How Herpes affects Women’s Sexuality
Contributing Author: Stephanie
Many anthropologists, sociologists, and feminist theorists have explored the reasoning behind women’s sexuality, or rather the reasoning for the almost absence of women’s sexuality in today’s society. Because women’s ability to have sexual desires based on their own personal desires, and not those of a man, is frequently discredited by mainstream society, women’s sexuality automatically becomes discredited as a whole. The idea that sexuality is socially constructed based on things we learn from media, religion, schools, and other great institutions is a common theory.
Scholars in this area have also taken specific interest in the way that an STD diagnosis might affect how a person experiences sexuality based on the social construction and meaning on the diagnosis.
Women’s sexuality is already invalidated, so an STD diagnosis simply invalidates it further based on her supposed deviation form the female sexual norm (having sexual desires, acting upon them, and being diagnosed with an STD because of those actions).
There are plenty of articles and scholarly works out there discussing this issue from an outside perspective, but I would like to share my personal experience of dealing with my new sexual identity after being diagnosed with herpes. I would like to emphasize that my perspective is very heterosexual, for lack of a better term, but I believe there will be plenty of parallels for those who identify elsewhere on the spectrum.
As I feel many young women believe when they first begin to experience their sexual selves, my sexuality was based solely on what I thought my male partner wanted.
Neither the media, school, nor my parents had ever taught me what sex or intimacy should be from a woman’s perspective. It was always based on heterosexual male pleasure.
That being the case, when I learned I had herpes I felt I could no longer fulfill those sexual desires for someone else again because I was no longer desirable to men based on my new label as a “sexual deviant.”
I would like to break down my experience into stages that coincide with Dr. Kelly’s “Stages of Grief” in her book Live, Love, & Thrive with Herpes in hopes that many of you can connect to one, a few, or maybe even all of them as you begin to find sexual freedom after your diagnosis.
Stages to Sexual Freedom:
- Reference Stage One: Trauma and Denial, and Stage Two: Feelings of Rage from Dr. Kelly’s “Stages of Grief”
- Reference Stage Three: Profound and Prolonged Sadness
- Fear of Control
- This stage triggers Stage Four of the “Stages of Grief,” Communicating and Reaching Out
- Reference Stage Five: Surrender and Acceptance, and Stage Six: Empowerment
Avoidance (Trauma and Denial/Feelings of Rage)
When I was first diagnosed I had an irrational fear of spreading herpes to anyone I had any sexual contact with at all. I say irrational, because as I learned more about the transmission of the virus, I discovered there are plenty of ways to reduce the likelihood of transmission as well as ways avoid the possibility of transmission completely.
Because of my fear, during this stage I completely avoided any situation that could lead to sexual desire, including dating.
Trauma and Denial, as Dr. Kelly emphasizes in her book, played a huge role in my avoidance. The trauma of my diagnosis as well as my denial made disclosure impossible at the time. I was not ready to disclose my situation with someone, and I knew I had to do so before becoming intimate again.
Settling (Profound and Prolonged Sadness)
Looking back on my journey, this stage brings me the most sadness, which directly relates to Dr. Kelly’s explanation of Stage Three in her book.
During the “Settling” stage my mind set was to “take what I can get.” If a man said he loved me or that he found me irresistible despite my herpes I thought I had to reciprocate those feelings. This is because I thought it was so incredibly rare for a man to feel these things about me after my diagnosis that it might be my only chance to find love or intimacy again.
After going through this stage, my blunt advice is that this is NOT TRUE. There will be many men or women that love you and find you undoubtedly sexy not despite your herpes, but almost by virtue of your herpes and the woman it has created.
Fear of Control (Communicating and Reaching Out)
This stage was by far the longest of the four because it took me so long time to understand my thought process during it.
As women we already sometimes feel a lack of control with our sexuality and sexual decisions based on the submissiveness we learn from society. After I began to seek intimacy again after settling for men I did not necessarily desire, I found it… but on someone else’s terms.
I believed that I no longer had the right to share my opinions about what I desired sexually because it was unfair to ask someone to put himself at risk for my pleasure. What I learned after verbally expressing my thoughts to loved ones was that I have just as much control over how I experience sex and intimacy as I did before.
I was afraid to take control of my sexuality again because that could mean putting someone else at risk. What I didn’t realize is that if I had disclosed my diagnosis and shared the transmission risks with my partner I had done my part in keeping him safe.
This is where Dr. Kelly’s stage on communicating and reaching out becomes so important. Without my ability to do so, I may not have allowed control back into my intimate experiences.
