Did you know? More than 50% of US adults have herpes!
Most of them have oral herpes (cold sores), which is usually caused by the HSV-1 strain of herpes. Exact numbers aren’t known but it’s estimated that between 50-80% of US adults have oral herpes. In other words, this infection is SUPER common.
11% of adults have genital herpes, usually caused by HSV-2. Herpes is often asymptomatic, so people often don’t realize they have it. What many people don’t know is that herpes is not included in a standard STI screen; you have to ask for it specifically if you want to be tested. According to the CDC, this is for a few reasons:
1️⃣ Studies have shown that diagnosing someone with herpes doesn’t change their sexual behavior or reduce spread of the virus. (in other words - testing doesn’t seem to really make a difference, so why use resources and risk scaring people?)
2️⃣ The test can give a false positive result - meaning it says you have the virus when you actually don’t.
3️⃣ Diagnosing more people with herpes could result in more people feeling shame and stigma (although this isn’t the fault of the test; this is a cultural problem).
In other words, the costs of screening everyone actually seem to outweigh the benefits, which is why the CDC doesn’t recommend testing everyone at this time. The CDC DOES recommend that you be tested if you show symptoms of herpes, if you’ve had sex with someone else who has herpes, or if you want a full STI test panel (which is recommended if you have multiple sex partners).
In my ideal world we’d have an accurate test, everyone could be screened, no one would feel bad because STIS ARE NORMAL!! And we’d all go on to have open and honest conversations about our test status. There are options to try and prevent infection, such as barrier methods, choosing to engage in alternative sexual acts when an outbreak is happening, and antiviral medication. In other words, it’s 2020 and we have plenty of ways to have sex with herpes. The time for shame and stigma is over!
The most important thing we can do is communicate, educate ourselves, and be kind. Talk to your partner and see what will work for the two of you.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and stay updated on our best sexual well-being articles, podcasts, workshops, and more.