Do you have Herpes?

Last week I had a heated debate with a friend of mine over what she feels is the nonchalant attitude of physicians over the topic of genital herpes.  I have a colleague, a gynecologist, no less, who feels that testing people who have never had any symptoms of herpes only serves to “ruin their lives”.  I include testing for herpes when patients specifically ask to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends routine testing for patients in high risk groups.  If you live in Purity-ville your chances of having Herpes type 2 is less than if you live in Sexanddrugs-town.

Another point to be made here is that there are people who have been given the diagnoses of herpes and make a conscience choice not to tell their partners, usually because they are afraid of losing someone they love or really like.  Here are some reasons that I’ve heard: “It’s not like it’s life threatening”,  “I’ve never had an outbreak and don’t think that I will” or “I just can’t tell him (or her)”.  Before you weigh in, here are a few facts from the CDC that you should know:

*Eighty one percent (8 out of 10!) of people who have herpes DO NOT KNOW.

*Of blacks between the ages of 40-49, fifty six percent, that’s more than half, of this population have herpes!  For whites in the same age range, 20% have herpes and for Mexicans, 20% have herpes.

The number of sex partners matter.  Yesterday, I met an 18 year woman who had already slept with eight men.

* One third of blacks who have had sex with 2 to 4 partners have herpes.  How many does it take before you are considered a “playa” or a “diva”?  For whites and Mexicans who have had sex with more than two to four partners, only 9% and 13% will have herpes, respectively.

*By the time you get to 10 partners, 49% of blacks will have herpes; for whites who have slept with more than 10 partners, 22% will have herpes and for Mexicans who have slept with more than 10 partners, 13% will have herpes.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  Herpes is prevalent.  Hooking up is ‘in’ and asking direct questions about another’s sexual exposure and history of sexually transmitted diseases has gone out of style.  More women than men have herpes because it’s easier for men to transmit the virus to women.  And if you are a black woman, what should you do, rinse the penis with bleach before you have your fun?  Not that this would help.  And, as a side note, infection with Herpes type-2 makes you more susceptible to acquiring HIV.

Herpes is such an emotional issue, more than a physical one, for many.  But, getting tested, both you and your intended partner, and being open to full disclosure is one reasonable approach, in my humble opinion. At least with knowledge of the infection you can try to avoid spreading it to others, especially if that other is someone you really care about. If you have herpes, use of a condom can provide moderate, not complete, protection for your partner.  Also, talk to you doctor about suppressive therapy, drugs like Valtrex, Acyclovir and Famvir are used to reduce the chances that you will transmit the virus to someone who does not have it and reduce the number of painful outbreaks you have to suffer through.  Lastly, avoid having sex if a lesion is present or if you feel and outbreak coming on.

There it is.  Spread the word!  I’d love to hear what you guys think about this topic.  Please comment or click on Forums (top right hand corner) and start a discussion.


  1. Bedtimebear

    July 14, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Honestly, I had no idea that Black people were at higher risk for contracting Herpes! If a condom can only protect you “moderately”, what can a Black woman do to protect herself?

  2. Yvonne Evelyn

    July 14, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I love this article. My question is this, why is it so prominent in Blacks verse their white and Mexican counterpart?

  3. admin

    July 14, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Thank you for your questions. I think whites and Mexicans have higher rates of marriage and therefore, I am only speculating here, fewer total number of lifetime partners. This social fact may account for the discrepancy. Also, a larger percentage of African Americans live in urban centers, i.e Sexanddrugs-town.

  4. Rebecca Eirich

    July 14, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    What is the risk of transmission using condons versus medication and/or both; and if a person is on suppressive therapy is condoms still necessary?

  5. admin

    July 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Condoms reduce the risk of passing herpes to your partner by thirty percent. Medications reduce the risk of transmission by about half. It is a good idea to use both. Couples hate the idea of having to use condoms but unless your partner wants to share your infection because he adores every part of you, it is a good idea to use condoms.

  6. Unknownhurts

    July 28, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Medical professionals give statistics without understanding why the herpes virus is spreading. Let us look at some other issues that may lead to Black women getting herpes at a higher rate than women of other races. I would hope we would stop assuming that Black women have more reckless, causal sex and more partners than white women. Let us consider the fact that Black men are not being circumcised on a consistent, religious and health basis like men from other races/cultures. We know that men who are not circumcised experience more STDs and have a higher risk for contracting HIV. Yet, many Black men from the Caribbean and African are not circumcised and this increases their chances of getting and spreading STDs, including herpes and HIV to Black women at an alarming rate.

    Black men are also taught that a woman asking him to use a condom is a reflection of mistrust on the part of the woman towards him. Black men tend to not see his female partner as having sexual rights to remain STD free. Some Black men are raised by their fathers that a real man dominates and dictates the direction of the relationship, including the use of safer sex practices, unlike White men who are raised to negotiate and respect the women’s sexual rights and preferences.

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