This is a segment of my most recent research paper, “Discursive Limits: How Medical Discourse Produces Genital Herpes Stigma” at UC Berkeley.
In Archaeology of Knowledge, theorist Michel Foucault argues that, “in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed” (216). Discourse, or authoritative knowledge that is produced through speech acts and writing, is never neutral. For Foucault, discourse is quite the opposite; knowledge production is inherently intertwined with power and desire, having profound affect on subjectivity, perceptions of behavior, and the construction of institutions (216). So what then are the implications of authoritative writing about and around disease? Science, and medicine in particular, speaks with finality; medicinal knowledge is perceived as unquestioned truth and concrete knowledge. However, as Foucault explains, the discipline of “medicine does not consist of all that may be truly said about disease” (223). For all that is written about disease, there is equally that which is not uttered. These omissions, or ‘prohibitions’ as Foucault calls them, illuminate the fundamental fact that, “we are not free to say just anything, that we cannot simply speak of anything when we like or where we like, not just anyone, finally, may speak of just anything” (216). Thus the experience of genital herpes is only ever authoritatively materialized through the discursive processes of science and medicine, producing a particularly stringent and clinical image of who and how the virus infects, while largely ignoring other obverse complexities of equal validity.
We can see this most clearly when we examine the CDC’s recommendations for avoiding contraction/transmission of genital herpes. They offer only this: “The surest way to avoid transmission of …genital herpes is to abstain from sexual contact, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected” (CDC). As an authoritative epistemological site, literally shaping the ‘reality’ of what it means to live with this condition, in a single sentence the CDC reduces a life with herpes to a sexless journey or one confined to a single body willing to ‘take the risk’. Although their recommendations are certainly viable and can work for a variety of individuals, just like suggesting one could not walk in order to avoid scraping their knee, their suggestions are difficult to live up to for the sexually active who will typically have multiple sexual partners prior to entering into a long-term relationship. By framing the ‘best’ way to avoid contraction/transmission as abstinence, rather than providing a multitude of options that acknowledge variations of sexuality, kinship formations, and sexual orientations, the CDC exemplifies Foucault’s notion of ‘prohibitions’. As he argues, “in appearance, speech may be of little account, but the prohibitions surrounding it soon reveal its links with desire and power” (216). Potential alternative lifestyle options that the CDC chooses to discursively withhold from the readership of their genital herpes webpage lead the analytical eye to observe two things: 1) according to the CDC, the herpes population should not be sexually active, or only in restrictive ways and 2) that transmission should be avoided at all costs. In gesturing towards these two finalities, the CDC condones people with genital herpes who are having sex with multiple partners, who aren’t practicing monogamy, and, with an emphasis on preventing transmission, villainize the oftentimes-unavoidable act of transmitting.
These two observations are haunted by the 19th century shift in discursive focus on sex and sexuality. In The History of Sexuality: Volume I, Foucault explains that:
Claiming to speak the truth, [science] stirred up people’s fears: to the least oscillations of sexuality, it ascribed an imaginary dynasty of evils destined to be passed on for generations; it declared the furtive customs of the timid, and the most solitary of petty manias, dangerous for the whole society; strange pleasures, it warned, would eventually result in nothing short of death (54).
In ending their information page with the foreclosure of ones ability to be sexually spontaneous, while the preceding sections simultaneously focus on “complications,” “the link between genital herpes and HIV,” and how herpes can “affect a pregnant woman and her baby,” the CDC produces an image of the condition as something certainly to be afraid of and one that will cause a kind of ‘social’ death (Gruter & Masters 150).
Like a rhetorical map, the CDC’s genital herpes webpage linguistically connotes to readers precisely why and how they can socially ostracize those living with the condition, which becomes the same source for the HSV positive community to ostracize themselves. Literary theorist, Roland Barthes, argues that connotations are “naturalized as hegemonic, that is, accepted as ‘normal’ and ‘natural’” and thus produce what he considers myths (Barker & Galasinski 5). Through this theoretical lens, we can critique, not necessarily the epidemiological information the CDC provides about genital herpes, but the way in which they utilize language to frame and produce an ostracizing myth, naturalizing herpes as a condition that is always contagious, always linked to HIV, and always complicates pregnancies, which predominantly functions in proliferating stigma.
