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I will not admit to having herpes just to win an argument in a bar, but my coworker was spreading total fallacy and had to be stopped.

"You can't get it just because someone has a cold sore and they go down on you. Oral and genital herpes are different." Jeff said with that relaxed, confident air common to men under the age of twenty-four, and irritating to women over twenty-seven.

"That is so not true!" I protested, feeling a sudden panic.

Jeff looked at me through his new-media glasses and cocked his elfin face at a stubborn angle. The others in our happy-hour gang waited with interest, and sipped their drinks.

"How do you know?" He wasn't being overly confrontational. As web programmers, this was how we debated everything from cab routes to php code.


Because that's exactly how my ex-boyfriend gave me herpes! He was your age, and as otherwise clever as you are! I couldn't say this out loud, of course. Instead, I applied a poker face.

"Dude," I pronounced, "My stepdad was a gynecologist. I grew up reading his medical journals, like The Female Patient." This was not a lie, but I really only learned most of what I know because I had to learn firsthand.

Like an Encyclopedia Herpetica, I went on, unwilling to be vague. "There is herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2, but you can absolutely get one from the other. The main difference is just where it lives in the body, the same as crabs are just lice in your pubic hair." Talking fast, trying to push down the passion that might have made me sound defensive, I wanted to sound matter-of-fact, because I knew these were facts.

My posse of programmer boys listened. To my relief, one replied, "Wow, I didn't know that."

My clitoris became painfully raw. Spots developed, the sores you hear about, the image you dread to Google.

I'm a member of a silent army, one the National Herpes Resource Center estimates to include at least 80 percent of the population. Scared of telling people, and afraid of transmitting the virus, we often live in a state of denial. However, the things we fear can be addressed and prevented not just with all there is to learn, but with how we can learn to be.

Most people don't have a practical understanding of how herpes is spread. It doesn't have to look like anything, and it's commonly transmitted when it's "silent." Many people consider oral sex to be a safer, less intimate activity than intercourse, according to a recent comprehensive study by the National Center for Health Statistics. But oral herpes — simplex virus Type 1 (HSV-1) — is carried by more than 70 percent of people worldwide.

For the record: a cold sore is herpes simplex one. Kissing with a cold sore, or performing oral sex when you have one, can pass the virus to either mouth or genitals, where it lives happily ever after as HSV-1 and/or HSV-2, respectively.



Commentarium (49 Comments)

Mar 27 07 - 2:55am

Great article - people don't talk nearly enough about living with STIs and dealing with the stigma. However, for the HPV vaccine, the original price is $120 per shot, and most places, in my experience, offer it for somewhere between $120 and $180 per shot; the whole series ends up costing $400-$600 rather than the $1500 your article cites (at $500 for three shots). Still quite expensive, especially since cervical cancer mainly kills in populations where pap smears aren't readily available - meaning those who most need it aren't going to get it. But, at least less than $500 a shot : )

Mar 27 07 - 9:57am

The strains of HPV that cause warts are generally distinct from those which are linked to cervical cancer. Check out number 4 in this link

Mar 27 07 - 7:30pm

I didn't know that once the virus is located on your genitals, it's automatically type II. It was my understanding when my doc gave me the news that you can get BOTH type I and II on BOTH places - orally and genitally. They are two separate virus, no? In fact he said they that they are seeing more and more type I cases on genitals because (naturally) of the increase in population and frequency of sex. Just like there are about 200 strains of HPV, each one being different and only a mere 2% cause warts.

I've only had visible symptoms for almost two years. I take valtrex everyday because even though I only get one teeny tiny little blister on my parineum and it's only happened two or three times, I will feel more prepared when I am in the position to have to tell somebody. Stigma's a bitch. I try so hard to not feel it but I do.

Mar 27 07 - 8:36pm

Thanks for writing about both diseases. I have had both for over twenty five years. I did not stop living nor did I stop loving. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a woman who has loved me with all my flaws.

Mar 27 07 - 11:12pm

As someone who has been going through treatment for HPV for the past year, I understand completely.

I've tried to do the *right* thing and educate potential partners about HPV but they have all shied away from me, unwilling to take the chance. SO - I decided to live life as usual. Afterall, I got this from a guy that probably did not even know he had HPV and was asymptomatic.

We all take risks in life and when you live on the edge (or not) it's a huge factor.

Mar 27 07 - 11:19pm

Beautifully written, wonderful story. Thank you for writing it--I can't imagine writing about my experiences like this.

Mar 27 07 - 11:20pm

ELP, you're right-- they're two separate strains of the virus. They aren't location specific. So if a partner has type 1 (the one that usually presents as cold sores) and goes down on you, it would be type 1 that you get genitally.

I'm glad that Nerve posted this essay-- it's too bad that more people's stories aren't out there. Maybe it would help eliminate the undeserved stigma surrounding STDs.

