How To Have A Healthy Sex Life With Herpes
A healthy sex life with herpes can be a reality with honesty, good communication, and knowing how to manage and prevent spreading the infection to your sexual partners.
Healthcare providers and public health experts have outlined ways to have safer sex and prevent the spread of herpes with various treatment options.
When Is Herpes Not Contagious And When Does It Spread Most
So you or your partner have herpes, and you want to have a healthy love and sex life. These days, its very possible as long as you know the risks and the right precautions. When is herpes not contagious? And conversely, when is it most contagious? Its a more complex answer than you might expect, but an encouraging one when you have the right information.
Many People Who Have Herpes Use Condoms Only During Symptomatic Outbreaks
First published online: June 1, 2006
Three-fourths of individuals who know that they have genital herpes either abstain from vaginal sex or always use condoms when they have symptoms, but only one-fifth do so when they are free of symptoms.1 In an international cross-sectional study of individuals with genital herpes who were in monogamous, heterosexual relationships, only about half knew that the infection could be transmitted between outbreaks. Participants’ odds of having sex during symptomatic periods were elevated if they or their partner used an IUD, if they were Latin American or European and if they had previously had an STI. Their odds also increased with the number of sex acts per month and with the number of outbreaks per year.
The study was conducted between 1998 and 2001 among clinic clients who were being screened for participation in an international trial of drug therapy to prevent transmission of genital herpes. In 17 countries in North America, Latin America and Europe, researchers gave questionnaires to individuals visiting clinics who were infected with herpes simplex virus type 2, reported having had symptoms and had partners who had never had symptomatic genital herpes. Participants provided information about their demographic characteristics and their sexual behavior , and answered questions testing their knowledge about genital herpes.
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How Genital Herpes Can Affect Your Pregnancy
If you have genital herpes, its possible to spread the virus to your baby. A woman can spread it to her baby while she is:
Taking care of her newborn
If the baby gets the virus while in the womb, the mother may have a miscarriage or deliver the baby too early, causing the baby to be premature.
When the baby catches the virus during birth or shortly thereafter, this can be deadly for the baby. Be sure your OB/GYN knows that you have genital herpes so that precautions can be taken.
Genital Herpes Treatment In Pregnancy
You may be offered antiviral treatment:
- to treat outbreaks in pregnancy
- from 36 weeks to reduce the chance of an outbreak during birth
- from diagnosis until the birth if you first get herpes after 28 weeks of pregnancy
Many women with genital herpes have a vaginal delivery. You may be offered a caesarean, depending on your circumstances.
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Should You Get Tested
Its a good idea for the partners of people with genital herpes to have a blood test for herpes antibodies. This can help them to decide whether to use antiviral medication as protection, for example. Both partners may already have the same virus type. Then theres no reason to take medication to protect each other.
If one of the partners has HSV-1 or cold sores and the other one has HSV-2 or genital herpes, they could infect one another with the other virus. If one partner has herpes viruses in their body and the other doesnt, condoms are one way to prevent infection.
How To Talk About Herpes With Your Partner
Herpes is shrouded in stereotypes and stigma, but it shouldnât be. Itâs one of the most common STIs and often doesnât present with symptoms which has aided its rapid spread. While there isnât a cure yet, the condition is manageable and doesnât need to spell disaster for your dating life.
But what does need to change is the way we talk about herpes. Contrary to popular misconceptions, itâs got nothing to do with sleeping around. In many cases, symptoms wonât present for months or even years after contracting the virus. But the longer we avoid talking about herpes, the longer sufferers will be forced to navigate the shame of this misunderstood condition.
So, what are the best ways to let your partners know you have herpes?
- Communicate early and donât wait until you get into bed to have the conversation
- Be open and honest about the situation and explain the risks involved
- Educate them about the diagnosis means and how you can both navigate sex safely
- Explain your options and chat about what you both feel comfortable doing
The key to navigating this conversation successfully is to be upfront and honest. When it comes to safe sex, making sure youâre both aware of the risks means everyone is on the same page. Avoiding the subject or lying about the condition is only going to do more harm than good in the long run.
The longer we avoid talking about herpes, the longer sufferers will be forced to navigate the shame of this misunderstood condition.
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Yes You Can Have Sex Even Though You Have Herpes
This is the number one thing we all freak out about when were diagnosed with herpes. Getting the diagnosis that says, you have herpes somehow equates in our mind that we can never have sex again.
We immediately go to the place of this is punishment for having sex and I did something wrong so now I cant do that any more. Or maybe we go to the place of whos going to want to have sex with me. The thought of being damaged goods or dirt or disgusting often comes along with a herpes diagnosis. This is 100% false and you can absolutely have sex even with a herpes diagnosis.
