Get talking, get yourself tested logoUnlike most 9th graders, I actually paid attention in health class.  I can tell you that trichomonaisis is one of the only STDs that can live outside of the human body for more than an hour.  I can tell you all the terrible things that will happen to you if you don’t get treatment for syphilis early enough.  I also THOUGHT I knew everything I needed to know about herpes

  1. You get it through skin to skin contact when you have an outbreak
  2. Like most STDs, condoms and other latex barriers will help prevent it, although they are not 100%
  3. There’s no cure for it, only treatment for the sores when you get outbreaks.

But I didn’t even realize how much I didn’t know until I read an article by Mollena (of The Perverted Negress– y’all better check her out)  about coming out about having herpes.

“I discovered that many people who have Herpes are asymptomatic. In other words, they never have outbreaks. I also learned that between 65 and 80 percent of adults are seropositive for HSV-1, the virus that causes oral herpes, or cold sores.

I learned that the statistics as they apply to HSV-2, the strain that usually causes genital Herpes, are a bit more troubling.

The CDC Says

The latest HSV-2 data – announced at CDC’s National STD Conference in Atlanta on March 9, 2010, and published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) – indicates that overall national HSV-2 prevalence remains high (16.2%) and that the disease continues to disproportionately burden African-Americans (39.2% prevalence), particularly black women (48.0% prevalence), who face a number of factors putting them at greater risk, including higher community prevalence and biological factors that put women of all races at greater risk for HSV-2 than men.”

My mind was a little blown.  Over half the population has one or both forms of herpes?  Is that for real?

The great thing is, even if you contract herpes, you’re likely as not to be asymptomatic.  Many people don’t react to the viral infection with outbreaks, so lots of Americans have herpes but have no idea.  The terrible thing is, even if you contract herpes, you’re likely as not to be asymptomatic.  That means lots of Americans have herpes but have no idea.

It bears repeating because that means, if you have sex with a partner who swears s/he/ze isn’t infected, they might not know any better.  And that puts you at risk for exposure.

There’s also a lot of misinformation and lack of education  around herpes.  When I got my STD tests done at Planned Parenthood, I asked to get tested for herpes, but the nurse practitioner said that they couldn’t test without an open sore to swab.  I figured, since I hadn’t had an outbreak, I couldn’t have herpes.  I still haven’t been tested for it, because I really only realized a few weeks ago that I should be tested.

most people infected with genital herpes do not know they have itThe terrible thing is, even though such a large portion of the population has herpes, there’s still immense amounts of stigma around the disease.  This Scarleteen article by Leah Berkenwald does a great job breaking it down.

Ever notice the only time we hear herpes mentioned in movies or on TV is when it’s the butt of a joke? Genital herpes is an easy target for humor because it’s not fatal and the people who suffer from this STI are not usually considered victims. Unlike HIV/AIDS, genital herpes is a relatively mild condition that does not usually warrant the seriousness or sensitivity that society grants fatal illness. Instead, genital herpes is understood to be a punishment, or something you “bring upon yourself.” People with genital herpes aren’t thought of as victims; they’re thought of as sluts, monsters, lepers, or just stupid.   

And she’s right.  I started paying attention, and it’s abominable how many herpes jokes there are on TV and in movies.  No other disease gets the kind of attention herpes does.  And yet almost everyone has it!

So what do I know now that I didn’t know in 9th grade?

1. The majority of Americans are carriers for one of the two herpes simplex viruses

2. Most of them will never know it.

3. You can pass herpes on to a partner whether or not you have an outbreak (it gets passed through saliva, mucous, or skin-to-skin contact when you have an outbreak)

4. You will almost never have a doctor recommend a herpes test.  You have to ask for it yourself.

The good news is, as Mollena’s article ALSO pointed out, finding out you have herpes is not a death sentence for your sex life.  It pays to be careful, use condoms, dental dams, and gloves, but being open and honest about your infection can lead other people to feel more at ease and talk about their STD status too. 
“So I have herpes,” I said.

He smiled, and that only got me hotter. “Its cool. I’ve had partners before with Herpes.”

He then disclosed to me that he’s been recently treated for Gonorrhea, which involved an initial injection of antibiotics, then a course of antibiotic pills. We discussed our safer-sex protocols, broke out the condoms and lube, and then he shagged me halfway off the bed and sideways into next week.

Yep, sex is better when you’re an expert. But most importantly? There’s nothing like fucking when you trust someone and feel good about being able to be honest.

Hell yes.  Stay cool, queer kids.