Patrick Macaskill-Webb explores one of the most common viruses we interact with throughout our sexual experiences, debunking your primary concerns. Is there a way to stop getting cold sores? Short answer: no.
I was once told by a sexual health specialist that I was likely first exposed to herpes by an aunt, giving me a hug and a kiss as a child. Yup, thanks Doc, that’s suuuuper reassuring… By now, the body has already figured out a response to Herpes Simplex Viruses 1 or HSV2 – both of these kinds can cause genital herpes. The mouth kind (otherwise known as cold sores) and the STI share the two strains of the virus. I guess, like my childhood self, you don’t find it very reassuring to hear that you have probably been exposed to herpes already. And you’d probably find it even less reassuring to have your aunt brought up in conversation during a sexual health check-up. Anyway, despite knowing full-well that insisting on a test for this virus (with no symptoms and consistently getting negative results) is an exceptionally poor use of public health resources, I get the test anyway. Am I right to be worried about herpes?
Well, I think there’s a whole lot to worry about: did you know that when infected the virus stays with you forever? Did you know that if you first experience symptoms, you will get very itchy, and very painful sores? I don’t even deal with minor itches well, my self-control for “very itchy” would be absolutely non-existent! Also, much like COVID, there is currently no cure or vaccine available for herpes. We’re left to deal with the annoying and painful symptoms, engaging in a lot of guesswork to find any relief. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities between COVID and herpes end, as herpes is manageable and definitely not life-threatening.
Herpes is so widespread (1 in 3 people have the virus) because it is actually tolerated well by people. Herpes is generally only a minor inconvenience if it ever arises at all. Also, and quite hilariously, the virus is literally vulnerable to room temperature. How pathetic. A lack of moisture also kills the herpes virus. Ironically, immunity to herpes has been investigated in excruciatingly dry detail but hasn’t amounted to any actual cure. For some it’s suggested, as a treatment, to avoid certain foods and drinks, such as coffee, chocolate, nuts, and red wine, as they can contribute to flare-ups. I get it though; avoiding coffee AND chocolate is a pretty big cost.
You should be pleased to know that, if you are involving yourself in a very active ‘fucc boi’ lifestyle, and have never picked up symptoms of herpes, it could be because you have a body which can activate an antiviral state through many corroborating genes. It’s likely there’s no antibody genetic lottery that decides your herpes infection fate. Rather, a synergy of innate and adaptive immune processes are working in the process of herpes elimination, and these immune cells weirdly share some of the same protein signals. It’s not enough for just the body’s spontaneous & creative immune cells or the hard-working & persistent immune cells to be in action. The job requires both for infection prevention.
If you do have herpes, then it is not often that it will cause any real harm to you. The guidelines put out by the New Zealand Herpes Foundation actually say: “genital herpes does not stop you having sex.” The guidelines also say “It is advisable to avoid sexual contact when lesions are present…” And so we should simply conclude that there is nothing to worry about if there’s nothing noticeable happening to your body! Check ya bits for bumps and sores, use protection and get to shagging. Herpes is just a part of adult life that is uncomfortable, but not worth any incessant worry. Get all the other tests and checks for free if you are sexually active at Greenlane Clinical Centre, or your GP upon their recommendation. Then enjoy your bodies (and other people’s bodies) for the miraculous and mysterious things they are, made up of the human, bacterial, viral, and other random pieces!