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How Herpes affects Women’s Sexuality

aloneHow 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:

  1. Avoidance
    • Reference Stage One: Trauma and Denial, and Stage Two: Feelings of Rage from Dr. Kelly’s “Stages of Grief”
  2. Settling
    • Reference Stage Three: Profound and Prolonged Sadness
  3. Fear of Control
    • This stage triggers Stage Four of the “Stages of Grief,” Communicating and Reaching Out
  4. Freedom
    • 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.      

Abreva Cream- The Ins and Outs

Abreva Cream- The Ins and Outs

By Contributing author Stephanie

Abreva cream is a topical ointment used to treat cold sores; at least that is how it is marketed. Customer reviews on numerous websites show success for the medicine. People who have used Abreva report that the time it takes for the cold sores to heal decreases, the severity of the sore or sores decreases, and there are even reports that it can be used to prevent a sore from ever actually showing up. Overall, people seem to have great success with Abreva. After diving into the use of it a bit more I found that it targets sores caused by HSV-1 (as opposed to HSV-2), which we know can also appear genitally.

I searched to see if the cream could be used for genital lesions as well, and after finding out that it certainly can be (as long as those legions are caused by HSV-1) I began to deconstruct why the company might market the product in the way that it does. The stigma associated with oral herpes is very different than that associated with genital herpes, and unfortunately a company is smart to steer clear from the later. In one of my earlier blogs, “The Social Construction of Genital Herpes,” I touch on why the stigma of genital herpes is the way it is. Because oral herpes is not as closely associated with sex, the stigma is not the same. There is also something to be said about the inability to conceal our herpes when it appears orally.

If we only experience genital lesions, disclosure is our personal choice; but when cold sores appear orally, disclosure of our herpes happens automatically. The stigmas of each type (oral and genital) as well as the ways we manage the stigmas of each type are very different from each other. Because of that difference, it is important to place them into different social categories. It is unfortunate that in order to avoid the associated stigma Abreva must also avoid marketing their product to those living with HSV-1 genitally, but then again there is a chance that products for the automatically disclosed stigma are just in higher demand. Despite these circumstances, reviews on the product would steer me towards using it so long as my diagnosis is HSV-1.

I hope this information benefits those of you who are looking for a treatment like this. I also hope this helps you to think critically about your situation and all the nooks and crannies that seem to have simple explanations but in reality are much more complex. Don’t disregard the social definitions of your diagnosis and the way you treat it, they will help you more than you might think!Live Love and Thrive with Herpes

Want to learn how to heal cold sores faster using all natural remedies? You’ll have to check out Dr. Kelly’s Amazon bestselling book, Live, Love and Thrive with Herpes.

 

About Stephanie

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

2 Step Process To Overcome A Herpes Diagnosis

Springtime: Overcoming Herpes

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    

Shame Of Herpes: Impact On A Woman’s Body Image

Shame Of Herpes: Impact On A Woman’s Body Image

Body Image of Woman With HerpesA woman’s self concept is so often tied to her looks. While on the outside she might be stunning, the shame of herpes leaves her feeling broken and undesirable. The shame of herpes is devastating to a woman’s sense of self worth and beauty. After a diagnosis of herpes, it is not uncommon for a woman to go through long periods of depression and isolation. Feeling broken and like damaged goods, women are convinced that they are now like lepers of the past. While many women learn to overcome this initial shock and body distortion, many women are never able to feel their beauty and access their sexual power again. If you are one of those women…. This article is for YOU!

In a society that values material possessions and model like looks, it can be challenging to develop a strong and healthy self esteem. What would our world look like if we upheld women on a pedestal for their inner beauty as much as their outer beauty? As I sat down this morning to do my daily practice, I read a prayer that spoke directly to my heart and soul. I immediately knew that I had to share this with my Pink Tent™ community of Women Supporting Women With Herpes. So, here it is…from the Daily Word

Temple: I bless my body temple

“Each day I take time to bless my body temple and affirm my strength, health, beauty, and vitality….As I awaken to the truth of my body’s holiness, I become aware of practices and habits I want to add or change to support my ever-increasing health and strength. Changes in food, activities, or attitude may be in order” (Daily Word, A Unity Publication March 2015).

