launched to raise awareness of the virus and the way it can be spread sexually. The Burroughs/Wellcome marketing campaign’s goal was to stimulate the need for the drug by alarming (disease mongering) the patients of the social consequences of infection and emphasizing that the drug could help to prevent transmission.
This campaign is responsible for the creation of the stigma which still has people terrified of this virus which is not more than a minor skin condition.
Having HSV whether you have type 1 or type 2, whether you have it genitally or orally, is a nuisance. However, having and living with HSV is not the end of the world and not something to be ashamed of. This stigma only carries as much weight as we allow it to.
Due to genital herpes affecting the genital area gives a feeling that it is something bad, horrible and dirty, these are only psychological feelings though. People don’t give much thought to cold sores, which is herpes simplex 1 and basically the same virus as herpes simplex 2.
The reason why cold sores are more readily accepted than genital herpes is due to the fact that 80 percent of the world population has cold sores and also because it is not located in the genitals. The genitals is a very private area that psychologically we are all programmed to protect, so subconsciously when we have a problem in the genital area we tend to over exaggerate it and place a lot more fear as opposed to problems on other parts of our body.
People also tend to fear anything that is related to a sexually transmitted disease, if the common flu was classified as a sexually transmitted disease people would be terrified of it and probably stigmatize it. Ironically, more people die every year from apparent benign diseases such as the common flu than people do from herpes. Herpes has no fatality rate in adults, though it does present a serious health risk to newborn infants. So in reality the flu is a lot more dangerous than what herpes is, but hardly anyone fears the flu virus.
What can be done about the herpes stigma?
There is no cure or vaccine for ignorance, so the stigma will be here to stay until such a time that a vaccine or cure is made available. Until such a time education is the key in helping people to understand the realities of herpes. Many people are unaware that cold sores are in fact herpes and that there is an 80 percent chance that they themselves are actually carriers of the herpes virus themselves and don’t even know it.
People who have genital herpes should not be ashamed about their situation, if you are ashamed of the situation that you are in; all you are doing is empowering the stigma. If you show other people that you are ashamed of your situation how can you expect them to be open minded to the possibility that the stigma is completely overly exaggerated.
The only way that stigma can be reduced is if people who are infected with herpes but not ashamed are open about it, allowing others to see it is not that big a deal. I am not saying stand on the rooftops and yell out your situation to all who will care to listen; but rather educate others you come into contact with who have less knowledge about HSV. It is human nature to be afraid of something that you do not understand. Fear breeds defense mechanisms which in turn falsifies a simple situation into a stigma.
Things that you as an individual can do about the herpes stigma:
Accept that you have genital herpes and that nothing can be done about it, once you have come to terms with it you will find that you become a lot more accepting and will feel better in your skin. People will also be drawn to you as they can see that you are comfortable.
Educate people about the herpes virus, don’t get annoyed when people tell herpes related jokes or speak about herpes in a tone of disgust, it is just their defense mechanisms that are kicking into gear. In a situation where someone is making jokes about other people with herpes, have a talk with them, explain to them the psychological impact that herpes does have on people and that these kind of jokes are hurtful and really damaging to the people concerned. This person would not make fun of a person in a car accident or a person that is handicapped so ask the person why it is okay to make fun about another person’s condition.
- Herpes is a common and usually mild recurrent skin condition caused by a virus: the herpes simplex virus (HSV). HSV is in a family of viruses called herpes viruses. This family includes Epstein-Barr virus (the cause of mono) and the varicella zoster virus (the cause of chicken pox and shingles). Although there are several viruses in the herpes virus family, each is a separate virus and different. Having one virus does not mean you will have another.
- There are two types of herpes simplex viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). The majority of oral herpes cases are caused by HSV-1 and the majority of genital herpes cases are caused by HSV-2; however, type-1 or type-2 can occur in either the genital or oral area.
- More than 50 percent of American adults have oral herpes, which is commonly called cold sores or fever blisters. Oral herpes is almost always due to HSV-1 infection. About one in six people ages 14-49 in the United States have genital HSV-2 infection. However, most people don’t know they are infected because their symptoms are too mild to notice or mistaken for another condition.
