"How worried should I be about herpes?"

"How worried should I be about herpes?"

Georgie Wolf
Georgie Wolf
They say 60-70% of people have herpes...wouldn't that mean close to 100% of escorts? Sounds like it's passed through a skin to skin contact. Does an escort get tested for herpes and to your knowledge is it as risky as they portray?

Herpes is an often-misunderstood STI that causes a lot of anxiety, both for the people who have outbreaks and the people who are worried about catching it. Here are some answers to your questions.

Note: I'm not a medical professional, so please don't take my word for this stuff! Speak to your own doctor if you have concerns. I've linked to my sources in this article, so you can do further reading.

Herpes: A quick guide

From Planned Parenthood: "Herpes is a common virus that causes sores on your genitals and/or mouth."

Although there are many varieties, the types we most often refer to are Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV1), and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV2).

HSV1 often - but not always - infects the mouth, where it can cause cold sores. HSV2 often - but not always - infects the genitals, where outbreaks can result in herpes sores.

Both are permanent; once you have it, it never leaves your body (although you may not experience symptoms).

"What percentage of people have herpes?"

It's a very common infection - it's estimated that 50-80% of adults in the USA have oral herpes (an infection of HSV1 or, less commonly, HSV2, in the mouth characterised by outbreaks of cold sores).

On the other hand, genital herpes (which is usually caused by HSV2 but can also sometimes be caused by HSV1) affects about 16-17% of the adult population in the USA.

Herpes often has no symptoms, or mild symptoms that go unrecognised. Most people are unaware that they have it. Some people experience recurring outbreaks of cold sores on the lips or inside the mouth, or sores on the genitals, depending on where they're infected.

There's no particular type of person who is more or less likely to have herpes. Older, younger, single, partnered, sex worker or civilian...anyone can catch it. I don't have data on whether it's more or less common in sex workers, but I think it's pretty safe to assume that it's common in everyone.

"How it it transmitted?"

The World Health organisation says, "HSV-2 is mainly transmitted during sex, through contact with genital surfaces, skin, sores or fluids of someone infected with the virus. HSV-2 can be transmitted from skin in the genital or anal area that looks normal and is often transmitted in the absence of symptoms."

Unfortunately, since the infectious area can include the skin around the genitals as well as your actual bits, using barriers such as condoms isn't failsafe. You can still catch herpes even if you practice safer sex.

And oral herpes can be transmitted via kissing, or to the genitals via oral sex.

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"Can we test for it?"

If you have visible sores, going to your doctor for a swab test will confirm whether it's HSV. But if you simply want to know if it's in your system, there's no reliable way to check. An antibody test for HSV1 and HSV2 isn't always accurate, and false positives are common.

So although most escorts are regularly checked for STIs, a test for HSV isn't usually included, simply because it wouldn't give us very much useful information.

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How to reduce the risk

Using condoms (for intercourse and blow jobs) and other barriers such as dental dams (for eating pussy and rimming) don't completely protect you from the risk, but they do reduce it. Using condoms is estimated to reduce the risk of catching genital herpes by 65-95%.

What about oral herpes and cold sores? Well, unless you want to make out through a piece of plastic, or avoid kissing altogether, there are few ways to prevent transmission.

It's worth noting that if you have HSV1 or HSV2, you're much more infectious when you have an outbreak - that is, visible sores. So avoiding sex (and kissing) with anyone when they have visible sores is a really good idea.

And if you notice any herpes sores on your own 'bits' - or if you have cold sore outbreak - then you'll need to cancel any upcoming escort sessions, and wait until you're completely healed. You can also take antiviral medications to help speed recovery, and to reduce the risk of passing it to someone else.

Sex workers are safer sex experts.

Should I worry about catching herpes from my sex worker?

Because HSV is so common, you can catch it from anyone - whether that person is a romantic partner, a hook up, or a sex worker.

It's useful to remember that you more than likely already have one or both varieties, even if you've never seen any symptoms. And there's evidence to suggest that if you already have one variety of HSV, it's harder to catch the others.

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Your risk of transmitting herpes based on the type, how asymptomatic shedding increases ones risk, and a prior infection with cold sores might help...

For most people, having HSV is little more than an irritation. But some unlucky folks do have more serious, recurring outbreaks.

If you're someone who is vulnerable and might suffer complications  (if you're chronically ill or immunosuppressed, for example), it might be worth talking to your doctor to weigh up the risks and decide whether getting laid is worth it. You may also want to consider stricter safer sex practices, such as using dental dams and condoms for oral sex, with all your play partners.

Get the facts...and decide what level of risk is right for you

Herpes is simply one of the risks of sex - you need to decide whether you're happy to take that risk, then use good safer sex practices to minimise your exposure.

If you're feeling extremely anxious about catching STIs from sex workers (but not from other people you have sex with), you might be suffering from shame-related sex stigma or whorephobia.  It's not realistic to fear sex workers - often, our safer sex practices and check-up regimes are much more thorough than the general population. So perhaps it's time to ask yourself whether you're carrying any unnecessary negativity around sex work that needs to be reality-checked?

At the end of the day, good sex requires that you do your best to be safe, then learn to relax. Worrying excessively will only ruin your experience.