69 – The Story Collection

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The 69 – Story Collection is a website which publishes stories told by people living with #herpes who want to empower themselves in order to support others. ELEVATOR PITCH

As with many taboos, a key part of the embarrassment is simply not having the right words to discuss it. IDEO, 2010


How can it be more acceptable to disclose and discuss herpes? How can educate ourselves & others?



“The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections worldwide.”

The research will focus on findings which relate to the Western culture. The stigma of genital herpes can cause psychological distress. Studies have proven that the combination of psychological distress and poor coping skills can lead to more frequent genital herpes outbreaks (Merin and Pachankis, 2011).

Due to this matter stigma management communication is crucial. It is unclear why certain genital herpes support groups are ineffective with their stigma management communication strategy. There is a gap in the literature which needs future research. (Merin and Pachankis, 2011)

According to Woods (2014) genital herpes is defined as a conversational taboo, since it is invisible from the outside, many people fight a hidden battle. Merin and Pachankis (2011) found out that the reason why many affected people are anxious to disclose their sexual status is the fear of being defined by the stigma and losing their identity.

Interestingly enough, there was a time when Herpes was just a regular condition and no big deal. The reason why herpes became a feared condition is marketing. Since the drug industry had a hard time to sell the new antiviral drug, they used an aggressive marketing strategy to raise concern to sell their new drug. This marketing tactic is called disease-mongering.

The most successful word to describe the condition was “incurable”, which was the trigger for the stigma which is still existing. Most people are able to deal with the symptoms but they have a hard time to overcome the stigma. Nowadays, genital herpes is next to HIV one of the most stigmatised medical conditions. Even though at 75% of the population carry the virus either knowingly or unknowingly. (Scott, 2015)

RESEARCH As a conclusion, since marketing was the cause of the whole story, there might also be a way to use marketing to tackle the stigma. According to Merin and Pachankis (2011) it is a balancing act to communicate a destigmatising message in an effective way, but it can free herpes-infected people to get appropriate treatment. The diffusion of innovations is a social marketing theory and gives insights of how, why, and when the word is spread about new ideas. This theory is a powerful tool and was applied in a wide range of acknowledged health communication campaigns including HIV prevention messages.

“The reason why the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) became stigmatised as a feared condition is marketing.� The aim is to create social change, this can be reached by focussing on audience insights. The findings prove that providing sexual health information online can have positive impact self-efficacy and well-being. (Sundstrom, 2014)

VISUAL RESEARCH There are not many sexual health campaigns which talk about Herpes, because most of them focus on HIV or promote condom use in general.

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The STD warning campaign (right) uses infected skin to get a repellent reaction from the target audience. This provocative campaign probably increases the stigma of HSV.

Figures 1–3

These two example show very clearly how big of a difference the visual language can make. The Durex campaign (left) created by Samuel Michael is simple, straight to the point and raises the awareness of Herpes among other STD’s.

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CONCEPT Being “positive” is not always seen as a good thing. The meaning changes the moment you are STD positive. Herpes is a common but medically-ignored and culturally-stigmatised sexually transmitted infection. The lack of understanding of the condition defines it as a taboo and fuels the shame, embarrassment and silence even though it is a health issue that involves 75% of the population. Active communication is fundamental to educate about the condition, resolve the dysfunctional education system and clean up misconceptions. The purpose of this project is to create space for an open dialogue to accept herpes as a regular skin condition in society.

“This initiative supports the healing process and encourages people living with herpes to transform a painful experience into a story worth telling.” “69 – The Story Collection” is based on the findings of my Master’s dissertation “A human-centred concept to tackle the stigma of the Herpes Simplex Virus” where I conducted four interviews with a diverse group of people living with herpes. It’s an online collection of stories told by diverse people living with the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) who want to empower themselves in order to support others. All the stories are based on personal experiences of individuals and offer authentic insights into their lives. Every person, body, skin, immune system, soul, brain and mind reacts differently which makes it essential to show a broad range of experiences.

More transparency can create a basis for discussion and simplify disclosure. In order to catch the attention of potential readers and make the stories more approachable, I create an individual header image for every single story.