Freedom (Surrender and Acceptance/Empowerment)
After effectively communicating and finding the ability to reach out and seek advice from friends and family, I am finally able to enjoy my sexuality and be at peace with my diagnosis.
I have accepted that I cannot have spontaneous sexual encounters without putting others at risk, and I now understand how that is not at all a curse; it is actually a true blessing.
I have accepted that I need to be at a more intimate level with someone before I share my sexuality with them in order to feel comfortable and in control of the situation. Once again, this has proved to be a huge blessing in my life.
Finally, I have accepted that my herpes diagnosis has not hindered or tainted my sexuality in any way, but rather it has forced me to embrace every piece of my self in order to find true intimacy with another person.
I encourage you all, as I always do, to find the silver lining in situations where you feel that your herpes might have given you the short end of the stick. I can guarantee that once you start searching, you will find all the amazing ways that herpes has allowed you to grow as a woman in every way, including your sexual being.
By Contributing Author Stephanie
As I was beginning to write this blog, I started with looking for articles about self-love. There are so many articles out there telling us how to love ourselves and how to practice as much patience with ourselves as we do with others. Although these are all beautiful and inspiring articles I found that the majority was missing one thing. What do we do when we feel completely unable to love the person we are today, right at this moment?
This is something I have struggled with my whole life, but when I was diagnosed with herpes it became even more difficult. As women we are constantly surrounded by messages and images telling us what beautiful is, what the ideal woman acts like, and what our health says about our character as women. It can be extremely difficult to push those messages aside in order to learn to really love yourself, but I would like to share with you all how I have been able to start to do just that in order to accept myself exactly the way that I am. Over the last year I have made it a priority to really get to know myself. By that I mean I wanted to know what makes me feel happy, sad, excited, anxious, and what things were really most important to me in my life. Through my efforts this year I have been able to understand what triggers my emotions, what I really value in my life, and many other things I would have never guessed were a part of who I am a year ago.
Interestingly enough, understanding myself in these ways has helped me to fall in love with the person that I am. When reflecting on this experience, I like to compare it to falling in love with another person. As we get to know someone, either intimately or as a friend, we start to accept that person for everything he or she is as well as everything he or she is not. As we accept a person for all he or she has to offer we can start to really love that person unconditionally. I believe this is what has happened in my relationship with myself over the last year. By allowing myself to get to know me I have been able to accept myself for everything that I am, and that has given me the ability to love myself unconditionally, herpes and all. I challenge you all to get to know yourselves on the same intimate level you might imagine you would get to know your life partner on.
If you are struggling with accepting yourself as a woman diagnosed with herpes, understanding deeper traits about yourself will allow you to put less emphasis on such a small aspect of your health and life. Remember that others will only judge you as much as you judge yourself. I hope what I have discovered will help you all as you begin the same journey that I started a year ago. Be your biggest fan, and the journey towards unconditional self-love will be easy.
Overcoming Stigma and Finding your Unique Path
By Contributing Author Stephanie
I watched this video quite a few months ago and for a long time did not understand my connection to Eleanor Longden or her struggle with mental health. After much contemplation I began to understand my ability to empathize with her and be overwhelmingly inspired by her journey. Although her experience with schizophrenia is vastly different than my own experience with herpes, the fact of the matter is we both had to overcome societal stigma and as well personal stigma against our conditions.
To me, the most inspirational part of Eleanor’s story is her ability to not only overcome that stigma but to do so in a way that defied the norms of medicine and treatment for her condition. By overcoming the stigma associated with schizophrenia she was able to work with her symptoms and hardships in order to create a meaningful interaction with her voices. What she teaches any of us going through the process of overcoming stigma to promote healing is that doing so will allow you to experience your stigmatized identity in a way that is actually beneficial. For those of us dealing with a new herpes diagnosis, or the trauma that comes along with an outbreak after years of living with the virus, it is important to interact with our condition and symptoms in a compassionate way. My ability, and i’m sure many of yours, to understand Eleanor’s hardships is a perfect example of one way herpes has been beneficial in my life. Being able to feel true compassion and empathize for others in seemingly completely different situations than your own is a true gift that I may not have today without my diagnosis.
I hope you all find as much inspiration in Eleanor’s story and her ability to overcome stigma associated with her voices as I have; and I hope it inspires you all to find your unique path to health and happiness in your acceptance of your diagnosis.
