By Courtney Snavely
Me: “what’s that on your face? Do you have a big zit or something?”
Him: “Oh yeah I actually wanted to talk to you about it, it’s a cold sore.”
Me: “OH MY GOD DISGUSTING. You have herpes?!”
Looking back an I proud of how I reacted? Absolutely not. When I heard herpes, I word vomited my gut reaction––solely based on ignorance and misconceptions.
The researchers at Ovee are here to debunk the stigmas and provide some tips for how NOT to react poorly during a conversation about herpes.
What causes herpes?
Trick question! There are actually two strains of herpes and they are caused by two different viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Oral herpes (what my partner had) is usually caused by HSV-1 and can cause cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. Genital herpes is usually caused by HSV-2 but can in some cases be caused by HSV-1.
A common misconception is that oral herpes is sexually transmitted disease. Wrong! In fact a lot of people with oral herpes were actually infected during childhood/ early adulthood from an innocent peck from a relative.
Genital herpes, as the name suggests, is a sexually transmitted infection and can be transmitted in the following ways:
Genital-to-genital––A sore on one partner’s genitals touches the skin of the other partner.
Mouth-to-genitals––If your partner has oral herpes, it is possible to get genital herpes after receiving oral sex.
Genitals-to-mouth––If you come into contact with genital sores or secretions while performing oral sex, it is possible to get oral and/or genital herpes.
But, like, how many people have herpes?
According to the CDC, one in six people age 14-49 have genital herpes in the United States. Oral herpes is even more common. The American Health Association estimates that a whopping 50 percent of the adult population in the United States has oral herpes! Numbers could be even higher because a large number of people with herpes show no symptoms.
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How can I talk with my partner about herpes?
If you’re on the receiving end…
Remember saying “I have herpes” is probably more difficult to tell than it is to hear. Be empathetic, understanding, and appreciative that you’re partner did the right thing by telling you. Definitely do not respond like I did; your partner is probably already feeling anxious about telling you in the first place.
It’s not a death sentence to your sex life! With proper protection and abstaining from certain activities during an outbreak, the odds of transmitting the virus significantly decrease. Use protection (condoms, internal condoms, dental dams), avoid skin to skin contact during an active episode, and most importantly communicate.
If you are on the giving end…
Try your hardest not to be actually giving…
The best way to do that is honest and open conversation! There is no current cure for herpes and your partner deserves to know their potential risks.
That being said, I know it’s scary! But as mentioned above, herpes is not a death sentence for your sex life and an understanding partner will appreciate your honesty. Keep in mind not everyone (myself included) understands what herpes is and what it means for your intimate relations.
Make sure to lay out the facts in your initial conversation––1. what the virus is, 2. what symptoms it can cause, 3. and what precautions you can take to decrease the risk of your partner contracting herpes. Providing them with all the information they need to make an informed choice can build intimacy and trust in your relationship.
Like a lot of things in a healthy sex life, living with herpes is about communication. Once you get past the initial “hey let’s talk herpes” conversation, the communication can’t stop there! It’s your responsibility to openly discuss with your partner about your triggers and when you’re experiencing an outbreak.
For HSV-1 (most commonly oral herpes), remember that outbreaks can be triggered by stress, poor sleep, prolonged sunlight exposure, a weakened immune system (when you have a flu/cold), Arginine containing foods, and sometimes excessive caffeine. What can you to do prevent an outbreak? Always use sunscreen, eat Lysine in your diet, and most importantly take care of yourself.
For HSV-2 (most commonly herpes of the genital variety), the triggers are fairly similar. In both cases, antiviral medications can be taken at the start of an outbreak or daily to suppress outbreaks.
Everyone has herpes. Okay so maybe not everyone but A LOT of people so no one should react like how I reacted to a cold sore.
Although there is no cure, it is very livable and not a death sentence for your sex life. Stay open, communicate, and be considerate to each other 😘
How did you handle hearing from a partner or telling a
partner about a herpes flare up? We want to hear from you!