A Black Man Opens Up About Living & Dating With Herpes And The Importance Of Educating Our Communities
We need to start having real conversations in our community about sexual health. Now, full disclosure, I’m someone who gets tested regularly. I pride myself on having ongoing conversations with my partners about my sexual wellness, but there are still gaps in my knowledge. When I first interviewed podcaster and herpes advocate Courtney Brame, I really thought I was well-versed in prevention and safe sex practices. I’m here to say, I have learned an immeasurable amount of knowledge from listening to Courtney’s story.
Herpes has a far reaching stigma in our communities, which is absurd considering 48% of Black women who are tested for it, have it, according to the Center For Disease Control & Prevention. That’s 1 out of 2 of us. Our numbers are higher than our Black male counterparts, because it’s anatomically easier for women to receive it from men than for women to give it to men. So if so many of us are living with herpes, why is the conversation surrounding the genital skin condition so uninformed? The dearth in education could be rooted in the fact that people aren’t tested for it. When you go to the doctors to get your normal check up, doctors will not screen you for herpes unless you have symptoms or demand it. Not to mention, it’s asymptomatic, meaning it can spread whether you have symptoms or not. That means may of us are living with it, judging people for having it, and even exposing others to it, without knowing our own status.
For Courtney, knowing his status changed his life. He was diagnosed with positive genital HSV-2 (primarily genital herpes) in 2012. He decided to use this moment to create a platform to spread awareness and help his community.
Courtney currently hosts ‘Something Positive for Positive People’ podcast, and spoke to MN about his journey of living with a positive status.
MN: Tell me a bit about your journey and how this podcast came to be:
Well I was first diagnosed at 23 years old, which is about 7 years ago now. At the time, I was living with my grandma. I was experiencing flu-like symptoms, and decided to go to urgent care. The nurse ran some tests and I was immediately diagnosed with herpes.
It took me five years to find any kind of resources or communities. When I did finally find a community, what struck me, was that so many people living with a positive status were experiencing feelings of sadness, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
MN: What were your initial thoughts when you were originally diagnosed?
My initial thought was, who did i give this to? Also, I was so confused. Two years prior, I had thought I had herpes. I went through a six month drought where I just masturbated a lot. I noticed a lesion on my scrotum, and immediately went to get tested. I paid the extra $200 for the blood test, and the results indicated that I had been exposed to the herpes virus according to my antibody count. But the test did not conclusively say that I had herpes. I still don’t know how I initially came in contact with the virus; my only thought is that repeat exposure caused my antibodies to change. Part of the confusion was that I felt like I was very careful. I used condoms 99% of the time. I won’t say all the time, but most of the time. I usually did my due diligence when I was intimate with a woman, noticing if there is an odd smell or odor, or if I see something unusual. So it was troubling to me, after being so careful, that I would not only get an STI, but also, an incurable one.
MN: What do you think is the biggest barrier in the black community around getting tested?
Definitely shame. Black women are usually the first to confront partners when suspicion of exposure arises. Two things could happen: their partners know they have it and don’t admit, or they deny that they have been exposed because they are too ashamed to actually get tested. It’s about not wanting to be responsible. There is already so much stigma being black, being male, and having a positive diagnosis is just one more thing.
MN: What are common misconceptions in the Black community about STIs?
I see a lot of insensitive jokes around herpes. There’s this misconception that one ‘could tell’ if someone has a positive diagnosis, which just isn’t true. I have genital herpes and there is no pain, no odor, no outbreaks. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around. I know that when I was first diagnosed, I became a Herpes expert, and sometimes it takes a good scare to really get informed.
MN: What do you hope to accomplish with your platform?
My intention of empowering people is to allow them to safely explore to the experiences of people living with herpes and HIV, and to let others hear how they moved through the stigma and what their healing process looks/looked like for them to get to where they are having a “normal” (whatever that really means) life despite their diagnosis.
MN: How did your family feel about your platform? How did they respond?
Well, my grandmother is a retired nurse, and my mom was the one who drove me to the clinic. As soon as my mom heard the diagnosis, she started speculating on who I could have possiblitiy gotten it from….“it was probably that one girl..” things of that nature (laughs). She had my back.