Hi Everyone! My name is Stephanie. I was diagnosed with HSV-2 in April of 2014 when I was 22 years old. Right now, almost three years later, I am a doctoral student in the sociology department at Purdue University. I recently completed my MA in sociology at the University of Northern Colorado where I explored the role of stigma in the process of disclosing a genital herpes diagnosis. With that said, if anyone is interested in reading what I discovered in my project, I am happy to share that with you! I plan to continue advocating for our community, as well as studying the social factors that influence sexual health in order to understand how we can create a world that is easier for people diagnosed with STIs. I really enjoy writing for the Pink Tent community and am excited to be able to share some of my experiences and thoughts about living with genital herpes with you all.
2 Step Process To Overcome A Herpes Diagnosis
Over the past few weeks, I have been inundated with requests for private coaching. I don’t know if it is linked to Spring, the season of renewal, or if it is just coincidental. Either way, I feel so blessed to be privy to women’s deepest darkest secrets. Springtime truly is a time of change and renewal. We move from the darkness and introspection of winter and transition into the warmth and growth of Spring.
As the crocus pokes through the patches of snow and newly sprung grass, so too do our souls want to move toward the direction of personal growth. Most women reach out to me because they have been diagnosed with genital herpes and they just can’t seem to psychologically overcome it. Whether it’s alcoholism, abuse, an eating disorder or an embarrassing medical condition…you name it… everyone has a skeleton in their closet that keeps them from living a full and vibrant life.
The Springtime is the PERFECT time to shed a light on those shadows, so that they no longer trap us in FEAR. As Francois de La Rochefoucauld said, “The only thing constant in life is change” So whether you are in that place of shock and chaos or in a place of peace and gratitude, what I can be certain of is that eventually things will change. Something is going to come along and rock your boat. The question then becomes, how will you RESPOND to change? Resistance is futile! So, how does one move from the shock and overwhelm of a herpes diagnosis, to a place of peace and acceptance?
The answer is in the ability to FEEL and FLOW. If you are in the midst of chaos, this is THE two step punch to move you through it so that you can rediscover the peace and acceptance you deserve.
Step One: FEEL
If you find yourself in a state of overwhelm, sadness or chaos, the first step is to truly FEEL all that you are feeling. Place your hand on your heart and acknowledge how you are really feeling. In the case of a diagnosis of herpes- there are probably feelings of sadness, shame, grief and loneliness. Say to yourself-YES, this did happen to me and I will feel the sadness and not fight it. Then, scan your body and discover where you are feeling your feelings the strongest. Maybe it is in your heart or in your stomach. Wherever it is, place your hands on that area and breath into it, not trying to change it.
Step Two: FLOW
Now that you have acknowledged your feelings, allow the emotions to move through your body. Emotions are just ENERGY in MOTION. If we try to suppress them, then the energy gets stuck in our body, later to manifest as physical disease or imbalance. Once we FEEL this energy in motion, then it can FLOW through us. It is the stuck energy that harms us long term. To be in the state of FLOW is to truly be in the art of allowing. It is during this state that we can call upon our higher self or God, or the Divine… whatever you believe in. Ask for guidance, healing and peace and then let it go. It is in this art of allowing that you will be guided to your next step in healing.
Use this two step approach for any challenge that comes your way. Believe me, I now know that my greatest challenges in life have been my greatest teachers. Many might find this absurd, but I can truly state that my diagnosis of herpes was truly a gift. It has enabled me to have much more compassion for others and it has guided me to YOU….the Women of Pink Tent. You are the most resilient, powerful and strong women I have ever met. If you truly want to be bigger than your herpes and you want to be stronger and healthier than ever before, use your diagnosis of herpes as a catalyst for BIG CHANGES. Changes that you get to declare and make happen.
As Elizabeth Lesser, Cofounder of Omega Institute For Holistic Studies said: “I’ve found that the changes I feared would ruin me have always become doorways, and on the other side I have found a more courageous and graceful self.” Declare today that you are worthy of radical self love and peace.
Live. Love. Thrive.
Dr. Kelly Martin Schuh Author of Amazon Bestselling Book Live, Love and Thrive with Herpes
Happy Valentine’s Day all you lovers of life! I just had an awesome Valentine’s Day with my family. I baked Martha Stewart’s strawberry buttercream cupcakes, made homemade Valentine cards with my 2 year old daughter and prepared a fabulous surf and turf dinner. Needless to say my belly is full and my heart is bursting with love and gratitude.