No matter what your spiritual background is, I am confident that if each and every woman with herpes began to affirm this blessing daily, their shame of herpes would begin to melt away. Our bodies are our temples. Please don’t allow herpes to rob you of the right to feel safe and loved beyond measure in your own skin. Your body should be a refuge of self expression and beauty. No body is perfect, and yet women with herpes often begin to feel angry towards their own bodies. The stigma of herpes leaves them feeling dirty and shameful. We become our worst enemies. We allow herpes to be the ever impending intruder of our bodies. Instead of acting with kindness and love, we begin to act with self sabotaging behavior like overeating, drinking or substance abuse. As we distance ourselves and disconnect, we become fragmented and forget who we really are. We forget our true gifts and talents. Instead of being a woman who lives with herpes, we allow herpes to run the show. This misery is truly self imposed. I encourage you to take time each day to love and nurture your body and affirm to yourself… I bless my body temple.

Discovering unconditional self love is truly the best gift you can give yourself. Stop being a victim to herpes and affirm that you are NOT your herpes. You are a beautiful…from the inside out and you are loved beyond measure. Start treating your body with the love and respect it deserves and watch the miracles unfold in your life.

Live. Love. Thrive.

Dr. Kelly Live Love and Thrive with Herpes        

Herpes Simplex 2 vs. Herpes Simplex 1

The Difference Between Herpes Simplex 2 & Herpes Simplex 1

Have you ever wondered what the real difference is between herpes simplex 2  (HSV-2) and herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1)?

I have spent the past four years as the educational coordinator for the Colorado H Club answering questions like this every day. Genetically speaking, the two viruses are about 85% the same and the symptoms they produce are exactly the same too. The main herpes symptoms are blisters, itching, pain, tingling, redness, fever, and numbness, but 85% of people who have the virus don’t even know it! There are other symptoms associated with the virus, but none of them cause any other diseases or illnesses. This is one of the reasons many doctors don’t deem it necessary to include herpes as part of a standard STD panel.

Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2 are the two types of herpes simplex viruses. Some of the other members of this virus family, Herpes Viridae, cause Mono, Shingles, Chicken pox, Roseola and a few others.

Did you know that HSV-1 is the virus that causes cold sores? Yes. That’s right! Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus. Unfortunately, Herpes Simplex 2 has received the most amount of stigma over the years because it is the number one cause of genital herpes. 

Let’s look at some of the main differences between the two viruses:      

Genetics: 85% the same      
Herpes Viridae Family: Both Herpes Simplex Viruses      
Environment: HSV-1 prefers the environment of the oral/facial area of the body, HSV-2 prefers the genital area      
Cold Sores: HSV-1 is the strain of the virus that causes cold sores      
Frequency of Outbreak– HSV-1 outbreaks genitally tend to be less frequent      
Intensity: HSV-1 outbreaks genitally tend to be more mild      
Transmission: HSV-1 can be found genitally and orally, but HSV-2 is not found orally (only 1% incidence rate)
Triggers: both HSV-1 and HSV-2 are triggered by the same things i.e.. heat, UV, friction… Let us know if you found this information helpful.

If you have more questions about how to live and date with herpes and how to discover love again, check out our in-depth resources here. www.PinkTent.com    

Facts About Pregnancy and Genital Herpes

Facts About Genital Herpes and Pregnancy

pregnancyDid you know?

Neonatal herpes (herpes of a newborn) is not even considered a reportable disease according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) www.cdc.gov The CDC is a branch of our public health system whose sole purpose is to monitor diseases worldwide.  If the CDC does not list neonatal herpes as a reportable disease, then I think it is fair to say that you do not need to be overly concerned about the potential of a newborn dying from genital herpes.  However, neonatal herpes is something you need to be educated about so that you can decrease the likelihood of transmission. 

 

Here are some facts that I hope you will find comforting.

 –  A recent three year study in Canada (2000–2003) revealed a neonatal HSV incidence of 5.9 per 100,000 live births (.00006%) and a case fatality rate of 15.5%.  As you can see, neonatal herpes is extremely rare!

– Herpes during pregnancy is common.  One third to one fourth of all pregnant women have herpes and yet 90% don’t know it

–  80%-90% of neonatal herpes cases is from women who didn’t know they had it.  Therefore, women who know they have herpes can greatly reduce the risk of transmission.

