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What It’s Like Living With HSV

What It’s Like Living With HSV

Living with HSV is something that many have to cope with every single day. This is what it's like to live with this illness.

Here at Society19, we’re all about education and inclusivity. With it being Sexual Health Awareness week, we’re discussing all aspects of sexual health, including the good and the bad. Let’s tackle one of the most common sexually transmitted infections: herpes. This is what it’s like living with HSV.

Why did we call it HSV in the title? Because the word ‘herpes’ has become a joke.

It’s been used as a punchline in so much media, including The Office U.S. and Archer, that it’s making those living with HSV feel even more ashamed of having the virus. Calling it HSV (short for Herpes Simplex Virus) makes it sound like a medical condition that should be taken seriously, so let’s discuss the virus and what it’s like to live with it.

First, let’s go over some facts about it.

There are two kinds of HSV, type 1 and type 2. Ever had a cold sore around your mouth? Congratulations, you carry the HSV virus. You can contract HSV around your mouth, in the eye, and have it affecting the general central nervous system, and this is usually HSV-1. HSV-2 is more commonly found on the genitals but you can contract either type of virus on different parts of your body. The main different between the two is that HSV-2 occurs with outbreaks more frequently.

 How many people carry the virus?

According to the World Health Organisation back in 2015, an estimated two-thirds of the world population under 50 are infected with HSV, so it’s an incredibly common virus to have. It can be treated by antivirals, specifically aciclovir, and taking general pain killers can take the sting out of the sore.

So what’s it like having HSV?

Having sores anywhere on your body is painful, but on an area as sensitive as your genitals? Ouch! There’s also a great deal of itchiness and pain whilst urinating, and you feel incredibly run down and your whole body aches. You feel unattractive because you generally feel sick but it’s also hard to feel sexy when there’s also sores and discharge and all things unpleasant going on where you usually gain pleasure from. You become more attune to noticing any aches and pains and you’re extra careful shaving in case a cut sparks off an outbreak.

There’s also the worry about passing on the virus: when the virus is active, that’s when it’s contagious. Condoms don’t always prevent the virus from spreading if the sore has any kind of skin-to-skin contact, so there’s the worry you may pass on HSV even when using protection. It’s also important to remember if you are prone to cold sores and consider having oral sex, you risk giving your partner genital herpes unless you use a condom or dental dam to protect them. Having HSV doesn’t mean the end of your sex life though, it means you just need to be extra careful and communicate with your partner.

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The hardest, most upsetting part of having HSV is that there’s such a large stigma attached to it.

You’re seen as dirty, a slut, and disgusting by those who don’t fully understand the virus. Again, it’s the exact same virus as cold sores around the mouth and yet, if you have genital herpes, the reaction is so much more extreme. Trying to talk to a new sexual partner about your virus is so difficult because you don’t know how the other person will react, if they’ll still want to be with you, but without that discussion, there’s a risk they may catch the virus and you haven’t warned them about it.

If you do contract genital herpes, you’re not alone; a huge number of the population has HSV.

Don’t suffer in silence; there are health professionals here to help and antiviral medication is a godsend. Getting a confirmed diagnosis is important. Keeping track of your outbreaks is also important so you can potentially predict when the next one will occur. HSV outbreaks can lessen as time goes on. If you have it, it’s not the end of the world and the main issue is the lack of education people have on the subject. If you think you have the virus, contact your G.P. or your nearest sexual health clinic (here if you’re in England and Wales, and here if you’re in Scotland).

What’s your take on living with HSV? Are you living with HSV? Tell us in the comments.
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