Interview with Denise McAlister, Sexual Health Advocate, on Living With Herpes

Hi. My name is Denise and I am a trained teacher with a qualification in Sexuality & Sexual Health from DCU. I am passionate about reframing how we view STIs within society, taking every opportunity possible to open conversations about sexual health and reduce the shame and stigma attached. I created the Instagram page @letstalkstis to speak openly about my experiences of having genital herpes & warts & to hold a safe space for others to share their STI stories. When I’m not talking about STIs I love anything hygge, The Simpsons, gigs & blasting Bob Marley whilst cooking!


What is herpes?

Herpes is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types, herpes simplex 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex 2 (HSV-2). HSV-1 is most commonly known as oral herpes or cold sores and HSV-2 as genital herpes although both types can be found in both locations.

How do people get herpes?

Herpes is transmitted through direct skin to skin contact with the effected area such as kissing, oral sex, genital to genital rubbing, vaginal and anal sex and sharing sex toys. To dispel a common misconception herpes cannot be transmitted through objects such as clothes, towels, toilet seats or cups.

How common is herpes?

The shame and stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections such as genital herpes can make us believe that they are something that happens to ‘other’ people and are in fact not common at all. Although in reality WHO estimates that globally HSV-1 affects 67% of people under the age of 50 and HSV-2 affects 11% of people aged 15-49. Due to the nature of the virus herpes it is more common in people with vulvas than people with penises.

What are the symptoms/side effects of herpes?

Most people who have and pass on the virus do not know they have herpes due to the virus’s asymptomatic nature. If symptoms do occur this can happen days, months or even years later. Common symptoms include blisters or ulcers on the genitals, bum or thighs, unusual discharge from the penis or vagina & discomfort when urinating. You may also have flu like symptoms or swollen glands in your groin.

What are some tips for ‘managing’ herpes?

Once you have contracted the herpes virus it will remain dormant in your body & can reactivate causing reoccurring symptoms such as blisters or sores. This is often called ‘outbreaks’ & can be shortened by taking antiviral medicine. If you do experience reoccurring outbreaks it can be useful to keep a diary to note their frequency & have an awareness of what may be triggering your symptoms. Triggers can include friction in your genital area i.e. during sex, or wearing tight clothing, alcohol, smoking or unavoidable triggers such as menstruation, stress or generally feeling unwell.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed?

Tell someone you trust. Often when you are first diagnosed you can feel that you are the only one in the world with herpes, this is partly due to the silence and stigma surrounding the infection, but you are not alone. It is common to feel overwhelmed therefore it can be really beneficial to talk about how you are feeling. Be kind to yourself, practise some self care & realise that having an STI does not define you. Once you feel ready, educate yourself about herpes from quality resources which will give you the confidence to continue to have the sexual experiences you desire.

What advice would you give to someone who has just found out their partner has herpes?

Appreciate that they have shown a lot of vulnerability in disclosing their status. Irrespective of how you have found out take the time to process this info as this can be unsettling at first. When you feel ready start an open conversation with your partner to talk about how you both feel. You may not feel ready to do this straight away & that’s ok. There are lots of common misconceptions about herpes so it can be helpful to read some quality information so that you know the facts. Visit a local sexual health centre to book an STI screening & plan your next steps.

Any recommended reading/watching/following in relation to living with herpes?

Accessing quality & neutral info re. herpes can make a huge difference as to how you feel about your diagnosis. Please, I know its difficult but stay away from Google as you are not guaranteed factual info & it can lead to worry & stress. Depending on where you are located begin with your national health services & sexual health centre websites. For more specific info re. living with herpes start with these: @letstalkstis @thestiproject @safe.slut @positive_results_us @positivelypositivepodcast @hsvinthecity @herequeerandhsv @honmychest @kellmara_ @iamrukiat @comfortableinmyskin_

Grace Alice Sex And Relationships Educator

Thank you, I'll be in touch soon...


This service is fully limited to Sexuality Education. All advice is given in an honest manner and as guidance only. By using this service, you agree that you make your own decisions, relying solely on your discretion; any use you make of such answers, advice or services is at your own risk and ‘Grace Alice Sexuality Educator’ cannot be held responsible or be liable for any damages or losses resulting from your reliance on such answers or advice.

What is a peer-to-peer support session?

