Herpes Stigma – Living With The Itch

Published March 5, 2016 by Harri

So, different countries have a different response to Herpes and those who have contracted it. A lot of countries are willing to overlook the fact that the Herpes Virus has mutated into several forms that no-one thinks twice about. Shingles. Cold sores. Chicken Pox. Yep, that’s right, Chicken Pox is a form of Herpes. For more information please see Herpes.org.uk.

Nobody shuns children for catching Chicken Pox, hell there are even Pox parties, in the hope that once you have caught it once, it will build your immune system up so you don’t catch it again. This isn’t true. You can ‘catch’ Chicken Pox on more than one occasion. Kiddo has had it twice, both occasions, it was horrific. She had the spots everywhere.

 

Now, there is a HUGE stigma about Herpes, mainly Genital Herpes (HSV-2) in America. People are shunned, medication denied and people are mocked and ridiculed for their affliction. Stigma in America caused by Big Pharma?

The same thing happens in the UK. People cheat on their partners, first thing you hear out of the mouth of the spurned partner, “I hope she gives you herpes!”

You know what though, shit like that hurts. Here are some facts for you.

  • By the age of 30, 50% of the UK’s population has HSV-1. Cold sores.
  • 25% of the sexually active population in the UK, has HSV-2. Genital Herpes. Most don’t even know they have it.
  • Over 90% of the adult population in the UK has had Shingles.
  • 75% of the British Population CARRY the Glandular Fever virus.
  • HSV-1 (Cold sores) can be present and active in the genital area.
  • HSV-2 (Genital Herpes) can be present on the face.
  • You can have Herpes Outbreaks on your fingers/hand,and eyes.
  • There is a slight chance you can transmit the virus when you aren’t having an outbreak. Asymptomatic shedding happens.
  • If you and your partner have the same virus, you cannot infect each other.
  • If you have a cold sore, you shouldn’t kiss babies. You can transmit the virus and make them very ill. It’s also the same reason, they recommend women with an active HSV-2 outbreak, who are pregnant, to have a c-section.

Living with a “minor skin irritation”

I have read in a lot of places, people who have Herpes, telling others it’s merely a minor skin irritation. Now, obviously this will depend on the person and how they are infected.

Personally, it’s never been just a minor skin irritation for me. I get the flu-like symptoms that knock me out for months at a time, I get the sores and the blisters that make walking or moving in general feel like I have underwear made from sandpaper! I also get random stabbing/achey pains in the glands in my groin and my bum cheeks for some reason. I have never had a cold sore though.

It really is a funny one. When people are the first to shout that having Herpes means you are a slut/whore (which is slut-shaming and whore-phobic), you deserved it or that you are just dirty.

I am still fighting these stigma’s and despite knowing I contracted the virus at 9 years old after being sexually abused, I still feel the need sometimes to say “BUT I HAVE HAD IT SINCE I WAS 9! DOES THAT MAKE ME A WHORE?” Which is wrong. Regardless as to how I contracted this, I have it and have to live with it and the stigma that comes with it.

When 50 Shades of Grey came out and a report was published the uproar and shaming that took place made me feel sick. I was diagnosed with having herpes at the age of 29 (you can read that story here). I’d had it from the age of 9. My symptoms had been brushed off by various Doctor’s over the years because I had been ‘a virgin’, when I contracted it. So when the news broke about 50 Shades of Shit (don’t get me started on that book!) had the herpes virus on it’s pages, I was still trying to live with my diagnosis, whilst I watched my friends and family slating those who were “dirty” enough to touch those books. To spread the virus. It hurt. I had shared cups, books and food with these people and they were bitching about people who have Herpes. It certainly didn’t help with my diminishing mental health at the time.

No one has any issues with people who have Cold Sores, the fact that those cold sores can cause Bell’s Palsy (a temporary, sometimes permanent paralysis of the face), the fact that most children get Cold Sore’s from their relatives kissing them. No one seems worried about that!

Yet, when grown people have Genital Herpes, they are scum. Why? Because they have been sleeping around? Well, you will find, that some people who have HSV-2 may have only ever had one partner. That one partner didn’t know they had it. Which lead to the transmission of the virus. It’s not always passed on by people who are cheating. It can be passed on by people in a loving long term relationship. It can be passed on by people who have casual sex. It can be passed on by sexual abusers.

Whether you have “Glitter” or not (another tumblr term that hasn’t always sat right with me, I am not happy about my virus, it’s there and has a tendency to trigger PTSD of my abuse, although I am getting better at dealing with it), you are worthy of love. You are worthy of respect and you are most certainly worthy of compassion when you are sore or aching.

Not only do you have to deal with the social stigma but you have to deal with the physical effects of the virus.

The Outbreaks

I have found that I will usually get a mouth full of ulcers (canker sores) just before or during an outbreak. This can be just as painful. I don’t know whether it’s linked, but hey.

  • Aches and Pains – These can be helped with warm baths. (Hot baths and showers can exacerbate the outbreak and make you feel worse.)
  • Blisters and Spots – When you have an outbreak, wash your hands before and after touching them. Make sure that you dab the area dry and not wipe. I have found a cream that works wonders as a local pain reliever and helps dries out the spots. Teangi Cream has helped me massively with painful outbreaks, although it can sting and feel really fresh (imagine you’ve sat on mint essential oil!), that doesn’t last long and provides so much relief.
  • Feeling like Crap – The flu-like symptoms that sometimes accompany an outbreak and can last a few weeks to a couple of months. My longest was 4 months, when I was first diagnosed. The fact that I had no energy and felt so ill, contributed to my breakdown. When you get these types of outbreaks, make sure you take care of yourself. You will need it.

 

What Triggers an Outbreak?

Again, this depends on the person. Everyone has different triggers. Here are some of the more common ones.

  • Friction – Be this from a gentle stroll to the shops to vigorous sex, lube up, avoid tight trousers and underwear.
  • Irritation to the Genital Area – Sex, waxing, shaving, thongs, riding a bike or horse and tight clothing (see above), can all cause outbreaks.
  • Colds and Illness – Being ill can be another trigger.
  • Sunlight (UV rays) – can cause problems for some people.
  • Hormones – A lot of women with Herpes, find that outbreaks can mirror their cycles. They get outbreaks whilst they are having their periods or just before they are due on.
  • Trauma to the Body – Something happening to the body that it’s not used to. Whether that’s exercising vigorously, being hurt/bruised or surgery, your body can react by causing an outbreak.
  • A Weakened Immune System – If you have been ill a lot over a period of time, or have had your immune system blasted, that can cause an outbreak.
  • Stress – If you are stressed, your body will respond. Yep, you’ve guessed, by giving you an outbreak.
  • Lifestyle – It has been said that smoking and heavy drinking can cause outbreaks too. It’s up to the individual as to whether the outbreaks outweigh the need to give them up.

With the list that is above, these are all very individual. It can take a person with Herpes years to figure out what their triggers are. Just be gentle with yourself and if you are feeling ill, don’t be afraid to seek advice.

Educating people into what Herpes is, living with Herpes and how so many of the population is carrying the virus completely unknowingly should raise awareness. Ignorance will always breed indifference. People will always be happy to cast their own opinions and aspersions without actually knowing the relevant information. These people will hurt and cause damage.

 

Just remember, if you have Herpes, you are loved. You are valued. You are worth it.

You aren’t dirty. You aren’t tainted. You will be loved.

Love and cwtches.

A xx

 

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