There’s little doubt in my mind that a lot of messages relating to genital herpes are underpinned by fear. On the one hand we tut-tut people who stigmatize those with a sexually transmitted disease but on the other we point out the distressing consequences to people who are disease free but who we view as exhibiting high risk behavior. Maybe it’s unavoidable, or maybe the content of such messages need to change. They can be taken out of context and distort people’s lives.
I recently came across a blog post that demonstrates the problem. It went along the lines of, ‘I’m completely phobic about getting herpes, it’s taking over my life’. The blog went into some detail about how a chain of events, many stemming from faulty or misunderstood websites, had resulted in this situation of fear.
Much of what we learn comes from the way influential people around us behave. This particular problem seems to have started when a friend refused to go out in public if she developed a cold sore around her mouth. The friend had read something that suggested a cold sore was basically the same as a sexually transmitted disease. Going outside with a cold sore was then regarded as a beacon that transmitted messages about her sexual morals and sexual health.
The faulty message, subsequently added to, was picked up by the friend who now lives in a world of fear. Every cup, toilet seat, towel, or kiss on the cheek has become a potential source of infection.
I don’t know how prevalent these fears are amongst the population but I do know that while this may be regarded as an extreme case it reflects, to some extent, the fears many people hold.
It’s true that whilst herpes can spread easily, certain conditions still have to be met which generally involves access into the body via mucosal tissue or wounds to the skin, from an infected person.
Having a healthy regard for the causes of infection is one thing, letting them rule your life means perspective has been lost.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.