You might think you know everything about protecting yourself from herpes, but with 2 out of every 3 people carrying the virus, clearly most people don't really know everything after all. Cosmopolitan.com spoke with Raquel B. Dardik, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone's Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health, and Maria Sophocles, MD, a gynecologist and medical director of Women's Healthcare of Princeton, to find out what's what.
1. The myth: If you have herpes, you'll definitely know you have it. The truth: Dr. Dardik says a lot of people have been infected with herpes but have no idea, since oftentimes it's inside of the vagina or the symptoms are so mild, you don't even recognize them as problematic, so getting tested regularly is a good idea.
2. The myth: You can't get herpes if you use a condom. The truth: Even though condoms decrease the risk of getting an STI, they're not nearly as effective for viruses (such as herpes) as they are for bacteria (which is the cause of many other STIs). Dr. Sophocles says that consistent condom wearers have an estimated 30 to 40 percent lower chance of contracting herpes than non-condom wearers if the condom doesn't break, so you should still use condoms even though they're not 100 percent effective against herpes.
3. The myth: If someone has herpes, they're definitely contagious. The truth: People with herpes are mostly contagious when they have active lesions, Dr. Dardik says, but they can sometimes also be contagious even when they have no visible symptoms. So in a way, they're not contagious all the time, but there's no hard rule as to when they are and are not contagious either.
4. The myth: If you find out your partner has herpes and you don't, that must mean they cheated on you. The truth: This is a really common misconception, but according to Dr. Dardik, the herpes virus lies dormant in your body once you have had the initial infection, so just because they gave it to you now doesn't necessarily mean they cheated on you. They could have been infected many years prior and didn't know it.
5. The myth: If you have herpes, you can't have children. The truth: Getting herpes does not affect your ability to get pregnant. That said, according to Dr. Sophocles, if you have the herpes virus before you get pregnant, there is a low chance of passing the virus to your unborn child. A 2003 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that if a mother contracts the herpes virus toward the end of the pregnancy and it is present in the genital tract, there is a larger possibility that her baby could be infected.
6. The myth: If you have a cold sore, you must have herpes on your genitals too. The truth: It makes sense why people think this must be the case, but Dr. Sophocles says the herpes virus is isolated to specific parts of the body, so being exposed to or having oral herpes doesn't mean the herpes virus is also on your genitals. Plus, the virus won't travel to other parts of your body, so if you have it on your mouth, that's where it will stay.
7. The myth: Once you have herpes, you'll have sores forever. The truth: Yes and no. Dr. Sophocles says that yes, you'll always have the virus, but you won't always have an active infection (aka visible sores).
8. The myth: Only promiscuous people get herpes. The truth: If you've ever been sexually active at all, you're at risk for any STI, since it only takes one partner to pass the virus on to you, Dr. Dardik warns. Obviously, the more partners you have and the more unprotected sex you have, the greater your risk of contracting herpes, but that's true for any STI.
9. The myth: If you have herpes, you can never have sex again without infecting someone. The truth: Once you've had a conversation with your partner about your sexual histories and whether or not your partner has ever been infected with herpes, Dr. Sophocles says there are ways of decreasing (though not totally eliminating) the risk of transmission. Using a condom will help lessen the risks but will not eliminate the risk of infection completely. Mutual masturbation is another way to be intimate with your partner and provides a smaller risk as long as there aren't any cuts on their hands in contact with your sores.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.