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LiveNLearn

Those awkward herpes mentions ...

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I am graduating with my first Bachelor's Degree in Psychology next month, and I am taking my four last courses currently. Today in class, (Pop Culture), our Professor asked the class what good pop culture gossip we had heard over the weekend. Someone blurts out with "Rhianna and Chris Brown are back together." So, the Professor comments on the fact that he finds it quite disturbing that Chris Brown was abusive towards her and she took him back. He also mentioned the message that it sends. Then someone else blurts out "Well, I heard that Rhianna gave Chris Brown herpes and that's why he knocked her around." Really????? Wow!!!! There are so many casual conversations where someone brings up herpes, and it is always followed by the sound effects and the "ewwwwwwww's" and "yucks". How annoying is this? It makes me want to stand up and shout, "Well, I have herpes and I wish all of you would stop the stigmatizing!" I'd like to hear about other's experiences with these snide comments, and how you handle them.

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I hear you LNL! I've had those moments, too. Thinking "Do these people not get that percentage-wise, there are quite a few people in this room who have herpes?" People are ignorant. I know I was totally ignorant about herpes before I got it. And it had me realize how many times I used to say off-color comments like that all the frickin' time! So yeah, it's not like I'm condoning that kind of ignorance, but if we're not going to speak up in the moment from a place of educating people, then we might as well flex that muscle of compassion for them being so ignorant to their offhand comments impacting people. I try to take those kinds of comments as a reminder for myself to be more aware of the kinds of things I say in mixed company. It's certainly made me more aware of everything I say and what the purpose is behind it.


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It is annoying but I am with you Adrial, they just don't understand it. I think having herpes does make us realize how what we say, even as an offhand comment, can have a real effect on someone else. To us, it is nothing but to someone else it could be very hurtful. I think we need to have compassion for others, as you say, and realize they are coming from a place of ignorance and "it's not personal" and that yes, statistically, the ones throwing the comments around could very well unknowingly be in the same boat. The stigma does make me crazy though. They talk about every other herpes - shingles, chicken pox, mono, cold sores, like it's nothing. They have signs up at Safeway advertising shots for shingles. People walk around with cold sores, no problem. It's all a "skin condition" until you change the neighborhood, then everyone is all freaked out. Eeesh. So frustrating.

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For close to four years now I have smiled and laughed every time I've heard a herpes comment or joke while inside it would tear me apart. I've excused myself from situations on multiple occasions to go to the bathroom and cry. I'm not so bothered by the comments/jokes anymore and tend to just ignore them but that has taken quite some time. I intentionally do not laugh at the jokes and am getting to the point where I want to just out myself and tell people to shut up but that hasn't happened yet.

 

The worst was when I was at a party with this guy that I was dating and had only just disclosed to him a week or two before. A girl made some comment about someone drinking out of her beer and yelled "you better not have herpes." I just ignored it but my stomach was instantly in knots. By this point I had mostly made peace with it and learned to just ignore the comments but what made me cringe was thinking about what this guy was thinking. I was afraid to even look at him and then when I did he was walking into the house (we were outside). My mind instantly began thinking that he's embarrassed and doesn't know how to deal with those comments so he must have disappeared to have a moment alone and think about it. So now I'm silently freaking out thinking of course he's going to change his mind and break up with me. If anybody were to find out he would be laughed at and judged and who wants to have to deal with that? When he finally came back outside he acted normal so I just tried to forget about it but it bothered me the rest of the day. The thing is, it was completely ridiculous for me to get as upset and crazy as I did. This is the only guy I've had to disclose to and telling him has been one of the most incredible and healing experiences of my life. I won't get into that story as it's on a thread here somewhere but he was as amazing and accepting as is humanly possible. He couldn't care less! Not only that, there was a really good chance that he didn't even hear this comment! I never brought it up but we continued to date for a while after that and herpes was never an issue whatsoever. I guess it just goes to show how the silly little bugger really is almost entirely a psychological illness. For me at least. That something so meaningless and inconsequential as an ignorant comment like that can throw me practically into a panic attack makes me so sad for all of us. Cause really there is NOTHING about this virus that should warrant such an awful stigma. Yet this is what we have to deal with because of ignorance and our society's hypocritical and judgmental beliefs about sex.

 

So I'm moving past caring about these comments and jokes entirely and realizing that the vast majority of the time they are not personal and not even meant to be insulting. People are just kind of dumb and often don't think about what they say and the effect their words may have on a person. Like Adrial and Whoopsi, I am much more aware now of the things that I say and try really hard to consider what impact my words might have on someone else. And, being someone with (what I consider to be) an awesome sense of humor and who is rarely insulted by jokes, I'm even learning to be a little more open-minded. I really believe that we need to be able to laugh at and not take ourselves so seriously. If you've ever seen a stand-up comedy show, think about all the dirty, racist, sexist, etc. jokes that you laugh at and how there are probably tons of people in the audience who are part of whatever group is at the butt end of the joke. But we all laugh because we know there isn't any real hatred or intention to hurt behind it. I'm trying to think of herpes jokes in this same way. And I think that may be the first step in breaking down the stigma. We know that it's nothing more than an annoying little skin condition and if we don't act like it's anything more than that, maybe people will begin to realize that it's really not. Of course there will probably always be some idiots that will believe whatever they hear and be hurtful and rude about it out of ignorance, but screw them. I truly believe that the vast majority of people are caring and good and not out to hurt others. And the rest are just bullies who aren't worth a second thought.

