Herpes Hangout!

Shameless Grounds logo

Shameless Grounds logo

So get this – I know a lot of people who have herpes, but they are so secretive about it, they don’t realize how many other people in the community have it as well.

So I decided to host an event at Shameless Grounds this Tuesday and invite everyone and anyone to come and learn about this wildly popular STI.

Here’s the event description:

“Do you have herpes? Do you know anyone who does? (Trust me, you do.) It’s more common than you think – lots of people in the community have it, but everyone is afraid to talk about it. Let’s break down walls and demystify this common STI.

From Centers for Disease Control website: http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes.htm

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) or type 2 (HSV-2). CDC estimates that, annually, 776,000 people in the United States get new herpes infections. Genital herpes infection is common in the United States. Nationwide, 16.2%, or about one out of six, people aged 14 to 49 years have genital HSV-2 infection.

How do you know if you have it? What are the symptoms? How do you get tested? How often do outbreaks occur? How effective are condoms in preventing herpes transmission? Can you have sex with someone with herpes and not get it? What are some things you can do to lower the risk and lessen outbreaks? What happens if you get it? How do you ethically date? Can you be polyamorous and have herpes?

Health expert and Registered Nurse Claire Jensen and sex educator Kendra Holliday will lead the discussion and answer questions.

People who attend this event may or may not have herpes. Share as little or as much as you like with the group. Get educated and enlightened, get rid of the stigma, and get on with your life!”

Here is one man’s story:

“I’ve had Herpes for 35-plus years.  It’s been an occasional complication when dating, but – as you said – never a deal breaker.

First, I’ve always told potential lovers about the herpes *before* sex.  That’s just plain ethical.  It sounds like that is what this woman has done.  It’s best to have the discussion before you start ripping each other’s clothes off.

A surprising number of times the woman (including my to-be/now-ex wife) has said ‘Oh.  I have herpes too.’

Around 22% of the U.S. population has herpes.  Of those, only 10% are aware that they have it; the other 90% have no symptoms.

I couldn’t find the exact statistics, but in monogamous couples where only one person has herpes if they avoid sex during outbreaks the chance of transmitting herpes is somewhere around 3% (i.e. 3 out of 100 times having sex).  Using condoms at all times drops this percentage to around 1.5%

That said, I did give one long-term (15 years) partner herpes.

There is a drug called Valacyclovir which can be used with herpes.  You can take it when an outbreak occurs to shorten the duration of an outbreak or take it every day to reduce the numbers of outbreaks.  I take it every day and I haven’t had an outbreak for (I’m guessing) at least 10 years.  The drug recently became available in generic form and the cost is now very reasonable.

Using Valacyclovir and condoms together further reduces the chances of transmitting herpes.

As far as diseases go, herpes definitely falls in the ‘annoyance’ category.  There don’t appear to be any other health effects beyond the outbreaks and the social stigma.”

Here is a woman’s story:

“I have been involved with my SO for over three years. We are both sexually active together and with other people and have a very open, loving, hot and sexy relationship. He has herpes and I do not.

He had not mentioned in advance that he had herpes, that is before it was clear we were headed towards definite sex. I understand why. It is something that you don’t really need to talk about unless you are going to have sex with someone. It was the first time that we connected sexually and we were kissing and definitely headed in the direction of intercourse… that freight train that can’t be stopped kind of moment…. but he stopped.

He said, ‘I need to have a serious conversation with you before we go any further.’ He told me he had genital herpes, for how long, what the risks were and that we could wait and I could go and investigate it myself if I needed to before we took that next step. I ended up asking him questions that night and chose to then take the risk anyway. I am glad that I did… and I did not hold back or express any timidness once I made up my mind. I then went home and researched the hell out of it.

The reality of genital herpes is that if you are young and sexually active, you have likely already had sex with someone who has the virus… they may just not have known or they may have failed to tell you. 1 in 4 American women and 1 in 5 American men have it… and that is just the genital kind (H2). Something that a lot of people don’t know is that herpes 1 (H1), the kind people get around their mouths from kissing their mother, can also be passed to the genitals, so you can get H1 on you genitals and H2 on your mouth.

What has helped me accept it and not hold back at all with my partner is this…. in the end, it is simply a skin condition. It is a skin condition that some people never even get an outbreak from. My boyfriend gets one outbreak a year. And, all that means is that we don’t have sex for that week. There are no other health consequences. Yes, it is contagious at times when you don’t have a breakout, but if you partner is on suppression meds (like Valtrex) the percentage rate of passing the virus goes down to like 3% a year with a regular sex partner.

I have accepted that I may get it and I am OK with that. I get tested about three times a year. We have had sex with four other women together… and he has been with at least a few separate from me… and none of them said ‘no, I don’t want to have sex with you because you have herpes.’ He just tells them the truth, confidently and calmly and lets them make their own decision. He lets them know it is a matter of their own health and is their choice to make, and lets them know in a sexy way that if they don’t want to have sex because of that, they can do other things that can be just as fun. ;)

Having herpes does not mean never having another sex partner, like some people might think… I have proof. ;P

Also, I take Valtrex myself as a precaution. Many doctors believe that preemptive use may further help lower the chances of catching it with a regular partner. It is expensive without insurance though ($400 a month), but your insurance should cover it as a preventative treatment. When I bring up getting tested for it, most doctors, even when I am in for an STD screening, almost laugh that I want to get tested. In their medical opinion, it carries such little risk. They have often tried to talk me out of being tested since I have never had an outbreak. In my opinion, it is a vanity STD. It is mainly the shame factor that bothers people about getting it… and the fear of having to talk to a potential partner about it.

One more thing. If someone has H1, their chances of getting H2 are much lower. Not sure by how much, but that is another factor. If you have ever had a cold sore, your chances are diminished of getting genital herpes.

I don’t hold back at all with my man. I enjoy every minute I am with him.”

Here are some other great resources:

Midori’s “How Herpes Saved My Life

Mollena’s “I’m the 48%

Captain Awkward’s “How do I minimize embarrassment when telling my partner I have a body and a past?”

Jenelle Marie’s “Yes, I have an STD, But It Shouldn’t Be a Scarlet Letter

Jenelle has created a website that shares excellent information and personal stories. It is called “The STD Project“.