Dave Chappelle, Q-Tip, and about eight children are gathered around a singing pink herpes sore. The group dances as the life-sized felt puppet sings about life as “The Herpes,” gyrating its disgusting puss-covered body in tune with a beat.
Yes, you read that right. No, this is not a fever dream.
The puppet ends its song with the line “I like it raw,” and the children turn back to Q-tip and Dave Chappelle. Sadly, one of the little girls announces that “life is hard” in response to the herpes puppet’s song.
Oh, but on the contrary little girl, living with herpes isn’t hard! The symptoms (if any) are mild and short-lived, sometimes occurring only once every few years. Your genitals still look the same as they did before, and you don’t have to stop having sex. Your life will remain almost completely unchanged!
Unfortunately, this strange singing puppet is usually the extent of what people “know” about genital herpes, or the Herpes Simplex virus 2 (HSV2). The virus is misconstrued as gross, dirty, and will make you so unappealing that no one will ever have sex with you again.
Spoiler: that’s all false.
To give you a more precise understanding of why having genital herpes is no big deal, let’s take a look at what herpes is. Herpes is technically a family of viruses, not just one sexual disease that uncontrollably grows giant warts all over your genitals (again, wrong). The name of this family is Herpesviridae, and genital herpes (HSV2) is just part of this group.
Now, genital herpes has a very famous sister, and we all know her. She’s like, the super popular girl in school that is nice to everyone, so we all feel like we’re friends with her.
Oh, her name? It’s Chickenpox.
That’s right, Chickenpox’s last name is Herpesviridae, and she is part of the herpes family. This is a virus that 95% of Americans live with for their entire lives, and no one becomes an ugly troll or sexually exiled. We just take an oatmeal bath (or five) and accept that we now carry a life-long herpes virus. How cool of us!
Genital herpes, or HSV2, is the version of Herpes Simplex that lives on the genitals (obviously). It is also spread from skin-to-skin contact, most commonly from genitals rubbing against each other during sex. Just like chickenpox, small red bumps will appear around the genitals during a flare-up and subside after about a week or two.
There are no giant warts that disfigure your sexy parts, no green oozing puss, no slime dripping from urethras. Just small red bumps every once in a while. Often, people don’t realize that they have genital herpes because they think it’s just a run-of-the-mill pimple or in-grown hair.
Symptoms can show a few days after contraction and start with what feels like the flu. You may experience a headache, fever, chills, or abdominal pain. These flu-like symptoms can last a few days before the presence of any sores. Once sores appear, it is important to understand that the first outbreak will be the most severe outbreak of the person’s life while living with genital herpes.
The virus has just moved in and is having an absolute rager downstairs.
These new sores can rupture and turn into ulcers, becoming extremely painful. Imagine when a blister pops and leaves a raw spot of skin, but instead, it’s on your butthole. Seriously. Simple tasks such as using the bathroom or even wearing underwear become painful when these open sores come into contact with urine or tight clothing.
Once these ulcers heal, the virus will quickly become dormant and hide in the body without showing any symptoms for a while. Some people experience only one outbreak in their whole lives, while others may experience outbreaks every few months or years.
The great part is, no outbreak will ever be as bad as the first. Also, you typically form sores in the same spots every time, so if you only had one small sore during your first outbreak, that is likely the extent of your herpes experience. If you have a few sores, it’ll become easy to identify when you’re having an outbreak from the locations of the sores since they tend to repeat.
Genital herpes (HSV2) can also be completely asymptomatic. After surviving COVID-19, we should all be familiar with this term, but if you’re not: asymptomatic means that the virus is not showing any symptoms at all. You can live with genital herpes and have absolutely no idea because you never once experience any red bumps, sores, flu symptoms, or ulcers. This is how genital herpes spreads so easily: people have no idea they have it in the first place.
How does the virus spread if they don’t have sores or bumps? Viral shedding is the answer, my friend! We are constantly losing skin cells wherever we go, and this is why we have to do things like changing our mattresses or how dogs can track people when they are lost. Viral shedding means that if someone has genital herpes, even if they may not have any visible sores, the skin cells being shed from the genital area still contain the virus, dormant or not. When these shed cells come into contact with new genitals, herpes is likely to spread.
“How can I avoid contracting and/or spreading herpes?” you ask. I love your curiosity and commitment to safer sex.
While the risk of contracting and/or spreading herpes is never zero, my biggest piece of advice is always: condoms, condoms, condoms! If herpes is spread via genitals rubbing, then it only makes sense to avoid genital skin-to-skin contact. Condoms and other barrier tools, like dental dams, are great for achieving intense pleasure while avoiding any skin contact.
Another way to practice safer sex is staying up to date with your STI testing. Unfortunately, STI tests don’t typically check for Herpes Simplex. The only way to tell if you have genital herpes is from a blood test that will check for the HSV2 antibodies. Specifically, ask for herpes testing next time you go for your STI panel, even if you are not showing any symptoms. It is important to know if you could be potentially spreading the virus to others.
Before you even Google it, herpes does not have a cure. As of now, the Herpes Simplex virus cannot be killed, cured, or removed from the body and is a life-long viral infection. Don’t worry! Herpes can be easily managed, even if you are someone who experiences frequent outbreaks. There are oral antivirals your doctor can prescribe to you which more or less stop the virus from replicating, such as Valtrex or Acyclovir.
Homeopathic options work wonders for treatment, such as tea tree oil, the supplement L-lysine, or lemon balm. Some folks with herpes use all of these options, while some are fine using only one.
So if you’re someone who has recently contracted herpes, has a partner with herpes, or just wants to stay safer during sex, don’t be scared of the dancing herpes puppet. Having genital herpes doesn’t change anything about you, other than the fact your body now hosts a new virus; unless you’ve had chickenpox as a kid, then we know it’s really not all that new.
Lastly, please remember that if you do have genital herpes, it is essential that you disclose your positive herpes status to any potential partners. The other person is entitled to know of any possible risks before consenting.
By Jill Hills, Sexpert