In thinking of stigma and the notion of social death, we can call upon sociological theorist Irving Goffman when he says, “by definition of course, we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human” (Stigma 5). Within the first paragraph of the CDC’s genital herpes information page, in a short section titled, “How Common is Genital Herpes,” the CDC uses the term ‘infected’ synonymously with ‘person/persons’. In a section only consisting of 117 words, they use ‘infection/infected’ 7 times, all as the subject of the sentence or as adjectives to describe the subject, which has the linguistic affect of shifting people with genital herpes from what could be considered a ‘healthy’ person to certainly someone who isn’t ‘quite human,’ but is most decidedly and perhaps most importantly ‘infected’ (CDC). Goffman posits in his seminal book, Stigma: Notes on the Management of the Spoiled Identity that:
[Society] constructs a stigma-theory, an ideology to explain [another’s] inferiority and account for the danger he represents, sometimes rationalizing an animosity based on other differences, such as those of social class. We use specific terms such as cripple, bastard, moron in our daily discourse as a source of metaphor and imagery, typically without giving thought to the original meaning (5).
In focusing on ‘infection’ and referring to the bodies that carry the virus as ‘infected’, the CDC establishes a discourse that connotes people with genital herpes as inferior, dangerous through ‘contagiousness’, and provides a multitude of terms for society to use in their efforts to stigmatize genital herpes while naturalizing the conditions perils through their authoritative lens.
So there is this fellowship that UC Berkeley offers and I’m going to apply for it for the purposes of starting an alternative high-school sex education class. I want to rally up a diverse group of young, STD+ folks who are comfortable talking about their respective condition to a group of high school seniors. One of the biggest barriers to effective sex education, in addition to the emphasis on abstinence, is that students typically do not relate to the teacher providing the information. This happens for a variety of reasons - social differences, like race, age, etc. and a displacement of authority. I think if a group of young, diverse, STD+ folks came and operated an STD workshop, some AMAZING teaching/learning could take place for ALL parties involved. Stigma could be addressed, queerness could be talked about, the REALITIES of STD’s (how they’re contracted, how they are managed, how they are lived with, ways of avoiding transmission, treatment resources for a variety of socio-economic needs etc.)
Y”ALL I HOPE I GET THIS FELLOWSHIP and DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GOOD IDEA?
I JUST SUBMITTED MY APPLICATION I JUST SUBMITTED MY APPLICATION!!!!
Y’ALL! IF I GET THIS IT WILL BE SO AMAZING!!!! I WILL NEED YOUR HELD! I WILL NEED TWO-THREE AMAZING BAY AREA STD+ SOULS TO HELP FLIP THE SCRIPT ON SEX ED!!! AND I WILL BE ABLE TO REIMBURSE YOU! MONEY Y’ALL!!! WHAT?
Don’t find out until April …. I WILL KEEP YOU POSTED!!!!
(From It’s All One Curriculum)
- Many find they have more interest in sex during the fertile days of their cycle.
- In the case of couples who have trouble conceiving, the cause of the infertility is is as likely to be the cause of either person’s fertility issues. Determining the cause of infertility is often difficult.
Sperm development takes place in the testicles (which sit inside the scrotum). Proper sperm development requires a cooler than normal body temperature. Because the scrotum is located outside the body, it maintains this cooler temperature. Constant heat around the scrotum (for example, working near a furnace or wearing tight pants and underwear that increase the body temperature of the scrotum/testicles) can reduce sperm count
- As people age their fertility declines, although those designated the male sex are able to be fertile their entire lives after the onset of puberty
a normal sperm count is tens of millions of sperm with each
- Sperm mature in the testicles in about 75 days
- the human body produces about a liter of saliva every 24 hours.
- Once can tell when they are ovulating by observing simple changes in the mucus that passes out of their vagina. in this way, they can know when they are fertile (can become pregnant), and they can predict on which day their menstrual period is due. They can use this information either to take measures to avoid pregnancy or to try to become pregnant
near the end of pregnancy, a person’s hip joints loosen. this
enables the pelvis to expand, making it easier for the baby to move through the pelvic area. Sometimes a person has to be careful about moving about late in their pregnancy, because the loosening joints can make her feel wobbly
in rare instances, a person releases two eggs rather than one. if
both are fertilized, fraternal (nonidentical) twins will develop. if a
single egg is fertilized and then undergoes an extra cell division at a very early stage, identical twins will develop. Fraternal twins have genes like any two siblings, but identical twins come from the same nucleus. they have almost identical Dna (genes).
the sex of a fetus is determined by the sperm, not
by the egg.
Some more advice on living with Genital Herpes. People seem to really like this video so I am reposting! If you have anything you would like me to address in my next video, message me :)
The following is a recent paper I wrote. It is far from perfect and entirely incomplete. The term ‘musings’ in the title suggests this imperfection, but I hope this could be beneficial to some who are interested.
When I was a child I wanted to be a witch. I would collect books on witchcraft from the school library and gather the neighborhood kids in my garage to concoct mysterious elixirs from my mothers cleaning supplies. When I wasn’t busy researching pagan rituals, I dreamt of being a teacher, a thespian, the sixth member of the Spice Girls, or a runaway. As time passed, I began to imagine my future self in more complicated ways. I envisioned the houses I would own and with whom I might live with. I imagined distant vacations and sloppy queer romances. Sometimes I fantasized about life’s tragedies; while driving I might picture myself smashing into the car next to me or, in rare moments of terrifyingly profound silence, I may forcibly allow the ever-impending and paradoxically unimaginable death of my parents to wash over me. Yet, never did I ever imagine I would contract genital herpes.
