Herpes… If you’ve ever been in a sex ed class, chances are you’ve been shown a horrible picture of a red and bubbly penis or an inflamed and scab ridden vagina, followed by “this is herpes, it’s bad, don’t get it”. But how much do you actually know about it?
What is herpes?
Fun fact: there are actually 8 different herpes viruses, which include chicken pox, Herpes Simplex Virus-1 (which is generally on your mouth, but can live downstairs) and Herpes Simplex Virus-2 which is on your genitals (this is the one we’re going to talk about). Every now and then you might get outbreaks of little red/itchy sores. Whilst some people do have quite bad and aggressive outbreaks, for the majority it’s more mild and itchy.
How can I get it?
You can get herpes from ANY kind of sexual contact. Doesn’t matter if it’s penetration, anal, oral, or even just rubbing genitals, if there is genital-genital or mouth-genital contact it can be passed. Even condoms and dental dams can’t 100% protect against Herpes (although always wrap it up because they protect against lots of other STIs).
How do I know if I have it?
The thing is, most people don’t show any symptoms of herpes. So you can kiss the idea that “someone looks clean” goodbye. If you notice sore/s around your genitals or a previous partner has told you they have herpes the best thing to do is get tested. It’s pretty easy to do but it’s not something that’s always test for so you’ll have to ask specifically to test herpes. Then the doctor/nurse will have a quick look, ask you to get a swab or have a blood test. You can do with at your local GP or other services like Sexual Health Quarters (check the link below). Fun fact number 2: herpes is actually quite common about 1 in 8 Australians have it so it’s important to get tested regularly if you are having sex with multiple people.
What do I do if I have it?
Currently, there isn’t a cure for herpes. But it definitely can be managed, you can take anti-virals to help with outbreaks which generally only occur 4-6 times a year (but may flare up with stress). For most people the first outbreak is the worst, but after is generally mild irritation. However, if you are going to have a baby you do need to tell your doctor to make sure you don’t transmit it. You’ll have to tell sexual partners, but at least that means you can develop more open communication with your partners (which we should all be doing!).
If you do get a positive result for herpes don’t stress. It’s not the end of the world it doesn’t mean you can never have sex again, you just might need to adjust what you do a bit. There’s some links down below if you wanna check out how to talk to partners about it, or just wanna chat about your experience.
Dating with herpes
Sexual Health Quarters (SHQ)