Herpes: a study in simplex

Love is fleeting,
but Herpes is forever

                        — Everybody —

Maybe it was a one-night stand, a random hook-up, something you can barely remember from a wild sex party that could have been filmed for porn, or from a long time boyfriend/partner/husband, either way, you have noticed small, pinkish blisters around your mouth, dick, butt, or anus. There might have even been some tingling sensations around that area, just before the outbreak, or even shooting pains as the bumps began to appear. Now what?

First, DON’T PANIC!  Second, this is not the time to shame yourself, feel bad, tell yourself negative things about the other person, the place, the hook-up app, or even about sex itself. This is real life, and shit happens. Contracting a sexually transmitted disease, including one as chronic as herpes, which has been around for at least 2,000 years, is not the end of the world or your sexual life. It is, unfortunately, as natural as the sex act itself. So relax and let’s talk about a more positive approach to having herpes. Let’s begin with a basic break down of what herpes is, what it is not and, for those uninfected, how to do your very best to keep from contracting it.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a virus which, until the 1970’s, was most commonly known as a “cold sore” which could appear around the mouth or other areas, such as the genitals or anus. Currently, herpes is classified as a sexually transmitted disease, even though it may be spread from mother to child during birth. Herpes is also the most common sexually transmitted disease.

There are two types, or simplexes of the genital herpes virus:

  • Herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1)
  • Herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-2)
Both types are transmitted through direct physical contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, genital and/or oral secretions, or the bumps or “ulcers” themselves. But, and this part is very important, you may still contract this virus from someone who is not exhibiting symptoms or having an active outbreak.

How do I know if I have herpes?

As stated above, most infected with herpes are without active symptoms. This means you may be infected and not even know it. Because of this, all sexually active guys, should be regularly tested by their physicians for the virus at least every three months.

When symptoms present, they usually take the form of some mild skin condition that may be thought of as a dry rash, irritation or even razor bumps. Commonly, it takes about 4 days after infection (the incubation period) for one to show physical symptoms. The overall range could be as low as 2 days and as high as 12. An “outbreak” is represented as painful ulcers that may take 2 to 4 weeks to heal without treatment.

The herpes virus reacts to each person’s body differently, as some may have no outbreaks, and others have almost debilitating ones. Herpes outbreaks may appear anywhere on the body from the lips, tongue, face, penis head/shaft, buttocks and even anus. The latter being harder to detect in others if your dude is a hairy bear. Also, herpes has a physical passport and loves to travel. You may contract genital herpes by having someone with a cold sore suck off your cock. Or sucking the dick of an infected person could give you oral herpes, so take care of yourself and be aware of the physical conditions associated with your partner’s mouth, dick, balls, butt and asshole.

After initial exposure and contraction of the herpes virus, and possible first time outbreak, recurrent outbreaks may take on a different form. The first outbreak is marked by a longer period of lesion growths, increased viral shedding, which makes transmission to others more likely, and some flu like symptoms such as fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and headaches. Recurring outbreaks are very common especially during the first year of infection. Over time, these outbreaks and symptoms will usually lesson in severity and duration.

How did I get herpes and who’s to blame?

Like most gay men infected with herpes, you contracted it from some form of sexual conduct, and this does include kissing. Sexual contact and sexual intercourse are the main modes of transmission for this virus. This includes some of our most favorite activities such as oral sex, anal sex, dick sucking, and rimming. You could have been the “the pitcher or catcher” in any of these activities. Herpes doesn’t care if you are a top or bottom.

As for whom to blame, the answer is no one. This is an illness, a virus, a sexually transmitted disease. Blame only leads to shame, of you and your past and future sexual partners. It also keeps you from keeping your head, both the little one and the big one in the game. At this point you need to stay focused and not look for the easy way out of blaming others or kicking yourself when you are down. Later on, we talk about how to protect your future partners from contracting herpes from you, but some of these lessons can be used to assist you staying free of other STDs, as many of them are contracted in the same manner.

Treatment options 

Now that we have gone over the facts. Let’s talk turkey. There is no cure or vaccine for the herpes virus, but there are some very effective medications to prevent outbreaks, lesson the duration and symptoms if you do have an episode, and decrease the likelihood of infecting other dudes. There is also a cream which may be applied to the skin to ease the pain and itch from an ulcer. Ask your doctor about the once-a-day-pill options and assess what is best for you and your future sexual partners.

Something else that you should know about the herpes virus and outbreaks is that they may be brought on by stress and anxiety, so be mindful of this, and think of possible ways to reduce your stress level including work life, friends, family and other triggers. A little yoga and meditation wouldn’t kill you either. 

How do I avoid contracting herpes?

You are not going to like this, but the absolute best way to never contract herpes, or any other sexually transmitted disease for that matter, is to practice celibacy. Having no sexual contact, including kissing, with another guy is the only way to make sure you don’t ever catch herpes.

The next best option is conversation. We will always suggest you talk to your potential partners about their sexual history and be open and honest about yours. Integrity is not only a great sign in a man, it is also super sexy!

Finally, there are condoms, which can reduce the possible risk of genital herpes infection, but they are very far from 100% effective and they provide zero protection from contact with other, non-genital parts of the body which may not be expressing an outbreak.

*NOTE: If you are infected with herpes, you can use the “buddy system” of combing medication with condoms. This one-two-punch is currently the most effective way of not transmitting the herpes virus. But again, this is not 100% effective. 

We strongly discourage dudes who are having an active herpes outbreak from engaging in sexual activities with others!

Herpes wrap up

We know that some of this information scared the living crap out of some of you, but here is the thing. Sexual contact with others will always involve some level of risk, just like entering your bathtub, walking across the street and even taking an elevator. The solution is not to live in fear or believe everyone is infected with an illness and “out to get you” rather, it is to live life out loud with full knowledge and education. After reading this piece you are now equipped to know how to best avoid contracting herpes, know that condoms provide only partial protection from genital herpes, and that if you are infected there are very effective treatment options available for you. These are all good things.

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