STIgma SMASHING - Herpes

 Image credit - Prue Stent @prue_stent

Image credit - Prue Stent @prue_stent

Feeling itchy, tingly and noticed a red bump down there? Chances are you’re in the same boat as the 1 in 8 Australians who have genital herpes.

What is it?
Herpes is a highly contagious skin condition and is spread via skin contact. It gets a terrible rep as an STI - but you don't even need to do the deed to contract the herpes virus. Both strands of herpes virus can be spread through oral, vaginal and anal sex, but is often not sexual at all. Family members can give each other oral herpes by kissing when they have cold sores. Main takeaway here - you can get herpes from rubbing your junk up against someone else’s junk. The important factor here is skin contact.

Condoms minimise the risk they do not protect 100%, they are awesome however at protecting you from all other STI's, so wrap it before you tap it.

Despite often being perceived as the more cringe worthy twin of the cold sore, genital herpes aka HSV is the same virus, but with sores on your vulva, penis or anus region. The main difference being that HSV-1 affects mouth and genital areas whilst HSV-2 is mainly present in the genitals and is a little more aggressive and outbreaks are more regular. 

Vulvas are more susceptible to infection due to their porous skin and warm/moist environment.

Although the highest chance of passing on the virus is during an outbreak of visible sores, herpes can still be transmitted even when there are no symptom at all.

So no matter how much poking and prodding you do the only way to tell if you have herpes is by getting tested. If you do notice any bumps or experience a burning, tingling or itching sensation around your genitals it’s a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor as the symptoms can be similar to other and often more serious STD’s which require treatment. 

Severe genital herpes complications are very rare, which can be surprising as herpes gets such a bad wrap as an STI. For the majority of the population living with the virus, asides from the odd unexpected outbreak, its the consequent social anxiety that is the most serious implications.
Outbreaks are usually a blister or two that pop up, dry out and heal within a few weeks. Despite the gory images on the internet, loads of people only have mild symptoms such as a bit redness, itching or a lone pimple-looking blister.



The misperception of genital herpes as something that’s a thousand times worse than a cold sore can lead to anxiety and stress that in many cases often exacerbates an outbreak. But don’t stress, the first outbreak is always the worse, over time their frequency and severity diminish as your body builds immunity.
Practically - herpes is incurable, so you bet your gonna get a few outbreaks over your life. There are a few self-care things you can do to ease the symptoms and shorten an outbreak.

1. As hard as it may be fight the urge, don’t scratch! Not only does it affect the healing process of blisters but it may spread to your mouth and double the trouble. (Psst just to note the chances of spreading is significantly reduced after your first outbreak because your body has built up a resistance, but that’s no excuse to scratch.)

2. Get out a good book or put on your favourite TV series and bathe in warm water or apply a cloth-wrapped ice pack to soothe your sores and your mind. Avoiding ointments and creams, unless directed by your health-practitioner, reduces irritation and throwing on your favourite dress, skirt, cotton shorts or loose clothing as well as wearing cotton/bamboo underwear will reduce friction and help healing.

3. Get your prescription from your doctor for valtrex, it can help suppress the virus,  making outbreaks less frequent and reducing the risk of passing it on to partners.

3. Love yourself. This does not change you as a person, it is not a dirty, or rare, or dangerous diagnosis. Thanks to misplaced stigma, genital herpes is often more socially and mentally harmful then it is physically. Remember, like all STD’s, genital herpes doesn’t define you. You’re still a kickass goddess. Don’t feel bad, just be open and don’t let it get in the way of sexual enjoyment and relationships.  As hard as it may be, by being open with your sexual partners and minimising contact during outbreaks, just as you would with a cold sore, you’re helping kick genital herpes off its pedestal of doom and put it in its place as the love bump version of a cold sore.

Thanks to Ella Dawson for being a badass outspoken babe. Go read her blog, it is great. Best resource we've found, by far - without the scary statistics and fear.