You might think you know everything about protecting yourself from herpes, but with two out of three people carrying the virus, clearly most of us don’t really know everything after all. We spoke with Dr Raquel Dardik, a professor of gynaecology at NYU Langone’s Joan H Tisch Center for Women’s Health, and Dr Maria Sophocles, a gynaecologist and the medical director of Women’s Healthcare of Princeton, to find out what’s what.
1 THE MYTH If you have herpes, you’ll definitely know you have it.
THE TRUTH Dardik says a lot of people have been infected with herpes but have no idea, since often it’s inside the vagina or the symptoms are so mild you don’t even recognise them as problematic. Getting tested regularly is a good idea.
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2 THE MYTH You can’t get herpes if you use a condom.
THE TRUTH Even though condoms decrease the risk of getting an STI, they’re not nearly as effective for viruses (such as herpes) as they are for bacteria (which is the cause of many other STIs). Sophocles says consistent condom wearers have an estimated 30 to 40% lower chance of contracting herpes than non-condom wearers if the condom doesn’t break, so you should still use condoms even though they’re not 100% effective against herpes.
3 THE MYTH If someone has herpes, they’re definitely contagious.
THE TRUTH People with herpes are mostly contagious when they have active lesions, Dardik says, but they can sometimes also be contagious even when they have no visible symptoms. In a way, they’re not contagious all the time – but there’s no hard rule as to when they are and are not contagious either.
4 THE MYTH If you find out your partner has herpes and you don’t, that must mean he cheated on you.
THE TRUTH According to Dardik, the herpes virus lies dormant in your body once you have had the initial infection – so just because he gave it to you now doesn’t necessarily mean he cheated on you. He could have been infected years before and just not known it.
5 THE MYTH If you have herpes, you can’t have children.
THE TRUTH Getting herpes does not affect your ability to get pregnant. That said, according to Sophocles, if you have the herpes virus before you get pregnant, there is a low chance of passing the virus to your unborn child. A 2003 study published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association found that if a mother contracts the herpes virus towards the end of the pregnancy and it is present in the genital tract, there is a larger possibility that her baby could be infected.
6 THE MYTH If you have a cold sore, you must have herpes on your genitals too.
THE TRUTH Sophocles says the herpes virus is isolated to specific parts of the body, so being exposed to or having oral herpes doesn’t mean the virus is also on your genitals. It won’t travel to other parts of your body, so if you have it on your mouth, that’s where it’ll stay.
7 THE MYTH Once you have herpes, you’ll have sores forever.
THE TRUTH Yes and no: you’ll always have the virus but you won’t always have an active infection (aka visible sores).
8 THE MYTH Only promiscuous people get herpes.
THE TRUTH If you’ve ever been sexually active at all, you’re at risk for any STI because it only takes one partner to pass the virus on to you, Dardik says. Obviously, the more partners you have and the more unprotected sex you have, the greater your risk of contracting herpes – but that’s true for any STI.
9 THE MYTH If you have herpes, you can never have sex again without infecting someone.
THE TRUTH Once you’ve had a conversation with your partner about your sexual history and whether or not he has ever been infected with herpes, Sophocles says there are ways of decreasing (though not totally eliminating) the risk of transmission. Using a condom will help lessen the risk but will not eliminate it completely. Mutual masturbation is another way to be intimate with your partner and provides a smaller risk – as long as there aren’t any cuts on his hands in contact with your sores.
This article was originally published on Cosmopolitan.com