Most people who have the virus never know. Even the majority of people who find out they have the virus through an antibody test are asymptomatic or have only ever experienced symptoms so mild they never knew they had it. But, even those without any symptoms or knowledge that they have it pass on the virus unknowingly every day. It affects millions of people from all walks of life, though people with compromised immune symptoms suffer the most when they get the virus. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by it. If you test positive, people are scared to be too close to you. Barriers help reduce transmission, but they don’t eliminate risks by a mile. It forever changes lives, but it doesn’t have to. No, I’m not talking about Covid19, I’m talking about Herpes.
We all know that if you’re sexually active it’s important to be tested for STIs. I used to think of my STI test as a way to confirm I was still “clean”. Turns out that STI status and cleanliness are not remotely related; I wish I could jump in a time machine and undo some of the stigma spreading I happily participated in. When I was initially diagnosed with herpes (HSV) I felt like disgusting garbage, which in hindsight is really ridiculous. There are millions of clean respectable humans who have herpes (aka cold sores because they are literally the exact same thing). Doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, first responders, pastors, artists, athletes, mothers, fathers – the list goes on and on – all have HSV.
Regular STI tests do not test for HSV. HSV is spread through skin to skin contact, and while it favors the genital and oral regions, it is not only transmitted through sex (note it is not transmitted through towels and toilet seats, so let your anxiety go). But, when you find out you are positive, it is your responsibility to disclose to potential partners of your status. Incidentally, people who are aware of their status and are as a result mindful of their bodies and symptoms are much less likely to pass on the virus then the 70% of people who have the virus and do not know, yet disclosure is often more painful than the virus. ‘We can still be friends I just won’t touch you’ (I am not a leper) – ‘You’re a nice person, you don’t deserve that’ (herpes is not a punishment/something that only effects ‘bad’ people) – ‘That sucks, I’m clean’ (cool, so am I).
Even though people with herpes live normal lives, the virus still sucks. For the unlucky few who get regular outbreaks, the symptoms suck. For even the thickest skinned of us, the stigma still cuts deep. Herpes doesn’t kill people, but people kill themselves because they have herpes. Read that again, and then stop saying your cold sores are from eating spicy food, stop calling STIs dirty, stop avoiding testing because you’re scared, and would rather live in the dark. Stop spreading false information and feeding the stigma and fear, lives depend on it.