The Young & The Condomless: Is Herpes The New HPV?

We scored a nice little quote in Page Six Magazine’s story on “Generation Unsafe Sex”, but some of the other people interviewed left us with the question above. A half dozen or so NYC singles, as well as a Jezebel blogger and a sex educator, were interviewed about the topic of safe sex (and the fact that more and more people are not having it) — this quote, in particular, stuck out:

“Once STDs and death seemed synonymous. Today, the accepted reality is that the STDs one is likely to contract through unprotected sex are more mundane, which is underscored by the fact that so many of them are cured using the same antibiotics you’d use for a sinus infection.”

It’s true, the drugs that are prescribed for STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea work quickly and effectively, making those STDs more gross than life threatening — though an untreated case of the former could result in infertility. But what about herpes? Is the gift that keeps on giving considered totally yawn-worthy in this day and age? A coworker was just telling me today that a friend of hers has the herps, but has been outbreak-free for 10 years, thanks to Valtrex — this woman’s gynecologist actually told her that she didn’t even need to tell her sexual partners that she had herpes, since infecting another person when there isn’t an outbreak is very unlikely. This shocked me. When did an STD go from being easy-to-treat to “You don’t even need to tell your sexual partners”? Like HPV, is contracting herpes becoming no big whoop?

HPV is one of the STIs that’s lost its negative stigma in recent years, in part because it’s very hard to avoid getting — condoms don’t provide much protection — and it’s almost an accepted reality that you’ll get HPV at some time in your life. I always took HPV seriously because I had it. Before it finally banished itself from my body, I had to deal with gyno appointment after gyno appointment, and had my cervix scraped more times than I care to count. While HPV is a totally manageable sexually transmitted infection – via regular pap smears and procedures to remove abnormal pre-cancerous cells — it was a pain in the ass to have. Who likes going to the gynecologist more than once a year? I don’t, and not just because my gyno, for whatever reason, always gives me the rectal check.

In a way, all the yawning about herpes as an STD does demonstrate a positive step in removing the shameful stigma associated with it — as we’ve written before, just because you’ve got herpes, doesn’t mean you’re destined for a life of celibacy. Likewise, if your one-and-only happens to have a case of the herps, that should hardly be a dealbreaker. Herpes is incredibly manageable and many people go decades without an outbreak. But just because herpes isn’t a death sentence — or even that insanely dangerous to your health, if managed properly — doesn’t mean care shouldn’t be taken to avoid getting it. Wear a condom.