–  Most neonatal herpes is managed effectively with treatment

I am happy to say that I have had genital herpes for 14 years and that I was able to have a home birth and deliver a beautiful, healthy baby girl. This was the most empowering, miraculous moments of my life. The ability to give birth naturally is truly a gift from God.

What Is Herpes?

What Is Herpes?

Many people have been diagnosed with herpes, and yet they do not know what herpes actually is- so let’s define it

herpesHerpes is a virus that has been around for 140 million years, infecting humans and animals alike.  Over twenty-five centuries ago, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, coined the term herpes from the Greek “to creep”. Aptly named, herpes has the ability to creep along any nerve and infect skin cells at more distant sites. Herpes is so common globally that it has the second largest incidence rate worldwide, trailing only behind the common cold.  Chances are you have been exposed to the herpes virus at some point in your lifetime.

When I was a child, parents would throw chickenpox parties so that all of the children would become infected. The idea was that it was better for the body to build up immunity and “learn” about the virus so that the chances of developing a reoccurrence from the painful condition of shingles later in life was not as high. Can you imagine if we could get over the stigma of HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) and have a neutral, educated perspective on it? Now, don’t imply from this that I would encourage sexual parties to spread the love, but seriously, it does show how ostracized our viewpoints are of one strain of the herpes virus and not the other.

HSV is as common as the chickenpox strain and yet people associate herpes with being dirty or promiscuous. Why is it that most people don’t think twice about a cold sore, but would feel embarrassed about a genital outbreak, when in fact, it is the same type of virus. Cold sores are so prevalent in our culture and their location during cold and flu season make them challenging to hide. I am certain that you know of family and friends who are prone to these outbreaks and yet, you would never associate anything negative about their character for being a carrier of the virus. A genital sore; however, is hidden and found in an area that for most is very private and secretive.

As a culture, we have not been raised to talk about our sexual health, nor have we been encouraged to embrace our sexuality. Add an infection to our privates and we become extremely uncomfortable, shameful and embarrassed. This is why, I believe, that although a herpes infection can be detected in the blood of the whole body, our culture views the location of the outbreak differently. If a person has a genital outbreak, then their sexual practices are often wrongly, and presumptuously judged. This is something that most people are not comfortable talking about.

My opinion was reinforced by an experience I had, while I was interviewed on the morning show, Connections, on KGNU radio 88.5 FM (1390 AM) on the topic of Women and Herpes. The interviewer was shocked when she found out that chickenpox and Mononucleosis (the kissing disease) were both part of the herpes family. I could see the fear in her eyes when she asked me if by having either chickenpox or mononucleosis, did it mean she had HSV I or 2. I was happy to share with her that one did not preclude the other, but I do think that it drove the herpes conversation a little closer to home.



[1] Shingles is a member of the herpes family, also known as Herpes Zoster.

Are You At Risk For Herpes?

Are You At Risk For Herpes?

1in4peopleStatistically speaking, one in four people (a very conservative number) has herpes. That means then that for every four Americans you know, at least one of them has herpes. Are you ready to look at reality for what it is? Let’s create some compassion for those who have herpes and are suffering in silence. And for those of you who think you are so “pure”, if you get cold sores, you have herpes!  
If not, and you still don’t think you have herpes, only a blood test can determine that. If you are assuming that herpes is included in a standard STD test, think again. You have to specifically ask for this test. Statistics have also shown that up to 90% of people who thought they did not have herpes actually tested positive.
Creative Loafing published a great article on “Getting Real About Herpes”- check it out here and share with friends and family!

Healing Herpes- “Women and Herpes” on KGNU 88.5 FM

Healing Herpes- “Women and Herpes” on KGNU 88.5 FM

During an interview on radio show KGNU 88.5 FM and 1390 AM , “Women and Herpes”, I explain how I learned to live and heal from herpes naturally. Take a listen, and comment your thoughts below!

 

Take A Quiz On Genital Herpes. How much do you know?

How Much Do You Really Know About Herpes?

3d human with a red question mark

I recently came across this quiz that test how much you actually know about herpes. How much do you think you really know about the herpes virus, aside from the general stigma that the media has put on it? 

Take the quiz now to find out!

Take The Herpes Quiz