Well, that depends on where it shows up. And, I assume, on whom.
When I went to my doctor for what ended up being my herpes diagnosis, I asked her what it might be. She said it looked like a virus, which among other things could be herpes. “Does it look like…that?” She carefully avoided giving me a direct yes or no, but explained that herpes takes on many forms.
Personally, I’ve experienced herpes outbreaks in at least five forms. Each outbreak has involved a different combination of these possible incarnations.
[I tried to put an after-the-jump break here, but for whatever reason it’s not working. Sorry, people who don’t want to read on!]
HARD BUMPS: These show up on the outer labia, which I consider to be dry skin. They don’t look like much unless you stretch the skin; otherwise they lurk almost below skin level, like there’s a tiny, flesh pebble caught under your skin. Mostly they itch. A lot. But if you scratch them or mess with them too much, they hurt. It’s a kind of dull, sore pain. Eventually they either seem to sink back into the skin, or they’ll break open and you’ll have a round, shiny wet spot. It will try to crust over, and it doesn’t like to be touched. It will still be annoyingly itchy.
BLISTERS: These didn’t actually show up until about my third outbreak. A little cluster of about 7 of them appeared on my inner thigh, not far from the crease where my out labia begins. They start out clear, but as they swell they turn either a grey-white or a pale yellow. The tops of them are almost flat, and I think of them as being perfectly round with a sort of center point. They itch until they eventually break open, and at that point they’ll weep, crust over, and begin to heal. I read somewhere that they can leave a little silvery mark for a while after they’ve gone away, but I haven’t noticed any on myself yet.
RED SPOTS: I had one of these on my pubic mound during my first outbreak. I tried to squeeze it like an ingrown hair, but it didn’t feel like one, and it didn’t really look like one. By the time I noticed the spot, it was already broken open and was quite red. It didn’t hurt, wasn’t sore, didn’t itch. It just stood out like a little red warning light under my pubic hair. My best guess is that it was a small blister or bump that broke open either on its own or when I absentmindedly scratched it. The doctor (who has also correctly identified and pointed out my ingrown hairs) noticed it right away and knew what it was.
BLISTER RASH: This also appeared on my pubic mound, during a different outbreak. Again, it was bright red. When I looked at it very closely, I saw that it was made up of many tiny, clear fluid bubbles, similar to poison ivy bwebs. IT ITCHED LIKE CRAZY. This was the first outbreak that was so itchy that I woke up in the middle of the night and had to ice it before I could fall back to sleep.
SORES/ULCERS: These show up on the inner labia, on what I think of as either pink skin or wet skin. It’s the skin where moisture is often trapped, where the skin is thinner and darker, and has a richer blood supply. Often times here herpes will skip the blister stage completely and go right to the open sore, or ulcer (which, as my doctor explained to me, is “a breakdown of the skin.”) It looks like a little round or oval-shaped spot with a darker ring around the outside and a lighter center. It feels like any little cut you might get from a sharp fingernail — if you bump or stretch it, there’s a sharp, unpleasant pain. They weep and the whitish parts are, from what I understand, sloughed off dead skin cells. This is where a lot of the unusual discharge/clitty litter/outbreak-specific smell comes from. They burn if you pee on them, which can feel like a UTI to some people. The natural reaction may be to drink less, and thus pee less, but it’s actually better to drink more so that the urine is less acidic and hurts them less.
Overall, I prefer the sores to anything else. Why? Because they hurt only when you touch them with something, they’re less susceptible to movement or touching anything tucked between the labia, and they heal faster. Pain isn’t pleasant, but if you don’t touch them (and I sure as fuck don’t want to) they’re pretty easy to ignore. All of the types that show up on dry skin — the blisters, bumps and rash — itch something crazy and make it difficult to sleep. I find it very difficult to leave poison ivy, mosquito bites, or anything that itches to its own devices. I scratch it without thinking, even in my sleep, and at times find it almost impossible to stop.
All types should heal without scarring, if they’re left alone. They all like to be washed carefully with water and given plenty of air so that they can dry out. I’ve read about covering them with cornmeal or baking powder to speed along the drying process, but haven’t tried it. For their soothing qualities, my Glitter Sponsor swears by salty baths, or taking an already-steeped green tea bag and applying it to one’s nethers.
Last night a friend asked me, “So what does it look like?”