Getting ‘sick’ or becoming ‘infected’ was never a plot point in the stories I told myself about what it meant to be a good person with a fulfilling life; the ever evolving hologram of my projected future self was, despite all knowledge of unavoidable loss and pain, able-bodied. In the films I saw and in the books I read, the people who ‘contracted’ a ‘disease’ or experienced ‘chronic illness’ were people in complex situations or in geographical locations too far away for my imagination to reach towards. A virus like herpes, one that doesn’t kill or devour a body but takes up residence in your dorsal root ganglia and inexplicably enacts its will upon your genitals as if it were some phantom of previous sex and shameful desires, were never spoken of, written down, or gestured towards as possible. Even in sex education classes, of which one poor soul of a high school teacher imparted such limited knowledge upon a classroom of ears that were never listening, genital herpes was like an extraterrestrial; on another planet and in another realm the body becomes one with a virus, but never ever here and never ever now.
I am a final psychology undergraduate at Northumbria University, and I am currently recruiting 18-25 year olds to take part in my project research. I am investigating young adult’s knowledge of sexually transmitted infections, their attitudes towards them, and motivations for testing.
Could you possibly advertise my study on your blog? All it involves is completing an online questionnaire, which should take no longer than 15 minutes and is completely anonymous. If anyone would like to take part this link will take them directly to the questionnaire; https://surveymonkey.com/s/STIquestionnaire.
If you would like more information about this study, please email Hannah Harwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This research has received full ethical approval from the Department of Psychology Ethics Committee (Undergraduate) in accordance with Northumbria University ethics and governance regulations.
Thank you! Any participation is massively appreciated. :)
Thank you for this site. My friend directed me to you when I broke the news to her that I have herpes (& was swiftly falling into the shame spiral & doomsday thoughts associated w/ the news). I look forward to sharing my story for your research, but for now, I need a trusted source to answer some simple questions I never had to consider before: is it appropriate for me to get a bikini wax at a salon, or will I be denied service after telling the esthetician I have herpes?
Hi! Thank you so much for checking out the blog and I am so happy that it has helped you in some way. Regarding the bikini wax: you do not have to disclose this information to them as the virus is transmitted through skin to skin contact and they use wax paper, often with gloves. If you decided to disclose this information and were denied service, I think you would have legal case on your hands! However, I would warn you against getting waxed as waxing can oftentimes bring on an expression. Some of my worst expressions have been from waxing/shaving. This is something you will have to experiment with however, as every body is different. You might need to switch up your self-care routine! I hope this helps? :)
First I'd like to say that you have gotten me through my HSV 1 (genitally) diagnosis. But this question doesn't necessarily have to do with that but more about myself as a person. I've always been, but even more so after the diagnosis I'm a very sexually open person, I love talking about sex and I'm so open about myself and how I feel or what i want. This tends to scare guys away. Am i supposed to tone myself down?! Why is it me being a girl and loving sex is so taboo, makes guys run?
Hi there! From one incredibly sexual self person to another, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. I have had many people be afraid of my sexuality, judge me for it, etc. But I am who I am and I can’t change myself, particularly in that sense. Don’t allow the fears of other people to coerce you into “toning yourself down” - you are who you are and your sexuality operates the way that it does, and that is that. Historically, women* have been socialized to believe that we should be pure, chaste, nurturing, “well-behaved”, passive, domestic, private etc. This trope of “successful womanhood” can be seen almost everywhere within culture, particularly in Western cultures or nations who have a history of colonization, and everyone is socialized in accordance with these gender constructions. Of course, these notions of femininity are not necessarily true, fixed, or universal. Your sexuality, as does mine, brings these apparently “naturalized” notions into question which makes people uncomfortable. For men*, masculinity is constructed directly in opposition to these hegemonic notions of femininity (this is the gender binary at work). For example, if women* are passive then men* get to be active. If women* are private then men* are public etc. Men* are socialized into believing that “successful masculinity” is as the sexual aggressor, seeker, initiator, teacher etc. Women* who prevent this from happening complicate and disrupt the norms (which gets even more complicated when we look at lesbianism/queer practices etc). The advice I would give you is that you are fine just as you are and trust that sexual partners who are intimidated by your sexuality are likely partners you wouldn’t want to have anyway. I assure you that there are plenty of fantastic people out there who will be entirely welcoming and excited by your fascination and enjoyment of sex :)
I've noticed an unusual amount of vaginal mucus lately, does this mean anything potentially negative?
