Laureen HD contracted herpes and couldn’t find any resources to turn to that made her feel represented — everything she found was either too medical, too dismissive, or too dramatic. As a result, she started her own YouTube channel to educate, destigmatize, and most importantly, make content that was relatable to others who were going through the same thing. Using her own experiences to tackle typical questions that those with herpes battle (such as, “How do I tell someone I like that I have herpes?”), she invites both sexually transmitted infection (STI) positive and negative people to educate themselves and communicate with each other, revolutionizing the way we talk and think about STIs.
You are destigmatizing living with an STI through your videos and educational channels. What inspires you to keep going?
After getting diagnosed with HSV2, I feared that anyone I would tell would judge me for it or mistake me for someone I wasn’t. So, I turned to the safest place I knew to help me make sense of both the virus I had contracted and the shame I couldn’t shed: the Internet! I only found a handful of people who were openly talking about their status, but that was a game changer in realizing my diagnosis said nothing about who I am and that herpes wouldn’t be a sexual death sentence. Being that person for newly diagnosed people with herpes is where most of my drive comes from.
Sharing so openly about something so stigmatized...how do you make sure you protect and take care of yourself? What boundaries do you draw?
That’s been a tricky one from the start! When you open up confidently about a topic that’s typically secretive, people think it’s a wide open door to inquire about everything and anything in that regard. But along the way, I learned to base my answers on what I am comfortable sharing, rather than what I’m actually being asked. The only explicit boundary I impose is around my partners (current and ex) and questions related to their health.
What puts the biggest smile on your face about what you do?
When people message me to tell me my videos helped them in some way — whether it is disclosing an STI to a partner or realizing how much power they have in how their diagnosis will affect their mental health. There are more than a few thank you notes that made me cry!
Is there a piece of advice someone gave you that has shifted your outlook or your perspective on something?
My boss once told me that in any given scenario, there are things I can control and things I cannot control. Therefore, I should focus my time and effort on the things I can impact. Since then, whenever I’m struggling with a situation, I always ask myself what about it I can and can’t control. When it comes to herpes, I can’t control testing positive for it anymore, but I can control how I live with it emotionally every day. I can also control the power I give it in the overall perception I have of my worth.
You're obviously just as big on education as we are. As uterus-owning people, we don’t often receive information on our own bodies and fertility — whether we want to have a family in the future or not. How do you think having this info can give us more power to guide our lives?
I think most of us (maybe more so uterus owners) were raised to envision having children as adults, before we even had a chance to know what having a family actually means. In school, we’re taught what happens to our bodies when we procreate, but we’re not taught how much a child changes your life, how to decide if it’s something we want, if the timing is right, or options to postpone that timing. Back to my answer earlier: When you have more control over when you start a family — which you can get through information — you have more leverage around making it happen at a time you feel ready and comfortable with your decision.
What words of wisdom can you offer an STI positive person that's worried about how it will impact their family planning?
I would tell them that they are far from being the first STI positive people to deal with pregnancy and childbirth, and that there are numerous solutions to prevent transmission of an STI to the baby. As long as they know their status, they are in an informed position that allows them to take precautions for them and their baby. Knowledge is power!