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Cold Sore Paradox Exposes Absurdity of Herpes Stigma – by Anne (guest blogger)

The drop in the number of people who have caught a cold sore in childhood has led to an increase in genital herpes type 1 (and an increase in symptomatic – noticeable – cases of type 2 as well). Yet while few would view a cold sore on the lips as a problem, the exact same sore on the genitals is perceived as distressing by some. This inconsistency makes no sense. And it shines a spotlight on how ridiculous it is to spend even a moment’s thought on herpes simplex, wherever it may be.

When my first boyfriend’s cold sore on his lips was passed onto my genitals, it was definitely not the way I had imagined my first month of sexual activity to turn out. Nevertheless, I soon decided it didn’t make any sense to care about this. Even the shocking amount of disinformation and unhelpful pieces of advice I found on the internet did not change my mind. Amid all the nonsense, I also found some important bits of information that helped me dismiss the idea that I should think about this in any other way thank the way that my boyfriend thinks about the type 1 herpes on his face. Frankly, one wouldn’t think one would need an argument for that. However, remembering how desperate I was to find some lines on the obvious truth that this does not matter, let me explain anyway, for anyone needing confirmation of this self-evidence.

Firstly, the majority of people have herpes simplex, type 1. This means that they already have immunity against this virus and cannot get it on their genitals. If you have genital herpes type 1, there is a good chance your partner is immune to catching it.

Secondly, even if your partner does not yet have type 1, it makes no sense fretting over the site of your type 1. The majority of people could give someone genital herpes. If anything, they are even more likely to do so. Herpes type 1 does not like the genital region and is less likely to recur there, than when it is on the lips. Asymptomatic shedding is also lower than when on the lips, and is rare after the first year. Assuming that people have oral as well as vaginal sex, people with cold sores are more likely to give someone genital herpes type 1 than the people who know they have it on their genitals.

Knowing this, I have never felt the need to share the fact I have this wildly common virus with anyone. Doing so would have been absurd. No one ‘discloses’ that they get facial cold sores. It has not affected my relationships, or my sex life. That is not to say that you shouldn’t talk about it with a significant other if you feel like it  – but it is nonsensical to feel like you should.

As you can see, worrying about HSV-1 transmission is senseless. Beyond that, it begs the question why some people are so focused on whether or not a virus will be caught on one site rather than the other. The obsession with not getting cold sores on your genitals while being fine with them on your face is strange. Cold sores are a minor skin irritation, and I’m not sure why anyone would prefer them in one place rather than the other. The herpes stigma is ridiculous. It’s time to debunk it.