The fun stuff
NSW Government
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Herpes might be the most misunderstood infections around so let’s start with the facts.

  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is usually passed on by kissing, oral sex, vaginal sex or anal sex.
  • Many of us get it in childhood from being kissed by family members
  • There are two types: HSV1 and HSV2. Neither one is better or worse than the other.
  • HSV 1 causes about half of genital herpes and all most all oral herpes (cold sores)
  • HSV 2 causes about half of genital herpes and only rarely causes oral herpes (cold sores)
  • Most of the time herpes has no symptoms or mild symptoms that don’t ever get diagnosed.
  • Herpes is one of the most common STIs! At least 1 out 8 of us has HSV2 and MOST of us (7 out of 10!!) have HSV1.
  • Herpes doesn’t get worse over time, in fact if you get symptoms at all, the first time is usually the worst.
  • For people who do get uncomfortable symptoms, there are medications that can help.
  • There is no recommended test for herpes when you don’t have symptoms. It’s not part of full sexual health check-up.

What it means for your body

Herpes is usually a mild skin condition. Most people don’t even know they have it because it doesn’t cause any problems. If you don’t get symptoms, you don’t need treatment.

Of course if you do get sores on the mouth, genitals or bum it can be uncomfortable. Herpes sores will usually heal within about a week on their own. Some people will notice these symptoms a few times a year, other people won’t get symptoms again until many years later.

If your symptoms are painful, ask your doctor for a prescription for antiviral medication. This will help them heal faster. Anti-viral medication only works if you take it right when symptoms first start to appearso don’t wait. If you get symptoms frequently (6 times a year or more) then the medication works better if you take it every day.

What it means for your sex life

Yes, you can still have a happy and healthy sex life after being diagnosed with herpes!  The stigma about herpes is mostly due to bad information. There is no more reason to be ashamed of having herpes than having the flu. They’re simply viruses we get from normal human contact with other people. People diagnosed with herpes are often really worried about passing it on to a sexual partner. Being confident about how herpes is — and how it isn’t — passed on can relieve some of that stress.

Herpes is super common. Luckily having herpes is more likely to be an annoyance than a serious illness. Feeling ashamed about herpes can have a huge impact though. If you’re still struggling with a diagnosis, there is help: start a discussion with other young people on the Play Safe Forum, call the Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 to speak with specialist nurse or make an appointment with a counsellor for support.

Also check out:

Herpes Part 2: How to avoid passing it on
Herpes Part 3: How to talk about it with a partner