Why it’s important to normalise genital herpes

It’s a common STI, but it’s definitely one that carries a lot of stigma. This National Herpes Awareness Day, we think it’s time to dispel that stigma.

If any sexually transmitted infection is the butt of most jokes, genital herpes would be high up on the list. It can lead to a lot of embarrassment and a lot of misunderstanding from those that live with the virus—it can also have detrimental impacts on people’s sex lives, dating, and relationships.

The stigma can be so great that a newly diagnosed person can feel dirty or cause immense anxiety when it comes to sex and relationships. It’s unfortunate because it’s a lot more common than you might think. Around 16 percent of Australians between the age of 16-49 have herpes and affects at least 417 million people around the world.

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“That’s a fairly large number, which is why it’s so important we create awareness and acceptance around HSV-2. Without this awareness, those affected are less likely to receive the correct treatment or support from friends and family during what can be a very alienating health experience,” says Youly and Stagger managing director and founder, Nic Blair.

This National Herpes Awareness Day, we’re trying to break down the taboo and have honest conversations about a very treatable virus. Because, strangely, cold sores carry almost no stigma.

“There has been so much negative commentary around herpes throughout history leading many people to believe the virus is life-ruining. While it can change the way people live their life, many Australians don’t realise how manageable HSV-2 actually is,” Blair says.

“For many, the challenge of overcoming herpes can be difficult to navigate both mentally, but also physically within sexual relationships, dating and even between loved ones due to the common misconceptions.”

Herpes, or HSV-2, is very similar to the virus that causes cold sores (HSV-1), but they’re different subtypes. HSV-2, while commonly sexually transmitted, it can also be caused by touching a cold sore and transferring the virus cells to the genitals. If you have a cold sore, make sure you’re not touching it and if you do, wash your hands with water and soap immediately.

You cannot, as a common myth may have you believe, get it from toilet seats or surfaces. It is possible to have genital herpes without knowing it, as the virus can remain dormant in the body for months, even years before ever exhibiting symptoms. Treatment can either entail a daily anti-viral to suppress the virus, otherwise known as suppressive treatment, or medication whenever symptoms flair up, otherwise known as intermittent treatment.

The number of outbreaks annually varies from person to person, so your doctor will prescribe a plan tailored to you.

“When developing our digital health services, Stagger (for men) and Youly (for women) it was important our platforms offered Australians treatment for both HSV-1 and HSV-2,” explains Blair.

“The big idea around these platforms is to provide accessible, convenient and discrete ways for men and women to access medication and treatments, particularly for those who may feel uncomfortable sourcing this in person from a doctor or pharmacist.”

He adds: “Show some kindness and empathy, it’s likely someone you know may have HSV-2 – don’t feed into the stigma, be the cause for change.”

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