Around two-thirds of people worldwide under age 50 have herpes simplex 1, according to the World Health Organization, and around one in every six Americans between ages 14 and 49 has genital herpes, usually caused by herpes simplex 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Both Davis and Carlson eventually moved past their initial panic and saw herpes for what it is: an infection many people have that happens to usually get passed through sexual contact.
“I mostly thought, ‘I’m going to die alone, no one’s going to date me ever again,” she tells SELF.
Although herpes is one of the most prevalent sexually transmitted diseases, it’s shrouded in stigma.
On sites like Positive Singles and HMates, users are expected to be open about their diagnoses, but because they know everyone else there has an STD, too, it removes a huge barrier—and the question of whether the information will send a potential partner packing.“It’s a great way to see you’re still the same interesting, sexy, desirable person,” Davis says.
“It helps rebuild the confidence that gets hammered down when you get that diagnosis.” (She is a spokesperson for Positive Singles, but she’s never used any STD-specific dating site.)Carlson, who got back into dating via this kind of site after her diagnosis, agrees.
Jenelle Marie Davis, 34, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, will gladly explain why having herpes isn’t the end of the world. It took years for Davis, founder of The STD Project, which encourages awareness and acceptance of various sexually transmitted diseases, and spokesperson for Positive Singles, a dating site for people with STDs, to come to terms with the diagnosis she got at age 16.“My mom says the entire way home from my appointment, I cried and said no one would ever love me, no one would ever want me, and I’d never get married,” Davis tells SELF.