It depends on the characteristics of the discharge. This is a good link that could guide you (sorry for the bullshit language of ‘healthy vagina’ and ‘abnormal vagina’ - there is nothing more irritating than this kind of charged language. Whether you have chlamydia or nothing, your vagina isn’t fucking abnormal) Excuse my rant - good luck!
Hi there, I was diagnosed with genital herpes 3 days ago after 2 days of awful symptoms. I contracted it off my first ever sexual partner who is my boyfriend. I am 19 and I am not only having to cope with the news but also the excruciating pain of my first outbreak (or expression as I've seen you like to call them!) I know as somebody with HSV you will have some insight on how long this initial episode will go on for. I am on aclyvior 5 times a day and my blisters have only just started to burst
Hi there. Thank you for reaching out - I’m sorry youre in this situation but know you’re not alone. So many of us are right there with you and know, in our own way, what you’re experiencing. To answer your question, you’re about half way through. The first outbreak is absolutely the worst and the ones you experience after this will be minuscule in comparison! After the blisters burst it will be another 5-7 days until you completely heal. Don’t pick them and try your best not to itch them. If you need to, use a cold compress. Damp a towel and press it into the irritated area instead of rubbing or scratching. Keep taking the acyclovir and try to get your hands on some Lysine, Red Marine Algae and Vitamin C. They should be available in your local vitamin store or health food store. If you dont have any stores like that near you but have a credit card/debit card, buy some online. Perhaps the most important thing you can do at this time however is to take great care of your emotional health. The kicker about HSV is that the more stressed out you get about having herpes, the more expressions you have. Make sure you get plenty of rest and allow yourself to feel all the emotions that come up. Let them wash over you and move through them instead of bottling things up and feeling anxious. Try to be kind to yourself, engage in acts of self care and self love. And above all else know that you aren’t alone :) I hope this helps!
Hi, I noticed that I have herpes outbreaks always on the last day of my menstruation/period, respectively the first day when I start taking the birth control pill. I know that hormone fluctuations can activate the virus. But is there something I can do against it? Do I have less hormone fluctuations if I take another or if I stop taking the birth control pill? It's really frustrating having an outbreak every month.
I hear you. Many folks with HSV who menstruate experience expressions during or around the time of menses (myself included!). All bodies are different, so the only advice I could give you is to experiment a bit. If you feel like taking the plunge, go off of birth control for several months to see if you notice a difference. If you do this, it is extremely important that you use an alternative form of birth control, like a barrier method. I would recommend using non-lubricated condoms as the lubricants used in condoms have spermicide, which is a really bad irritant and could contribute to outbreaks. Are you using supplements? If not, get to taking Lysine, Red Marine Algae and high doses of Vitamin C. Keep a little journal and take note of things and see if it helps! Be a little biohacker investigator :) Hope this helps and keep us updated!
Today I really felt compelled to be open about me being HSV-2 (genitally) positive. I really think it would help empower myself and even perhaps serve as an inspiration to others who also have the virus. I asked my boyfriend & close friend what they thought about it & they both were very serious when saying they think its a bad idea because it would embarrass them. They said it is important that I take their feelings in consideration. Now I feel even more ashamed. What should I do? :(
Find a new boyfriend and a new close friend! This is YOUR circumstance, your HSV is YOURS and you have your own relationship with the virus, you have your own story with the virus, you have your own feelings about the virus. If you’re finally in that place of empowerment and positivity and the people who love you don’t want you to explore and express that positive change because they’re concerned with how THEY feel, then I say completely ignore them! Why do they have such deeply personal feelings about your herpes??? Especially your close friend!?!? If they are afraid of you being open about something that is completely and entirely yours because it will somehow “embarrass” them, then that means they haven’t wholly accepted you as you are. If anyone ever told me to not start this blog, to not put my videos up on YouTube, to not write and research the condition while at University then I would very kindly tell them to go fuck themselves. By being open and empowered by your life experiences, it shouldn’t embarrass them but inspire them too. It means that there is much that they still don’t understand about the condition and that they are still engaging in deeply mis-held beliefs about the STI.
Listen, I mean it when I tell you that you are amazing, that you are perfect as you are. I mean it when I say you shine. Don’t ever let anyone force you to dim your light, to make you feel ashamed or wrong, especially when you want to be courageous and empowered! People who love you, people who wholly accept you for who you are would never hold you back from being excellent. For those of us living with HSV, the moment we reach that positive perspective of our condition, the moment we begin to feel empowered is an exciting, yet delicate moment. Surround yourself with people who will celebrate with you and encourage you in those moments not flood you with selfish feelings that have no place in your process. You’re fucking awesome and I think you should absolutely continue exploring those good feelings and how you want them to creatively manifest. You have a supporter right here and if you need help with anything, let me know.