Male Entitlement Lives– Even in STI Support Communities – Rafaella Gunz
When I was diagnosed with herpes this past summer, I desperately wanted to find other people with the same condition to talk to. Through perusing the herpes tag on Tumblr, I discovered the network of secret support groups on Facebook and requested to join one.
The group I first joined was Positively Kickin’ It*, a co-ed support group with over 800 members. Great, I thought, here is a group of people who understand what I’m going through and could offer some support and advice. Almost immediately upon introducing myself to the group, I was flooded with messages and friend requests – mainly from guys. At first I thought they were just being friendly, but then I noticed how flirty and forward many of the messages were. One guy even added me to another secret group where HSV+ people would post their nudes.
I messaged one of the admins of Positively Kickin’ It and told her I was uncomfortable and skeptical of the male attention I was receiving. She did nothing to help, just suggested I block the people I didn’t want to talk to.
I soon learned that my experience was not unique.
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“Over six years after my genital herpes diagnosis, I found online secret support groups. Within a month of joining these co-ed ‘support’ groups, I felt that the environment did not actually provide an opportunity for women’s empowerment, regardless of an HSV diagnosis,” says Kayla Rose, who founded an all-female support group on Facebook after having negative experiences in co-ed ones. Like me, she received an “influx of friend requests and messages from young and old men, feeling entitled to receive a response with positive treatment from [her], solely based on the fact that [they] have herpes in common.”
“I learned that the co-ed Facebook groups mimicked the misogyny, racism, and many other social injustices that are reflected in the ‘offline’ world of our society,” Kayla says. She also reported this behavior to the admins, who, like in my case, weren’t very helpful.
Kayla founded her support group this past April, and it has since grown to a membership of over 800. “To me, the immediate growth of the group expressed the blatant need for this environment, a place where young women can go to find support, empowerment, safety, and acceptance,” she says.
I took to that group to ask other women what their experiences were like in the co-ed groups. While some women never had any problems, many did. Here’s what they had to say:
I have found that guys that are in the group’s are extremely sexual and just think we (the ladies) are all desperate for attention. This [the all-female group] is the only group I am in because of the men who act like crazy horn dogs in the other ones. One guy told me I am lucky that he spoke to me. Um, no, sir, you also have a stigmatized condition, not just me.
I was in one male and female group for about three days, I got so many gross messages that I left and never want to go back. I joined for support and answers to questions (it wasn’t a dating group) and I posted about taking baths and if it wasn’t good to sit in a tub and got responses like ‘you can sit in my tub’ and shit.
This guy lives in the town over from me was 28, definitely not my type, and kept messaging me over and over. I never responded well then he made a status about how mad he was that the one girl he wants to marry isn’t responding and what not. It was so creepy.
Guys in these groups assume that because we have the same virus, that that’s all it will take to convince us to sleep with them, I’ve found. It’s frustrating especially because they’ll try and get with you and you will literally have NOTHING in common. I’ve had guys 20 years my senior hit me up that, with one glance, I can see have no shared interests with me. It didn’t stop even when I entered into a very public relationship. Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ones, but they are overshadowed by these creeps. What’s worse is that there are dating groups SPECIFICALLY for this and yet in support groups where people go to find, I don’t know, support, guys like that are just waiting to pounce. You see it in every girl’s intro post, just a bunch of thirsty dudes, no matter what kind of group it is.
One guy added me and sent a message saying ‘you’re a slut like me that’s how you got it’ even though when I first introduced myself to the group I made it clear I got H [herpes] from an assault situation. He then went on to ask for nudes. Another guy added me then begged me to accept his nudes. Then he went on to send me threatening videos aimed at my male friends (with a large knife) claiming I was his. He also kept saying he wanted to marry me and kept asking. Honestly thought he was joking.
Much like what Ally said, when I joined these groups I was looking for support. I had never known anyone with herpes before and wanted to talk to people also living with the virus. But what I quickly found was, like everywhere else on the Internet, that I as a woman (now with a disclosed STI) was subject to unwarranted comments about my appearance and sex life. I didn’t find the support I was looking for in Positively Kickin’ It or any of the other co-ed groups I was part of. So, much like many of these women, the all-female group is the only one I interact in to this day.
For this article, I did post in Positively Kickin’ It asking why guys in that group treat women this way. I was met with defensive comments from men, which is to be expected. Pretty soon, the female admins had deleted my post because it was “inappropriate” and “targeting the men in the group.” It’s really sad when fellow women are complicit in perpetuating misogyny.
Men, both on and offline, feel entitled to women’s bodies, time, and attention—even in so-called support groups for medical conditions. There is something deeply troubling about this. Why don’t women have the right to exist in non-sexual circumstances? Something about the current cultural climate doesn’t seem to allow that, and this needs to change. Women are humans and should have the right to be in co-ed support groups without feeling like the men in the group are preying on them.
*After careful consideration, we chose to name the support community this article discusses as we felt an ethical duty to those who may join it in the future. The group is unsearchable, since it’s “Secret”, and people can only be added by an admin.
Rafaella Gunz is a senior at The New School in NYC, majoring in journalism and minoring in gender studies. She has a passion for feminism and LGBTQ+ issues.