Did you know that herpes symptoms in women can be confused with many common conditions? 85% of people with herpes don’t know they have it! Common symptoms include blisters, sores, itchy areas, tingling, burning, painful urination, skin fissures and cracks, skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, depression, pain down the leg, flu like symptoms, body aches and watery vaginal discharge; but how do you know if it is herpes? I have worked with women who were misdiagnosed with several other ailments before they were ever PROPERLY diagnosed with herpes.
Why does this happen?
Herpes is truly the Great Masquerader. Doctors and patients alike misdiagnose herpes all the time. Here is a chart of what women with herpes think they have and what men with herpes think they have.
What Women With Herpes Think They Have
What Men With Herpes Think They Have
Urinary Tract Infection
Insect or Spider Bite
Allergy to condoms, spermicides, sperm, elastic/pantyhose
Allergies to condoms
Irritation from bike seat, shaving, douching
Irritation from bike seat, tight jeans, sexual intercourse
As you can see, it would be very easy to misdiagnosis herpes in women AND men. So, if you have any or many of these symptoms, especially if they are reoccurring, I suggest that you seek medical advice. You have to take control of your health and sometimes it means challenging your doctor’s diagnosis. There have been times when I have encouraged women to demand a herpes blood test. Not knowing can drive you crazy! A simple blood test paired with a thorough exam can determine your herpes status. You can find a herpes testing center near you. I also recommend getting screened for other STI’s.
If you end up testing positive for herpes, Pink Tent (TM) is here it support you. We are committed to educate, empower and inspire women with herpes to live, love and thrive. If you reside in the Boulder/Denver area, check our www.ColoradoHFriends.com. We host monthly discussion groups, social events and women’s brunches. Take a stand for your health and get tested!
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.
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.
Now this is something a herpes forum should be talking about. Learning to love ourselves unconditionally! I just saw an incredibly inspiring youtube video called “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” that nearly brought me to tears.As women, we are so hard on ourselves and shockingly only 4% of women around the world consider themselves beautiful. We are the only one’s who can change this. We MUST learn to love ourselves, even our most vulnerable selves.
Women with herpes all to often begin to view themselves as dirty, ugly women. This is so far from the TRUTH! Let us not forget that herpes is only as skin infection, much like eczema or poison ivy. Would you view yourself and your self worth any differently if you had these skin conditions? We need to put herpes in its place!
You are still a radiant, beautiful woman. Know it, own it and be it. Don’t let herpes rob you of your self confidence and self esteem. You have the power to overcome the emotional barriers that herpes brings!!!!!! If you have not done so already, you should read the book Live, Love and Thrive with Herpes: A Holistic Guide For Women. It will teach you how to love yourself and how to overcome your diagnosis of herpes.
Join our Herpes Forum for Women at www.PinkTent.com. This is a great place to get educated, empowered and inspired. If you are a woman with herpes, you need to know that you are not alone. You are not a freak and there are tons of women out there just like you. Join our community of awesome women. We are all here to support you on your healing journey. Stop screaming in silence and tap into our community that is here and ready to support you.
I just saw this video for the first time and was disturbed by some of its content. While most of the video is accurate, below is a list of the things I found to be bothersome and inaccurate.
1. While the herpes virus could be passed on by inanimate objects like towels and toilet seats, there has never been a confirmed case of this transmission. Herpes mainly spreads through skin to skin contact. By all means, though, wash your sex toys with soap and water.
2. The herpes virus can be passed onto a newborn through birth, but this is very rare. If a mother is infected with genital herpes before she gets pregnant, her unborn child will receive antibodies to the herpes virus. This offers the baby some protection to the virus. The danger to the unborn child is usually from a mother who acquires herpes during her last trimester and she does not tell her doctor. Get the facts before you go into fear. If you are a woman who suffers from genital herpes, know that you can manage it effectively with your healthcare provider. A C-section is NOT your only option.
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.
Hope, Healing & Happiness is Possible.
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