It’s not fun talking about STIs and swinging but if we are going to have sex we should educate ourselves. There are plenty of myths, misconceptions and completely outdated information about herpes so we all should become better informed about this topic. So take a deep breath and put on your adult pants for a few minutes while we talk about this unfun but necessary topic of understanding herpes & swinging. Make sure you follow-up with your own medical doctor to figure out what is best for your own personal situation.
There are two different types of herpes – HSV1 aka the cold sores on someones lip & HSV2 aka the scratchy genital bumps. To complicate things you can have HSV1 down below the waist from but for most people HSV1 is around their mouths. Herpes is a pesky virus so once you have it, you always have it. Having it does not mean it is always symptomatic. Most people with herpes are not experiencing an active outbreak. It is common to go years & years in between active outbreaks. Both versions of herpes are very contagious and can be spread by kissing, touching, sharing drinks or utensils. It is usually spread during an active outbreak but herpes can spread with no active outbreak or symptoms. Before you freak out let’s remind everyone that herpes is not life threatening or very dangerous compared to other STIs. It is much more annoying and embarrassing than anything else.
We aren’t even sure why it is so embarrassing because a majority of adults have one version of herpes. Did we just say a majority of adults? We should have said almost all adults. In 2002, research calculated that about 90% of adults have either HSV1 or HSV2. Wait a minute, that is old data. Ok, you want more recent herpes research? How about a 2018 report by the CDC about herpes? It found that 60% of adults aged 40-49 had HSV1 & 20% had HSV2. Since herpes never goes away, the infection percentages only increase we age. They didn’t test adults 50-59 but its safe to assume that by the time you are in your 50s, 90% of your friends will probably have been infected by herpes.
To make it even more amazing, that 90% infection rate for herpes might be undercounted. Huh? The grossly oversimplified explanation is that if you aren’t having an active outbreak it can be harder to accurately trigger a positive test result. Remember the majority of people infected are not having an active outbreak and many people can go several years inbetween outbreaks. There is a bunch of complicated science involved so feel free to research it if you like reading science papers.
Because herpes is extremely common among adults, not life threatening, and more challenging to accurately diagnose outside of an active outbreak standard STI tests don’t include herpes. You need to specifically request that the test for HSV be added-on which almost no one does.
Just because many people have been or will be infected by herpes, doesn’t mean you want to take unnecessary risks. So how can you prevent herpes? Don’t ever have any contact with anyone for the rest of your life. Yikes, that is a bit drastic. To minimize your chances of being infected, use common sense and standard safer sex practices. Don’t share drinks or utensils. Before having sexy fun, make sure you take a good look at their mouth & genitals for signs of an active outbreak. That really shouldn’t even be necessary since you also want to stick with mature people who won’t unnecessarily risk infecting others. You want smart sex partners who choose to not have sexy time with you if they recently had an outbreak. Of course, you should also use condoms and dental dams…and switch them out whenever you switch between people (like during group sex) and regularly wash your hands after intimate contact.
If you have herpes, you can talk to your doctor about medications that can decrease the chances of spreading herpes. There are also treatments that can help reduce the length of active outbreaks. Pay attention to your signals from your body like a tingling sensation that can warn of an upcoming active outbreak. Wait till your sores are fully and completely healed before having contact with others.
Please remember that herpes can be spread when there are no signs or symptoms. It can spread via touch, spit, saliva and intimate contact.
This is a serious medical topic and you should take it seriously. Make sure to discuss it with your own medical doctor to figure out the best approach for your own personal situation. For more information check out https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/stdfact-herpes-detailed.htm