If you’ve looked for information and support for herpes online, you’ve likely come across The Original Herpes Home Page (HHP). In this issue, The Helper talks to Roger Whitaker (or “Rajah” as he is known online) the webmaster of the HHP, to get his insight into this popular web destination for all things herpes and his perspective on the evolving world of herpes support groups.
The Helper: Tell us a little about The Original Herpes Home Page (HHP). How did it start, and how did you become involved?
Roger Whitaker: I'd be very pleased to do so. The Original Herpes Home Page was started in 1995 by Jack Freedman, a former hospital administrator, who perceived that, given how very common herpes infections are, there was a surprising lack of information available to the public about it, and an equal lack of "heart" in dealing with it. Jack decided to do something about it and started the web site. This was no small undertaking back in the early years of the World Wide Web.
In early 1998, I found the site as a participant and soon volunteered to replace a departing webmaster when the need arose. I didn't have much experience as a webmaster, but wasn't afraid to learn as I went. The rest, as they say, is history.
While we provide much in the way of information about herpes and, to a fair extent, HPV, as well, the real "action" on HHP is in the discussion forums. We have an amazing group of moderators and "regulars" who do a wonderful job of answering questions and providing support to those who need it. We're also an ongoing online community of people who have developed some very close and satisfying friendships even though we're spread around the USA and the world. Myself, I'm personally blessed by having made friends with so many truly wonderful people of all ages and demographics that I never would have met in any other way.
Through your work on the site I'm sure you have come across people of all ages, do you notice any difference in how people (youth vs. older adults) view the stigma associated with genital herpes?
Yes, I think there is a considerable difference because of the differing life priorities for the various age groups. Those of us who are older, in many cases, are, or have been, married and may already have children, so the pressures relating to dating and mating are generally less. I'm 62, by the way. The younger folks have different goals and pressures relating to what they expect to accomplish. They are also likely to be more sensitive to stigma from their social peers.
How do you think genital herpes support has evolved in the online community i.e. are you finding more people willing to go to the web for support versus offline?
People are more and more integrating the Internet into their lives as the years pass. Seeking health information is at the forefront of that change in my opinion. The Internet can give us a sense of anonymity to facilitate discussing some of the most intimate aspects of our lives that many people are reluctant to discuss with family or friends. Talking about herpes anonymously with total strangers is easier to do than in real life. The wealth of information is amazing, too, but it's also quite troubling to see the hordes of scammers who take advantage of a sense of desperation in some of the people seeking a magical "cure" for herpes.
As you grow older, how has your perspective on living and managing genital herpes changed?
The conventional wisdom is that herpes gets better with the passage of time, so by the time we get older, most of us are much less bothered with outbreaks. That has been true for me. Herpes is the least of my health concerns.
I'm greatly enjoying life going into my 60s. The intense pressures of youth have, in large part, dropped away and my wife and I are taking time to smell the roses.
What would be the top three things you would tell someone newly diagnosed with genital herpes?
a. You are not alone. There are a huge number of other people, just like you, out there who are dealing with exactly the same thing and the feelings that go with it. Life goes on.
b. Be educated about herpes and be pro-active in getting the appropriate diagnosis and treatment that you deserve. Be aware that not all medical providers are up-to-date regarding herpes so you may find yourself educating them.
c. Don't let herpes define who you are. You are the very same wonderful person that you were before you found out that you had herpes, so don't accept anything less than what that wonderful person deserves in life.