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How To Handle The Shock Of A Herpes Diagnosis, From A Woman Who’s Been There

She's been there, has it under control, and can help you feel better in every way, too.

Women's Health

This article is in partnership with FemiClear.

That moment of finding out you've been diagnosed with genital herpes can feel overwhelming. Aside from the shock of what this means for you physically, the mental toll can also weigh heavily. You may feel down on yourself and worried about the perception others will have of you — but the thing is, your life doesn't have to be turned upside down. These days, there are ways to not only find relief (including over-the-counter products like FemiClear for Genital Herpes Symptoms, which can help ease symptoms alongside your current Rx treatment), but to take back control of your body in the process.

Due to the lack of information and transparency surrounding herpes, misconceptions about the virus have thrived. Namely, that it only happens to a "certain" type of person, isn't treatable, or will disrupt your sex life for good, none of which are true. A number of doctors and advocates have been working for years to fight the stigma surrounding herpes.

"Our job is to break that barrier," says Dr. Jessica Shepherd, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist. "When we give a diagnosis to someone, they're completely devastated. We let them know that they're not alone and that this is something that can definitely be treated."

Herpes is more common than you think.

A lot more common. In fact, 1 in 6 women between the ages of 14 and 49 in the United States have been diagnosed with genital herpes, according to the CDC — and an additional portion of the population is unaware that they have it. For non-Hispanic black women, herpes is even more prevalent, with about half having the condition. As shocking and lonely as a herpes diagnosis may feel, it's a feeling millions of women know well.

One of those women is Jenelle Marie Pierce, executive director of The STI Project and sex educator, who learned of her diagnosis in her late teens. Prior to contracting the virus, her perception of those with herpes reflected myths often told, especially to young people.

"My viewpoint was that only certain kinds of people contracted it," says Pierce. "All my ideas or perceptions around herpes and people who have herpes was totally stigmatized, all inaccurate of course, not to mention wildly harmful and shaming. I was incredibly ignorant and didn't have a lot of knowledge of how common it is and how all types of people contract it."

Truth is, hundreds of millions of women around the world live with genital herpes, which is largely, but not always, caused by the viral strain known as HSV-2 (short for herpes simplex virus type 2), according to the World Health Organization. Many people are unaware that herpes simplex virus type 1 is what causes cold sores, but even fewer know that it can also be transmitted to the genital area through oral sex. In recent years, the percentage of genital herpes diagnoses that are caused by the HSV-1 virus has increased. "I like to reassure patients that it's the same virus as a cold sore, and we definitely don't walk around treating people any differently when they have a cold sore," says Dr. Shepherd.

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This lack of openness surrounding herpes can make the experience exponentially worse for those who contract it. "Everyone tells me their stories now," says Jenelle Marie Pierce. "It's something that I have to keep to myself when they're sharing something very personal and intimate about themselves, but I wish everyone knew how common this is and how it impacts all different types of people, all types of behavioral and sexuality styles and identities."

Treatment is easier than we’re led to believe.

Choosing to seek treatment for herpes is a major step in managing your symptoms. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral medication, which can be helpful in reducing the length of your outbreaks as well as their frequency.

Still, even a few days of dealing with the discomfort of an outbreak feels like forever. New over-the-counter product, FemiClear for Genital Herpes Symptoms, offers an all-natural and organic treatment that works hand in hand with your prescription to help provide fast relief for herpes. When used in addition to antiviral treatment, FemiClear has been reported to result in less severe outbreaks, reducing itching, pain, and burning symptoms in 90% of women. FemiClear killed over 99.9% of the herpes simplex I and II viruses during an in vitro laboratory testing. If you're looking for a proven product, FemiClear can be found at your local CVS in the personal intimacy aisle (or on CVS.com, Target.com, and Amazon.com), so it's easy to get when you need it most. You can take it at the first sign of an outbreak and throughout your outbreak to help manage symptoms.

It’s all about embracing self-care.

While it may be daunting, it helps to look at the treatment process as an act of self-love. "I think the most important thing is to be gracious with yourself," says Pierce. "And to know that whatever the misconceptions you have around herpes and what this means for your dating and sex life is likely all incorrect. It's all a product of stigma and a lack of information and comprehensive education across the board."

Along with using medication and treatment products like FemiClear, managing herpes begins with tuning in to your body. "I usually tell people when they go for their annual exam just to get a screening," says Dr. Shepherd.

"It's just a barometer of your health. You're the protector of your pelvis and you really should be aware of what's going on at all times."

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Jamie Foxx and his daughter Corinne Foxx are one of Hollywood’s best father-daughter duos. They’ve teamed up together on several projects including Foxx’s game show Beat Shazam where they both serve as executive producers and often frequent red carpets together. Corinne even followed in her father’s footsteps by taking his professional last name and venturing into acting starring in 47 Meters Down: Uncaged and Live in Front of a Studio Audience: All in the Family and Good Times as Thelma.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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