Dating is hard. In the dating world, Black women are often made to feel like they aren’t good enough and not worthy of actual healthy, loving and meaningful relationships. Add having herpes to the mix, and things can get even more complicated.
There’s such a stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections (STIs), especially herpes. Shame, fear, confusion, and assumptions about herpes is due to misinformation and a general lack of knowledge. The truth is, it’s extremely common. It’s so common that many people already have it but just don’t talk about it. According to the CDC, more than one in six people have genital herpes (caused by HSV-2). And per Johns Hopkins Medicine, between 50 to 80 percent of people have oral herpes (caused by HSV-1, which can lead to genital herpes through oral sex). Chances are you’ve swiped right or gone on a date with someone living with it. So what is it like to try and find love while openly dealing with this? To offer insight into what it’s like navigating sex and dating as a Black woman with herpes, four ladies volunteered to share their stories.
According to STD life coach Belize Spivey, having herpes doesn’t mean you’re destined to live as a spinster. You can continue dating and engaging in sexual activity. Spivey contracted it 11 years ago, and learning to live with it forced her to do a lot of self-reflection when it came to her dating habits. She discovered that she had an unhealthy relationship with sex, using it to cope with low self-esteem and to feel better about herself. Contracting herpes made her reevaluate her reasons for sexual activity and do the inner work necessary to move forward. Once she was able to do that, she learned that there was life after herpes. She started her business, Overcoming, in 2015 as a way to support other Black women like herself.
“When I found out I had herpes, there were not any support groups for people who looked like me,” she says. Her facebook group, The Overcomers, offers support, tools, and resources for Black women with herpes, as well as dating tips. The community is filled with women who are conquering the negative beliefs surrounding being an individual with the condition. Platforms like Belize’s are instrumental in helping women know that despite the stigma, they can still have fulfilling dating and sexual relationships.
Kayla, a 25-year-old, says her herpes diagnosis has actually had a positive impact on her dating experiences. “My dating life hasn’t changed much. Herpes has allowed me to be more vulnerable with men who are deserving of my time, and also set boundaries for those who are only seeking to ‘smash and pass,’” she says. Interestingly, Kayla expressed that the hardest thing about dating with herpes has been attempting to make connections with men who also have it.
“My experience with H+ men hasn’t been a pleasant one as it appears some of them are joining H+ support groups for no-strings-attached sex, continuing to engage in risky sexual behaviors that I don’t necessarily agree with,” she says. “As for my dating experience with H- men, I’ve found that they tend to be more accepting of my diagnosis. I’ve had positive and negative disclosure outcomes, and while the negative disclosure outcomes didn’t warrant a connection, they were still respectful with their rejection.”
Rochelle, a 37-year-old woman living with herpes, hasn’t quite shared Kayla’s self-assured dating experiences. For Rochelle, her status has negatively affected her self-worth. She has been living with herpes since she was 32, which was also the time of her last intimate relationship.
“I have been spending a great amount of time doing inner work (with the help of counseling, reading resources, and listening to podcasts) to build that confidence to really get out there and find love again,” she says. “I am putting myself out there, but I have found myself being more cognizant [of] who I choose to entertain,” she says. She battles with insecurities and low self-esteem as a result of her diagnosis. “I’m a private person so even disclosing to potential sexual partners, and the fear of rejection (or telling people about my business) drives me away from going on subsequent dates, even if the person is worth seeing again. As a result, my sex life is non-existent.”
Rochelle adds, “Don’t get me wrong, I do frequently engage in self-pleasure and hope that I’ll someday be intimate with a partner, but it’s been very lonely.”
Destinee has an experience similar to Rochelle’s. She battled with depression after being diagnosed. However, after making an effort to get back out there and date, she’s had some success.
“Dating with herpes has been… hard. When I received my diagnosis all my confidence went out the window,” she says. “I tend to be very hard on myself and I psych myself out when it’s time to disclose. I’ve had three ‘situationships’ since my diagnosis and all three felt that they couldn’t continue the relationship because I had herpes. Most people hear herpes and assume the worst and don’t even try to get to know me genuinely. When I was first diagnosed my sex life was out of the window and it was mostly by choice. After trying to put myself out there, I was rejected by some prospective partners; but, I recently met someone who also suffers from HSV and my sex life has rocketed.”
When all four women were asked what was the one thing they wanted the world to know about people who live with herpes, Kayla stated, “Herpes is not the boogeyman disease that it’s made out to be. While outbreaks are an inconvenience, they are less frequent as time goes on, and it is possible to have a healthy, normal sex life as long as you’re practicing safer sex with your partners. Herpes does not define your worth or desirability unless you give it the power to do so.”
Rochelle also pleaded for others who know they have herpes to be honest and let potential mates know. “It’s not easy to talk about, but when you’re both informed, then there’s much less of a chance of transmission. Communication is key,” she says. “Let the person without herpes make the choice of being intimate with you.”
With so much information available at our fingertips, it’s much easier to be informed and knowledgeable about living with STIs as a whole. For those attempting to date with herpes, it seems the experience isn’t nearly as scary as the assumptions made about how other people will feel about your diagnosis. There is so much more to life and love than your herpes status. Take advantage of the resources that help dismantle stigmas surrounding it. If your status has impacted your self-esteem, seek therapy to discuss your thoughts about your diagnosis. You can also join a support group such as Overcomers. Most importantly, communicate with potential partners, love yourself, and know that life with herpes doesn’t have to mean a life without love.