Herpes- It's Complicated

Now that you have crossed birth control and free condoms off your summer checklist, let’s talk herpes. I know, I know, I know…schools out; you don’t need another lecture, I get it. Think of this as a herpes toolkit rather than a lecture. I promise it will be short and sweet and I’ll give you all the answers

The herpes simplex virus is a complicated, incurable STD so let’s start slow. There are two types of herpes that we know of: herpes simplex 1 (also known as HSV 1), and herpes simplex 2 (HSV 2). So what does this mean and how are they different?  HSV 1 is typically associated with oral herpes, or cold sores. HSV 2 is what causes most genital herpes and spreads through sexual contact.  However, both types of herpes can be spread through oral AND sexual contact (i.e. you can get HSV 1 on your genitals or HSV 2 on your mouth) so it’s important to know how to protect yourself.

Sounds scary, right? Well, the more you know about herpes, the better your chances of being able to protect yourself.

STEP 1: Know the symptoms.
During the initial outbreak, it is common to feel flu-like symptoms. Oral herpes symptoms are cold sores or fever blisters on the lips or around the mouth. Genital herpes symptoms include blisters, open sores, burning sensation when urine flows over affected area.  During outbreaks, people with herpes are especially infectious, but keep in mind that visible symptoms don’t need to be present to spread the virus. Any skin-to-skin contact (oral, anal, and vaginal sex; sexual touching; kissing) with an affected area can increase chances of infection.

STEP 2: Know how to protect yourself.  
Avoid having sex if you or your partner is having an outbreak. Another way to protect yourself is by using condoms and dental dams.  Herpes is a skin-to-skin virus so condoms and dental dams offer an extra barrier of protection from the virus during oral, anal and vaginal sex, but it is possible to still spread herpes even with a condom or dental dam.

STEP 3: Use communication and your own judgment. 
The best way to find out if your partner has herpes or any other STD is communication – I know it may feel awkward having the STD conversation, but it is a lot easier than getting infected! And if you don’t trust the situation, use your judgment! Do you really want to put yourself at risk for herpes with someone you don’t trust or in a state where you don’t trust yourself? If you and your partner are drunk, high, or impaired, wait until later so you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re infected.

STEP 4: Always have back-up.  
If you feel like you’re still at risk or have more questions, visit your local clinic and GYT – get yourself tested! And don’t forget… you can always come back and visit us again for more information on herpes and other STDs.

Learn how to make dental dams for further protection from herpes: