Sex Shame, Herpes Stigma


When was the last time you kissed someone new and they told you they had oral herpes or cold sores before the smooching began? If you had sex with someone who had herpes and they didn’t tell you, would you feel differently? Both locations are extremely sensitive and getting herpes on your face or your genitals can be really painful and have lasting implications for your sexual relationships and health. So why are face herpes considered pretty normal and

genital herpes the thing of childhood jokes and a lot of adult fear? The answer lies in how we feel about sex and how we feel about sex includes a whole lot of shame and that shame means that we attribute a lot of negative feeling to anything that we can get through sex.

This isn’t to say that people who get cold sores don’t feel any discomfort or shame about it, I’m sure they do, especially if they’ve contracted those sores from sex. But having cold sores just doesn’t carry the same weight of stigma that having genital sores does and also doesn’t seem to have the same requirements in terms of disclosure.

We judge all those diseases and infection gotten through bumping naughty bits far more harshly than we do any infection or disease we’ve acquired ‘faultlessly’. And there’s the problem, when we have sex, we’re seen as having done something wrong so the bad that can come with having sex is judged and given moral weight in a way that getting the flu or a cold or even cancer isn’t.

So until our world starts seeing consensual sex as a pleasant pastime that provides us with a lot of health and emotional benefits, then we’ll continue to feel that those who’ve contracted an STI are somehow to blame rather than just having a bit of bad luck.

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Shelley Taylor

Educator