How to Teach About Herpes

  • One in six American adults will get herpes in their lifetime.[1] Therefore, when teaching about herpes, it is important to stress that the disease is both common and manageable. The broad goals of teaching about herpes should include:

    • Knowledge about the disease.
    • An awareness of risky behaviors
    • Prevention skills
    • Information about accessing community resources.

    The National Sexuality Education Standards break these broad goals into specific learning objectives depending on the age of your learners.[2]

    Middle School

    • 1. Define HSV-1 and HSV-2 including how they are and are not transmitted.
    • 2. Compare and contrast behaviors to determine the potential risk of herpes transmission.
    • 3. Describe the signs, symptoms, and potential impacts of herpes.
    • 4. Demonstrate the use of effective communication skills to reduce or eliminate risk for herpes.
    • 5. Develop a plan to eliminate or reduce herpes risk.
    • 6. Identify medically accurate information about herpes.
    • 7. Identify local STD testing and treatment resources.

    High School

    • 1. Describe symptoms of and treatment(s) for herpes.
    • 2. Evaluate the effectiveness of safer sex methods on preventing herpes.
    • 3. Analyze factors that influence safer sex decisions.
    • 4. Demonstrate skills to communicate with a partner about prevention and testing.
    • 5. Apply a decision-making model to choices about safe-sex methods.
    • 6. Develop a plan to eliminate or reduce herpes risk.
    • 7. Analyze individual responsibility about testing for and informing partners about herpes.
    • 8. Access medically-accurate prevention information about herpes.
    • 9. Explain how to access local STD testing and treatment services.

    If working with adults, the larger goal is to ensure students are informed, know where to get tested and treated, and practice being responsible with their body and their partner’s. Key messages should also include information on managing herpes and communication skills to have open and empathetic conversations with partners.

    Ashley Manta, a sex educator who teaches about living with herpes, stresses the importance of correcting misinformation and destigmatizing the disease from a young age. One way to do this is by using positive, non-stigmatizing language. “I tell groups, ‘When you ‘I’m clean’ when someone asks you about STIs, what you are implying is that people with STIs are ‘dirty.’ This is a big ‘a-ha’ moment for people.”

    Additional Resources
    Planned Parenthood’s Herpes page
    ASHA’s Herpes Resource Center
    Lesson plans on STIs

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    [1] CDC – STD Facts – Genital Herpes. http://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/STDFact-herpes.htm
    [2] Adapted from: Future of Sex Education Initiative. (2012). National sexuality education standards: Core content and kkills, K-12 [a special publication of the Journal of School Health]. Retrieved from http://www.futureofsexeducation.org/documents/josh-fose-standards-web.pdf.
    [3] Includes abstinence and condom use.

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