If, for whatever reason, someone asked you to name a sexually transmitted infection, chances are pretty good that herpes would be one of the first ones you brought up. Herpes is a word that most people know, and have a vaguely negative association to go along with it, but don’t really understand–it’s a punchline (“Then, I found out she had herpes”), a strategic deterrent (“I told him I couldn’t go out with him because I have herpes”), or a means of proving that the way someone treats you is wrong (“He was acting like I have herpes, or something). Basically, it’s something gross that happens to other people, who, most likely, have done something wrong or, at the very least, had some sort of lapse in judgment that means they deserve it. And you know what? This, for lack of a better word, is kinda BS. Herpes, in fact, isn’t actually that big of a deal.
This doesn’t mean that you should go out and have lots of unprotected sex with the sole intent of contracting and spreading herpes, nor does it mean that herpes is something that be ignored and left untreated if it is contracted. What it does mean, however, is that the reality of herpes is not necessarily aligned with the stigma that’s commonly associated with it. So, check out these things that prove that herpes isn’t as big a deal as you might think:
It's Super CommonFifty percent of in the United States have herpes simplex type one (oral herpes) and one in six people aged 14-49 in the United States have herpes simplex type 2 (genital herpes). That's a lot of people--so, statistically, you almost certainly know some people who have some form of herpes. (Like me! I get a couple cold sores a year, which means that, technically, I have herpes. So there you go.) Image source: iStock
You Don't Get That Many Outbreaks A YearIf you have the type of herpes that shows symptoms, the average amount of outbreaks is four to five times a year. I don't say this to minimize the effect of an outbreak, obviously--herpes sores can be painful and can take a while to go away--but rather to point out that having herpes doesn't mean that your genitals are constantly covered in painful, oozing sores. Rather, it's a couple of outbreaks a year that aren't fun to deal with, certainly, but can be dealt with. Image source: iStock
You Can Get It Even If You Use A CondomHerpes is spread by skin-to-skin contact. So, using condoms is certainly helpful--always, always use them--but they don't always outright prevent the spread of herpes, since there's obviously other skin-to-skin contact during sex. So, many people who have herpes were technically doing everything "right" and still ended up with the disease. Image source: iStock
You Can Technically Be Infected Without Showing SymptomsA lot of people who have herpes never actually show symptoms. In fact, a study done in Canada a few years ago found that 45 percent of women have herpes without knowing it. This is, in large part, because STI screenings usually don't test for herpes, so you could be doing your due diligence and getting checked regularly without ever knowing that you have herpes. So, pretty much everyone has herpes. But only the people who show symptoms get blamed for it, that's a little unfair, right? Image source: iStock
You Can Still Have A Happy, Healthy Sex Life With HerpesHaving herpes doesn't mean that you have to live like a nun for the rest of your life. In fact, a lot of people who have herpes don't end up passing it on to their partners. You can take medications such as Acyclovir and Valtrex, which have been proven in recent studies to reduce the transmission of herpes, and try not to have sex when you're having an outbreak. (And, as always, use a condom.) Image source: iStock
Without The Stigma, It's A Minor InconvenienceIf you think about herpes, you probably think about someone covered with oozing, festering sores. But many people who have herpes--both oral and genital--describe it as being similar to a skin condition like acne or eczema. Ella Dawson, a writer and herpes activist, compared having herpes to having allergies in a Ted Talk she did last year. It's annoying, sure, and it can be painful, but it's not worth the shame that surrounds it. Image source: iStock
Herpes Stigma Was Created By Big PharmaUp until the 1960s, herpes was just herpes--doctors didn't differentiate between oral and genital herpes, and it was treated more or less the same way on whatever part of the body it was on. Then, when doctors began differentiating between HSV-1 and HSV-2, pharmaceutical companies started hyping up fear around genital herpes to ensure that people would want to buy treatment for it. So, any fear or disgust you have for the word "herpes" is most likely due to an ad campaign from when your parents' were kids. Without it? It wouldn't be a big deal. Image source: iStock
Were you surprised by any of these facts? Which ones? Let us know in the comments!