By Michelle Shvimer

 

It’s all a joke until you’re getting swabbed for it.

Herpes, that is. Sure, I’ve cracked a joke or two about venereal diseases, but until you’re the one in the hot seat, sexually transmitted diseases are a far-off fate.

 

Much to my dismay, though, they’re very easy to catch. Fifty to 80 percent of U.S. adults have oral herpes and 90 percent of adults would have been exposed to oral herpes by age 50. Here’s the kicker: once infected, a person will have the virus for life.

 

Cold sores on the mouth are really common and seemingly harmless when thought of this way. But, cold sores are really a form of herpes simplex virus type 1, and warrants caution if one is sexually active.

 

Oral herpes is usually only contractible during a breakout, when one has active cold sores on the mouth. So if anything is shared mouth-to-mouth during a breakout (food, drink, chapstick, kissing, etc.), the other person could contract oral herpes. What’s more worrisome, however, is that if one engages in oral sex during a breakout, genital herpes could be contracted, which is a much more serious issue. Vice versa, by performing oral sex on someone with genital herpes, one could contract oral herpes.

 

What could prevent the contraction of oral or genital herpes? Glad you asked: protection!

Many view protection as just a means of birth control, but it also safeguards sexual partners from venereal diseases. Condoms are a very typical and socially accepted form of protection, but protection does not need to be exclusive to men or reserved for penetrative sex.

 

Although it may seem very unsexy, protection should be used during oral sex, especially if one does not know about the sexual partner’s sexual or health background. Sure, asking to put on a condom before oral sex may cool down the heat of the moment, but the sexiest thing an intimate partner can be is free of venereal disease.

 

Despite what many people think, women also have a form of protection: a dental dam, which is a latex or polyurethane sheet used between the mouth and vagina or anus during oral sex. Unprotected female-female sex is not entirely safe from sexually transmitted diseases, particularly herpes, because it can be spread through the mouth, so dental dams are essential.

 

Luckily, the condom fairy gives them out for free!