I was recently at a herpes support group and one of the clinicians — who was from Brazil — shared something really interesting that launched my mind into new possibilities. Shows how culture has a tremendous impact on how the people view their lives.

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She said hadn’t seen herpes as an issue in Brazilian society. Brazilians are known to say offhandedly “I’m having a herpes outbreak now, so no sex for a few weeks!” in regular everyday conversation. No shame. No covering it up. I find that refreshing and — dare I say — normal. The culture is clearly fine with the concept of people having herpes and working around it in a healthy way instead of a stigmatized way. I found myself wondering what came first? Was it overall cultural “okayness” to begin with or did individuals create the pervasive okayness?

Based on my limited knowledge of Brazilian culture (and definitely hispanic culture in general), I hear they are a sexually open society. Good for them. They celebrate sex instead of condemning it. American society — despite its liberal leanings in other ways — is still living in the Puritan days where sex is a sin; even if it’s not an overt belief, it permeates the flavor of our culture.

Let’s be clear here: there’s no hint that we should all sex up everything that moves or be flagrant with our sexuality; there is a happy medium between the two, which is to treat sex as it is: the most natural, fun, respected and inherited trait of any human being. Thank goodness sex exists … or we wouldn’t. Sex between consenting adults is a beautiful thing. Period.

So I find myself wondering … do individuals have the power to influence culture when it comes to herpes? If we as a herpes culture can learn to be open and not feed into the stigma ourselves, then will the stigma be able survive?

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