Updated: Feb 24
Herpes is common and incurable. According to the Center for Disease Control, about “one out of every six people aged 14 to 49” has genital herpes. Oral Herpes is even more prevalent. Planned Parenthood’s website states, over half of America has oral herpes, but it’s still stigmatized and rarely ever spoken about.
Most people with Herpes don’t know they have it. They’re asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any symptoms, like itchy, painful blisters around their mouth or genitals. That doesn’t mean they can’t spread the disease. The virus “sheds” and spreads through skin-on-skin contact, rendering condoms almost useless at preventing the spread of herpes, but that doesn't mean one shouldn't wear them. Despite a large number of people unknowingly transmitting herpes, screenings aren’t recommended unless a person shows symptoms or thinks he or she has been exposed.
There are two different strands of herpes simplex virus, HSV-1 and HSV-2. But, it’s categorized as genital or oral based off of where the virus appears not the strand itself. While HSV-1 is mostly found around the mouth and HSV-2 is found around the genitals, the strands can live on almost any part of the body. So, a person with oral herpes can give his or her partner genital herpes by performing oral sex.
The state of the American School System’s abstinence-only sex education doesn’t help stop the spread of Herpes either. Raul Rodriguez sat through one sex education class in high school but doesn’t remember much. When asked what he knew about herpes he said, “I just know it’s an STD that transmits by contact and it isn’t good.”
Ella Dawson, a sex writer and sex education advocate, was diagnosed with genital herpes in May 2013. She was a 21-year-old college junior going through finals when she got diagnosed. “I was not the type of person herpes and other STD's happened to. People with Herpes, in my mind, were dishonest, irresponsible, promiscuous, unfaithful…” Dawson said in her 2016 Ted Talk “STIs aren't a consequence. They're inevitable.” Because of her HSV-1 diagnosis, she made it her mission to separate herpes from the stigma surrounding it. “My herpes wasn’t caused by reckless behavior. I was behaving just like any normal college student and lost a lottery that’s very easy to lose," Dawson told BuzzFeed.
So what should you do if you develop symptoms? If you haven’t already, go to the doctor! On Dawson’s blog, she writes you should forget about being embarrassed and go for two reasons:
To get the medication needed to calm the outbreak.You will get a legitimate diagnosis and learn which strain of herpes you have.
Googling your symptoms may make Herpes scarier than it seems. Google, WebMD, Wikipedia; they’re just websites, not doctors. If you don’t have insurance, you could always visit Planned Parenthood. Guys, it's not just for women, it’s for men too! Click here to find a Planned Parenthood near you.
Don't be scared to reach out to friends or family, too. Once you feel comfortable, talking about it might help you cope and understand. Remember, just because a person has been diagnosed with an STD doesn’t mean he or she is a bad person. Herpes isn’t a badge of shame, it’s just a virus.