I'm going to defend genital herpes. Who's with me?
Don't everyone volunteer at once.
Speaking up for an STD isn't likely to generate you many cocktail party invites, I grant you. But defending genital herpes just might be worth the risk.
So what, in fact, is genital herpes? As previously stated, genital herpes is an STD: a Sexually Transmitted Disease. Genital herpes is typically caused by a variation of the herpes virus known as Herpes Simplex Virus 2, or HSV 2. Roughly 1 in 5 -- or 20% -- of the US adult population has genital herpes, and the number of new cases is increasing.
So genital herpes is spread through sexual activity: usually unprotected sexual activity. This makes genital herpes bad, right? A moral punishment?
Consider this scenario: A woman who's been married for several years suddenly has some sort of genital outbreak. She goes to her doctor and is diagnosed with genital herpes. Emotionally devastated, the woman furiously accuses her husband of infidelity, and with just as much passion, he denies it. Unbeknownst to the husband, he does in fact have genital herpes and did in fact pass the infection on to his wife.
How did this happen? It turns out the husband contracted genital herpes from his former wife, who herself didn't realize that she was infected. So who in this story is the "guilty" one? Who behaved immorally? Does this scenario seem far-fetched? Do you think something like this could never actually happen?
Not only can it happen, it does happen. Genital herpes is sometimes referred to as a "silent" condition, because most afflicted people don't realize they have it. In fact, up to 80% of people with genital herpes don't know that they have genital herpes.
Consider for a moment what that would mean: only 2 of every 10 people with genital herpes would know that they're infected. How could someone with genital herpes not be aware of their status? Because most people with genital herpes don't show symptoms; or, at the very least, don't show symptoms that they recognize as so clearly unusual that they seek medical treatment.
Genital herpes isn't like some other STDs, where the norm is for obvious symptoms to appear within a number of days after infection. Genital herpes infection typically never leads to obvious symptoms or obvious symptoms can literally appear years after infection took place.
So since genital herpes is a "silent" condition, it may not always be a badge of dishonor after all. Any other reason we should spare genital herpes our collective condemnation? How about since it doesn't cause any serious health problems? (People with immune system deficiencies are sometimes an exception, as are infants.) Or that it doesn't cause long-term damage to the reproductive organs? Or that it doesn't require any sort of medical treatment? Or that when symptoms do appear, they typically lessen in severity and frequency over time, without any outside intervention at all? Or that when someone with genital herpes does decide to seek treatment, there are a number of highly effective treatments available? Or that people with genital herpes don't become re-infected with the genital herpes virus?
Let me stop here and offer a qualifier:
I am not saying that genital herpes is a good thing. Genital herpes can be painful, inconvenient, and emotionally difficult to deal with. Additionally, should an infant become infected with genital herpes from its mother during birth, the condition is considered very serious.
An attempt should be made to avoid all STDs, under the knowledge that abstinence is the only sure way not to get an STD, with condom use being an extremely important second option.
What I'm trying to get across is that genital herpes isn't some debilitating, shameful curse brought down on sexual deviants.
Genital herpes is a condition caused by a virus, a virus that's been around a long time and one that millions of people have. Like any other virus, genital herpes doesn't make judgments about a person's character, doesn't do a background check before taking up residence.
All things considered, in the world of infections transmitted by sex, someone could do a lot worse than to contract genital herpes. A whole lot worse.