When Ellie* was diagnosed with herpes in her senior year of college, she was convinced the infection was a “death sentence” for her dating life. “I was being turned down by men who had every intention of sleeping with me until they found out,” Ellie told me over email.

And since these sites’ only criterion for joining was an STI diagnosis, members didn’t really have that much in common aside from their diagnosis, which many seemed obsessed by.

Ellie noted that “it was more of a group therapy site than a dating site.

Nothing about it was sexy.” Positive Singles markets itself as an open forum for dating, but in practice can feel more like a cliquey support group.

More troublingly, the sites seemed less likely to unite people with STIs than to divide them into cliques.

As Ellie explained, “There was this shitty STD hierarchy,” which ranked curable STIs above herpes, and HSV-1 (formerly known as “oral herpes”) above HSV-2 (formerly known as “genital herpes”), both of which were considered “better” than HIV.

“I just felt like it was used to make people who felt bad about their illness feel better by putting other people down.” Ellie’s not alone in her assessment of STI dating sites as a barren, depressing wasteland.

Ann*, who contracted herpes the first time she had sex, noted that “with [roughly] 20 percent of the population having HSV2 there should be way more faces to click on.” This points to another issue with these sites: whether because of ignorance, stigma, or some combination of the two, many people living with herpes either don’t know about, or won’t admit to, their infection, further fueling the cycle of stigma, ignorance, and shame.

This is not to say herpes condemns you to a depressing, dateless existence.

It’s just that corralling people with STIs into a corner of the internet, while making no attempt to improve education around the reality of what an STI diagnosis actually means, doesn’t really do much to change the situation.

MPWH might offer community in the form of blogs and forums, but since much of the content is user-generated, the site’s tone is set by panicked people who are convinced they’re dating outcasts—rather than, say, a calm, knowledgeable expert there to educate and reassure the site’s members that everything is okay.

(MPWH staff do contribute posts to the site, but they can be poorly written and full of misspellings, hardly an encouraging sign for site members.) As a result, these sites merely serve to segregate people who have herpes from people who don’t (or don’t admit it), further cementing the erroneous idea that a common viral infection somehow makes a person permanently unfuckable—when, in fact, a combination of medication, condoms, and avoiding sex during outbreaks can make sex with herpes fairly safe (certainly much safer than sex with someone who blithely assumes they’re STI-free). Not surprisingly, education, honesty, and openness about the topic of herpes.