Even though millions of people have herpes, it’s one of the more stigmatized infections. But, the very fact that there’s a crap-ton of people kicking ass and taking names while living with this virus proves that it’s not a total life-ruiner. Herpes fear is often based on serious untruths, so let’s clear some things up and talk about what it really means to live with this virus.
There are two separate but similar herpes simplex viruses: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 usually causes oral herpes, and HSV-2 usually causes genital herpes, but it’s possible for either type to infect both body parts. When any of these strains appear on or around the down-south areas (vulva, penis, scrotum, anus, etc.), it’s called genital herpes. When they infect the mouth, it’s called oral herpes (sometimes known as cold sores or fever blisters).
Symptoms & Misconceptions
Most people don’t show symptoms for months or years — or never show symptoms at all (and therefore don’t know they have it). If you do get symptoms, your first herpes outbreak (blistery sores wherever the infection is located, sometimes accompanied by flu-like feelings) usually happens two to 12 days after you were first infected. The virus stays in your body forever and can randomly pop up and cause outbreaks, but it’s hard to say how often it will happen and how severe it will be, because it totally varies. People with weaker immune systems are more likely to have more intense or persistent symptoms.
Herpes is pretty easily contracted through genital and oral contact (like kissing and oral, anal, and vaginal sex) with people who’ve got it. It’s one of those STIs that only requires skin-to-skin touching to spread, which means that even things like rubbing a penis on a vulva can do the trick — no intercourse necessary. Fluid from herpes blisters can transmit the virus, but it can also “shed” and infect others when no sores or other symptoms are showing and the skin looks totally normal. Most of the time, herpes gets passed from someone without any visible signs of the infection.
Luckily, there are medications that can help shorten and prevent outbreaks, and reduce the risk of spreading herpes to others. So, herpes is annoying, sure, but it’s not deadly and it usually doesn’t cause any serious health problems. People with herpes can have sex, be in relationships, and live totally normal lives by taking simple precautions like getting treated, talking with their doctors and partners about treatment and prevention, and using protection.