I can’t even begin to count the number of stigmas surrounding sexually transmitted diseases. Remember when people refused to shake hands with others who had HIV/AIDS? Yeah, people thought they would get AIDS from simply touching someone infected. Princess Dianna went from being an iconic princess to an iconic QUEEN the day she decided to back scientific findings on HIV/AIDS and shake infected patients’ hands. There was also a time when people wouldn’t share bathrooms with others who have STIs. Yes, kinds of stigmas like this exist, especially toward one STI in particular: herpes. An STI endured by nearly 48% of the American population is STILL victim to misinformation and myths, which can make living with it quite lonesome and confusing.
Truthfully, people with herpes lead normal lives; by having relationships and socializing as anyone would. Educating yourself on the topic is the safest and easiest way to go about living with herpes stress-free and stopping the spread of misinformation. So, what is life like for someone who has herpes? Before we can have that conversation, we should review the facts.
Herpes, aka Herpes Simplex Virus, comes in two forms: Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2). Understanding the difference between the two is essential for developing safe and healthy lifestyle choices for both you and those around you. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Type 1 (HSV-1) is mostly spread through oral contact (think kissing, sharing drinks, or sexual activities). It can cause infections in the form of oral herpes, or cold sores, on your lips or in your mouth. In addition, genital herpes can also occur with HSV-1. Type 2 (HSV-2) is spread through sexual contact (think oral sex or other sexual activities involving contact). Much like HSV-1, HSV-2 can cause genital herpes.
Does this mean people with herpes infect everyone they come into personal contact with? No. As a matter of fact, according to The New Zealand Herpes Foundation, 80% of people aren’t even aware they have genital herpes. It is only when someone experiences a “primary infection” that they get the idea something’s up, but this still raises the question of whether or not people with herpes are passing it to everyone. Antiviral medications mixed with the use of condoms will help prevent or slow down the spread. Medications and protection must be used daily for long periods of time, similar to how medications for HIV/AIDS work.
Leading a healthy, safe life is obtainable for those with herpes, but what’s it like to be in a relationship with someone who has it?
First and foremost, establishing good communication and making healthy choices are key to having relationships. Educating yourself and your significant other spreads positive awareness and promotes safe choices, delaying the infection rate and time of infection significantly. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) states that 60 days is the average transmission time of herpes for those in relationships who did not disclose they have it. However, when an honest and open conversation took place, the average transmission time turned into 270 days. It is important to remember that herpes should be viewed as a minor inconvenience, not as a life-threatening condition. An understanding that the risk of getting herpes is never zero helps to maintain a positive, open relationship.
Herpes is most likely to be spread during an outbreak. So what does that mean? Avoiding sexual contact and activities until the outbreak goes away is a choice a couple could make. Using antiviral medications is also another way couples can reduce their risk.
Though the stigma is real and many who experience herpes may feel too embarrassed to talk about it, it is critical to note that no one is alone in this journey. Through the New Zealand Herpes Foundation, anonymous quotes were collected from those living with herpes. For example:
“The first time I told someone I had genital herpes in the early stages of a relationship, he said: ‘You want to know something… I have it too.’ I couldn’t believe it.. All that worry… We had to laugh.” -JM
It is quotes like this that really prove that having an open, honest conversation with a partner can bring more positivity than harm. Not only does this decision make the relationship a safe space, but the partners can learn more about each other while building trust. Have the conversation, keep it positive and understand that herpes is not a threatening condition but rather a minor inconvenience.
Know someone with herpes, or want to know more? Maybe you’re trying to figure out how to have that talk with your special someone. Whoever you may be, you should be proud of yourself for making the choice of getting educated. Those living with herpes are commonly stigmatized to seem dirty or careless, but that is simply not the case. Through education, myths about herpes can be eliminated and soon after, the stigmas too.