Herpes Nation Newsletter Volume One, Edition Four
Amber Madison is a twenty-two-year-old Tufts University graduate and former sex columnist for the Tufts Daily newspaper and author of “Hooking Up: A Girls’ All-Out Guide to Sex and Sexuality”.
Having grown up with parents who always talked openly about sex, she was determined to provide girls with comprehensive and accurate information about their sexual health and deliver it in an entertaining and humorous way. The book is hilarious, uninhibited, and full of must-have knowledge about safer sex and sexuality. Hooking Up gives frank talk on a slew of meaningful issues concerning sexual activity and intimacy, and addresses the emotional aspects that textbooks so often ignore. Revealing her own experiences and often humorous mishaps, Amber covers topics including: vaginas, masturbation, virginity, orgasms, sex acts, STDs, contraception, condom use, pregnancy, sexual assault, body image, relationships, and homosexuality.
We talked recently to Amber about “Hooking Up”.
Q: What motivated you to write “Hooking Up”?
They say that your professional pursuits are really an attempt to resolve your own internal conflicts, and that’s what attracted me to studying sexuality. I started writing a sex column because I wanted to fix things for other girls that I knew needed to be fixed for myself. I developed early, looked old for my age, and before I had even thought about having sex, everything I did was sexualized. I needed to understand how I wanted sex to fit into my life, and I needed reassurance that it was under my control.
My column tackled many issues: female sexuality, relationships, and of course STDs and contraception. The more columns I wrote, the more questions I got. And the more questions I got, the more I understood how desperate girls are for explanations about their bodies, information about sex, and reassurance that their experiences are normal. Even in college, many sexually active girls don’t have a good grasp on how to protect their reproductive health, or have enough confidence to negotiate sexual relationships on their own terms. And I didn’t have to extrapolate what it was like for girls in high school; I remember. Girls grow up bombarded with images of sexuality, but at the same time, few are willing to actually talk with them about sex. I believe that sex can be a normal and healthy part of a young woman’s development. But at the same time, sex is full of complex issues, and without an open discussion, girls end up confused.
Young people don’t get a lot of straightforward information about sex, and I wanted to write something to “fill in the holes” so to speak of their sex education. I wanted to tackle issues of sexuality from all sides, emotional and psychological, and give more than just facts. I also wanted to write something to address teen’s real questions and speak to them in language they could relate to.
Q: What are the top three questions about sexuality that young women come to you with?
The want to know why they do not enjoy sex or have an easier time having an orgasm; how guys and girls are different in terms or what they want out of sex and relationships; and what they should do if their partner doesn’t like condoms.
Q: How much do young women (and young men, for that matter) know about STDs and safer sex in general?
Young people seem to know some facts about STDs, but not everything they need to know to keep themselves safe. One myth that’s very prevalent is that if someone has an STD you’d be able to see it. Many young people I talk with seem shocked that the majority of STDs show no visible signs or symptoms. Also, they put too much stock into the claim “I’ve been tested,” and don’t know to follow up with questions like “tested for what,” and “how long ago.”
Q: And how about herpes in particular? What myths prevail?
Very few people know that someone could be carrying the herpes virus but never have a manifestation of the symptoms. I think people don’t understand how common the herpes virus actually is.
Q: I’ve read reports recently suggesting that young girls are easily convinced by their peers to give oral sex because “it isn’t really sex” and they often perform fellatio unprotected. What do you hear as you speak in schools?
I think that our society puts a lot of weight on vaginal intercourse, especially in regards to whether or not you are a virgin, and what it means to abstain from sex. I’ve never met anyone who felt that they weren’t a virgin after having oral sex, and for that reason many people don’t consider it “real sex.” Also, while many girls feel comfortable demanding a condom when having sexual intercourse, they don’t feel as comfortable demanding it for oral sex, simply because they do not see it as the norm.
Q: We hear so much lately about the early sexualization of girls by the media, including fashion and the cult of celebrity. In your experience, what effect is this phenomenon having on girls and young women these days?
It’s a huge issue. In my experience young women present themselves as very sexual because they see it everywhere, but at the same time, don’t really understand what they are doing and what image they are portraying.
Q: What is the best advice you could give young women today? And what would you like to tell their parents?
The best advice I could give young women is to really tune into what their body and mind is telling them about the sexual decisions they are making, and to stick closely with what they truly want – not what their partners want, what their friends are doing, or having sex to fill some other sort of void. To parents – talk to your kids. It’s not going to make them more likely to do it, but it is going to give them guidance.
Q: Any advice to us in the Herpes Nation? How can we best educate young people about herpes and STDs?
I think the best way to educate teens about sex is to talk to them like they’re real people–not irrational beings overrun with hormones. Really listen to what they are telling you, and address those needs, and make clear that you are there only to help them, not to judge them in any way.
Sounds like your book will go a long way to helping us take that advice. Thanks, Amber.
It’s Never Too Late
by Christoper Scipio
Teens aren’t the only sexually active population in need of education regarding herpes and STDs. According to research in the journal of Sexually Transmitted Infections, the rates of sexually transmitted infections have doubled among the over 45 population in less than a decade.
The most commonly diagnosed infection among the over 45s was genital warts, accounting for almost half of the episodes. Herpes was the next most common, accounting for almost one in five. Cases of Chlamydia, herpes, warts, gonorrhea and syphilis all rose sharply.
People over 45 going into new relationships, perhaps after the death or divorce of their partner should discuss having safer sex. Baby boomers should talk about what they have and have not been tested for.
