Herpes can be a sore subject for many, but we’re sure that you’re itching to get the facts about it. Especially considering that 1 in 4 gay/bi men are known to have genital herpes, it’s important to know what it is, how to avoid it, and what you can do about it...

Herpes refers to a class of viruses causing ailments like chicken pox, shingles, “mono” and cytomegalovirus. Say the word “herpes,” though, and most people think of the blisters that appear on mouth, nose and genitals following infection with two of the most common herpes viruses: Simplex I and Simplex II.

One in four men are infected with herpes Simplex II, with approximately 20% of those infected reporting symptoms. The overwhelming majority did not know they had the virus. Much of what we’ve ever known about herpes has been changed in recent years. There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medications available to help reduce the length and severity of your outbreaks. Talk to your doctor about this option, or visit the STD clinic for some free advice.

How do you avoid it?
It is very difficult to avoid herpes. 90% of those who have been exposed to genital herpes do not ever have a recurrence or know that they are infected because the symptoms may be unnoticeable. Plus, herpes can be transmitted even if no sore is present. Here are some tips for helping to prevent transmission and to reduce your risk of getting herpes:

  • People with genital herpes who are on anti-Herpes medication reduce their ability to transmit to others by 60%
  • Condoms help prevent transmission because it is covering up part of your genital skin. It is estimated that condoms reduce risk by about 50%
  • People are most contagious during outbreaks (however, transmission is possible even without an outbreak), so abstaining from genital-to-genital contact while an outbreak is present will also reduce risk
  • During outbreak periods, you and your partner must use condoms for anal and oral sex any time you have active herpes lesions. Even this is not 100% effective since sores don’t usually limit themselves to your penis or ass

If you have herpes you are most contagious at the beginning of an outbreak. That means that if you’re feeling symptoms of an approaching outbreak – itching, tingling around the site of infection, a flu-like malaise – you shouldn’t have sex. Remember, just because you may not have any visible sores, it is still possible to transmit herpes.

It is also very difficult to identify who has viral shedding and where they are most contagious. 98% of those with genital herpes will have the infection somewhere between their waist and their thighs....but unless they have sore they cannot tell which part of their skin may shed the virus. Symptoms of herpes infection usually first appear anywhere from 2 to 20 days after exposure to the virus, although people can carry and transmit the virus for years without knowing that they are infected.

During the initial outbreak, a few days (or even hours) before any lesions appear; you may feel an itching or tingling sensation around your penis and/or ass, with or without swollen glands. Painful sores then tend to erupt in clusters, usually around the head of the shaft of the penis, but can also appear on the area between the balls and ass, anus, or inside the rectum. They flare up in the throat in about 20% of people suffering from herpes. Touching the lesion can cause the infection to spread to your hands and thighs, and even to your eyes. You might also experience fever, muscle, aches, and other flu-like symptoms.

These lesions may persist anywhere from 2 days to 7 weeks. Usually the pain increases over the first 6 to 7 days, reaching a peak between days 7 and 11. The first blisters start to dry up and scab over in about 4 to 15 days; new lesions, forming between days 4 and 10, appear more than 75 percent of the time.

Subsequent outbreaks are usually much less severe than the primary infection, becoming less frequent over time. Some symptoms never recur, and again, the vast majority of Herpes Simplex-I and Herpes Simplex-II carriers never have sores that they notice.

Testing and treatment?
The only way to test is to have a blood test. Three doctor prescribed antiviral medications - acyclovir, famciclovir and valacyclovir - are currently available to lessen the severity and length of the outbreak and to prevent new lesions from forming, but cannot cure a herpes infection. Taking daily treatments reduces your ability to transmit herpes by 60% and might reduce the chances of getting HIV. You can get tested by a doctor or at the STD clinic.

There are some things you can do on your own to alleviate pain and itching. First of all, avoid over-the-counter anti-itch medications; most contain hydrocortisone, which interferes with healing. Take acetaminophen or aspirin for general pain. Sores will heal faster if you take warm baths with baking soda three to five times a day and keep them clean and dry be wearing loose-fitting cotton boxers, or no underwear at all. You might try a blow dryer (on the lowest setting) on your sores after you get out of the tub to make sure they're fully dry, and sprinkle a little cornstarch or baking soda on them to keep moisture away.

