The Safe Slut talks herpes awareness and making memes

By Sophia-Joelle McDowell 

When Tricia Wise, or Safe Slut, was diagnosed with genital herpes in November of 2019, everything changed. Shut down your unconscious biases here, because things changed in an unpredictably positive way.   

Like most of us, Tricia didn’t receive any education about STIs growing up, apart from the common lecture that they’re the worst thing that can happen. After receiving the news of her herpes diagnosis, she spent days in bed and thought her sex life was over. 

These days, Tricia believes getting herpes was the best thing to ever happen to her. 

That diagnosis forced her to advocate for herself and have vulnerable conversations. It took her on a transformative journey of self-love and reclaiming her sexuality. She was even able to work through previous sexual trauma from past relationships and experiences. 

Instead of feeling discouraged, Tricia took her diagnosis and ran with it. Her interest in sexuality grew, and she now has a career in the sex industry. 

Through her own journey, Tricia realized just how common herpes is, and how no one wants to talk about it. Herpes didn’t hold her back, and she’s taken it upon herself to change the conversation and encourage anyone else affected to embrace this part of themselves.

We spoke with Tricia about her journey, her goal to raise herpes awareness, and what it’s like being social media’s favorite Safe Slut.

We understand you’re a writer, reiki master, herbalist, esthetician, content creator, activist, and sexual health advocate. But we want more! Tell us more about you.

I feel lucky to be able to share all of my passions with the world through Safe Slut. Before I started Safe Slut, I was working as a makeup artist, esthetician, and herbalist. I love that work, but when I started Safe Slut I was able to pursue my other passions—I double majored in English and Media Studies in college, and always loved writing, online culture (esp memes), and content creation. I’ve been writing my whole life and it’s something I knew I always wanted to do. 

“I also started an OnlyFans a little less than a year ago to show you can still be hot with herpes, and it’s been super empowering for me.”

Obviously, as a kid, I wanted to be Carrie Bradshaw and now I feel like a modern, more sex-positive and slutty version of her (except sadly I don’t have her amazing rent-stabilized with a huge closet apartment). I’m also a huge fan of punk and DIY, especially the Riot Grrrl movement (I wrote my senior thesis on third-wave feminism and punk rock). That’s a huge inspiration for Safe Slut’s mission and ethos–I’m all about being DIY, authentic, punk, and openly sexual while using my voice and being an activist for social justice/intersectional feminism.   

After getting diagnosed with herpes, I got attuned in reiki (which was integral in my healing journey) and since have become a reiki master. I love working on people with herpes and other sexual traumas. I also make and sell herpes care products, as well as herbal tinctures for various ailments such as PMS and insomnia. 

I recently started selling sex toys in my shop and have been planning fun events in NYC. 

I’ve always been interested in sex work, but when I got herpes I thought that dream was over. I also started an OnlyFans a little less than a year ago to show you can still be hot with herpes, and it’s been super empowering for me. 

I love being a slut witch who gets to talk about sex, sell vibrators, and make memes all day!

There’s a lot of stigma around STIs. Did you find you had to break down your own beliefs before becoming such a strong advocate? 

I’ve definitely always embraced my sluttiness, but I definitely had a lot to learn about STIs and sex-positivity in general. I didn’t really have any negative feelings around STIs, I was more just uneducated. I started my advocacy when I was still struggling with my diagnosis. I really just wanted to find a community of other positive people. It was definitely a learn as I go kinda thing for the first couple of months!

Tell us about your brand Safe Slut. 

I always have a hard time saying what I do in a short elevator pitch because I feel like I do so many different things with Safe Slut. As previously stated, Safe Slut was initially started as an Instagram page to help destigmatize herpes as well as create a community of herpes-positive people. One of my initial reasons I wanted to start it was to show people you can still be a slut when you’re herpes positive. Since I started it over three years ago, it has grown into this whole sex-positive business. In addition to writing and making content surrounding STIs, I also write and create content about slut shaming, dating, and other feminist things. I also launched a sex toy business, started online sex work on OnlyFans (also as a way to show people you can still be hot af with herpes), created a web series, do in-person events, host online support groups and 1:1 calls, perform reiki on people with sexual trauma, make and sell herpes care products, and make memes. Lots and lots of memes lol. I’m super into pop and bimbo culture, so it’s also aesthetically super influenced by those iconic vibes. 

We’d love to hear more about the Safe Slut Support sessions you offer on your website. Have you felt the impact you’ve had on others through these sessions? 

I do 1:1 calls and support group sessions. I always like to reiterate that I am not a doctor or therapist, just a slut with lots of herpes experience. So my 1:1 calls are a relaxed, safe space where people can vent, ask questions, etc. Usually, it ends up being a pep talk and dating advice kinda vibe. My support groups are half support group half coven meetup. We meet around the new moon, set intentions, talk about the meaning of the new moon at that time, and relate it to herpes support.

When creating content online, it’s hard to think that it’s helping people because I’m just spilling tea into my silly little phone—I’m not seeing people’s reactions. I also just think of Safe Slut as my diary a lot of the time haha. So doing 1:1 calls and support group sessions is really incredible. I’ve cried after sessions because it’s so moving to know I’m really helping people, and finally see/hear how it’s impacted people positively.  

Sexuality can bring up feelings of shame, especially for those who identify as women. How do you encourage people to embrace this part of themselves?

I always acknowledge that this can take a lot of work since we are so socialized to repress our sexuality. I think the biggest thing is just leading by example. People can see how open and empowered I am with my sexuality, as well as many other amazing herpes-positive and sex-positive creators. Women will see that and see that it’s not only okay, but so healing and empowering. Also just creating content and articles surrounding sexuality is helpful–the more we gather, create safe spaces, and talk about things the more it’ll be easy to collectively release shame. Community is everything. 

“I love being a slut witch who gets to talk about sex, sell vibrators, and make memes all day!”

How would you encourage someone unfamiliar with sex to seek out education and advocate for themselves?

Unfortunately, we didn’t receive sex education growing up so as adults, we can feel kind of lost. I recommend seeking out sex educators and sex-positive advocates on social media. Also, unfortunately, everyone in the sex industry, from performers to educators deals with censorship issues, making our work extremely difficult to market, or literally just exist. I actually had my account deleted for a few months last year for no reason. SWers and educators, particularly BIPOC and queer people, are targeted for this awful censorship so supporting and seeking out our services, on and off social media is a great way to learn about sexuality and support us. The more you know about sexuality, the more you’ll be able to advocate for yourself.  


Sophie McDowell (she/her) is a writer and creator currently living in Kansas City. She got her degree in mass media with an emphasis in film and video from Washburn University. She also has minors in art, history, and women’s studies. When Sophie isn’t writing or volunteering her time to social justice, she can be found hanging out with her pets. 

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