+ Findings from interviews No. 1 Sex education does not prepare one for a life with a sexually transmitted disease (STD) No. 2 The way herpes is contracted could have a major impact on coping No. 3 Medication can provide reassurance or be a reminder of a health issue No. 4 The feeling of losing control is a large part of the experience, especially for newly diagnosed people No. 5 HSV negative as well as HSV positive people who believe the common misconceptions keep the stigma alive No. 6 Medical and mental support only succeeds in combination with public education

Interviews with four people living with herpes

Stigma Management Communication



The chosen colours are inspired by these two images. The red represents the lips which is a symbol for talking and communication. The brown and beige nuances are different skin tones. The purple and the pink associate with the Herpes Simplex Virus.

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These colours can be used to create a positive mood and represent herpes in a light way.






“I’m passionate about this project and it has become an essential part of my life, especially since I’m living with herpes myself. It helped me to grow and step out of my comfort zone. My mission is to keep this project alive and create a social enterprise to ensure sustainable future actions.” Stephanie Batliner Designer & Founder of sixty-nine.org | London | April 2018

BIBLIOGRAPHY Catallozzi, M., Ebel, S.C., Chávez, N.R., Shearer, L.S., Mindel, A. and Rosenthal, S.L. (2013). Understanding perceptions of genital herpes disclosure through analysis of an online video contest. Sexually transmitted infections, 89(8), pp.650-652.

Psychosocial impact of serological diagnosis of herpes simplex virus type 2. Sexually Transmitted Infections, 79(4), pp.280-285.

(English Edition), 25(1), pp.59-85. Scott, N. (2015). How herpes got its stigma. Herpes Viruses Association.

Merin, A. and Pachankis, J.E. (2011). The psychological impact of genital herpes stigma. Journal of health psychology, 16(1), pp.80-90.

Sorrentino, M. (2014). Creative Advertising: An Introduction. Laurence King Publishing Ltd.

Ryan, D. (2016). Understanding digital marketing: marketing strategies for engaging the digital generation. Kogan Page Publishers.

Sundstrom, B. (2014). Breaking women’s health taboos: Integrating diffusion of innovations theory with social marketing. Social Marketing Quarterly, 20(2), pp.87-102.

IDEO (2015). The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design.

Sabri, O. (2012). Preliminary investigation of the communication effects of “taboo” themes in advertising. European journal of marketing, 46(1/2), pp.215-236.

Tellis, G.J. (2003). Effective advertising: Understanding when, how, and why advertising works. Sage.

Melville, J., Sniffen, S., Crosby, R., Salazar, L., Whittington, W., Dithmer-Schreck, D., DiClemente, R. and Wald, A. (2003).

Sabri, O., Manceau, D. and Pras, B. (2010). Taboo: an underexplored concept in marketing. Recherche et Applications en Marketing

Gamman, L., Ehn, P., Davis, S. and Wong, V. (2015). OPEN MIND: Shake Up Taboo by Design!. IDEO (2010). How to Turn Social Taboos Into Innovative Products

Woods, N. (2014). Describing discourse: A practical guide to discourse analysis. Routledge.


Figures 7–10

Figure 13

Durex Campaign www.buzzfeed.com/copyranter/10more-great-ads-that-are-just-copy?sub=2580172_1588867&utm_term=.mxwEo0JM9#.ihrQwZxM5 (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

U.K. National Health Services Safe Sex Campaign www.pinterest.com/pin/ 419819996484807224 (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

What It’s Like To Date With ‘Excess’ Facial & Body Hair https://www.refinery29. uk/2017/11/181781/dating-excessive-facialbody-hair-pcos (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

Figures 11–12 Figures 4–6 STD Warnings www.adweek.com/creativity/congrats-omahayou-now-have-countrys-most-disgusting-billboards-166007 (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

U.K. National Health Services Safe Sex Campaign www.pinterest.com/pin/ 322851867024496537 (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

Figure 14 Small cell carcinoma infected with herpes simplex virus https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/ File:Small_cell_carcinoma_infected_ with_herpes_simplex_virus_-_Case_260_ (8540528370).jpg (Accessed: 26 April 2018)

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