I just opened Brendon Burchard’s latest email, presently surprised by a quote from his new book, “The Charge.” It spoke so loudly to me, I had to post it. While you may have had a more challenging day today, give yourself a hug and know that you were made in the image of God and you are amazing!
“When we have the guts to stand naked before the world as who we truly are, when we peer into the souls of those around us and finally see in them the image of the divine, when we plunge ourselves bravely and unconditionally into LOVE that has no bottom or boundary, then suddenly, magically, beautifully, we feel more alive.”
Cheers, to diving deeply in love with ourselves!
Live. Love. Thrive.
I just hosted a Women’s Brunch last Sunday and it was a hit. The food was scrumptious and the conversation was deep and meaningful. At one point, one of the women who is new to the group, was sharing her most recent story of contracting herpes. To say the least, it has been a very challenging month for her.
Like many of you, she has been through the ringer with doctors and is still looking for answers. In the midst of her total breakdown, she decided to google what celebrities had herpes. It was at that very moment, that her eyes brightened and her tears turned to laughter. The whole room laughed with her as she shared that this was in fact the most comforting thing that she has discovered in her whole journey up until this point. She figured if the “pretty people” in the lime light of our media suffered from herpes too, that she would be all right.
So, the next time you are watching the Grammy’s or the Oscars, you can be assured of the fact that several of those eye candy celebrities have herpes too. Herpes knows no boundaries and you too can be beautiful and sexy, despite your herpes. Not feeling so sexy today? Go ahead and google celebrities with herpes and it just might make you feel better. While your at it, buy some sexy new panties for Valentine’s day. You deserve it! You’re hot! Let your inner diva shine! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Live. Love. Thrive.
“I AM” Sums It All Up
This past weekend I watched the movie, I AM. It was both informative and inspirational. Two great questions were posed, “What is wrong with the world” and “How can we fix it”? In the end, it appears that the answer to all of our problems lies within one word, LOVE. Who would we be if we acted upon our true internal drive to give and receive love? This movie explains how we, the human race, are actually wired to cooperate and to act within the structure of a democracy, casting our votes as we move into the direction of our inner truth.
The question I must ask myself on a constant basis is. Am I moving in the direction of love or fear? How might you incorporate this question into your daily life?
Check out the trailer here!
Building Self Confidence
I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free -Michelangelo
Take a moment and think of other challenges you have had in your life and how you overcame them. Make a list of the attributes you must have had in place to overcome these obstacles. Now, add to the list.
The Things You Love About Yourself.
3 Things you love about your body
3 Things you love about your mind
3 Things you love about your spirit
Write this on a different piece of paper and place it in an area of your home where you can see it daily. Get in touch with your inner angel, who is magnificent beyond measure and set her free to expect miracles in your life.
The Challenge Of Having Herpes
As I sit here and watch my baby girl learn to crawl, I am reminded how difficult growth can be. From a sitting position, she just fell flat on her face and is trying to figure out how to free herself up and move. She grunts a few times…I watch as the frustration escalates to a cry. Do I pick her up and make her comfortable again? Although this is my initial thought, I hold myself back and decide to lay down beside her and encourage her to move through her challenging position. As I gaze into her eyes and send love her way, her temperament shifts immediately. She begins to push her feet away and unwind from a most precarious position. I watch as she relaxes into what is uncomfortable and uses the energy to fuel her movement forward. In no time she finds her tummy and is smiling once again.
Growth is uncomfortable and in that moment I was reminded how I chose to facilitate her rather than pity and accommodate her initial desire to be “righted”. As adults, we often forget the growing pains of learning how to be in the world. How to crawl, walk, talk, feed ourselves, dress ourselves and discover how the world works. The universe does conspire to support our personal growth and development. Who would we be if we truly believed this to be true?
I can remember the initial shock of discovering that I had herpes. I felt like my life was over, that no one would ever love me again. AND… at the same time I wrote in my journal “I must learn from this and turn this horrible fate into something positive.” So here I am, 14 years later turning this fate around into something that will help millions of women with herpes heal from the inside out. There is definitely a learning curve when you are first diagnosed with herpes. Take this time to learn all that you can and to turn inward. It is only from deep within that you might be able to see the gifts of herpes. This might sound strange, but think outside of the box. Might you learn radical forgiveness and self love? If so, these teachings will positively affect every area of your life.
Allow me to join you on your journey of personal growth and transformation. I will encourage you to push through the pain to learn the gifts on the other side. Commit to living an extraordinary life. I will be standing right next to you, encouraging you to take your next steps. You can learn to live, love, and thrive.
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