Shame and Isolation: Feelings of the Herpes Infected

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 LinkedIn 0 Google+ 0 0 Flares ×


The genital herpes virus (HSV-2) infects up to 25 percent of women and 10 percent of men in the USA, and most experience shame and isolation.The Atlantic

Genital herpes infection, usually caused by the HSV-2 virus, has a social stigma attached to it.

“HIV/AIDS is stigmatized, but few laugh at people who have it because it’s a serious illness. HPV can lead to cancer, on occasion, and women get tested regularly for it, making it no joke to most. Chlamydia, syphilis, crabs, scabies, and gonorrhea are sometimes the target of jokes, but these STDS are typically curable, so people won’t have to endure the annoyance for too long. Genital herpes, though, isn’t curable, is thought of as a disease only the promiscuous and cheating-types get, and is a popular joke topic.” (1)

Interestingly, “Both Project Accept and HSV Singles Dating blame an antiviral drug marketing campaign during the late 1970s to mid-1980s for herpes’ stigma. But it’s difficult to pin down exactly when and why our negative associations started.” (1)


In fact, Eric Sabo wrote in the New York Times that HSV-2 is the “largest epidemic no one wants to talk about.” (See the New York Times, from May 26, 2010) (2)

For some, the physical symptoms lead to extreme mental anguish. “Insecurity, discouragement, rejection, tears, anger, counseling, suicidal tendencies, humiliation, shame, and isolation is caused by the stigma of a skin condition (genital herpes) that usually doesn’t show up most or even all of the year and can be contracted after having protected sex one time.” (1)

The bottom line?

Herpes is a virus that almost everyone becomes infected with at some point. In fact, the CDC says that “about one out of six people in the United States aged 14 to 49 have genital herpes caused by the HSV-2 infection (the herpes simplex virus often responsible for genital herpes). The overall genital herpes statistic is probably higher, the CDC stated, since many people are also contracting genital herpes through oral sex caused by HSV-1 (the kind of herpes usually responsible for cold sores). Taking that into account, genital herpes statistics are usually quoted at closer to 25 percent for women and 10 percent for men, but most of these people don’t even know they have it.” (1)

It’s time for people to stop associating those with a herpes infection with negative sexual behaviors, and start supporting medical research that will lead to more effective medications against the virus in both its active and latent forms.


(1) Fortenbury, J. The Overblown Stigma of Genital Herpes. Published July 28, 2014.

(2) Sabo, E. Overcoming the Stigma of Herpes. Published May 26, 2010.

Leave a Reply