Sexual Health Friday December 16, 2011

12 Popular genital herpes myths debunked

The more I learn about genital herpes, the more it becomes apparent that the condition isn’t always fully understood, which just enhances the unnecessary stigmatisation of the condition and the people who have it.

With the help of Marian Nicholson, director of the Herpes Viruses Association, a charitable organisation dedicated to improve the lives of people with herpes simplex, we have identified the common myths. She has also provided helpful facts to set straight these misconceptions.

Myth no. 1 - Genital herpes causes symptoms in everyone

Marian says: “If 5 people catch it, one has symptoms bad enough to go and get diagnosed, one has no symptoms at all, three have really mild symptoms, they don't get diagnosed but the person can be 'educated' to recognise them: a little cut, an itchy/sore place, a tiny spot, an 'infected hair follicle'.”

Myth no. 2 - You only get genital herpes through having sex

Marian says: “Well, if it is on the genitals, you must have had 'sexual contact'. It is very often caught through being given oral sex by a person with a cold sore, and may be caught off the fingers of a person with a herpetic whitlow (cold sore on the fingers).”

Myth no. 3 – If a person with cold sores performs oral sex on you, there is no risk of getting genital herpes

Marian says: “See above!”

Myth no. 4 - Genital herpes can make you sterile

Marian says: “Total rubbish - it has no effect at all on fertility.”

Myth no. 5 - You can get genital herpes from toilet seats

Marian says: “Nope. The virus has be passed directly from human skin to human skin. So it is NOT caught from towels, baths, cutlery, etc. either.”

Myth no. 6 - Condoms provide protection against genital herpes

Marian says: “Yes they do! Total 100% protection, if the place where the sore comes is under the condom - and the condom is put on before any skin contact with that area starts up. And of course they are not going to help if the sore place is not under the condom.”


Myth no. 7 - If you have genital herpes you have regular recurring outbreaks

Marian says: “About half the people who get diagnosed won't have another outbreak for years, or at all. But that does mean that half are likely to get another outbreak in a few months. It is true that outbreaks dwindle with time.”

Myth no. 8 - Only people who are promiscuous get genital herpes

Marian says: “It takes one lover with a cold sore or genital herpes to pass it on to you. So it can happen to you during your first experience - you could still officially be a virgin (because you get it off finger or face).”

Myth no. 9 – If you are in a monogamous relationship and suddenly develop genital herpes it’s a sign that your partner may have cheated on you

Marian says: “Since the virus can be contracted really mildly and lie dormant for years before it comes out and makes symptoms that a vigorous enough to be diagnosed, it can appear in the middle of a totally faithful relationship. The longest we have heard of is 15 years: a lady told us that it was 15 years since she last had sex and now she had her fist noticeable outbreak.”

Myth no. 10 - Women shouldn’t have children if they have

Marian says: “This is like saying women with cold sores shouldn't have children. The risk of infecting your baby during childbirth is so tiny, that usually you have a normal birth even if you have an outbreak at the time.”

Myth no. 11 – Genital herpes causes cervical cancer

Marian says: “No! It was thought to be a cause back in the 1980s but has been thoroughly cleared of that accusation.”

Myth no. 12 - It makes it more likely that you can catch HIV if you have genital herpes

Marian says: “Well, yes, but only if your partner has HIV. Either way, (if you are a person with or without genital herpes) you should practice very safe sex if your partner has HIV.”

The Herpes Viruses Association or HVA, is one of the only organisations of its kind in the United Kingdom and even though they are a small charity that’s often low on funding, they still work to, among other things, help people with herpes understand their condition better, run trials on new treatments and correct general misconceptions about herpes by the media and the public.

However, with all the good work done by the charity, public understanding of genital herpes still leaves much to desired, as Marian puts it: “I cannot see how the stigma can be obliterated while everyone with genital herpes is too stigmatized to speak out.” If you want to know more about the day-to-day work of the HVA you can find out more on their blog.

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