Mar 28 07 - 7:00pm

thank you for writing this lovely and thoroughly informative essay on such a complicated personal and public health issue. my best friend was diagnosed with precancercous cells around her vulva before she even had an inkling she contracted HPV. i have had others female friends exhibit very cavalier attitudes and sexual relations despite being in the health field professionally. for my sister, now a doctor, telling our parents there was a possibility she had not only contracted HPV but had precancerous cells indicated by an abnormal Pap Smear- almost gave her a nervous breakdown. as an HIV Test Counselor in New York i reminded myself never to have sex again. and the next time i had sex- i didn't use a condom. i just "trusted" him even though he was a complete and total liar. nothing has shown up but there is always a yet and i feel like a big idiot. it is so difficult to navigate between trust and resposibility, to yourself and to others, when it comes to attraction and intimacy. being informed is everyone's responsibility but diseases are NO ONE'S choice or fault. it is great that they have developed a vaccine for a deadly virus that inhabits 80% of the adult population, but it is being promoted like a chastity belt rather than provided to the target population that could really benefit from it now. children should be protected but we have to be adults about our own mortality. it's a crying shame.

Mar 28 07 - 10:42pm

Thank you for writing this. Well-written and brave.

Mar 29 07 - 5:39pm

I wanted to make a quick correction: HSV-1 and HSV-2 are two different (though related) viruses. Each can infect both oral and genital mucosa, though
HSV-1 tends to infect the mouth and HSV-2 tends to infect the genitals which has led to the misconception of HSV-1 as oral and HSV-2 as genital herpes.

Mar 30 07 - 9:07pm

Lovely article on a taboo subject. That careless boyfriend with cold sores must really get around. Not that we don't appreciate the cunnilingus, but we would probably would have appreciated the disease control even more. I also forced myself to be honest with potential partners. AWKWARD! But I would have hated myself, otherwise. In the end, it probably cut down on random hookups. What it didn't do is prevent me from finding the love of my life. My sweet, loving husband didn't let a virus, a borderline lifeform, stand in the way of our beautiful life together. A pox on that valtrex commerical.

Apr 02 07 - 9:43am

That was great. You took a taboo topic and made it informative and funny. Very brave. Bravo! I wish you well.

Apr 03 07 - 8:35pm


Speaking as someone published in herpes virology, HSV1 does not magically transform into HSV2 if your genitals are infected. It's still HSV1.

The main difference between the two viruses is the HSV1 is temperature sensitive (that is to say, it does not replicate as well when it's too hot), whereas HSV2 is not temperature sensitive. Makes sense, doesn't it? It's warmer down there.

There you go.

Apr 11 07 - 6:54pm

I'm not an expert on STDs, but I am a medical student who's had a few friends come to me with STD-related questions and done some reading. Thought you might be interested in some of the random stuff I remember.

The HPV vaccine protects against _only_ the four type of HPV (there are around 100 described, maybe more by now) that cause most cases of cervical cancer; these four types (and most other types of HPV) do not cause genital warts. The types of HPV that cause genital warts (mainly 6 and 11) are a very uncommon cause of cervical cancer. (As is the type of HPV which causes plantar warts, which I picked up from showering barefoot in my gym). Although you might want to check this out to make sure, I'd guess it's very unlikely you'll develop cancer due to sex with your partner. (In addition, just did a quick search and it looks like most people who get infected with HPV 6 or 11 don't actually develop lesions!)

Also, your desciption of HSV-1 and 2 is close to correct, but a little different from what I remember (although you may be more informed than I am). From what I remember, HSV-1 and HSV-2 are two different viruses (at the DNA level). HSV-1 tends to give less frequent, less severe outbreaks; HSV-2 outbreaks tend to be more frequent and more severe. HSV-1 is commonly thought of as oral herpes simplex because most cases of oral herpes--but not all--are due to HSV-1; ditto for HSV-2 and genital herpes. I vaguely recall reading something about how the general increase in oral sex in the last several decades has lead to a 'blurring' of these categories, so plenty of genital herpes is actually caused by HSV-1. (Not sure if HSV-2 is causing more oral herpes--I kinda doubt it, since I suspect most people get oral herpes when very young, from kissing their mom (how I likely got it) or another infected relative). People with HSV-1 genital herpes tend to have fewer and less severe outbreaks. At least, that's been the experience of a couple (female) friends who caught herpes from oral sex. Not sure whether having HSV-1 in one location protects you from getting HSV-2 at that same location (or other locations) and vice versa.

Sorry for going on like this, but I really enjoyed reading your article, and just wanted to share some of the stuff I'd picked up along the way :-)

Apr 15 07 - 12:08pm

As someone who has both HPV and Herpes, I am incredibly grateful for your bravery and eloquence in sharing your story. It's touching and inspiring. Thank you.

Jul 25 07 - 1:33am

Thank you so much for this article. I just finished my first year in college and recently contracted herpes from my boyfriend. I'm still a little scared, especially of having to tell new partners in the future, but reading your article made me feel much better. It's so good to know I'm not alone.

Sep 02 08 - 2:46am

Thank you for sharing your story. I am still struggling to come to terms with the fact that I have it. It

Oct 01 10 - 4:43pm

Your writing is simple great, Especially for beginners!

Nov 08 10 - 5:54am
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Feb 09 11 - 8:36am
Serial Paula

Hm. im out right now.

Feb 18 11 - 10:58am

Whay are you don't write about politic?

Feb 18 11 - 12:14pm
Crack Caitlin

Whay are you don't publish actual news?

Sep 01 11 - 2:53pm
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