Genital Herpes: Stigma Still Strong

Stigma Ranks Second to HIV in Poll

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 31, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 24, 2007 -- Genital herpes is common but it still carries a big social stigma, an online poll shows.

The poll included 503 U.S. adults with genital herpes and about 1,400 other adults who said they didn't have genital herpes.

Participants answered questions about their relationships and views of genital herpes.

They ranked genital herpes second for social stigma, out of all sexually transmitted diseases (HIV took the top spot for STD stigma).

The poll also included a list of other potentially taboo topics, including HIV, gonorrhea, mental illness, obesity, substance abuse, and cancer.

Most participants -- 64% of those without genital herpes and 56% of those with genital herpes -- said they didn't think any of those topics were taboo. However, genital herpes was the top-ranked "taboo" topic.

Among genital herpes patients, 39% said they were troubled by societal stigma about genital herpes. Far more genital herpes patients -- 75% -- were troubled by bothersome symptoms of genital herpes outbreaks.

Most people without genital herpes said they would avoid having a relationship with someone who has genital herpes and break up with a partner who had genital herpes.

Among people with genital herpes, 36% said they tell their partners about their genital herpes "well in advance of having sexual intercourse for the first time," and 68% said they were concerned about transmitting genital herpes to their sexual partners.

But that doesn't mean it's easy for patients to talk to their partners about their genital herpes.

For instance, of the 325 genital herpes patients who reported having genital herpes outbreaks, 38% said they'd made up an excuse to avoid having sex during a genital herpes outbreak, instead of telling their partner about their outbreak.

Harris Interactive conducted the poll between Dec. 14, 2006, and Jan. 12, 2007. The poll was commissioned by the drug company Novartis.

Show Sources

SOURCE: Harris Interactive: "State of Genital Herpes 2007: Personal Story and Societal Stigma."

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