11 Feb Lowering the Herpes Stigma
Herpes is common in the U.S. but many people struggle silently with psychological problems from ‘the herpes stigma’. This refers to insecurities that are associated with having herpes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated 15.5 percent of U.S. citizens between the ages of 14 to 49 have HSV-2 or genital herpes. Of that same age group, over half of the people have had HSV-1, also known as a cold sore or herpes on the lip. Recently, more people are having mouth herpes on their genitals.
But herpes is herpes whether it is on the lips or on the genitals. One part of the stigma is that people who have type-1 assume that this type remains on the lips. This is not sure. Type-1 can be passed to the genitals.
The CDC estimates that 90 percent of infected HSV-2 people have not been diagnosed. HSV can be passed on even when no physical symptoms are present.
Although, the statistics say that almost everyone knows someone with HSV, there is little discussion and support surrounding it, says Jenelle Marie Davis, founder of The STD Project. Those who have an STI (sexually transmitted infection) are seen, by society, as promiscuous and dirty, Davis said.
“People get infections all the time — colds and flu — and no one shames those people because there is no ‘[someone] did something bad to get this,’ ” Davis said.
“The more [society] shame and judge those ‘dirty people with it,’ the more ashamed they are of disclosing and saying that, yeah, it’s just a skin condition, it’s herpes,” said Adrial Dale, 36, life coach and founder of an organization committed to supporting people with herpes type-1 and type-2.
Dale was diagnosed with type-2 in 2005. After noticing a lesion, Dale immediately went to get checked out. From this moment on, Dale had felt like a different person. Having to share his status to prospective partners, with the fear of denial was the scariest part, Dale said.
“If [someone] feels undesirable and unwanted, then the way [they’re] disclosing it to potential partners has that undertone to it,” Dale said. “[Dale] was rejecting [Dale] way before anyone else had the chance to reject [Dale].”
“[Dale] was convinced that this was pretty much a death sentence to my love life,” Dale said.
Those with herpes simplex do not have to be abstinent because it is possible to have a healthy sex life without spreading the virus. But it is important to disclose information when beginning a new sexual relationship, Davis said. Condoms lessen the risk, but it doesn’t take the risk away entirely.
The importance of disclosing the infection is important in the case of a sexual partner becoming pregnant. Mariel David, had contracted type-2 from a previous husband, but didn’t find out until the birth of their first child. A week after the birth, David’s daughter started to have seizures. The doctors said these seizures were from herpetic encephalitis, a condition caused by the herpes virus.
Consequences of David’s husband’s dishonesty, doctors believed that David’s daughter wouldn’t live past puberty. Luckily, David’s daughter is turning 18 despite being blind, nonverbal and having abnormal bone growth. Davis had been able to give birth to two healthy babies after taking pregnancy precautions.
The virus doesn’t affect fertility or other organs unlike other STIs. Does herpes have a cure? No, but it does have treatments that help to shorten eruptions and lessen symptoms. A daily treatment is recommended in the prevention of spreading the virus.