Indigo Has a Herpes Scare

5 out of 10

Would not recommend especially, but it’s not the worst thing to happen. Pairs well with absinthe. You’re not sure what’s happening and there may be a problem. We aren’t sure until we’re sober again.

So in middle school, there was a “fact” spread around the school: Cold sores are Herpes. I use the quotes around the word fact not because it’s false (I assure you, it’s true). I used those quotes because there is so much more to that story than “Cold Sores are Herpes.” Since the fact was on it’s own, without the whole story, I view it as harmful propaganda, at best.

So what is the full story? Where does it start? What comes next?

A syringe and two capsules lie on a white surface.

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Herpes Basics

Herpes is commonly referred to as cold sores. It can occur anytime and usually on the genitals or mouth. When an outbreak occurs, it usually looks like a lesion colored white or pink. Some colors vary depending on the person. It is highly contagious, and it can be pretty painful, but it’s not very life-threatening on the whole.

Many people hear this word and panic because it’s known as an Sexually Transmitted Disease (STI). However, it is most commonly passed through kissing, and very often it is passed from relatives kissing babies (so many people who have it, have had it from a young age). Many people with cold sores have had them all their lives, with a wide spectrum of frequency. According to the American Sexual Health Association, many folks never have recurrences! So if this is all herpes is, why is is it such a big deal to us?

Herpes Not-So-Basics

Herpes is a virus. I’d like to compare it to the Chicken Pox Virus. This is accurate in some ways and inaccurate in others. Most people get Chicken Pox somewhere in their lives. It’s highly contagious, and it’s hard to deal with in children because their scratching can lead to open wounds and infection. Once you have Chicken Pox, the virus will live in your body forever. Sometimes, it becomes active later (usually in older adults), and is then known as Shingles. Sometimes Shingles can pass to a new person, and the new person will have Chicken Pox (not shingles).

The biggest difference is that Chicken Pox isn’t awful, but Shingles is usually very painful, so the second occurrence is worse. With Herpes, usually the first outbreak is the most painful one, and the rest are fairly tame in comparison.

Herpes is like this virus. It can be passed on when there is a lesion present, but the odds of passing it on otherwise are quite low. In the same way that your skin protects your insides from other viruses, it protects the world from your viruses! It is possible to pass it between outbreaks, so it’s important to talk about it with partners and use barriers when mouth-to-genital contact happens, even if an outbreak isn’t present. Additionally, people who have Herpes can usually feel an outbreak forming, and know how to deal with it, as well as knowing to not be intimate during that time!

There are two types of herpes viruses. Simplex Type 1 prefers to inhabit the mouth and is usually the cause for oral herpes, which we call cold sores. If you have ever had a cold sore in your life, you have herpes! But that’s okay, and I’ll tell you why a little farther down. Simplex Type 2 prefers to live in the genitals and is usually the cause for genital herpes (including around the scrotum and anus). With this said, both types can be found anywhere, so don’t jump to conclusions about it!

A teddy bear sits on a sidewalk with a sign that says "Looking for a friend"

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Here’s Why I’m Annoyed

Remember how I said it’s okay if you have Herpes? Here is why: 50-80% of the population does too. Why on earth is that range so large? Well the short answer is that many people are simply carriers. They have the virus present, but they don’t have symptoms so they wouldn’t know. As a result, we can’t get an accurate count of who has Herpes!

Additionally, in the battery of STI tests usually performed, Herpes is not one of them. It’s typically diagnosed by incident. If you have sores, talk to your doctor and get them identified. It’s uncommon to perform the swab test necessary to diagnose Herpes definitively.

So if it’s not tested and everyone has it, why is Herpes such a big deal? The short answer is lack of education. Since no one talks about what Herpes is (or isn’t), it’s very often assumed to be a life-threatening and awful STI. Since sex and STIs are so taboo, no one knows about them. And what happens when someone is diagnosed? Well, they are afraid. They feel like their love life is over.

So What Do We Do?

Here’s the first thing: Educate yourself. Herpes is so common that I’m sad I even have to keep talking about it like I do because no one knows about it. Stop talking about Herpes like it will end everything. It will not. I promise.

Get tested as soon as you feel something! If you do have it, talk about it. Recently, I told a potential playmate about my one cold sore (about 6 months ago). They were concerned, but I educated them and we still have regular dates scheduled, so it is okay!

Consider maybe not being a dick about cold sores. Odds are you have the virus and have passed it on. There’s a difference between being smart about sex and being alarmist. Condoms are good, and you can use them. But don’t make anyone feel shitty about it because they probably got it from a really young age.

 

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