Single, Black, Infected? Black Women and Genital Herpes

Black women don’t always have the best reputations. I mean, we’re single, bitchy, and supposedly way too professional to ever please a man. Not to mention, the Centers for Disease Control decided to ruin our mojo with the recently released information that 48 percent of black women between the ages of 14 and 49 have the virus that causes genital herpes.

Dr. Adaora Adimora, a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Center for Infectious Diseases, told NPR that “the racial disparity for herpes is actually less than for HIV and other STDs.” And, she emphasized that though these numbers for herpes are high, they have been pretty much stable since the last national estimate, which looked at the period from 1999 to 2004.”

As you probably guessed black women around the country have been discussing the CDC findings and they are not at all happy about the outcome. According to The Root Contributor Helena Andrews, “A girlfriend of mine thinks these newest statistics are just another arrow stolen from black Cupid. Another reason for men to be afraid of the big, bad, bossy, black woman–or at least whatever ticking time bomb she’s hiding underneath her skirt, as some kind of sexual suicide bomber.”

Another friend, Dex, has a different perspective: “If you have a nice girl without herpes, you better put a ring on it.” Who knew our common denominator of coupledom could get any lower?”

These alarming facts are not sitting well in the black community and are causing a stir among black women who feel the statistics are going to slim their chances of ever finding a decent mate. Dr. Adaora believes that the new findings should not be overlooked, and should prompt a broader discussion within but beyond the black community, since the findings suggest that 17 percent of the entire U.S. population is infected with herpes, and that is high.

“Its important,” she explained, “because of the illness it causes for people with it, and the fact that it can be transmitted from mother to child during childbirth, and the very important fact that it facilitates HIV infection,” she said. “So, since it’s a lifelong illness, unlike say gonorrhea, it probably contributes to the high rates of HIV — especially among Blacks in the states.”

Being educated on the alarming rates of sexual diseases would be the best way to tackle what could become an epidemic in the black community. AIDS-related illnesses are killing women of color daily, and this study should not be a chance for people to point the finger, but instead a time for everyone to break the silence when it comes to sexual health in the black community. It is always interesting that as a people we stick together, but we allow and support the stigma in our own community against talking about the reproductive health of women, or even the issue that black men don’t see doctors on a regular basis, which is why many are diagnosed later with diseases that, caught earlier, could be treated.

According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, African American men are 61 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer compared with Caucasian men and are nearly 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease. African Americans also develop prostate cancer earlier in life, and get a more aggressive form of the disease.

“Unfortunately, men in general don’t go to a doctor until they’re sick,” Carter says. “And, like many diseases, early detection makes a big difference.”

It wasn’t a surprise that the results of the study were released on National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day…it was mean to inform the population on the relationship between HIV and Herpes.

According to The Root, “Research shows that people with herpes are three times more likely to get HIV, and if you have genital herpes, the ulcers that are associated with an outbreak can act as a direct gateway through which the HIV virus can travel. And an active genital-herpes infection, whether with visible sores or no symptoms at all, can activate T-cells and makes them more vulnerable and an easier target for HIV infection.”

Herpes has taken a seat in the black community. We not only have to be educated and remember to be mindful about using protection, we also need to openly address the problem in a community that stigmatizes sexual health among women and men. The best way to fight this becoming an epidemic in the black community is to make sure you are armed with protection and you are upfront with your partner(s). Being educated and carrying the right tools could not only save your life, but protect your partner as well.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

  • prochoiceferret

    ARRGH! Why don’t we have a vaccine or cure for herpes yet??


    We’ve got something for HPV now… but who out there has got this little bugger in their sights??

  • solargoddess

    I found it rather amazing that once science had proven the Cleopatra was black; the scientific community immediately came forth to let us know that she probably had rotting teeth and body odor.

    But for the hundreds of years preceeding that announcement, she was always portrayed as beautiful and white-skinned.

    I am a little sick of the blatant bias against black women in America. It’s bad enough that black men have been brain-washed to believe that they should have a white woman when they become rich and famous…but in the meantime they can use black women to help them work toward their goals.

    The American black man is the only man in the history of the world who has been so brainwashed as to prefer a woman of another race rather than women of his own race. And he is ever ready with excuses as to why he has this preference…other than the obvious brainwashing.

    Black men believe that white skin is something special. They believe that white women’s hair is superior. They even believe that they can find their soul-mate while looking deeply into blue eyes.

    And like Tiger Woods, they keep looking and looking and looking…always searching, never finding…but eventually settling.

