Genital herpes has always summer a common diagnosis – about 16% of adults worldwide have genital herpes, and many don’t realize they have it at all. (About half of all American adults have oral herpes caused by the HSV-1 virus, which can cause painful blisters in the mouth or cold sores; genital herpes can be caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2.)
But despite the ubiquity of the virus, the stigma against herpes obscures the facts about it. Unlike chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, or other sexually transmitted infections, herpes usually does not have serious health consequences for non-pregnant, healthy people, and medications can control outbreaks . STI panels don’t even routinely screen for herpes because of the risk of false positives or false negatives.
However, the ignorance surrounding it is still prevalent, so STI-focused dating apps offer an alternative solution to potential judgment from strangers. You have the choice between several sites: H Date, HSV Singles, Meet Positives, Meet People With Herpes. Positive Singles is one of the most popular dating platforms (there is a site and an app) for people with herpes, as well as other sexually transmitted infections like HIV and chlamydia.
Alina, 25, also downloaded Positive Singles shortly after being diagnosed with herpes in 2019. She said she was drawn to the idea of finding a community that could understand her struggles. “But it never felt like the most legit or safest app I’ve ever used,” she said.
Successful Match, a dating company that owns niche dating sites like MillionaireMatch, InterracialMatch, SeniorMatch and rival site Meet People With Herpes, created Positive Singles in 2001. It has more than 2.37 million users, according to her website, but she’s experienced. heightened surveillance over the years. In 2014, successful match paid $16.5 million in a class-action settlement after users accused the company of sharing private data with third parties from a centralized database, including user diagnoses. (In an email to BuzzFeed News, a Positive Singles spokesperson said, “The parties have agreed as part of the settlement that there is no admission of wrongdoing on the part of PositiveSingles.com PositiveSingles.com has always maintained that it takes appropriate measures to protect the personal data of its members.”)
Parton was only on the app for a month before deleting it. She said she felt the premise of an STI-specific dating app had spawned a particularly “aggressive” culture shrouded in shame. “There are a lot of profiles where people post their faces,” she said. “But there’s a bunch where they don’t.” A man texted her 25 times in a row, even though Parton never opened any of the texts. She received several unsolicited photos of strangers’ genitals without any prior conversation.
“I even spoke to someone who said to me, ‘I will never date someone who is not HIV-positive,'” she said. “I’ve met a few people who talk like this – no one wants to go out with me. Honestly, it made me pretty sad that people on this app feel like they can’t have a normal relationship, like it’s completely affected by having an STI.
Dr. Maggie Dancel, clinical psychologist and sex therapist, explained that stigma can play a huge role in the emotional implications of an STD diagnosis. In addition to the physical symptoms, people coping with the diagnosis also experience mental disorders.
“There’s a lot of shame, guilt and embarrassment that one faces after someone has been diagnosed with herpes,” Dancel said. “There is still a stigma around talking about sex, having too little or too much sex, and having non-heteronormative sex. … Stigma can also prevent the person from engaging in a rich sex life after diagnosis.
Christina, 30, deleted Positive Singles after three months of use. She had been single for four years when she was diagnosed with HSV-2 and was interested in a relationship, but was ‘terrified’ about re-entering the dating pool.
“I didn’t feel comfortable staying on regular apps,” she told BuzzFeed News. “But I realized that forcing people to pay for this app was ridiculous when other platforms can be used for free and are still effective.”
A free account on Positive Singles will allow you to ‘like’ profiles and ‘wink’ at them, but to message someone first, you need to purchase a premium membership, which costs $35. per month. “It’s basically the only way to use the app,” Parton said. At least one person must have a premium membership to have a conversation – otherwise you can’t talk at all. Other dating apps, like Hinge, Bumblebeeand tinderalso have premiums in the same price range, but they do not require payment to discuss.
“I paid the premium last month, to see if it would improve my experience,” Alina said. “He does not have.”
Tyler, 37, has been on Positive Singles for nearly two decades and has noticed frustrating patterns. “Every time I pay, I tend to notice there’s a lot less engagement with my profile,” he said. “But as soon as I don’t pay, there are all these new notifications that say there are new profiles and new likes interacting with me, but you can’t see them, because you have to pay.”
Dating app marketing strategies like notification spam and dangling potential matches to create a curiosity gap aren’t exactly new, but Christina said she thinks it’s especially disgusting to use them for newly diagnosed people struggling with shame. “It’s really like [the platform] exploits people’s feelings of isolation and stigma as a result of their diagnosis by making it a paid platform,” she said. (By email, a Positive Singles spokesperson replied, “We have not reproduced this issue. Users can easily contact our support at any time if they encounter a website issue.”)
Asked about users being frustrated and feeling taken advantage of, the Positive Singles spokesperson sent out several positive reviews and press clips, telling BuzzFeed News, “I don’t think the majority of our users would accept these complaints. We have over 3,400 users who would like to voluntarily share their dating success stories on our site, and many users have even shared their wedding photos with us.