Understanding Genital Herpes After A New Diagnosis

If you’ve just been diagnosed with genital herpes, you may be feeling unsettled, embarrassed or overwhelmed. While these feelings are normal, better understanding genital herpes may alleviate some of your concerns.

Understanding Genital Herpes

The herpes simplex virus, otherwise known as HSV-2 or genital herpes, is a lifelong infection that results in recurrent genital ulcers. It’s highly contagious, and is transmitted by touch. Most people contract the herpes virus through sexual contact or through contact in the birth canal. It’s usually contracted during outbreaks, but can sometimes be contracted between outbreaks from skin that doesn’t appear to have an ulcer. Some people who have the virus never experience genital ulcers, and are therefore unaware that they carry the disease, making transmissions to others more possible.
The HSV-2 virus usually appears on and around the genitals, but it can also appear on the mouth, eyes, fingers and other areas. Herpes specific to the eyes is called ocular herpes or herpes simplex keratitis. Herpes on the hands and skin is sometimes called herpes whitlow, and wrestler’s or mat herpes.

Genital Herpes: Conquering the Stigma of This Common Virus

Many people who receive a genital herpes diagnosis experience feelings of panic, embarrassment, shame and despair. If you’re experiencing one or more of these emotions, you are not alone.
Approximately 16.2 percent of the U.S. population carries the genital HSV-2 virus. That’s the equivalent of one in six sexually active adults. Additionally, some people who carry the virus are undiagnosed, including those who aren’t aware that they have the virus (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), 2010).
Genital herpes is more common in female patients, and about one in five women carry the virus. For male patients, the number is one in nine. This is most likely due to male partners being more likely to transmit the disease than female partners, although the cause for this is not confirmed (CDCP, 2010).
While genital herpes is often viewed as a “dirty” or embarrassing disease, this isn’t necessarily the case. Symptoms of genital herpes are certainly unpleasant, but they aren’t always caused by promiscuity or “dirty” behavior. Many people who contract the virus do so within a committed relationship. Others contract it through birth, or through non-sexual contact.

Coping With General Herpes

Millions of people around the world live healthy, active lives despite genital herpes. Although the virus produces painful ulcers, it should not limit your behavior or compromise your day-to-day life. Outbreaks become less pronounced and less painful over time.
Genital herpes may limit your sexual activity during times of outbreak. It may be embarrassing, but you should always inform partners that you have the virus and use adequate protection to reduce the risk of transmission. Inform yourself on the latest research on genital herpes to further reduce the risk.