HIV connection?

  • If you're HIV negative and have herpes, you may be at five times greater risk of contracting HIV, even if you're not having an outbreak.
  • If you're HIV positive, symptoms can be more severe and outbreaks more frequent, especially in the advance stages of HIV infection. Problems can occur when recurring sores last more than a month, and with herpes-associated inflammation of the eyes (herpetic keratitis). Check with your medical provider about the benefits of antiviral drugs that may prevent and treat herpes outbreak
  • .If you are HIV positive, the HIV virus is highly concentrated in the genital area and may make it easier for you to transmit HIV to your sexual partners, with or without a visible herpes outbreak (herpes and HIV have a biological relationship that may be independent of outbreaks).

Blister in the Sun

I think I first noticed the tingling sensation about three days before it happened. I just figured my cockhead was a little sensitive - perhaps from too much jerking off or something. But then it started to itch. I thought I'd wait a couple of days to see if it passed. Then I got really sick.

It could've been the flu, it felt just like any other time I've been sick. I felt feverish, slightly nauseous, queasy, and tired. I took a few days off of work until I felt better - and that's when I noticed the sores. It fucking hurt like hell, all around my penis there were itchy little blisters. I pretty much freaked out. Not entirely sure what was wrong with me, I went to the doctor and found out I had genital herpes.

I have a good doctor, and I've always been open with him about my sex life. I get tested on a regular basis, and a few years ago he treated me for chlamydia. But I was still embarrassed. Chlamydia didn't seem like such a big deal, but this was different. He told me that now that I had herpes, I would have them for the rest of my life because there was no cure. I wouldn't always have the sores, but they would flare up on occasion whenever I had an outbreak (which could be anywhere from several times a year to once a year) and always in the same place. He said that herpes enter your body at the nerve endings where the infection occurs. Then the virus travels down that nerve to the other end in your spine, and that's where it lives. Every once in awhile, especially during stressful times, they'll flare up and go back up that nerve to the skin and bam! - more blisters.

I felt terrible - I couldn't imagine having to go through this shit over and over again. My doc recommended I also get tested again for HIV and other STDs, as having herpes makes it easier for you to catch other stuff. I was wracking my brain, trying to figure out where (or I should say who) I could've got it from. It had been a couple of weeks, maybe even months, since I had sex with anyone. There was one guy I hooked up with off of the internet, but we just swapped blowjobs and jerked each other off. I hadn't fucked anyone in a long time, and I'm always safe.

My doc said that there are two kinds of herpes - simplex 1 and simplex 2. Simplex 1 usually affects the mouth and 2 effects the genital area. They can be spread from just coming into contact with an infected area, whether there are blisters there or not. Because it's transmitted from skin-to-skin contact, and not cum, condoms will protect the area they cover but not around it. About 50% of gay men have herpes. He also said that you can have herpes for a long time without ever getting an outbreak, so I guess who knows who I actually got it from or when it happened. The point is that it did and now I know.

While there is no cure for herpes, you can treat it. He prescribed an antiviral medication called Acyclovir. He said I can take it when I feel an outbreak coming on (when the tingling sensation starts up again) to make it less severe, or I can take it daily to lessen the possibility that I will have outbreaks, although this is still experimental and only used on folks with HSV-2, not oral herpes. This made me feel a little bit better as I was suddenly wondering whether I would ever be able to have sex again. The last thing I want is to give herpes to somebody else, but the realization slowly sank in that this is something I'm going to have to tell every potential sex partner about. Not fun. I realized I should probably tell past sex partners about it. Even more not fun.

So, that's my story. I'm living with herpes. I take the medication. I'm still able to have sex, but I have been rejected by people because of it. It sucks, but at least I'm being honest. I've had no problem dating or fucking around (still using condoms) with other people that have herpes, so that's good.