- Oral and genital herpes can be uncomfortable, but they are generally not dangerous infections in healthy adults. Herpes does not affect the immune system. It is rare for adults to have any health problems from genital herpes. However, there are a couple of areas of concern. If a woman with genital herpes has virus present in the birth canal during delivery, HSV can be spread to an infant, causing neonatal herpes, a serious and sometimes fatal condition. The risk is greatest for women who contract genital HSV during pregnancy. Additionally, having genital herpes makes it easier to acquire and/or transmit HIV, a virus that can cause AIDS.
- There are several days throughout the year when herpes can be spread even when no symptoms are present (called asymptomatic reactivation or asymptomatic shedding). The surest way to prevent the spread of genital herpes is to avoid sexual contact during an active outbreak and to use condoms for sexual contact between outbreaks. Suppressive (daily) antiviral therapy with valacyclovir has also been proven to reduce the risk of transmission to a partner.
Herpes may raise strong emotional issues, especially in the first few weeks or months after a diagnosis. Some people initially feel embarrassment, shame, anger, or depression. The good news is that these emotions tend to fade away over time. Some studies have shown that even six months can make a difference in adjusting to herpes.
Why does such a common virus have the power to affect us? The major reason seems to be the fact that genital herpes is sexually transmitted. Growing up in our society, most of us come to view a sexually transmitted disease as a fate that befalls only those who have done something wrong. In addition, many people lose perspective about the medical implications of herpes. Too often, we see health as an all-or-nothing proposition: someone with a chronic infection is deemed unhealthy and somehow “imperfect.”
The first step in dealing with a herpes diagnosis, then, is recognizing it as a common, manageable virus, not a punishment or judgment. The next step is realizing that health is never “perfect.” In reality, everyone faces a host of physical challenges as inevitable as life itself. The task is to meet them and get past them. Fortunately, most people with herpes find that, with time, they are able to adjust to the medical and emotional impact of herpes and move on.
If you are experiencing a strong emotional response to a diagnosis, it might be helpful to explore why those feelings may be happening. Closely connected to the issue of self-image is the matter of how we believe others see us. This is where the social stigma about genital herpes – whether perceived or real – can be pinpointed.
One reason that genital herpes raises issues of social stigma is the fact that, as a society, we’re just beginning to feel comfortable talking about sex and sexuality in general. Today, we are surrounded by images of sex in art, entertainment, and advertisements. There are signs as well that on a personal level we are becoming somewhat more open about topics such as sexual orientation and sexual function. With herpes there’s a similar trend to more awareness and openness. Surveys show that the public is more educated on the subject than ever before. Perhaps the day will come when even the idea of social stigma will be a distant memory.
In the meantime, of course, it’s very difficult to separate how one feels about having herpes from worries about how others might feel. Should you tell a friend? Will you be able to remain sexually active? How can you tell a sexual partner or romantic interest? When is the best time to tell? Concerns about any or all of these questions are not unusual for someone newly diagnosed. Rejection and misunderstandings about the nature of a herpes infection can and do happen. But a myriad of personal accounts suggests that in the great majority of cases, herpes does not stand in the way of successful, enduring relationships.
What can you do to speed the process of adjusting to herpes?
Keep in mind the following:
- Realize that it’s normal to be stressed emotionally by herpes, especially at first. Give yourself time to adjust, and remember that the emotional issues will get easier.
- Try to keep in mind that genital herpes is somewhat like other infections you may have had in the past. You are capable of managing it.
- If you’re feeling isolated, you may need to find someone to talk to. Perhaps you might pick one close friend and tell her or him about it. You can ask that the conversation be kept in absolute confidence.
- You can also call the National STI Hotline (919.361.8488) and speak to a counselor about your feelings or visit a local HELP group.
- Try not to make the assumption that having herpes will prevent you from being romantically involved or having successful long-term relationships.
- There are millions of couples in which one or both partners have this virus. For the vast majority, the relationships stand or fall on far more important issues.