Hi, I’m Amy and I have herpes. As do 70% of people by the time they are 25 years old in one form or another. There is a lot of shame around this topic and many of us don’t feel able to talk about it for fear of being seen in a certain way. I had my first outbreak of herpes many years ago, and I could have caught it long before that without knowing. I don’t know who I caught it from and I don’t really need to know, they may not even know. What I do know is that the word ‘herpes’ bring with it a whole host of fear, embarrassment and unknowns.
My first outbreak was agonising. I was working as a support worker on a 13 hours shift and I could barely walk for the pain. I made excuses for my frequent visit to the toilet just so I could stop my knickers from touching my sores for a few minutes of relief. Eventually I couldn’t hack it any longer and told my boss that my sister was unwell and needed me – this was a lie but I was too ashamed to tell her the truth (even though I worked in a medical profession). I went to a sexual health clinic and they were able to take a swab and gave me a treatment to speed up the healing. When they called me to tell me the diagnosis I felt utterly broken. I cried in silence. I worried in silence. I thought of all the worst case scenarios in silence.
For many years I didn’t tell anyone except my sister who was lovely and supportive, as always. I did tonnes of research to make sure I was doing what I could in my lifestyle to minimise the likelihood of further outbreaks, and made sure I wasn’t passing it on to others. I have had relatively few outbreaks so far, maybe one every two years, and they have definitely become less severe each time. I decided not to take any regular medication to prevent outbreaks because I didn’t feel it was necessary. One year I had an outbreak when I was on a family holiday and I decided to tell my Mum because I wanted her help to get a prescription from a local pharmacy. I soon realised that it was MUCH easier to cope with an outbreak when those around me knew what was going on for me and I wasn’t having to pretend that I was fine.
Not long ago I saw a post on Facebook from a woman who had concerns about herpes and birth – she had been told that she wouldn’t be able to give birth vaginally because she had herpes. I was so grateful that she had been brave enough to put that question out there into the world, and that she got some answers. It took me a long time to feel able to share my story but I’m hoping that in doing so, I will be able to share some information that I have found useful and remind people of how common and normal this is. We shouldn’t be suffering in silence, and we shouldn’t be given misinformation that we are too embarrassed to question.
If this topic is something that applies to you, I hope it has been helpful. If you know someone who is struggling with this, you now have more knowledge to support them. If you would like to talk to us about whatever journey you are on, you can book a ‘holding space’ support session with us here. If you would require access to our fund for this session, please contact us before booking.
The resources I found helpful:
Monday 8th August 2022 is both
International Cat Day AND International Female Orgasm Day!
Now you might be thinking… Okay, but why are you lumping them together and what is the connection to birth? And I can see where you’re coming from, but hear me out.
Cats are wonderful creatures, and they are also mammals, like us. When a cat is pregnant we can often tell purely by her behaviour before she starts growing noticeably. When that lovely bulging belly is getting bigger we often try to guess how many kittens she might have in there! We don’t take her to the vet to check though, unless we think there is something wrong, right? We don’t poke and prod her to try to make our estimations, we just know that there is a range of normal and that whatever number of kittens she is growing is going to be the right number, and we’re excited to find out. Do you think she is worrying about it? Nope. We often give her some extra love and attention, and vice versa, as she reaches the end of her pregnancy or more privacy if that is what she is indicating. We follow her lead. The human female however is often exposed to even more fear and more poking and prodding the closer she gets to the end of her pregnancy. Why?
When the mama cat goes into labour we use hushed voices and we keep our distance. We keep the lights low and we absolutely do not interfere with the perfect process. We trust her and her instincts. When her kittens are born, she does all the instinctual checks herself and she separates her kitten from its placenta using her own natural tools, in her own time. All is well. We do not touch her kittens because it is well known that this can disrupt the bonding of a mother and her baby and that this can be detrimental to the survival of the kitten. Both her and her kittens know exactly what to do, and we don’t doubt it for a second. Why do we doubt women? Why do we interfere? Why do we separate the mother and baby, or feel entitled to even touch the baby?
Women need the same basic things that cats need in pregnancy and labour. To feel safe, warm, undisturbed and unobserved. We know this for other mammals and we usually respect it, trusting in the process and not interfering. So why do we interfere so much with human birth?
Did you know that the complete anatomy of the human clitoris wasn’t accurately described until the late 1990’s by a urologist Helen O’Connell? That’s really recent!! The female orgasm has long been a mystery that isn’t deemed important enough to talk about. The truth is that we don’t need research or diagrams, or any understanding of the process to be able to orgasm, but some recognition of our amazing bodies would be nice. We instinctively know what feels good, and the more time we spend alone, communicating with our own body, the more we understand ourselves. The more external influences we get, from partners, friends, the media or porn, the less we understand and trust ourselves. The same can be said for birth.
Orgasms are also wonderful. And guess what? They need the same basic things to go smoothly. Orgasms and birth are not two separate things, they are the same event separated by time. For a woman to orgasm she needs to feel safe, warm, unobserved and undisturbed. Have you ever tried to orgasm when one or more of these basic needs are not being met? Would you be able to if someone knocked on the bedroom door? Would you be able to if you were cold and uncomfortable? Would you be able to if you didn’t feel safe? Or if someone was taking your blood pressure or sitting in the corner taking notes? Probably not.
A release of oxytocin and dopamine. Uterine contractions. Increased blood pressure, respiration rate and heart rate. Involuntary groaning. Sound familiar?
Something else that is similar between orgasms and birth – you can do it completely by yourself. In fact, in most cases it is less complicated when you do! In both orgasms and birth, they go most smoothly when you are not thinking about how the people around you are perceiving you or your movements or your noises or thinking about someone else’s thoughts or feelings. They both also work much better without the idea of time in your head, whether that is “is this taking too long?” or “this will have to be quick because I’ve got to leave for work in 20 minutes”, it’s much simpler without that pressure.
Birth CAN be orgasmic. It’s not weird and it’s not impossible. It’s actually pretty normal when you think about how similar the processes are and the hormones involved. The thing that makes this kind of birth so illusive is the fact that for the most part the basic needs are neglected in birth, particularly within a medical setting. If you couldn’t orgasm in a hospital, why choose to give birth there? If you couldn’t orgasm at home with a member of the medical profession sitting in the corner taking notes, or worse – touching you, why would you choose to give birth in that scenario? Plan for birth as if you are planning for the best orgasm of your life. Set the scene so that you can do whatever the fuck feels good for you in that moment without judgement or observation. That includes when deciding whether you want your partner, or your mum, or a doula or a midwife present.
All mammals need the same basic things for both orgasms and birth (yes, other female mammals have orgasms too!). So why is it that in the last few generations we have created an environment for birth that does the complete opposite of meeting those needs? The truth is that in the way the maternity system is set up, we’ve almost completely removed the possibility of having an orgasmic birth whilst at the same time making it incredibly likely that the bonding between a mother and her baby will be interrupted. This is diabolical, and seems pretty intentional when you look at it from this angle. If a woman comes out of birth on a post-orgasmic high, feeling totally connected to her body and her baby, there is much less chance of her being controlled by, compliant or complacent in the patriarchy in any other area of her life. I can’t think of any other reason why our society would have created a system that oppresses women and goes against our nature in such an obvious, yet accepted, way. Can you?