Cold sores on your lips? Is it actually an STI?!



What is the first thing that you think of when you see the word ‘herpes’? Most people probably jump straight to ideas of ‘STIs’, ‘dirty’, ‘promiscuous’. Is herpes really a disease caught only by people with a promiscuous sex life? In actual fact, the number of people infected with the herpes simplex virus, can only be matched by the number of misconceptions.

Clearing Up the Misconceptions about Herpes

✔️ Herpes Basics

  • Cause

Herpes infection is a viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), also known as herpes simplex.

There are two types of HSV. 🦠 HSV-1: Commonly causes cold sores on the mouth, or eye infections. 🦠 HSV-2: Commonly causes genital herpes.

  • Symptoms

- Most often mildly painful blisters or inflammation.

- Herpes may be associated with symptoms such as fever, headaches, muscle pain, fatigue, powerlessness, lymphedema, painful urination, and swollen lymph nodes.

- Encephalitis or meningitis may occur even in a healthy person.

  • Infection Status

According to a survey by the WHO, as of October 2015 67% of the global population under the age of 50, about 3.7 billion people, are carriers of HSV-1, and about 417 million people aged 15-49 years are HSV-2 carriers.

More people are carriers of HSV than you may think and the number of infected is increasing.

Herpes in South Korea In Korea, the number of people receiving hospital treatment due to a herpes infection is increasing significantly. What is noteworthy is that among adults there are 2.2 times more female patients than male. This is slightly higher than worldwide statistics. The Pharmaceutical Information Service, which investigated the phenomenon, posited that the cause was women’s reduced physical strength due to an excessive dieting culture.

✔️ “Prejudice” of Being Promiscuous

Herpes can be easily transmitted through contact and it is a virus that has various routes of infection. However, the misconception that it is an STI spread by irresponsible people puts carriers under great psychological distress.

  • Only people who sleep around a lot get STI’s like herpes

This is probably the most common misconception about herpes. The answer is that it is half correct and half wrong. According to the Korean Disease Control and Prevention Agency's Guidelines for Sexually Transmitted Infection, blisters and ulcers on the genitals due to HSV-2 is classified as a sexually transmitted infection. However, herpes can be carried and spread by people who practice safe, monogamous sexual relations just as easily.

  • You Could Also Be a Carrier

Some people are herpes carriers, contracting the virus but exhibiting none or very mild symptoms. Due to latent development it is common to have sexual relations unaware of infection. You may only become aware of an infection when your immune system becomes weakened. Even if there are no symptoms, there is still a possibility that you carry, and can transmit the virus.

  • Even Children Can be Infected

It’s true that intercourse with multiple people can increase the risk of infection, but there are still risks of infection even in safe intercourse with a partner. As for HSV-1, children can be infected in their infancy by adults rubbing their cheeks or giving them kisses.

✔️ All the Same Herpes

Commonly, oral herpes is classified as HSV-1 and genital herpes is classified as HSV-2. However, this classification is not absolute. Symptoms can occur on the lips with infection by HSV-2 and symptoms can occur on the genitals with infection by HSV-1. These days the classification between HSV-1 and HSV-2 is gradually vanishing.

You can be infected with herpes by contact between the skin and mucous membrane. For example, having oral sex with an HSV-2 carrier would mean there may be symptoms on the lips instead of the genitals. The opposite may also occur. (But symptoms on genitals are more severe for HSV-2 than HSV-1.)

✔️ Living with Herpes

The reason people are afraid of herpes is due to the fact that herpes is an ‘incurable disease’. That’s right. Prescription antiviral drugs soothe discomfort and treat blisters but they cannot completely eliminate the herpes virus.

There are often no symptoms or mild symptoms when infected with HSV and medicines including pills, salves, or IV injections can help relieve these symptoms. Receiving appropriate treatment early and having a lifestyle that strengthens immunity are realistic ways to live with the virus.

Herpes is a widespread virus with about 60-95% of the global adult population being infected. You are just one of the numerous people. It’s not the end of your life even if you have herpes.

Concealing your Herpes Status from Sexual Partners can be a Crime. On October 27, 2020, a man in South Korea was sentenced to probation for concealing that he was a carrier and repeatedly infecting two victims with STI’s. The man argued that his external symptoms had disappeared through treatment, and that there was no causal relationship between sexual behavior and the victims' infection. However, the court decreed that the man's herpes treatment period and recognition of recurrence and transmission proved he understood the causal relationship between his actions and the victims' infections.
$6.75 Million Dollar Infection? In March 2011 a California Court upheld a verdict demanding millionaire Thomas Redmond pay $6.75million USD in damages to his ex-girlfriend for infecting her with herpes. The money was awarded to cover past and future medical expenses as well as physical and mental suffering.


  • Genital herpes caused by HSV-2 is classified as a sexually transmitted infection.
  • “Sexual promiscuity” is a misconception as there are various routes of infection other than sexual contact.
  • Carriers should be careful about infecting others and have a conversation with their partners before intercourse.
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