It was an email that inspired this “Things We Don’t Talk About” series, an email from a person who was struggling and suffering and feeling her life was over at a young age because she had contracted genital herpes from her ex.
This was not the first email I’ve received from a woman ashamed that she is now “damaged goods.” It hurt my heart to read it. I took a deep breath and wrote my response to her:
Dearest One, You Are Not Broken
I’m so sorry to hear how much you have been struggling with having herpes; and my dearest one it is not something to be ashamed of or to give you one moment of stress. I also have herpes, have for years, and I have a very active and powerful sex life and a great love of my body and sexuality. Herpes is simply a cold virus, and the truth is that more than 1 out of 6 people have genital herpes. I know so many friends who have herpes you would be amazed. It is so rarely talked about and so it gets to be shameful, but it is really not. It is simply something to attend to when it is live and to not think about otherwise.
I support you in doing a healing ceremony for your genitals, to forgive yourself for the ways you have rejected yourself and to welcome this part of yourself back. You are not dirty, or broken, or unlovable, or disgusting because you have herpes; you just have herpes, like many many people around you.
While it was hard the first time I had to tell someone I had herpes, their response was healing: they said, oh I do, too. No rejection or fear or pull back. I’ve now told many lovers about having herpes and have never had anyone so much as blink. I’ve only heard of one woman who had someone have a negative reaction when she shared that she had herpes; and my thought is if someone can’t handle it then you don’t want to be in a relationship with them anyway, or you get to educate them.
Start by educating yourself. What the doctors say about herpes is based in fear and I believe lack of education. Here is a great website and hotline to talk to folks who are incredibly knowledgeable:
What I found is that I had outbreaks when I was stressed around my sexuality for some reason, and when I started to heal myself my outbreaks lessened and now it has been years since I’ve had an outbreak. I used it as a way to connect more with myself and listen to what I needed.
I hope these words help and that you reclaim your sexuality and your flow; I believe herpes just shows us where we have old cultural shame around sex and pleasure and gives us a very tangible way to let go of what is not our shame and claim our sexuality.
The Undercurrent of Sexual Shame
And here are my words to everyone: We live in a society that gives us mixed messages around sexuality: look at advertising and we see sex splashed everywhere. But beneath the surface the old beliefs that sex is a sin and if you are “too sexual” you are a “whore” or a “player” are still very much alive. (Or if you are “not sexual enough” you are frigid or a prude or unlovable. Or… the stories go on and on.) These type of old beliefs are a crack in our sacred foundation. If we are honest, there is an undercurrent of sexual shame in most of us. But we don’t talk about it, so we end up believing only we feel this way.
When I first started to really heal my relationship with my sexuality I talked to all of my friends, and some strangers, about their experiences, likes, dislikes. I read tons of books. I learned that I was not alone. I got some great tips. I realized I was normal, and learned over time to give myself permission to find out what I liked, what turned me on. It was liberating.
And I still find myself at times holding my hand through sexual shame.
Recently I was with my lover and we had our usual passionate, hot, loud, three-hours of amazing sex in the middle of the day. A friend was visiting him and was apparently in the backyard on a coaching call with a client. Her client asked, “What is that sound?” “Oh, that is the sound of a woman really enjoying herself.” They apparently spent the next part of their session talking about what it would be like to be so free and open sexually.
When my lover later told me this story, I was at first mortified. I liked the illusion that no one could hear me in the throws of ecstasy. He told me: You should be proud! Just by being yourself you just opened up the possibility for two women. Yes! That point of view was so much more true and aligned with me than what my unconscious inner voice had been telling myself: I was supposed to be a sweet, quiet, non-obtrusive woman who never let anyone know I was having sex….
I am not always a sweet, quiet, non-obtrusive woman. Sometimes I am fiery. Sometimes I am soft. And sometimes my animal self-inspires other people to awaken their animal.
And always, I have this little virus called herpes, which has really been one of my greatest teachers and guides. Herpes taught me to slow down and listen, to pay attention to my genitals and my body, to seek answers and support, to be brave, and to unwind a lot of sexual shame.
May we all love the bodies we have, without shame. May we shed the old paradigm of rejection of our bodies and our sexuality and dig beneath the old cracked foundation to find the solid, powerful, beautiful, wild ground of our authentic sexual selves.
Safer Sex Note
Super important note: Practice safe sex. Practice safe sex. Practice safe sex. How you ask? First, educate yourself. Make choices. Talk with your partner before being sexual. Follow through. Visit the San Francisco Safe Sex Information Website or call them for more info:
And here is a great article for suggestions on how to handle various situations
And another interesting article on addiction:
Sexual Shame and Addiction
Herpes Resources and Inspiration
Here are a few great writings on living with herpes. If you have herpes please keep following the trail towards healing the shame. Invite your herpes to be a guide to getting to know your body more intimately and listening deeply to what you need to do to embrace and heal both the emotional and the physical.
And remember, you are perfect, just the way you are.
Happy with Herpes: How I Got Rid of the Virus[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]