Oral Herpes, Genital Herpes, and Celebrities (Oh My!)
There has been a lot of herpes talk in the media lately (and by "media" I mean gossip blogs and trashy online magazines) due to the recent allegations that R&B singer Chris Brown beat up his former girlfriend, pop singer Rihanna. The incident reportedly took place after a pre-Grammy party, and while people speculate on what sparked the fight, many believe it was over herpes. Rumors are flying that Rihanna not only gave genital herpes to Chris Brown, but that she got it from hip-hop mogul Jay-Z. Why is this important? It’s not. At least not unless you’re one of those involved. But the comments I’ve heard from people regarding this controversy tells me there’s still a lot of misunderstanding about herpes out there in the general population.
No one knows for sure what caused the fight between the two celebrities. My guess is that it had more to do with jealousy than an STD. I would imagine that a fight over herpes transmission would happen in one’s home - upon discovering a sore or after getting news from a doctor - not in the middle of a night out with one’s partner. (It’s doubtful that he discovered herpes in the bathroom at the party.) If he was mad that she gave him herpes, they would have never rented the Lamborghini he reportedly beat her up in"at least that’s my theory.
But how did the herpes rumors start flying in the first place? I’ve seen some photos online showing Rihanna with distinct blisters on her lips. Assuming the photos weren’t fabricated or manipulated, I’d say it looks pretty clear that Rihanna has oral herpes. And this is where Rihanna fans are getting upset. They argue that there’s no way Rihanna gave Brown genital herpes, because she only has herpes on her mouth, not on her genitals. What they don’t understand is that Rihanna doesn’t need to have genital herpes in order to give it to someone. Oral herpes will do the trick just fine. That’s right, it could be very possible that Chris Brown got genital herpes from Rihanna via oral sex (or oral herpes from kissing, for that matter). But the particular case between those two people is their privacy, and I’m definitely not one to discuss celebrity gossip. I’m just using their situation as an example.
Since so many people seem confused about this, I’d like to clear some things up:
- Though herpes simplex virus (HSV) type 1 is commonly associated with oral herpes, and HSV type 2 with genital herpes, either type can be in either part of the body. (For example, you could have type 1 on your genitals, or type 2 on your mouth.) Since both types are very similar, and either can appear anywhere, it’s actually a pretty irrelevant piece of information. When talking about herpes, it’s much more informative to name the location, not the type.
- If someone has oral herpes, that does not mean he also has genital herpes. He can transmit the virus through his mouth and saliva, but not through his genitals. He can give a partner oral herpes by kissing. He can also give his partner genital herpes by giving oral sex. But he cannot give someone genital herpes by intercourse. Conversely, I have genital herpes so I can give someone genital herpes by intercourse, or oral herpes by receiving oral sex. However, I cannot give someone herpes by kissing him, because I don’t have oral herpes.
When trying to treat and prevent herpes, it’s better to take into consideration the location of the sores, not the type of strain. Knowing the type of herpes you have may be relevant in some cases, but for the most part it is just extraneous information. The main point that seems to slip through the cracks of people’s understanding about herpes, but which is an important concept to remember, is that any sexual activity makes oral and genital herpes completely interchangeable.
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.