Positive Singles. Meet People With Herpes. Truster. Hift. Hope. H Date. Hmate. Herwks. That’s right, friends. It’s time to talk about herpes dating websites and how much I hate them.
Herpes dating services have been around since the Internet was invented, thanks to a powerful social stigma that makes disclosing your STI status a frightening prospect for many of us. In a world where we are judged for having a sexually transmitted condition, telling a new partner about herpes means risking a rejection that plenty of herpes+ people would rather avoid. I get it. There is a market for these services, and I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of the people who use them. Please do not read this essay as judgmental. I don’t mean to knock the insecurities of people with herpes: I want to address the companies that profit off of them.
One of the first emails I received when I went viral way back in April 2015 was from a woman claiming to work for PositiveSingles.com (I say claiming because she wasn’t using a PositiveSingles email address). She wanted me to become a spokesperson, and when I refused, someone higher up in the food chain emailed me again. I politely declined for a second time. But then the same thing happened again with another STI dating site, and then another, and another. A booming app industry in Silicon Valley means that new STI dating services pop up every few months, and a cursory Google search means that their marketing team, or their founder, or their intern, quickly discovers me.
Let me be very clear: I will never endorse an STI dating site. Period. Ever. You’ve got the wrong woman.
Here are a few basic reasons. I don’t want to endorse a product I would never personally use. I don’t think any STI dating service is going to reinvent the wheel and be successful when so many have tried and failed in the past. As time goes on and stigma lessens, there will be less of a demand for these services. STI dating services would make great hacking targets in an online landscape where vigilante justice is all the rage and people with STIs are unsympathetic victims (whaddup, Ashley Madison). Not to mention these products are often cheap and tacky. I mean, “Hmate”? Really?
But here’s the big, huge, important fucking reason I’ll never support a herpes dating service: these products contribute to herpes stigma. Herpes dating apps rely on, profit from and contribute to the social stigma that I am absolutely against. We are not on the same side of this war.
Creating a dating app only for people with herpes feeds into the prejudice that people with STIs shouldn’t date people without STIs. They reinforce the impulse of scared, raw people to hate themselves and hide from the rest of the world. These websites enable the self-segregation of the H community in a way that I believe contributes to our invisibility and inertia. They say to the rest of the world that we belong apart, that we are less than, that we are a hilarious PositiveSingles punch line. They send a progressive message to no one. Denying that is intellectually dishonest.
Some of these websites claim to empower their customers. Maybe some people use them as a transitional tool before re-entering the wider dating sphere, and hey, cool, whatever. Good for those people. But they are just as often predatory environments where newly diagnosed men and women (but usually women) are bombarded with attention. Like other dating services, they can be unsafe spaces for women where harassment and coercion thrive. When you round up a vulnerable and isolated population, create a community space and fail to moderate it or protect your users, you create a dangerous environment. These folks would be better served by a support community than a dating app. STI dating services are a product of the stigma, not an empowering way out of it.
Not to mention that people with herpes are diverse. Having a minor skin condition in common is a shoddy foundation for a healthy relationship. I’ve dated people with herpes and I’ve dated people without it. The relationships that start with the premise “Hey I’ve got herpes too, let’s get a drink!” are usually short and predicated on nothing more than a false sense of familiarity.
I think most people who have had herpes for a few years know this too. The only people who ask me about herpes dating sites have just been diagnosed and are still daunted by the idea of disclosing—a fear I encourage them to tackle instead of pursuing these trap door dating sites. Which leads me to my next concern: these websites and apps are not created by people with STIs, or by people who are openly STI positive. Some of them bring on consultants in the sexual health world, but only after the fact, and by and large their founders do not come from our community. These entrepreneurs may believe they have our best interests at heart, but they will never understand the stigma as well as someone who lives with it. They do not listen to the needs and opinions of this community, and they take funding and attention away from real efforts to provide treatment and testing, and to de-stigmatize sexual health.
STI dating services are almost always unethical money-grabs that prey on what seems like a potentially underserved niche market. This Silicon Valley opportunism is antithetical to real social change and progress. I would ignore these pop-ups as they inevitably fail, one after the other, except they won’t leave me alone. They reach out to me, share my posts and my talks on their social media platforms, and contact my fellow activists when I refuse to collaborate with them. This is a play for legitimacy and access to my platform, and I’m super done with it. As soon as a company like Truster starts talking about how they’re going to eradicate herpes stigma in a naïve and ignorant Medium post, I need to play bad cop.
I don’t care about your vague plans to invest in public health campaigns if you become profitable. You cannot say your service fights STI stigma when it relies on stigma to exist. Just because a product is built for women doesn’t make it feminist, and just because a product is built for people with STIs doesn’t mean it serves our causes. What we need is better sex education and health care, access to therapy and more representation. These companies are nothing but vultures, co-opting the language of activism.
What’s that? You’re founding a herpes dating app? Get my name outcha mouth and get off my lawn.
Recommended Reading: Dating Sites for People with Herpes Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up to Be, Motherboard