Let’s be honest: There’s a huge stigma surrounding herpes. It ends up being a make or break for tons of relationships and is something that’s feared and looked down upon in the dating world. For those with herpes, it can be a confidence crusher and a reason to remain disconnected from others, ultimately creating further division amongst us all.
Ask yourself: If you found out your current (or potential future) partner had herpes, would you stay with him or her? If you feel like you can answer that question without any hesitations, then I challenge you to question whether you even know what herpes really is and what its symptoms look like. Can you be positive you don’t have herpes? You could be a part of the 87.4% of infected individuals who don’t even know they have herpes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The truth of the matter is, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 3.7 billion people below the age of 50 have HSV-1, more commonly referred to as cold sores. Another 417 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 are infected with HSV-2, which is typically considered to be a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However, 140 million people get genital infections from HSV-1, those pesky cold sores you may have had in or around your mouth, meaning that half a billion people could sexually transmit either virus.
To gain a better understanding of herpes, let’s debunk some of the more commonly heard myths:
Myth #1: Cold sores and herpes are very different
The CDC defines genital herpes as, “a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2).” So, very clearly, you can become infected with herpes from cold sores or susception to the STD itself.
Raquel Dardik, MD, Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, states, “Many people wrongfully believe that cold sores don’t count as ‘real’ herpes.” It’s important to note that although their symptoms typically manifest differently, HSV-1 in the mouth and HSV-2 around the genitals, all it takes to transfer the infection is skin-to-skin contact. In other words, the sores from both viruses can form anywhere on your body.
Even if there’s no genital to genital interaction, you can still get HSV-2. For example, if you are performing oral sex on your partner, you can contract HSV-2 and develop sores in your mouth. Yes, it’s more common for HSV-1 to form around the mouth and HSV-2 on the genitals, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only place you can get a breakout.
Myth #2: If you’ve never had an outbreak, you don’t have herpes
Wrong. You could have herpes for your entire life and never have an outbreak, or at least the type of outbreak so many people are terrified of experiencing. Now that you know that, the fact that 87.4% of infected individuals have no clue they have herpes doesn’t seem so unimaginable.
As Fred Wyand, Director of Communications for the American Sexual Health Association, explains, “Outbreaks can be very mild and even confused with things like heat rash, jock itch, yeast infections, allergic reactions… So while some cases do involve pronounced symptoms, most never do.”
Myth #3: I get tested for STDs regularly, so I can’t have herpes
Like many other STDs, when it comes to herpes, it’s all about the timing of your test. Herpes takes at least two weeks to be detected, but can sometimes take months to appear. If you have a routine checkup for STDs, herpes often isn’t included, as the CDC doesn’t recommend frequent testing for it.
Myth #4: Herpes isn’t contagious if there’s no visible outbreak
Since we’ve already established that outbreaks aren’t always obvious or can be mistaken for other issues, this isn’t 100% true. This is due to viral shedding, which Wyand explains: “There are a few days a year when herpes is active, and possibly transmitted without any symptoms present…. This doesn’t happen on most days, but it’s tricky, because there’s no real way to know.”
Myth #5: I have herpes, so I can’t have kids
If you hope to have children one day, don’t worry — herpes won’t ruin that dream for you. Herpes in no way affects your fertility, so you’re just as likely to become pregnant with herpes as you are without the infection. You don’t need to be overly concerned about passing the virus to your children either, as there are numerous safe options for delivering your baby to avoid this.
However, there are still some added risks associated with having herpes while carrying a child. Unfortunately, genital herpes can increase the risk of miscarriage and premature birth, and in rare cases, herpes can be a dangerous infection in newborns, although this is only an issue if the mother has an outbreak at the time of birth.
Myth #6: My partner suddenly got herpes, so he/she clearly cheated on me
One of my former partners suddenly got genital warts from an unknown source after we’d been dating for quite some time. If a similar situation occurred with your partner, don’t automatically assume that he/she cheated on you.
In fact, even if you and your partner have been together for 20 years, this could still be a possibility. This is because you can have herpes without experiencing any symptoms or your partner could have mistaken previous symptoms as being a result of another health issue.
Of course, your partner may have cheated on you, but that’s not the only explanation. If you find yourself in this situation, you can either trust your partner’s explanation, or you could meditate on it and trust your own intuition.
It’s Time To Stop Hating On Herpes
Why are we so quick to judge others with herpes? Dating and connecting with others can be difficult for many people, let alone someone who has a physical obstacle they feel prevents them from doing so. If you find out your partner or someone you know has herpes, try to extend some compassion to their situation. Since there’s such a heavy stigma surrounding herpes, many infected people may struggle to talk about it. So, if they trust you with that type of information, try to remain empathetic to their feelings.
Like everything else in this world, herpes serves a purpose, so in some way it serves us. If you’re struggling with herpes or if you just found out your partner is infected, keep in mind that it’s just another aspect of the physical realm, and we are so much more than that. Yes, it’s extremely important to take care of your physical body, but at the end of the day, it isn’t the real you.