I’m going to scare you.
Are you ready?
See? You’re terrified! Keep that herpes the fuck away from me, you’re thinking. That shit is the devil.
You’ve heard horror stories everywhere from 9th grade health class and those billboards on the subway to your best friend’s sister. One thing you know for sure is that herpes is the worst fucking thing that can happen to a human being and herpes symptoms are unbarable. Lord, give me diabetes, give me skin cancer, giving me a raging case of celiac disease. But please, Lord, do not let me get infected with the Big Red H.
That’s the narrative. That’s what we all think.
Why? Well, because well-intentioned public health experts (who may or may not like to fuck) have been telling us this for 40 years. Because that’s their job. These are good folks. At least, I’m sure most of them are. But let’s be honest: If you’re a public health researcher, you pretty much have to keep finding public health “problems” to tell people about. Otherwise, there’s not really much to do.
What’s more likely to be heard in a public health office?
“Hey Bob, are you coming to that meeting about how herpes and herpes symptoms are actually not that big a deal?”
“Hey Bob, are you coming to that meeting about how billions of people are at risk for herpes, how herpes symptoms can cause tremendous pain and suffering, and how it’s a life-long sentence with no cure?”
And, if you’re a news reporter, which one of those diseases are you going to write a story about?
I’ve never worked in a public health department or as a journalist, but I know that the public health expert who schedules that first meeting isn’t going to get a Christmas bonus. And the reporter who writes a story about it is going to get assigned to the dog-catcher beat.
So, all of that fear and loathing from 9th-grade health class aside, what’s the real story with herpes and herpes symptoms? (Which, by the way, is objectively the creepiest fucking name you could give a disease. If they called M&Ms herpes, no one would ever eat them, and the M&M factory would be out of business.)
Well, the real story is: It’s just not that big a fucking deal. And, I’m going to prove it.
Related: Does the HPV Vaccine Have an Age Limit? What You Need to Know—Especially if You’re Over 40
I’m gonna tell you about a disease. It’s not called herpes. It’s called “Bunny Bumps.” Here’s what everyone should know about Bunny Bumps.
First of all, it’s a virus. A half a billion people around the world probably have Bunny Bumps. Or, rather, they might have it. Or, they have at least been exposed to it. None of this is really clear. The reason is, with Bunny Bumps, unless someone has symptoms you really can’t test for it. You can only test to see if someone’s been “exposed” to it. And whether someone’s been exposed to it doesn’t really mean anything other than, well, you can tell they were exposed to it. (Also important to keep in mind: Most adults will at some point be exposed to it. So clearly, Bunny Bumps is pretty common—and still everyone’s OK.)
Related: Your Ultimate Guide to STD Testing in Your 40s, 50s, and Beyond
What do you need to know about Bunny Bumps? Well, like most viruses, you don’t really need to know anything. Here’s why.
Unless you have symptoms, you don’t have a disease.
If you test positive for Bunny Bumps, you don’t even have a confirmed infection. You have antibodies that show you’ve encountered the virus. How much virus? How long ago? You’ll never know.
This raises another point: There’s no reason to get a test for Bunny Bumps*. Seriously, it’s just a waste of time and money. If you have antibodies and have never had any symptoms, you’re probably never going to have any symptoms. Only around 15% of people with antibodies ever have any symptoms. If you’re going to have them, they’re most likely to show up in the first three weeks. (*The only time it might make sense to test is if a woman is pregnant.)
Yes, it is possible that if you have Bunny Bumps, you could pass it on to someone else. But is that a big deal? Not really.
That’s because, like we said, almost no one who has Bunny Bumps ever develops symptoms. If you do develop symptoms, they’re most likely going to be pretty minor. (That’s why it’s called Bunny Bumps, after all!) Think acne—might be red, a little bumpy, maybe a little itchy or painful. Generally, Bunny Bumps clears up in a few days. And, just like acne, you’re less likely to get outbreaks over time. And, yes, some people have really painful symptoms and get them over and over, just like some people have really painful acne for long periods of time. That really sucks—for a really, really small percentage of people.
And, just like acne, guess what? There’s medicine! So, if you’re one of the small number of people who ever even gets symptoms, you can take medicine to clear them up. And, if you’re one of the even smaller number of people who gets bad symptoms or gets them over and over, you can take medicine to keep them from coming back. It’s also worth noting this medication is way more effective than the medicine for acne, and costs about $14 a month—even if you don’t have health insurance.
Finally, here’s how you really know Bunny Bumps isn’t a big deal: Big Pharma really doesn’t care much about it. It’s such an insignificant problem, they wouldn’t be able to make any money even if they cured it. What’s more, most of the tests for the antibodies aren’t really great at confirming an infection, and the only confirmatory test is only conducted by one lab in Seattle. That’s how low a priority antibody testing is.
So, why are we even talking about Bunny Bumps? We’re not. We’re talking about herpes. Which, for virtually everyone, is about as big a deal as Bunny Bumps, which doesn’t fucking exist.
The only difference between herpes and Bunny Bumps is that if you have herpes, your life might legitimately be ruined. No, not by the disease. We made that clear. By the stigma.
Because people (I’m looking at you, public health experts and reporters) have made such a big fucking deal about it that the rest of us are so freaked the fuck out at the thought of it that those who do have it (or just test positive for exposure) are ostracized, shamed, and thought to be undateable and unfuckable.
Jesus. They even have to have their own fucking dating site.
And that’s the tragedy of herpes. That this disease that, medically, is a big deal for virtually no one is ruining the lives of millions of people. That needs to end.
What we really should be talking about is that if you have herpes, you’re probably fine. Yes, there is a relatively small number of people who suffer worse symptoms. If you are one of those who are struggling with a herpes, you can stay up to date on research progress here or learn more about how to advocate for better treatments here. But you’re no real threat to anyone. You’re just as datable and fuckable as anyone else. And you should never feel stigmatized.
And, for everyone else, unless you see what looks like acne all over the dick you’re about to put in your mouth or the pussy you’re about to dive into, don’t even bother asking about it. Just dive in and enjoy yourself.