Anal Herpes: A Pain in the Butt
Perhaps you’re feeling a little funky in the butt. You may have bent over in front of a mirror to asses (lol) the damage, but, to your surprise, faced a cluster of painful white-ish ulcers.
It’s like when you go to your fridge and expect to find your regular stock of foods, but instead, find a self-invited town of stinky old mold. You had hopes of what to see, but now, while sifting through invaded Tupperware, have to wonder where your shortcomings occurred.
If you think you’re the first one to be startled by your moldy discovery, we’re here to tell you that you’re not. Honestly, it happens to more people than you think. And, lucky you, you have friends at STDcheck.com that can give you a little bit more insight about your situation.
Welcome to Anal Herpes. It’s a small hilly sub-town of Genital Herpes. They’re very similar and have a well-known rivalry based on which one is worse. The towns originated from the same family of viruses (herpes), which are typically split up as HSV-1 (oral herpes) and HSV-2 (genital/anal herpes).
Both types cause sores, but HSV-1 generally likes the northern mouth area and HSV-2 likes the southern genital/anal region of the body. Genitals include the vagina, penis, scrotum, and anus but usually, genital herpes doesn’t reach the anus unless the person partakes in anal sex with an infect penis. This blog post will focus on anal herpes.
While anal herpes doesn’t always send out signs that it moved in, a few red flags that can appear and indicate it has signed a forever-long lease and settled in rent-free. Many times, herpes manifests as red or white puss-filled blisters. With anal herpes, as the name suggests, the ulcers will develop around the anus. They can be painful, itchy, and may cause changes in bowel habits. Because they tend to rupture, scabs will form over them until the healing process (and breakdown) is over.
Anal herpes sores develop in the following stages:
- Tingling or itching sensation in the affected area – this usually happens in the first 12-24 hours
- Blisters form and fill with liquid
- Blisters open and turn into sores
- Ulcers turn into scabs and heal
This sounds pretty painful, right? There is good new though. It gets better! The first outbreak is usually the worst and then it eases out.
How do you get anal herpes?
In order to explain how you get it, we need to first examine how herpes spreads.
When herpes sets up shop and integrates itself into the spinal rope in the lower back, it usually breaks out in the ulcers as described before, but it can also just “shed” off of the skin. This stage in herpes is usually unnoticeable and is “herpes viral shedding.” The virus is now super active on the surface of the skin. This means that ulcers or not, herpes is contagious.
Now, the following are a few real-world possibilities of how to get or spread herpes:
Because sex involves sharing a lot of intimate juices and close contact with skin, intercourse spreads herpes onto a once foreign body and most likely to the genital region.
Another easy way for herpes to spread is through active sores. When there are sores present, their germs spread to others through direct or quick indirect contact. Kissing, sharing drinks and utensils, performing oral, etc. are all actions that make the dispersal of germs/herpes highly possible.
Now, if a male has an infected penis (genitals), partakes in anal and doesn’t use any form of barrier protection, then chances are that the receiving person has gotten anal herpes. If the person receiving has anal herpes, partakes in anal, and the penetrator doesn’t use protection, the risk is high that he will contract genital herpes.
Remember: there are not always signs that you or your partner have anal or genital herpes, but the virus can still spread.
Can you get rid of it? Are there serious problems?
After the first outbreak, the virus will settle into your nerve cells. This means, unfortunately, once you have herpes, it’s with you till the day you die. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a cure for genital herpes. At any rate, there is medication to make it manageable and less likely to pass on to a sexual partner.
It’s important to test regularly so you can catch it before spreading it further, especially since herpes doesn’t always give any obvious symptoms. Other than the painful sores, which don’t damage any critical bodily function, there aren’t any serious problems.
Once you know you have it, there’s a definite upside to the ‘no obvious symptoms’. This means it’ll go dormant and not bother you with its painful sores. Typically, the ulcers are triggered by external factors such as stress, illness, or sun exposure. Even though this last one isn’t a likely cause due to the anus being “a place where the sun don’t shine.”
In order for treatment to work well, testing is necessary to determine if the ulcers are because of herpes or due to a different infection. It is important to know exactly the cause of the ulcers so medication to help the root cause otherwise, it won’t help. Testing for herpes is done through a blood sample that is sent to a lab to determine the cause of your symptoms.
To help manage spontaneous outbreaks, antiviral therapy can do the job. This helps lower the intensity of the symptoms and reduces the duration of the sores. If you’re prescribed a long-term use of
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antiviral medication (for those that have outbreaks constantly), it is called suppressive therapy. Both reduce the risk of passing the infection to a sexual partner and allows one with anal herpes (or herpes in general) to live a normal life. It is important to remember that antiviral therapy only reduces the risk of spreading it when the medication is currently being taken.
In the case of severe anal herpes, intravenous (IV) antiviral therapy will be necessary to treat the symptoms. This means the antiviral medicines are injected directly into your bloodstream through a needle into a vein. This will allow the medication to bypass the digestive system and 100% absorb into the bloodstream.
After a while, herpes outbreaks around the anus will decrease. You may decide to end suppressive therapy and being using antiviral medicines again when a new outbreak occurs.
Who does it affect?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) stated that in 2013 more than 24 million Americans had HSV-2 and projected that each year an additional 777,000 Americans would be diagnosed. At 24 million, that means 1 in 13 people had genital herpes in 2013. And, according to their projections, that means about 30 million have it now. Which is roughly 1 in 10 people. That’s a butt load of people!
It is important to disclose your status if you’re herpes positive before having sex with a new partner. Herpes is contagious and most likely will transmit to another person even if the lesions are not present.
It is not possible to have fully consensual sex if both partners are not truthful or completely aware of each other’s status.
A great way (and pretty much the only way aside from abstinence) to avoid unknowingly passing anal herpes to your sexual partner(s) is getting tested regularly!
Reduce the risk and learn more!
Because STIs like HSV-2 pass during sexual contact, you can lower your risk by practicing safe sex. Wear a condom or another form of barrier protection during every sexual encounter, including anal or oral sex. Also, being in a mutually monogamous relationship significantly reduces your chances of contracting anal herpes. Because you are cutting down on the amount of different sexual partners, you will (hopefully) have more knowledge over what your partner may or may not carry.
In the end, even safe sex still has a chance of passing on an STI. Herpes can shed from the base of the genitals and not just the penis. Therefore the condom may not cover the entire infected area.
The number one best way to avoid getting an STD is abstaining from sex altogether.
But we understand, that’s not always what you want to hear when you’re looking to touch butts. We just want to acknowledge there are options.
Find out more about testing for anal herpes at our website and find a lab near you!
Medically Reviewed by J. Frank Martin JR., MD on September 28, 2018
Author: Alexa Amador
Alexa graduated from a university in Atlanta with a B.A. in English and joined the STDcheck.com team in 2018. Before joining, she marketed and developed her own blog while working freelance for leading businesses. Having a robust skill set of research, writing, and editing has kept her busy and driven throughout both her academic and professional careers. Alexa became entangled in the sexual health business after coming from not only "abstinence-only" schooling but where the reproductive anatomy chapter was literally torn from her textbook. She realized how irresponsible it is for people to encourage ignorance about sexual health, especially to younger audiences, and so her passion for becoming part of the solution and educating the masses was born. When not writing for Exposed, Alexa enjoys taking vacations in the mountains with a good book and her dog, Nova.