Since genital herpes, by definition and nature, is an infection associated with sexuality, it often become thought of as a sexual disease, or a disease of sexuality, rather than a rash that occurs on the sexual organs. Notice, the distinction. Your means of expression of sexuality can sometimes be affected, but not your sexuality per se. Fortunately, these two ideas are sometimes difficult to separate, and a syndrome of emotional responses can lead to a series of feelings much worse than the virus and to behavior reinforcing the bad feelings in a vicious cycle.
A large part of this problem stems from societal training-that sex and sexuality are to be dealt with differently, as well as with more secrecy, than other parts of our lives. Men with herpes more often worry about performance-also an idea fed by cultural orientation.
You might be thinking, herpes has damaged my sexuality. Therefor I am not the same as I was, which mass me feel bad about myself. This gives me problems in dealing with other people and prevents me from getting close to them. I am now less free than before because I feel worse about myself. So I am withdrawn because my sexuality is damaged, because I have herpes. Notice the circularity.
You may indeed experience associated feeling sod embarrassment, shame, or even guilt followed by social withdrawal. Some people develop a fear of rejection because herpes has eroded their feelings of attractiveness, desirability, and self-esteem. Others go through periods of depression and helplessness, or read the medical literature avidly, becoming experts on the details of biochemistry, immunology, virology” and several other “ologies,” with the same result—the energy expended only leading to more disappointment, frustration, and worry.
Sexual and social dysfunctions can occur as a direct result of the emotional impact of herpes. I want it to be clear that feelings of depression, of helplessness, and of loss of freedom and dreams can be very natural reactions. These Ire emotional responses to the myths, fears, and social stigmas associated with herpes. But these effects are also common responses to other recurrent or chronic physical conditions or to life’s problems in general, which can seem insurmountable until understood and addressed. The crucial dimension of genital herpes that distinguishes it from other disorders is that it is associated with sexuality.
Even the most well-adjusted and psychologically attuned men and women are not immune to part or all of this emotional syndrome. There are all sorts of social and cultural reasons for the interplay between the physical and psychological aspects of a disease like herpes, especially since herpes is often contracted during the periods in a person’s life when he or she is experimenting with sexual feelings. ‘One tends to think in terms of outright cures for the physical aspects of the virus, and the less concrete problem of the personal aspects can get hidden and lost in the drug technology and search for a cure. So your job is to identify your emotional feelings, deal with them, and get on with the business of living as quickly, rationally, and skillfully as possible.
Some Common Feelings
Herpes virus does not cause impotence, sterility, or neurological deficiency, although it may cause discomfort during or before recurrences! But it’s quite possible that it may affect your emotions and cause transient impotence or lack of desire.
Herpes has the great capacity to tap into and feed on other concerns and emotional styles that people have. While concern about contagion is an important emotional response, guilt is a useless one as it is in most situations. Feelings that you are being punished justly unjustly are not only unproductive, but downright undermining. Guilt comes from many sources in our culture and getting herpes can often reactivate other guilt feelings about bodies, behavior, and so forth.
Feelings of being contaminated all the time stem from the same roots. Since you now know what to do about contagion, you need not feel that way. Separate herpes your relationship with herpes from other areas of your life.
Anger is natural and needs to be let out, but not yourself! This only leads to self-dislike and more anger. Cure-chasing invariably leads either to more disappoinment and frustration, or to more anger and depression. The anger about herpes subsides automatically in direct proportion to your adjustment and capacities to coexist with a control herpes as a life disrupter. But by all means be a angry. You’re quite right in feeling that more research needed to ﬁnd a cure for herpes (see resources section f and an outlet for this-). And you are probably quite right i being angry about other circumstances related to herpes.
But for now, the challenges that getting herpes may have set up. Fear of rejection is very common because herpes can initially deflate your sexual ego. Some people’s self-worth resolves entirely around their sexuality. For them, this can be a tough problem to deal with, but it shouldn’t be for two good reasons. First, you now know that you can do pretty much what your heart desires between outbreaks. IN fact you can do a great deal during them too (in the way of intimacy), if you exercise a little care and creativity.
If you are single, the fear associated with herpes can play even more tricks on you. In part, this fear is based on 1 person feeling incomplete, not whole, or on anxiety that he or she won’t be able to perform properly, or at the right time.
Despite the current fashion for “relating” and “communicating,” real intimacy in talking about needs and desires is still difficult’ for many people. First time sex or sex between people who do not yet know one another very well is rarely anxiety-free; one or both persons usually have something on the line. It usually involves performance and other forms of expectations and often leaves out ease, good feelings, and plain interactive passion.
Hence, in someone who has herpes, performance anxiety, although totally unrelated to herpes, can feed upon this additional fear and anxiety that herpes creates.
What about somebody else having to deal with your having herpes? You may feel like nobody’s going to want to nurse you, or sleep with you, or deal with you when you have herpes. Nobody’s going to need to nurse you and, in fact, you won’t have to nurse yourself much either once you’ve adjusted to herpes. A little understanding, comfort, and encouragement is part of what friends and lovers can provide, and it is not too much to expect. If you can’t have some of that in a relationship, there’s something wrong with your choice of partner.
The initial talking through with a potential long-term partner is the psychological hurdle you have to clear (and in the next chapter we’ll discuss exactly how to do this). Then many other things will fall into place. Disappointments from rejections have occurred, of course, as they occur in other circumstances in life as well. However, there is a tendency to withdraw from the possibility of rejection (I’ve seen this happen both in long-standing relationships and in first meetings of people drawn to each other), or to set things up so as to drive the other person away = not uncommon without herpes as an issue! From all my experience in treating men and women who contract herpes, it is clear that the issue of communicating that they have herpes is viewed as the most difficult stage in adjustment-mostly because of fear and rejection. But my experience has also shown that this can usually be overcome successfully and quickly.
I’ve come across rejections blamed on herpes where it was not the culprit, or the relationships breaks up where one or the other partner had herpes and where, again, herpes was not the reason, although sometimes a ready scapegoat. But I have not seen herpes, per se, break up a relationship or prevent one from developing, except in some cases with extreme symptoms.
The people who do run into personal and emotional difficulties come through them. They make, break, and maintain relationships, sexual and otherwise, and live with vigor, free from depression and self-doubt associated with herpes.
The real danger lies in letting the emotional syndrome become more powerful and recurrent than the rash itself.