Sexual Shame

Things We Don’t Talk About Part 2: Sexual Shame

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

How to Talk About Safe Sex With Your Partner

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.

Meet the Woman Who Tells Everyone She Has Genital Herpes

Sex and Love: Dating with Herpes

The Overblown Stigma of Genital Herpes

Happy with Herpes: How I Got Rid of the Virus[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

10 thoughts on “Things We Don’t Talk About Part 2: Sexual Shame

  1. Wow! Like the gal in your article, I too, had herpes. Then it left me! I haven’t had an outbreak in about a decade. Thank you so much for brightening my faith in our spirit, and reconstituting my awareness being so much more than what the doctors (modern science) can tell us. I love you!

  2. We are on the same page my dear friend Heather. I just shared a blog about the date rape drug i was slipped…
    Your strength and courage is AMAZING and beautiful and I too, have hundreds of clients who have struggled with this “disease” and once embraced, heal it. Time to talk about the shit:) I love the guidance being sent from spirit… the stars…. as we walk our paths in honor of each other… and ALL….. together. Thank you my dear friend:)

  3. Thank you Heatherash! Your articles in “Things We Don’t Talk About” demonstrate how you truly live your Warrior Goddess path. Thank you for sharing and giving the courage for all of us to do the same.

  4. Beautiful, brave, and vulnerable. This topic has been in my head for some time and you communicated it beautifully. As someone who was in a relationship with someone who had herpes (I was told after we stared the sexual relationship), it is important to stress the need for courage and open communication.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. This has been on my mind because after divorce I have faced the need to tell potential sexual partners that I have herpes. The first man I told totally accepted it. I am still in shock that he didn’t reject me. Part of the reason I stayed in an unhealthy relationship for so long was because I didn’t think anyone else would want to be with me. I am learning that is not true and I am letting go of the belief that I am dirty. Your courage has given me the courage to share my story. Thanks.

  6. Thank you so much for your courage and vulnerability in sharing your story. After returning to my husband for a second attempt to make our marriage work after a six month separation, he gave me herpes. This was back in the early eighties. The week after I got the diagnosis, TIME Magazine came out with the cover showing a big red H announcing Herpes, the new national scandal. That was the beginning of my being stigmatized that and my husband telling me he fixed it so no other man would want me. I was shamed by it, but I divorced my husband. I did have other relationships. I always told my new partners and they were never fazed by it. I rarely have outbreaks but I still suffered from the shame of it and never discussed it with people. It was always my dirty little secret. Your article and story has really helped me to come to accept it for what it is, a virus. It’s not me. Thank you so much!

  7. It takes courage to speak openly about our sexual aspects and I applaud you HeatherAsh for this incredible strength and openness. As we tear apart our desires to appear perfect in public, we allow ourselves more to connect with everyone around us in a real way and that is the way of true leaders. True leaders present their many facets and are not afraid of being transparent. This transparency is what our generation needs now more than ever. Thank you!

  8. Thanks again, HeatherAsh, for posting this, and for answering my earlier question on the facebook thread. I see you emphasize “Practice Safe Sex.” I had given up on sexual relationships, knowing there are many STDs–not just herpes–out there. I will read your listed resources on Safe Sex. Thanks for offering me/us hope.

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