Oh Joy Sex Toy: Herpes!

Pink-haired smiling cartoon white woman
Erika Moen
View profile »

I've been producing webcomics since I was 15 and doing it full-time as a professional since the age of 25 at Periscope Studio in Portland, OR. My work has been published by Dark Horse Comics, BOOM! Studios, Image Comics, Fantagraphics, Last Gasp and Villard, among my many self-published projects as well.

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. 

A comic about herpes and dealing with cold sores

Read a bunch more Oh Joy Sex Toy comics, including one about the history of vibrators

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.”


Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

9 Comments Have Been Posted

Valacyclovir is a life

Valacyclovir is a life changer for me - take 2 grams at the start of the outbreak (tingling) and 2 more 12 hours later and no herpes (or only small bump without the oozing, lesioning goodness - I used to go weeks with nasty sores on my mouth and now I can prevent or shorten it substantially.

Genital Herpes

It would be helpful to provide more information on HVS-2, genital herpes. The information should include suggestions for people who are latex sensitive. Thanks for this helpful graphic.

I agree. As someone who has

I agree. As someone who has genital herpes I am often frustrated by how little I see written about it. How to deal with it, how common it is, how little it affects your life, and how likely it is you have already been exposed to it by an unknowing or non-disclosing partner.

All of the information here applies to genital herpes but the focus is on oral herpes. It distinguishes the two types at the end, and makes a point of saying the writer has oral, not genital herpes. I understand not wanting your name to be associated with genital herpes, as I don't want mine to be. The author very well may not have it, but it is hard for me to see an end to the stigma surrounding herpes when no one anywhere is willing to admit they have this disease publicly. It is especially disappointing to me when publications that I think otherwise do very good work around sex education miss their opportunity to do real & helpful education around genital herpes.

I think the point was to mad

I think the point was to mad people understand that oral herpes -is- herpes and that people with genital herpes shouldn't be stigmatized, as we don't stigmatize folks with cold sores. I know so many people with cold sores who either don't understand that they can transmit them at all because they don't know it's a virus, or they know it's oral herpes but think they can't transmit their virus during oral sex and of course they can.

I've never seen cold sores referred to as herpes outside of sex ed contexts and even then it's rare. I also rarely see herpes discussions that talk about oral herpes. considering how few people know about oral gonorhea, and how many people never use barriers during oral sex, I think emphasizing that sti's aren't different just because they're in your mouth is important.

Alternatives to Rx

Ahhh, the lack of proper sex ed and being young, naive, and sexually experimental. Not surprising, found me with genital HSV-1. It took a great deal of time to recover from the shame and horror. Twice I suffered through an outbreak until it would be so fierce and so bad that I'd eventually go crawling in pain to the emergency room, convinced my symptoms were too awful to be merely herpes. When my outbreaks became more frequent, I tried using a low dose, daily Rx or I'd rush to the clinic for an emergency prescription for a full-on outbreak. At times, acyclovir would help relieve or preempt symptoms immediately. Other times, it wouldn't work at all.

I was using prescriptions for about a year before I got frustrated with the cost, the clinic visits, and feeling like I was only treating the symptoms and that I'd just be doing that fooorever. Eventually, my herpes and I came to terms with each other. I learned more about the virus--how it works, what it "wants", what it doesn't; I started to recognize the very first tinglings of it "waking up" in my body. I worked to keep my stress levels in check, eating healthy and staying active. Early signs of an oncoming outbreak would be a warning flag that I needed to slow down, de-stress, and take care of myself. I started taking a daily supplement of Lysine, an amino-acid with antiviral effects that block the activity of arginine. Arginine is another amino-acid but it promotes HSV replication and is found in foods such as seeds, dairy, meats, and certain grains, veg, fruit, and legumes. My outbreaks have become far less frequent and much less severe. When I sense the virus has "awakened", I bump up the Lysine and my immune system with vitamins, sleep, and good food. In turn, I feel like I've taken control of my health, my body, and this virus instead of having to rely on only pharmacies and physicians. Good living and good health to everyone living with this or any other STI.

For those of you wanting more

For those of you wanting more about HSV-2, http://thesexuneducated.tumblr.com is a great resource. The person who runs the blog has HSV-2 and has taken on the monumental and laudable effort to de-stigmatize it.

Decolorized iodine

I have been utterly flabbergasted at how well white (decolorized) iodine wipes out my mouth sores. I haven't had one since I discovered it. Apply liberally and often as soon as you feel a sore starting. It stops ours in their tracks. You can get it on eBay or at CVS for $5, a fraction of the prescription costs.

Thanks for this! I knew all

Thanks for this! I knew all of this information but it's still embarrassing when some smart ass feels the need to see my sores and say, "ewwwww....herpes".

I have found that dabbing a little bit of witch hazel whenI feel the tingle and during the outbreak greatly reduces the time and severity.

There's a slight error in

There's a slight error in your illustration. My partner was diagnosed with herpes and I went to Planned Parenthood to get tested. I'm not sure if this is true for all PPs, but the one in my neighborhood does not perform STD testing for herpes, only chlamydia and gonorrhea. I was told that they could only perform a test on an open lesion after I've had an outbreak, but they could do nothing for me if I was asymptomatic. A blood test, which they do not perform, would only show if my body was carrying the antibodies for HSV-1 or HSV-2, but this could mean I've only been exposed and do not actually carry the virus.

Add new comment