Oh Joy Sex Toy is a weekly comics series that graphically explores sex and sexuality. This week, artist Erika Moen discusses dealing with the dreaded scourge of cold sores.
Want more from Erika Moen? Oh Joy, Sex Toy: Volume One is 268 pages of sex tips, interviews, sex toy reviews, and more! Get your autographed copy at BitchMart.
Here is a text transcription of the comic to make it more accessible for people using screen readers. Transcription by Morgan Kelly.
Erika begins this comic by pointing at a pair of lips with a large sore, she says, “My entire life I’ve been getting cold sores. They’re these painful oozing blisters that appear on my upper lip a few times a year, usually when I’ve been stressing out.” The lips gently moan, “Haroo.”
Now Erika is talking with a younger Lil’ Erika from the past. Present Day Erika says, “I knew they were related to herpes in some way…"
Then Lil’ Erika interjects, “Like a distant cousin of herpes. But it’s not like I have HERPES-herpes.” Lil’ Erika continues more dramatically, “I mean, having ACTUAL herpes means you are INFECTED, plagued with AN INCURABLE DISEASE and you should resign yourself to NEVER being physically intimate with a partner EVER AGAIN lest you pass on the virus.”
Lil’ Erika continues, “My cold sores are just annoying and I’ve had them since I was a kid. I’m not a disease-spreading, face-melting, life-ruined pariah, therefore I don’t have For Reals Herpes.” Present Day Erika looks at her younger self, “Oh sweet, naïve Lil’ Erika.”
Erika says, “Imagine my surprise when I learned cold sores ARE herpes. HERPES-herpes. For Reals Herpes. Herpes. Period.” Lil’ Erika jumps in surprise, “WHAT?” Erika affirms, “That’s right, hot lips, we’ve got ORAL HERPES.” Lil’ Erika falls to her knees, “Oh god, I’m a moooonsterrrrrrr.” Erika winks and says, “If you’re a monster, then so is 80% of the population.” Lil’ Erika looks shocked, “80%???”
Erika explains, “According to Planned Parenthood, they say eight out of ten Americans have oral herpes, while one out of four have genital herpes.” Lil’ Erika says, “That doesn’t sound right, how come the streets aren’t filled with thousands of blistered oozing orifices?” Erika responds, “Because most people are asymptomatic. That is, they don’t show any symptoms. Chances are good that they don’t even know they’re infected!”
Erika continues, “The American Sexual Health Association says that most people get herpes as children when they are kissed by a friend or relative who is infected. Whether you got it as a youngster or through sexual activity, herpes is spread from the contagious area or broken skin of someone with the virus directly touching someone’s mucous membrane tissue, like your mouth or genitals. It is always present and transferable, even if the infected person isn’t showing any signs of an outbreak.”
Lil’ Erika looks concerned, “If people are infectious all the time, should they just stop kissing forever so as not to expose others?” Erika responds, “Oh, come on. That’s just not practical and no way to live.” Then Erika crosses her arms defiantly, “During an outbreak, yes, of course – DON’T PUT YOUR OPEN SORES ON ANYONE.”
A large pair of lips covered with sores beckons Erika, “Kiss meeee.” Erika dodges the lips and continues, “You’re WAY more contagious when you have those painful weeping lesions. But why on earth would you want anything to touch one of them in the first place? They’re already super painful and look nasty, for goodness sake! Just tell your partner you get cold sores and use barriers (condoms or dental dams) during oral sex to prevent spreading infection down there.”
Under a large bold heading, Erika next explains “The Life and Times of a Herpes Outbreak.”
Remission: No symptoms, though still contagious, while the virus lives in your sensory nerve ganglia.
Prodromal (Day 0-1): Tingling/itching sensations and reddening skin begin a few hours or days before physical symptoms appear. Start treatment, if you have some!
Inflammation (Day 1): The virus begins reproducing and infecting cells at the end of the nerve. The healthy cells begin swelling and the skin around them becomes reddened.
Pre-sore (Day 2-3): A hard, little, painful bump(s) appears on the skin.
Open Lesion (Day 4): Augh, the worst part! The bump(s) break open and create an open, weeping, super painful sore. This fluid is HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS with active viral particles.
Crusting (Day 5-8): A yellow or brown-ish crust develops. It will crack open regularly from movement, releasing more contagious fluid from within the lesion.
Healing (Day 9-14): As the virus retreats back to dormancy, new skin grows beneath the scab. It may still be irritated, itchy, and painful.
Post Scab (Day 12-14): As the destroyed cells regenerate, some redness may linger at the sit of the outbreak, and the virus can still shed even at this stage of recovery.
At the end of this explanation, Lil’ Erika asks Erika, “Okay, so I’ve heard there’s different kinds of herpes. Explain.”
Erika says, “The Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) has two types: HSV-1 tends to show up mostly in and around the mouth and on the face...” Erika points to an illustration of a face covered in sores, then to an illustration of a penis with sores. “While HSV-2 mostly hangs out in the genitals. BUT you can totally find HSV-2 in the mouth and HSV-1 on the genitals. The only way to get properly diagnosed is to get a herpes test by your healthcare provider.”
Erika continues, smiling, “Herpes may be incurable, but there ARE treatments to help manage the symptoms and reduce how long an outbreak lasts. You can get prescriptions for acyclovir, famciclovir, or valacyclovir pills (generic names) from your doctor. Personally, I’ve had GREAT results using Abreva cream on my lip.”
An illustration depicts a small tube of Abreva, noting the price, “About $20 for a 1.5” long tube.” Lil’ Erika is shocked, “Good god, they’re pricey though!” Erika responds, “Yeah, it’s extortionate, but it actually does reduce the time of an outbreak for me and you can pick it up over the cover at pharmacies and grocery stores.”
Erika concludes this comic with a hand on Lil’ Erika’s shoulder, and stomping on an illustration of a herpes virus, “So Lil’ Ericka, don’t bum too hard. People with herpes need to take a few extra precautions like we discussed above, but we can still have fun, fulfilling make-out sessions and sex lives with our short and long-term partners. Herpes is annoying and painful, but it’s not a life ruiner.” Lil’ Erika shrugs, “I… I guess not… Herpes… it’s really not that big of a deal after all.”