INFORMATIVE: Herpes Myths

Emily Lundy | guest writer

Sex education and STD information is extremely important. We could all use a little myth-busting when it comes to the stigma around things involving our bodies and sex life. Take herpes, for example. Most people know that it doesn’t have a cure. But this knowledge isn’t enough.

While everyone should always practice safe sex, it’s also important to keep things in perspective when it comes to STDs and the stigmas and rumors associated with them. It’s time to get the cold hard facts so everyone can experience and enjoy the beauty of being sexually healthy and knowledgeable. Here are some common assumptions about Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV):

  1. Herpes never goes away.

Correct, sort of. HSV is just that – a virus. Once you get it, your immune system keeps the virus and remembers it in order to fight infections in the future. Essentially, herpes stays with you the same way a flu virus does. The slight difference is that herpes may show up physically more than once. Physically, it manifests itself in cold sores, genital bumps and sores and could be accom- panied by flu like symptoms, especially at the start of the first out- break. It’s quite common for the amount of outbreaks to decrease over the years and tend to be less severe over time, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

2. Herpes and cold sores are different.

Wrong-o. HSV 1 is generally categorized as oral herpes or “cold sores” and HSV 2 is generally categorized as genital herpes. However, both can appear at either location. Recently, doctors have been avoiding the “type 1 or 2” labeling and, instead, call it “oral herpes” or “genital herpes” according the location of the outbreak. Either way, both are HSV and both can be transferred, so it is important to not engage in oral sex while suffering from an oral herpes outbreak (a cold sore).

3. One in four people have herpes.

Nope. While herpes is quite common, CDC claims that the real statistic is about one in five to six people who have genital herpes. Nearly 80 percent of the US population has oral herpes, typically infected during childhood or adolescence.

4. If you have herpes, you’ll pass it to your partner, even if you don’t have a sore.

False! While you should always be practicing safe sex (birth control, condoms, etc.), having sex with someone who has been infected does not necessarily mean you will become infected. There is a slight risk (about four percent, according to Just Herpes) that the virus can be transferred through shed skin cells, but typically, herpes is only transferable when symptoms are present. If you’re having an outbreak, do not engage in sexual activity until your symptoms subside. If you are still worried about passing it, you can always talk to your doctor about antiviral medication that suppresses symptoms.

5. I got herpes from my long-term partner—does that mean they were unfaithful?

Absolutely not. Most people do not even know they have genital herpes. Some may not show symptoms while others may write it off as something else , an ingrown hair or skin condition ,letting it disappear without seeing a healthcare professional. It does not mean your partner is being unfaithful, but make sure to have an open and honest discussion.

6. How can you stay protected against HSV?

The only way to stay completely protected is to not have sex or sexual contact with anyone infected. However, according to the Just Herpes facts page, nearly 50 million people in the United States have genital herpes. If you really want to stay protected, practice safe sex, get tested, and be honest with your sexual partners about your sex-related health.

All in all, HSV is common but incredibly mild. The stigma surrounding genital herpes clouds the cold, hard facts.

Though Emily is currently taking time off from school, she is still involved with The Fourth Wave as a founding member and hopes to return to Pitt in the future.

Check out more from this issue here.