Sophie Miller felt like she had no one to talk to after she was diagnosed with herpes last week — so she turned to TikTok.
In a candid video posted to her secondary “burner” account on Oct. 11, Miller, 21, who lives in Detroit, stitched together video to document her experience of the process. The video starts with her describing her symptoms — a burning sensation after urinating, a swollen lymph node in her groin, sores on her genitals — before she went to the doctor. Then she describes her anxiety ahead of the appointment and finally cries on camera as she shares the news of her diagnosis.
The response was overwhelming — more than 7.2 million people had seen the video as of Wednesday afternoon. Many commenters shared their own stories in solidarity. Other people expressed gratitude for Miller’s openness, given the embarrassment they’d felt after their diagnoses.
“I’ve had so many people reaching out to me and telling me their stories and thanking me,” Miller said. “And I just was not expecting that. … It’s just been very helpful for me and I’m sure for others who have just been diagnosed, as well as diagnosed in the past.”
The popularity of Miller’s video suggests a demand for frank conversations about sexually transmitted infections online, particularly from sexual health advocates and people living with viruses like herpes. In recent years, TikTok has become a place for many health educators — from doctors to sex therapists — to facilitate more positive conversations around sex. Talking about sexually transmitted diseases and infections can help reduce stigma and increase awareness, some experts say.
A spokesperson for TikTok didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“It’s the brave people who get out there in front and just say ‘I’m going to talk about this’ who break down those barriers and those stigmas,” said Dr. Keith Jerome, a virologist who researches herpes at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle.
Speaking out about one’s experience with the virus can open the door for others to do so, too, he added, and a critical mass of voices can then put pressure on governments and health organizations to fund research.
Herpes is both common and treatable. More than 3.7 billion people worldwide under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1, the virus Miller was diagnosed with, according to the World Health Organization. That’s roughly 67% of the population in that age group. Another 491 million people ages 15 to 49 have HSV-type 2, which mainly causes genital herpes, WHO data shows.
“Silence around the topic and avoiding testing harms both physical, mental and emotional health,” Planned Parenthood says in a blog post.
That’s in part why Miller decided to go public.
“It’s so much easier to talk to strangers on a screen than in person or talking to your friends about it,” she said.
Miller said the comments on her video comforted her — and educated her further. Some of her followers who also have herpes shared steps she can take to reduce her transmission rate. Others just offered support.
“Hey girl.. I was diagnosed 8 years ago at the ripe age of 18 -thought my life was over, but that’s not the case. Reach out if you ever need to talk,” a commenter wrote.
Another wrote: “I have herpes as well and I was terrified. I didn’t know what it would mean moving forward. I’ve had it about 4 years and only had a few outbreaks.”
Miller said she hopes to see more open conversations about sexual health so others who are struggling with a diagnosis know they’re not alone.
“I have an STD,” she said. “It shouldn’t feel like the end of the world.”