    Today we have millions of black women my age who have never been married and have no prospects for marriage – and we have to watch our men fawning over and protecting white women everywhere we go in public.

    Look around the next time you go to Walmart. You will see black women with black children, and usually with no black man. You will also see white women with black men by the dozens.

    There is nothing to be done by those lost souls – but we can impact the next generation.

    Do not let your sons and daughters sit for hours in front of a television where all they ever see being touted as a beauty symbol is someone who doesnt look like them. Do not allow your children to be brainwashed.

  • saltyc

    But who has the answers as to what you should do if you think you may have herpes when:

    a. You can have it even if you never have symptoms

    b. Most people who have it don’t know they have it


    c. Who wants to have even protected sex with someone who has herpes, even though they might already have it and not know it?


    I lived for 3 years with a man who, I later found out, had herpes and he never told me.

    Truth is, I can’t blame him for not telling me. Courtship, romance, sex are very high-stakes games (or can be) and who is willing to throw a monkey wrench into it, especially with the high ignorance and stigma surrounding STI’s? Very, very few. Trust me, when I was younger and had a HPV infection, my gyno said it would stay with me forever, and I should tell all my sex partners. So years later when I had sex again I did, and he sure didn’t take it well. He had sex with me anyway but then later guilted me about it and used it against me, saying taht if he caught it and gave it to someone else he would never forgive me.


    I knew one girl in college, who was gorgeous, but the first fact about her that everyone knew was that she had herpes. Once I said “I wonder who she told” and my friend said “the wrong person.” So let’s stop blaming people for not telling until we get better attitudes toward sex, which at the rate we’re going, would be never.

    Just have safer sex, with fewer partners, or non-genital sex, whatever, and don’t expect that anyone will tell you if they have it. and don’t blame people for not telling, is my point.

    I might have it, even though I never had symptoms. I have had sex with a lot of people and it seems unlikely that I wouldn’t have been exposed, when you can catch it even if there’s no outbreak. I asked my gynos to test me and they said the only way to detect it is if there are symptoms. When I gave birth one of the questions was do you have herpes and I answered I might but didn’t know, and they didn’t know what to do with the information, so they just crossed it out and wrote in “no.” I’m glad because the vaginal delivery went really well, though who knows, I might have passed this stressful invisible polertgeist to my daughter.

  • mamaem

    Did you know there are researchers out there who have the technology for a potential Herpes cure?

    Please check out the Herpes Cure Coalition (HCC) website. Our mission is to aid researchers with funding and support who are the closest to a Herpes Cure. We achieve this mission by forming a Coalition of individuals and websites across the globe.

    Please see our page and find out about current work to cure herpes.

  • prochoiceferret

    Did you know there are researchers out there who have the technology for a potential Herpes cure? Please check out the Herpes Cure Coalition (HCC) website.

    Ooh! An effective vaccine is likely to become available in about five years! And Dr. David Bloom is in pre-clinical development of a post-infection cure. That little virus is no match for SCIENCE!!


    Thanks for the link. It’s good to know what’s going on out there to crack this “uncurable” disease.

  • crowepps

    Hopefully the FDA decision will be positive, now that the decision can be made on the basis of whether the vaccine/cure are effective and safe and not on the basis that they might “encourage promiscuity”.

  • supportcure

    I don’t sleep around. When I date guys, I usually won’t get intimate with them until after 2 or 3 months when the relationship becomes serious. I am always the one who tells my girlfriends not to sleep around and be faithful.

    Ironically, I am the person who contracted this disease a few months ago. Now I realized that this can happen to anyone. You don’t need to sleep around to catch it. In fact, after reading stories online from people who got Herpes, many of them are in long term and monogomous relationships like me.

    Herpes is such an evil virus. It enters into human’s body and can hide there for a long time (days, weeks, months or even YEARS) without showing symptoms. I got it from this guy I have been dating on and off for three years. He got it long time ago but never showed any symptoms. Therefore, he didn’t know he had it and infected me. 

    I think if I did sleep around, I would be more careful with people and use condoms at all time and that might reduce my likelihood of catching the virus. Based on the scientific fact, men with herpes tend to shed virus without any symptoms 10% of the time for the first year and then the shedding will go down as each year goes by. It means that if you sleep with the person without use of condoms for 10 times, you have one out of 10 times chance of contracting it.

    However, for people like us in long-term and monogamous relationships, we have more chance of catching the virus because we won’t use condoms all the time with someone we trust and in long term relationship with. As a result, we are actually more likely to contract the virus than those who are just having one or two night stands.

    A cure is needed. Let’s hope the few scientists who are working on the cure can help us get our lives back.