It wasn’t too long ago that herpes was the absolute most-frightening thing that could come from sex—after all, no shot would make this go away; it was permanent. Now that we’ve seen what HIV and AIDS can do, we tend to look at herpes more along the lines of “put a little cream on it—it will be okay.”
The overall acceptance of herpes as a lesser sexual risk rather than the end of our sex life as we know it has once again opened up the dating pool by allowing people to seriously consider dating someone who has the dreaded gift that keeps on giving.
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease that manifests itself as blisters that eventually turn into sores around the genitals, mouth, or rectum. That herpes-infected potential date is sounding really attractive now, aren’t they? Well, don’t jump to conclusions—it may not be quite as bad as it sounds.
How likely am I to catch herpes from someone I’m dating?
If you have sex with someone who has herpes, you do have a risk of catching it. How serious that risk is depends on a few different factors. One common misconception is that you can only catch it from an open sore on someone who has it. In fact, it can be transmitted through the skin even if you don’t see any sores.
There are medications that can suppress herpes and make transmission less likely. For instance, Valtrex can reduce the risk of passing herpes on by 73%. Add a condom to the medication and the risk of infection gets reduced to just 2%. Even a latex condom alone can give some protection, but of course it won’t help you if herpes gets transferred through skin other than the skin on the genitals.
What are the health risks of herpes?
Herpes in itself is actually relatively harmless–in fact, some doctors simply refer to it as a dermatological condition, not really a sexually transmitted disease. You might have some mild flu-like symptoms and some discomfort during an outbreak, but the disease should not cause you serious issues by itself. About the worst thing that can happen with herpes itself is that you can accidentally spread the disease to other parts of your body and end up with painful sores around your eyes or something. Herpes can lead to other health problems, though. Since herpes causes open sores in the genital area, these sores might provide a port of entry for more serious infections like HIV. The sores might also get infected and lead to more serious dermatological conditions.
It should also be noted that, if you’re in a committed relationship and you get herpes from someone else outside of that relationship, your partner might expose you to some very serious health risks involving a baseball bat or garden shears when they find out.
Can herpes be cured or managed?
Herpes cannot be completely cured at this time. Outbreaks can be severe in the first year or two of infection, but they get to be less serious and less frequent the longer you have the disease. Some people can go years or even decades without an outbreak.
As mentioned, there are medications that can help to manage herpes. They generally suppress or shorten the duration of the symptoms and lower the likelihood of transmitting the disease to someone else. Topical creams might also provide temporary relief from pain and discomfort associated with the sores.
What does having herpes say about a person?
Is a person with herpes really the type of person you want to consider dating? Doesn’t having a sexually transmitted disease mean that this person is some kind of dirty, low-life sexual deviant who will sleep with anyone? Well no, not necessarily. They might very well be a dirty, low-life sexual deviant who will sleep with anyone, but herpes doesn’t do much to prove that.
There are millions of people infected with herpes and the scary part is that the vast majority don’t even know it. So, before you go all self-righteous and tell someone you won’t date them because they have herpes, you might just want to get yourself tested. In fact, herpes is so common these days that it is often not included in standard STD screenings.
The fact that herpes is so easily transmitted, able to be transmitted without visible sores, and exists in many people without them knowing it makes it a very easy disease to get. Having herpes might just mean that your potential partner has had sex one time, and the one time might have even involved using a condom for protection, but they unfortunately caught the disease. Of course, the chances of catching herpes go up with more partners and riskier behavior, but it really only takes one time.
There are plenty of truly great reasons not to date someone. Maybe they’re a jerk, they smell bad, or they’re not due to be released from prison for six years. In comparison, herpes is not such a great reason to avoid dating someone since transmission can be limited effectively through medication and protection, and the disease is not too horrible anyway. Still, it would be a good idea to get to know someone very well before progressing to a sexual relationship: After all, they might be a bad-smelling jerk with herpes.