The following post was submitted by Kelly, a Stitch member who has Herpes. The post aims to educate mature adults about the symptoms, causes and to reduce the stigma associated with the virus.
Let’s Talk About Herpes
Herpes is a virus. There are eight different kinds of the herpes virus (Shingles, Epstein Barr, etc). This blog is about Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV1) and HSV2, the two types that are often considered when dating.
HSV 1 is the virus usually associated with cold sores or fever blisters that occur on the lips, nose, chin and other parts of the face. Most HSV 1 infections are contracted during childhood years and many infections go completely unnoticed, as the symptoms can be minor or not apparent. Around 56% of the population have cold sores (HSV1). Don’t roll your eyes; cold sores are “real” herpes. In fact, the current most frequent method of transmission, to the genital area, is through oral sex. People with cold sores, whether they are visible cold sores or not, can spread herpes mouth to mouth, and mouth to genitals.
HSV 2 is the virus usually associated with genital herpes. Statistically, somewhere around 16-25%* of people in this group, in the grocery store, in your family, in your circle of friends, at your job, have HSV2. Of those, 80% don’t know they have it. Many people with HSV2 never have symptoms, or attribute any symptoms to something else like a yeast infection, pimple, or rash.
Let’s get the terminology under our belts (pun intended):
- HSV1 – Cold sores on the mouth, lips, nose, chin; yes this is “real” herpes.
- HSV 2 – Genital Herpes.
- Viral Shedding – when herpes can be transmitted with no sign or feeling of an active herpes outbreak.
I can almost hear you say “I don’t believe that,” followed by “well, I certainly don’t have it.” At the end of this blog, I will cite references and provide information for you to investigate, and you should. If you have had sex with someone other than a virgin, there is a reasonable statistical assumption you might have HSV1 or 2. If someone with cold sores kissed you as a kid, you might have been living with cold sores most of your life.
And for the record, people don’t get genital herpes from an inanimate object such as a hot tub or swimming pool, toilet seat, or towel. It’s a fragile virus outside the body. Herpes is transmitted through intimate contact.
“But I always use condoms!” Condom use among the 50+ crowd is lower than any other group. It is also very poor protection from viruses like herpes and genital warts (HPV). In your sexual life, from now on, assume anyone you have sex with has HPV. It is the common cold of this time, but that is a topic for a future blog.
Why are condoms poor protection? Herpes is not always confined to the shaft of the penis, or the labia and deeper areas of the body. During sex, any place there is intimate contact (upper inner thigh, buttocks etc.) is a potential point of transmission. If you are going to use condoms, make them latex.
Women can have the virus on their cervix with no sores on the outside of their body. Men can have the virus present inside of the urethra with no external sores. The virus can be given off from the genital skin of both men and women with no sores, through microscopic breaks in the skin. This is called asymptomatic shedding of the virus; giving off the virus from the body with no apparent symptoms. (The Herpes Handbook)
“So, what is good protection? I don’t want this!”
- Don’t assume you don’t have it. Even if you’ve asked for STD testing at your last exam, doctors never include the herpes test. They don’t because it is considered a nuisance virus and too prevalent. Knowledge is power – get tested. You might have to strongly insist for your doctor to give you the test. You can also go to any Planned Parenthood facility, or many of the testing clinics that are available in metropolitan areas.
- Protection. The person who has herpes, can significantly reduce the risk of transmission by avoiding sex when they know they have had a flare up, AND more importantly, taking anti-viral medication. People with herpes are statistically in a transmission mode of the virus about 10% of the time. That percentage can go down the longer the person has it. The anti-viral medications reduce the transmission rate by around 50%, and anti-virals when used with condoms, a bit more. It’s not enough to just abstain during flare-ups or outbreaks. Herpes can be transmitted even when no sign or feeling of herpes is present. This is called viral shedding. When someone tells you, “I can tell when I’m getting an outbreak,” that’s probably true, but it doesn’t cover viral shedding. The anti-virals used for herpes are probably the most tested and safest medication available. There has been at least 30 years of research to back up that claim.
- Never have sex again in your life.
- Before having sex, you should both get tested. If both of you test positive – well, good to go. If both of you test negative – well, good to go. If one of you tests positive and the other negative – it’s not the end of the world. If you are the person who is considering an intimate relationship with someone who has herpes, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Educate yourself. Know the statistics (this won’t be the only time you’ll be in this situation). Make an informed decision. There are no guarantees, but you could also be walking away from a great relationship.
Next up: Living with herpes, resources, and my story.
If you have herpes and are feeling isolated because of it, I have resources! I’d prefer to discuss the blog topics via the Stitch forums. The information is important. Asking questions on the Stitch forums is not an assumption that you have herpes. It means you are a smart individual who knows it is vital to stay informed.
If email is the only way you feel comfortable asking questions, you are also welcome to write me privately at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Your name will not be disclosed and you will be writing to someone who has HSV2 themselves. Your question may be presented in a future blog so the others may benefit from the information. It will be done anonymously without your name or any other identifying information.
*Studies have shown that in major metropolitan areas, the % of people with herpes is higher. Statistics range from 16% to more than 25% for HSV2 (genital herpes)
As a follow up to this post, we will be posting a dedicated Stitch Discussion Forum about the virus and Kelly will be there to answer any questions. To join, log into Stitch and navigate to “Discussion Forums,” then scroll down to the category “General Discussion.”