The Truth About Herpes
Despite the fact that two-thirds of the world has herpes, society still treats the virus as a punishment or a punchline. It’s not.
Herpes can be a very real part of being a sexually active person. More than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 have genital herpes, yet there are so many myths and stigmas surrounding this STI. So, since we here at Upspoken are all about breaking taboos and kicking stigma to the curb, it’s time we get real about herpes.
Here’s what you need to know.
HSV-1 vs. HSV-2
There are two types of herpes, HSV-1 (oral herpes), more commonly known as cold sores, and HSV-2 (genital herpes), the type of herpes labeled as an STI. Unlike other bacterial infections, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, the herpes virus remains in our bodies and there is currently no cure, however, there is medication to manage outbreaks. While HSV-1 typically causes sores around the mouth, HSV-2 causes outbreaks around the genital area. Not a lot of people are aware but HSV-1 can also cause genital herpes, so it’s good to communicate with your partner before things get hot and heavy.
Herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact, which is pretty common during sex. The virus is most infectious during an outbreak, so be sure to abstain from sex when there are symptoms (oral or genital) to avoid spreading the virus. When there is no sign of an outbreak, “asymptomatic shedding” can still occur, meaning the virus is live on the skin and can be transmitted.
But no sweat, sis. From medication to dental dams and condoms, you can limit the likelihood of transmission to almost zero.
Only medical providers can diagnose herpes – not your mama, knowing your body, or WebMd. An exam is usually performed only when a sore is present. It’s still within your right to request a blood test if you don’t have a sore. However, herpes blood tests aren’t included in typical STI screenings due to the potential of a false positive result, as most people have been exposed to HSV-1 and/or HSV-2. It’s still important to have open communication with your partner and doctor, use condoms and dental dams, and get tested regularly.
Living with Herpes
For those with herpes, the first outbreak can be a traumatic experience purely due to the stigma associated with the virus. But we’re here to tell you your life isn’t over and neither is your sex life. Antiviral medications, like Valtrex, are readily available and can be taken regularly to prevent outbreaks, shedding, and transmission. It also never hurts to get a little help! Find your tribe to talk it through with, whether its a mental health professional, group therapy, or trusted friend (if you are a trusted friend here are some Upspoken tools).
As Upspoken women, we can empower each other by educating ourselves and being open about discussing the facts about herpes, instead of spreading myths and stigmatizing our sisters.
Whether you have herpes or encounter a partner with it, just know everyone is entitled to good sex that prioritizes their health – free of judgment and stigma.