I actually didn’t tell my dad until 4+5 years later, and he was really disappointed that I didn’t tell him sooner.
MN: What advice would you give those who are newly diagnosed?
My advice in general is if you don’t have a support system, get a new circle. I do attribute the lack of support due to the fact that we have no black leaders. Usher was outed after getting caught cheating for being positive, NBAYoungBoy rapped about it in one of his songs.
How you present it and how you feel about it, project that. That is what people are going to see. I looked in the mirror one day, and I repeated to myself ‘I have herpes.’ I repeated this over and over again, until tears were streaming down my face. You know what? It was very freeing, and I found it very healing.
MN: How has your dating life changed since testing positive?
I will admit that I did not have good conversations around STIs before dating. Since then, post STI-status, I’ve had more in depth conversations during the past 2.5 years. During the first five years, the first disclosure went well, we discussed outbreaks and precautions. Initially, I only interacted with with my exes, and I will admit that it was challenging in the beginning. I made a HUGE mistake on Tinder, when I was online dating. The girl made a joke about having asthma, I made a joke about having herpes….it didn’t go well.
MN: Have you ever tried online dating?
Yes, I was fortunate enough to discover DatingPostive.com after my diagnosis. DatingPositives.com is a dating platform specifically tailored to those living with a positive status. It really helped ease your way into the conversation. I liked myself more when I didn’t have to stress about how the disclosure conversation was gonna go.
There is also PosiDate and MPWH( meet people with herpes), among others.
MN: Tell us about your platform and how you first began talking to people about their status?
Well, the first interview I did was with a 40- year old named Amy. She was diagnosed with herpes after finding out that her husband was cheating. We initially met at a gas station and just drove around and talked. She initally just disclosed to partners, and as she became more comfortable, shared directly to folks. There was another woman who was a sexual assault survivor- drugged, raped, and then later diagnosed with herpes. This is when I realized that there were so many people with so many different experiences living with herpes.
Initially, when I uploaded the interviews to my Youtube channel, I got 300 views. I thought that was a lot! As the numbers grew, I realized that people really needed a space to talk about how they were coping with their status. They wanted to have a community where they felt safe enough to share their stories.
I actually worked for a podcast agency for 4 years, and decided to start this podcast, “Something Positive for Positive People.”
The guests on the show now are primarily HPV/HIV/Sexuality Experts. I would say my focus is on promoting sexual wellness and sex positivity. I like to really draw from people’s experiences.
Also, I just recently launched a website, as an extension of the podcast. We recently amassed 16,000 views, which is still pretty crazy to me. I hope it continues to grow.
MN: Who is your target audience?
Cisgender white women are primarily the audience that regularly engages. Black men would send questions via DM like Instagram, but then block me on social media. I think this stems from a fear of being outed. My hope is that by continuing to share my story, it will encourage others from my community to feel comfortable sharing their experiences, too. We can all learn from each other.
Courtney currently works as personal trainer and podcaster. You can subscribe to his podcast on Spotify and ITunes.
After interviewing Courtney, I decided to do my own online research and educate myself further on the herpes virus. Here are some fast facts on what I learned:
- More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes.
- You can get herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a sex partner who has oral herpes.
- Be aware that not all herpes sores occur in areas that are covered by a latex condom. Also, herpes virus can be released (shed) from areas of the skin that do not have a visible herpes sore. For these reasons, condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.
- Even if you get regular STI testing, most doctors will leave herpes out of the mix unless you specifically request it or have symptoms.
- Many people living with herpes don’t have symptoms or can manage symptoms with a daily pill called Valtrex. It lowers transmission rates to partners.
- A lot of positive folks go on to have healthy, sexy sex lives post-diagnosis by disclosing with new partners.
I would encourage you all to check our Courtney’s website: Something Positive for Positive People and also, start talking to your health providers about how you can take preventive measures against herpes and other STIs.
Visit www.stdtesting.org/oral-herpes-testing for a complete guide to oral herpes testing.