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.