Firstly, let us start with what the session is not! I am not a practicing sex therapist, sexologist, medical professional, psychotherapist, psychologist, counsellor, or mental health professional. Therefore, I do not provide medical advice (although I may recommend that you seek guidance from a medical professional if appropriate) or a therapy service.

Sex & Relationships Education is a separate field to these professions, and I employ my own unique approach based on my qualifications, training, and experience. I hold an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy and a Masters degree in Health Promotion. I have over six years experience working as a Sex & Relationships Educator and have undergone continuous professional development and training. I also studied empathy education as a UNESCO scholar, which informs my approach. Details of my qualifications and training are available on my LinkedIn page – please see the ‘About’ page also!

Within a session, I offer a confidential and safe space for discussion of various issues relating to relationships and sexuality. I strive for a relaxed, informal vibe, where you can chat about something that you have been struggling with. I can offer a friendly and non-judgemental listening ear, suggestions on how you can approach your own personal situation, general information on the related topic(s) and details of relevant professionals, support services and organisations (usually in a follow-up email). I can accommodate sessions relating to many topics relating to relationships and sexuality – including but not limited to body image, sexual communication, consent and boundaries, protection, anatomy, vaginismus, porn, STIs and STI stigma, healthy and unhealthy relationships, gender and sexuality, pleasure, arousal, desire, infidelity, break-ups, dating, and more.  I want my clients to feel relaxed, comfortable, and free to talk without fear or shame, like they would with a very close friend!

How does a Booking work?

In a nutshell, you can contact me via the booking page on this site and request a booking. If I decide that a session with me would be a good fit for you, I will contact you and arrange a time and date!

Here is the pricing for sessions;

Standard Session1 hour€50
Student* Standard Session1 hour€40
*A valid student I.D. must be presented.  

Please note that the session must be paid for in full at least 24 hours prior to the session, using the payment method and details I will provide to you in an email. If you do not have PayPal, we can arrange another form of payment (Revolut or bank transfer – please factor in the extra time it will take you to set up an account if needed or the possible delay in bank transfers, this may slightly affect the scheduling of your session).

Due to the nature of this service, I cannot offer any refunds for any reason during or after a session.

However, if you have paid and can no longer attend the scheduled session, I can offer you a full refund if you notify me of the cancellation at least 48 hours beforehand. If you wish to reschedule, please notify me at least 48 hours before the time of the scheduled session, and we can work something out!

Am I guaranteed to have a session?

Imay choose not to do a session with you if I feel that I am unable to offer support or education relating to your situation. I will contact you to let you know if I have decided that my service is not a good fit for you, and I will offer some suggestions regarding more suitable professionals/organisations/services to contact.

Although we may chat about lots of different things during a session, if someone has clearly not been truthful in the booking form about the topic area that want to discuss and appear to have an ulterior motive in booking the session, I may choose to end the session. The same rule applies to a situation where someone is clearly not who they have stated they are in the booking form. 

I cannot offer sessions to anyone under the age of 18 years. I may choose to ask you to present a copy of a valid form of I.D. if I feel that confirmation of age is needed. Requesting to book a session indicates that you are aged 18 years or over, and that you are being truthful in disclosing your age.

If I feel that someone is being disrespectful, offensive, or inappropriate, and I feel uncomfortable, I may choose to end the session. I may also end the session if I believe that it is being recorded.

Is it all confidential?


es! Confidentiality is essential to a service like this and I will do everything in my power on my end to protect it.

Here is what I will do on my end; I will abide by GDPR guidelines and make every effort to keep all personal information relating to sessions safe. Booking requests and emails with a form attached/included will be retained for no more than 1 year. The form may be printed, and I may take notes before, during and after the session either by hand or typed. Forms, notes, and USB key will all be stored in a locked file safe in my home office. All forms and notes (hard and soft copies) will be deleted and/or destroyed after one year.  I will send you a Zoom Meeting ID and password before the session using the email address you have given me. I will use headphones and will be alone in a private space during all sessions. All  records of calls and video calls will be deleted after one year.

Please be mindful of what you choose to share within the session. I have an obligation to break confidentiality and report to Tusla and/or the Gardaí any disclosures of child abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse and other crimes.

Here is what you must do on your end! You must not screenshot, record and/or distribute any part of your session. It is also your responsibility to protect your privacy as much as you like on your end. This may include keeping your phone password-protected, using a non-identifiable email address that does not include your name, deleting correspondence, making sure you have a private space for your session where you will not be interrupted or overheard, etc.

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