 

So with all that said, Stephen Colbert had me laughing out loud so hard at a herpes joke the other night and it felt so good to laugh about it that I wanted to share it on here. I hope nobody gets upset by this and really it's not even insulting but I know that there have been times when just hearing the word "herpes" made me sad and hurt. But I feel like this is a safe place to share this and I really think it can be healing to just think of herpes as what it actually is, and not what we've been told to believe it is. Since it's really not a big deal, why not laugh about it like you would laugh about anything else that has such little importance in your life. It starts around 12:20 if you just want the joke-

 

http://www.colbertnation.com/full-episodes/wed-november-7-2012-doris-kearns-goodwin

 

(And Adrial, feel free to take the link down if you don't think it's appropriate.)

 

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It does create an awkward moment, that's for sure. I was with some friends last night and a joke about sickle cell anemia somehow came up. One guy got offended and said something like "You shouldn't joke about serious health conditions" and so I asked "then why are herpes jokes okay?" His answer was "Because herpes is funny." I didn't even know what to say to that, I just sort of let it go, even though it irked me.

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You know, sometimes you need to joke about it. It is healing. My herpster friends and I do joke about it when we are together. We are in a safe place and laughing about it takes away some of the discomfort and stigma and lets us take if far less seriously, even for that moment. :)

 

Unfortunately, being in Canada, I don't have access to the link Alyssa. Darn! Have a fantastic day everyone!! Keep smilin.

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These comments are quite frustrating and can completely catch us off-guard, but we need to realize that its coming from their ignorance about a situation they obviously know nothing about and is completely immature.

 

I had a situation like this last weekend. There was an after party at my place, after a show I went to. I was so completely happy all night to have all my friends around me and was having a blast. I sat down with a good friend of mine whom I haven't seen in awhile, and was telling him about how my school year was going, and how I've been getting good grades. And a guy walks up to us and says "So, hows the talking about the herpes and everything going?"..

 

I was like "what did you say?" so he repeated it, and I was just dumbfounded. For one, I had no idea who he was, and 2, it was just such an ignorant thing to say and so coincidental. I knew he had no clue about my situation because I have only told a couple close girlfriends and no one knew who he was. Just a really stupid way to introduce yourself to new people. Considering he was in my house, i wanted to kick him out!! But instead, I expressed my anger to my friend and said it really upsets me when people talk like that. I told my friend "what if I did have herpes? thats why when people talk like that, its rude"

 

soo frustrating! looking back on it, I wish I would have told that stranger I had it.

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I so appreciate all of your input, and I feel more understood after reading about your personal experiences. This is rather new to me, and I do remember prior to actually have hsv, I never really noticed how often people joked about it. Now that I have it, all inappropriate comments and jokes stick out of conversations. It is frustrating, and I do not feel I am at the point of outing myself when those situations arise. I do like your post VirgoGirl about how you shared your displeasure with the herpes comment at the party at your place. I think I may start responding to people like that. Isn't it sad to feel so afraid of what others will think of you? Otherwise I am definitely a person who does not give a shit what people think about me...but my recent experiences have kind of changed that, and these types of things have a definite "ouch" factor attached to them.

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That person needs to get a life and become educated. I would disregard anything coming out of that person's mouth.

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LiveNLearn- I have sooo been at that point where you wanna scream "well, you know what?!? I have herpes!" Of course, I never do, mostly because it's none of their damn business :P

 

Like many others have said, it really is an ignorance thing. Thankfully for me, the profession I chose enables me to talk about sex and STIs quite regularly; so when given the opportunity, I educate people. I usually only make this effort, though, when my audience seems mature enough to listen and take it to heart. The one issue that I have run into, though, is feeling like people will figure me out if I let the situation seem too personal. To be honest, though, I'm not even sure why people figuring it out bothers me. It's not like I was even going to date any of them, lol.

 

If I'm around people who I don't really want to "school" on the subject, but I still want to make herpes seem like a non-issue, I respond to their little comments by shrugging my shoulders and saying "whatever, I don't care about herpes...like 90% of the population has some form of it...my cat even has it" (true story, my cat has herpes- she got it when she was a stray kitten). Usually they leave it alone after that.

 

The one time I really do wish I had spoken out a little more was when someone made the statement "that's because herpes is nasty..." in response to something I had said. I didn't argue with her and just remained silent. In retrospect, I should have taken more time to educate her.

 

Anyway, I totally know how you feel- and believe me, we have all been there! I think the reason herpes is the butt of every joke is that it's the only noncurable that affects men and women equally that isn't extremely serious. Neither HPV nor HIV fit all of those criteria. HPV isn't always that serious; but it doesn't affect men and women equally. HIV affects men and women alike, but it's something so serious that we don't want to make jokes about it. That's just my theory. Doesn't mean jokes should be made at all, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm not at all surprised that herpes is reserved for humor.

 

I actually commented a while back on a Perez Hilton post about the whole Rihanna and Chris Brown herpes thing. I couldn't help myself. And I think I'm going to continue to comment on those posts as I see them online. I'm not quite comfortable to confront everyone I know who makes those comments in person; but when it comes to the internet, I'm fearless :)

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