Boomers Need to Get Tested
It’s just as important for sexually active Baby Boomers to get tested and then be honest with prospective partners, as it is for their kids. Baby boomers don’t typically go into the doctor’s office for a herpes test, and if they do, its sometimes difficult to convince their medical doctor to do the blood test required. This is crazy, because only about 30 percent of the people infected, whatever their age group, know that they are infected. Sexual activity for boomers does not have to stop after a positive diagnosis. It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, you just have to be straightforward. Precautions such as condoms or an antiviral gel or lubricant can help lower the chances of transmitting the virus.
Be Honest About STDs I often deal with people who are angry, embarrassed and ashamed, but I want to remind you again that you are the same person you were before the diagnosis. ‘Don’t be a victim. You are not less attractive, less funny, less moral … It shouldn’t change your life. Being honest is imperative, though. People are going to be impressed that you are being honest. They are going to be glad that you had the guts to tell them. In the 19 years of being infected, I have not had one person not want to be in a relationship with me because of herpes.
Herpes and Me
by Linden Morris
My history with Herpes has been pretty brief. I am not entirely sure when I contracted HSV and to this day I am not entirely sure who gave it to me. Although I believe it was within the context of an intimate relationship. In the beginning I felt better about that; like there was some kind of moral high ground associated with how I contracted my virus. In hindsight, of course, that notion is patently ridiculous.
My HSV has been a journey of evolution regarding my thinking re: sexuality and how I relate to the virus. Ultimately, Herpes has shown me my humanness and my fallibility, my defensiveness, my lack of thoughtful evolution at times (especially in the beginning) It has also taught me how to be a little grander in my humanness and how to sort out what I think matters and what doesn’t matter in the bigger picture called life. Getting herpes has challenged many of my preconceived notions about myself and others. It has held “my hand to the fire” in terms of what I said and what I did and how that all lined up.
Initially, I went through what I am guessing is the usual shock, disbelief and denial most people go through. I remember very clearly, getting some sores on my panty line in the back and thinking that it was just simple chafing that was causing a skin problem. Forget that I never have had unusually sensitive skin and never an open sore! That level of denial, frankly, blows my mind when I look back on it. Unfortunately, there is no denying that that is what happened. It was probably about a year after that that I actually received a diagnosis of HSV II. It was a bad day. Initially, I tried some of the medicines available to treat Herpes and was simply not able to tolerate them…a blessing in disguise, although not recognized as such at that time. My treatment at that time was abstinence. I noticed I would get outbreaks around my period or if I was in the sun too much. It also seemed that stress could sometimes precipitate an attack.
I hated my outbreaks. They were uncomfortable, painful at times and from start to finish (usually 2-3 long weeks) a reminder to me of all the things I had failed at in life. I don’t know about other people but my Herpes Infection seemed to gnaw at ever issue I ever might have had; bringing them all to the surface to be lassoed together and fed into the machinery of my mind. Creating what I commonly referred to as “Low Self Esteem or Self Hatred 101” Who would ever want me like this? I didn’t even want me like this! Had I not been dealt enough difficulties in my life? Now this! We are all familiar with that line of thinking and I seemed to have it in spades.
Eventually, I found myself in an intimate relationship and knew that I needed to get some treatment. My partner was less than sympathetic and of course worried about getting the virus from me. I knew about Christopher Scipio from researching alternative treatments for Herpes and started to use his formulations and to follow his advice. I remember in the beginning of my treatments I was plagued with several things: Lack of patience, persistent prodrome (although very few outbreaks) and a sensitivity to some of Christopher’s treatments that made me not always able to partake of some of the remedies. I have to say that once I “knuckled down” things just gradually began to fall into place. I was diligent in my weekly updates with Christopher. Good thing that I was. As I updated him on my progress, he was able to fine tune my Herpes Protocol Treatment. He also made many alternative suggestions when I was having reactions to something or it appeared that something could work better.
I think I needed a progression of time to adjust to the changes I needed to make. For me, I seemed to turn a big corner with my Herpes treatment when I tightened up my diet. Never a caffeine drinker, that was not a problem. I remember Christopher asking me, after a nasty outbreak just after Christmas if I was adhering to a Herpes diet. I went back and reviewed what I was doing. Nuts were a problem as was chocolate, sugar and gelatine. I became vigilant. I also added daily portions of friendly “non outbreak” food items that helped. Although my “Treatment Protocol” is always evolving there are certain food items that I have just eliminated from my diet. I have recently found that small doses of some of the foods that I really love have not caused my virus to resurface. I also listened to the Hypnosis CD’s diligently in the beginning and cycle back to them when I am feeling that I need a tune up.
Where am I at now? Well, I still continue to work on my acceptance of a lifelong relationship with this virus called Herpes. I know and accept that it is not going to go away. I have outbreaks from time to time. Within the context of an intimate relationship my biggest struggle has been not having outbreaks due to friction from sexual activity. I am happy that in the last year I have only had two outbreaks and I am sexually active. My partner does not have any signs of the virus. Christopher’s treatment protocols, knowledge and support have played a huge part in my cohabiting with my virus in a way that I experience as pretty workable.
I still do not like outbreaks, but now I have very significant amounts of time where I am outbreak free. I have had to work on accepting this virus in a more positive way. I identify myself as a person with Herpes. My family and friends now knows I have the virus. I do not fly a banner about my HSV condition, but conversely, I do not hide it. My HSV has not been the end of my world. It has been a learning experience which has added to my inner dialogue.
Of all of my experiences which include the good, the bad and the mundane, herpes has now been given a voice. It has most certainly had its good and bad moments, although on most days it is not a worry and occupies the “mundane column” in the file system of my mind.