Out of all the STDs out there, herpes is one of the most common, least dangerous, and most stigmatized. The herpes stigma is ridiculous given that it’s a disease that rarely has any symptoms or causes any health problems for those who have it. Yet, so many people live in fear of getting herpes or of anyone finding out they already have herpes. A lot of this stigmatization is rooted in slut shaming.
Other incurable STDs are usually more serious (such as HIV) and therefore they are no laughing matter. HPV is extremely common and can range anywhere from causing cervical cancer to going away on its own, so it’s taken more seriously than herpes. Other STDs hold some stigma but many of them are curable so they aren’t seen as a big deal (even though, when left untreated certain other STDs can cause serious health problems such as infertility). In order to reverse the spread of misinformation and shame, here is a fun little fact sheet, all about herpes.
About one in every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 in the United States has genital herpes. More than half of American adults have oral herpes. HSV 1 is the strain typically associated with oral herpes and HSV 2 is usually associated with genital herpes. However, HSV 1 can appear on the genitals and HSV 2 can appear on the mouth.
Herpes is a fairly mild skin condition, (just like acne, eczema, psoriasis, etc.) that causes cold sores in the oral or genital area. The cold sores can be annoying but are usually harmless.
The only times that herpes actually can be dangerous is when having sex with someone who is HIV positive or when pregnant. If you have herpes it is easier to contract HIV. If you are pregnant and have a herpes breakout it can be harmful to the baby.
Other than that, herpes is harmless for the most part. In fact, most people who have it don’t know they have it because they never show any symptoms. It is only necessary to treat herpes if you are having symptoms.
Herpes is more easily spread during an outbreak. However, it is possible to contract herpes when the other person is not having symptoms because the virus sheds about 10 percent of the time for asymptomatic HSV-2 infections.
If you do have symptoms, usually the first outbreak is the worst and then each subsequent outbreak is less severe.
Herpes is spread through skin to skin contact. So using a condom can reduce your chances of contracting herpes but it is not as effective for preventing herpes as it is for preventing the spread of other STDs.
I hope that clears up any confusion and that we all think twice before shaming anyone who has herpes (behind their back or to their face). It really doesn’t live up to its own stigma. The most important thing is to have safe and consensual sex! So communicate with your partner and get tested regularly. Also… have fun!
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