questions? Want the facts?
Herpes Myths vs. Facts
1. Now that I have genital herpes, I should never have sex again.
Fact: You can still have sex if you have genital herpes.
(Please do!) It is, however, important to avoid sexual contact if you
have any symptoms, or oral or genital sores. Also, due to asymptomatic
viral shedding (you don't have any signs or symptoms but the virus is
present on the skin), you could still be contagious even though sores
are not present. You should always use safer sex barriers
even when you are asymptomatic. It is important to note, too, that the
virus can be transmitted orally, to the genitals, during oral sex. Recently,
Valtrex (an antiviral drug used to treat herpes) was found to help reduce
the risk of transmission. Learn more about Valtrex here.
See our safer sex page for other ways to
2. The only people who get genital herpes are those who are
Fact: Genital herpes is very common. It is estimated
that upwards of 50 –80% of the population in North America has
herpes, either type 1 or type 2. Many of these people don’t realize
they do as a herpes test is not often a part of regular STD screening.
You can get genital herpes even if you've had only one or two sexual
partners. The truth of the matter is we often have unsafe sex with those
we love, and therefore place ourselves at risk of getting herpes from
our partners. Anytime that you engage in unsafe sex practices with anyone
you increase your risk for all STDs.
3. Cold sores aren’t associated with genital herpes.
Fact: Cold sores are caused by herpes simplex virus
type 1. If you have oral-genital sex with someone who has a cold sore,
this virus can give you genital herpes. The likelihood of this is particularly
high during a primary outbreak. Washing with soap and water after a
sexual encounter can help decrease the risk of this type of transmission.
Also, barriers such as dental
dams can be used during oral sex to help protect against herpes
and other STDs. Please see our safer sex
page for more on this topic.
4. Genital herpes can spread from one part of your body to another.
Fact: You can potentially spread the virus by touching
a genital herpes sore and then another part of your body, which is called
autoinoculation. This is particularly true during a primary initial outbreak
(the first outbreak of genital herpes in people who have never been
exposed to the herpes virus before). In general, autoinoculation is
very uncommon after the primary initial outbreak, because your immune
system has been established against herpes simplex. If possible, avoid
contact with the sores. Practice normal hygienic precautions, i.e. wash
your hands with soap after touching your genitals, going to the washroom,
5. You can contract genital herpes from toilet seats.
Fact: The genital herpes virus dries out when it is
exposed to air, and is quite fragile. There have been no proven cases
of genital herpes transmission from a toilet seat.
6. I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t have herpes.
Fact: Many people do not experience any symptoms when
having an outbreak or they are so mild that they go unnoticed. This
is why 50-80% of people who have herpes don’t even realize they
carry the virus and unknowingly infect others. Misdiagnosis is also
common; herpes can be mistaken for razor rash, zipper burn, pimples,
bug bites and recurrent yeast infections.
7. Stress can trigger an outbreak of herpes.
Fact: It is believed that physical and emotional stress can
trigger an outbreak of genital herpes in some people. Stress can compromise
your immune system. Getting adequate rest, exercising regularly and eating well are all great ways to reduce stress and strengthen your immune
8. If you have genital herpes, you may be more susceptible to HIV.
Fact: People who have genital herpes may be more likely
to acquire HIV than those who don't have genital herpes. If you are
exposed to HIV during sexual contact and have genital sores, HIV can
find easy entry into your body. During an outbreak of genital herpes,
CD4 cells, which fight against the herpes infection, are found at the
base of the herpes lesion. These cells are the main cells attacked by
HIV. Herpes lesions also provide easier access for transmission of all
9. Genital herpes can make me sterile.
Fact: Genital herpes cannot make you sterile. However,
chlamydia and some other sexually transmitted diseases can cause sterility,
especially if they go untreated. It is a good idea to be tested for
these, and all STDs on a regular basis, as well as always using safer sex barriers
dental dams) during sex.
10. I get a PAP smear, am tested for STDs annually and my results
have always been negative, so I don’t have genital herpes.
Fact: Type-specific serology tests and viral cultures
are the best way to diagnose genital herpes and are not normally conducted
during a woman's annual examination. PAP smears do not detect herpes
simplex virus infections. Also, a herpes test is not included in the
standard regime of STD tests. If you are concerned that you may have
genital herpes, ask your healthcare provider specifically to test you
for genital herpes.
11. I can't have children because I have genital herpes and
will pass it on to my baby when I give birth.
Fact: If you are not having an outbreak during the
birth, there is generally no virus present in the birth canal to infect
the baby. It is, however, possible that a newborn baby can be infected
with the herpes virus if your infection is active at the time of birth.
In rare cases, this is avoided by performing a caesarean section to
reduce the contact between the infection and the baby. Please talk to
your doctor if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
12. I will now get all kinds of other infections because I have herpes.
Fact: Most people who have herpes do not have any other
infection. Rarely, some people with herpes develop cellulitis, which
is an uncommon bacterial infection due to bacteria entering the genital
herpes sores. Cellulitis causes a deep red rash and is often associated
with tenderness and fever. This infection can be treated with antibiotics.
13. My partner and I only have oral sex but not intercourse,
so I am safe from contracting herpes.
Fact: Most type 1 genital herpes is transmitted by
unprotected oral sex. The type 1 herpes virus can be spread through
oral sex; meaning, if your partner has a cold sore, herpes can be transmitted
to you in the form of genital herpes. Conversely, the opposite is true;
if your partner has genital herpes, it can be transmitted to you in
the form of cold sores. It is important to use barrier protection (dental
dams or Saran wrap that is non-microwaveable) during oral sex. In
fact, you should always use safer sex, even when you are asymptomatic
(no sores are present). Please see our safer sex page for more information.
14. I have been in a monogamous relationship with my partner
for several years and just been diagnosed with genital herpes. My partner
must have cheated on me!
Fact: You or your partner may have contracted the virus
from a sexual partner a long time ago, or you or your partner may have
had genital herpes all along without knowing it. As mentioned previously,
genital herpes outbreaks can occur with very mild symptoms that go unnoticed.
So, the fact is, he or she may not have “cheated on you”.
It is a good idea to have an open, honest conversation with your partner
about your diagnosis without making any assumptions. We talk about this
issue in our Herpes Foundation Teleclasses.
15. I have just been diagnosed with herpes. I can’t tell anyone
or they will not want to have anything to do with me.
Fact: The fears that surround talking about this virus are
greater than actually talking about it. Educating yourself about the
virus, and learning how to talk to others about it, is vital. Please
see our Herpes Foundation Teleclasses for
help in these areas.
Want to learn more? Visit our Safer Sex
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only
and are not, in any way, intended to be used as a substitute for professional
medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any concerns or questions you
have regarding your health should always be discussed with your physician
or other qualified medical professional.
page last updated March 22, 2007.