Herpes – the Good News, the Bad News, and the Really Bad News

photo by Nathan Csonka

A new study out from the CDC shows that herpes is twice as common in women than men, and three times as common in blacks than whites. A massive 48% of new herpes cases are among black women. We called on Dr. Vanessa Cullins, an obstetrician/gynecologist and vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood, to get the story behind these depressing statistics.

Em & Lo: Can you briefly explain the difference between HSV-1 and HSV-2, and how they are related to oral vs genital herpes?

Dr. Cullins: Herpes is a very common infection caused by two different but closely related viruses — herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both are easy to catch. They remain in the body for life, and can produce symptoms that come and go. Both forms of herpes can infect the oral area, the genital area, or both. When the infection is on or near the mouth, it is called oral herpes. Oral herpes is caused most often by HSV-1. When herpes infection is on or near the sex organs, it is called genital herpes. Genital herpes is caused most often by HSV-2.

The study shows that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be infected — why is this?

Herpes infections prefer moist environments and a woman’s sexual organs tend to be more continuously moist than a man’s.

The study also shows that the infection rate is three times higher amongst blacks, with 48% of new herpes cases being in African American women. Why the disparity?

Women of color are disproportionately affected by the current health care system that exists in this country. Women who face multiple barriers to accessing affordable health care, including being uninsured or under-insured, experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections and other medical conditions.

Read the rest of this post on SUNfiltered


  1. Why talk about herpes when the majority of black women still to this day, both reject and deny that black women even have it, or get it! That’s nothing but DENIAL.

  2. I agree with Andrea! Once you have herpes it is not curable, so access to healthcare would help curb outbreaks but not remove the problem… plenty of women without great healthcare have morals, respect for their bodies and abstain, limit partners, use protection, etc. High herpes infection in a culture is more about choices than economic disadvantage

  3. Give me a BREAK!! “…Women who face multiple barriers to accessing affordable health care… experience higher rates of sexually transmitted infections…” Excuse me, but the rate of STD’s has everything to do with how many sexual partners you’ve had (and how many partners THEY’VE had), and how EDUCATED you are about protection. If you don’t use it, you’re in trouble. But if you think that condoms will protect you from everything, then you’re also in trouble. The *ONLY* way to prevent STD’s 100% of the time is to ABSTAIN 100% of the time, until you find a permanent partner — preferably one who has also abstained. It’s about getting a COMPLETE sex education that includes ALL of the facts and risks, (including the STD’s that are passed in spite of using a condom), so that women can make GOOD CHOICES and keep themselves healthy. Yes, health professionals can give that education, but so can schools and organizations like Planned Parenthood. But instead they buy into the *LIE* that condoms are enough. Clearly they are NOT.

  4. Thanks raven, it’s fixed now — guess we need to brush up on our statistics analysis skills! 🙂

  5. Please go to the CDC and re-read the statistics. The stats state that 48% of new cases are AA women not 48% of all AA women! The actual percentage in the AA women is 16%. AA women already have enough to deal with we don’t need everyone assuming we have the HERP!

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