Avoid Withdrawing From Your Partner
A sudden outbreak can be disappointing, especially if you were looking forward to an intimate evening.
But its important to remember that your worth isnt tied to your diagnosis. Youre still the same person, outbreak or not.
If you dont truly believe this, your words might reflect your self-judgment, and you might end up pulling away or conveying the message you do have something to feel embarrassed about .
Instead of saying something like:
- We cant have sex tonight I understand if you dont want to come over after all.
Try something like:
- Tonights a no-go for sex, so lets cuddle up with a horror movie.
The second validates the reality that you still have a lot to offer in the way of companionship. And dont forget, a hot makeout session can be pretty sexy. Think of the tension youll build up!
Sex is an important component in many romantic relationships, but it shouldnt be the only thing keeping your relationship going.
To help your relationship thrive, practice connecting with your partner in other ways.
You might try:
- sharing goals for the future
- simply existing in the same space
Experts agree this simply isnt true. The virus doesnt live long once outside the body, so the risk of transmission is very low in these scenarios.
Soap and water kills the virus, so if you touch sores to apply medication, all you have to do is wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
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Can I Still Have Sex If I Have Herpes
If you have herpes, you should talk to your sex partner about their risk. Using condoms may help lower this risk but it will not get rid of the risk completely. Having sores or other symptoms of herpes can increase your risk of spreading the disease. Even if you do not have any symptoms, you can still infect your sex partners.
You may have concerns about how genital herpes will impact your health, sex life, and relationships. While herpes is not curable, it is important to know that it is manageable with medicine. Daily suppressive therapy can lower your risk of spreading the virus to others. Talk to a healthcare provider about your concerns and treatment options.
A genital herpes diagnosis may affect how you will feel about current or future sexual relationships. Knowing how to talk to sexual partners about STDs is important.
How Is Genital Herpes Diagnosed
To find out if someone has genital herpes, health care providers do tests on:
- fluid from a sore
People with genital herpes need to tell recent, current, and future sex partners about their infection. Because someone may never have symptoms or may not have symptoms for months to years after infection, a current partner may not be the source of the infection.
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Is There A Cure For Herpes Simplex
There is no cure for herpes simplex. Once you have the virus, its a lifelong infection.
What is the outlook for people with herpes simplex?
For many people, the first herpes outbreak is the most severe. Many outbreaks are less frequent and milder after the first year of infection. Some people may have only one outbreak and never have another again.
Expect The First Outbreak To Be The Worst
Remember that although herpes lasts a lifetime, the first outbreak typically causes the most pain, while later outbreaks tend to be much milder.
You will always have herpes, and the sores will come and go, but you can decide not to treat the current outbreak. If its not that unpleasant or uncomfortable, some patients will do that, says Gade.
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Can Genital Herpes Be Treated
Your physician can prescribe different medications to help reduce your symptoms and speed up the healing of an outbreak. These medicines work best when you start them soon after an outbreak occurs.
To reduce pain during an outbreak:
- Sit in warm water in a portable bath or bathtub for about 20 minutes. Avoid bubble baths.
- Keep your genital area clean and dry, and avoid tight clothes.
- Take over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoid aspirin.
Let your physician know if you are worried about your genital herpes. He or she can recommend a support group to help you cope with the virus.
Recurrent Herpes Outbreaks And Their Effects On Sex
While some people with herpes never experience any symptoms, many people will experience occasional outbreaks of oral or genital herpes.
Because herpes is an incurable virus, these outbreaks can continue to occur for life, making it important that you have a treatment plan worked out with your healthcare provider.
The most common medication used to treat herpes is valacyclovir. Our guide to valacyclovir explains more about how this drug works to treat herpes outbreaks, with information on common dosage protocols for oral and genital herpes.
Your risk of infecting your sexual partner with herpes is as its highest during an outbreak, since the herpes sores that can develop during this period contain large amounts of highly infectious viral fluid. As such, its best to avoid all sexual activity during recurrent outbreaks.
This can sound frustrating, but the reality is that herpes outbreaks tend to become less frequent as your body develops its immune response. Most people with HSV-1 only ever experience one to two outbreaks per year, which typically take one to two weeks to heal.
People with HSV-2 usually experience outbreaks four to five times per year, with each outbreak lasting for one to two weeks.
Once you have a prescription for an antiviral drug like valacyclovir and understand how to use it to treat herpes symptoms, treating herpes outbreaks becomes fairly easy, making the impact on your ability to maintain a normal sex life much less serious than you might think.
Also Check: How To Deal With Herpes Diagnosis
Preventing The Spread Of Herpes
Even when you do not have sores, you can pass the virus to someone during sexual or other close contact. To protect others:
- Let any sexual partner know that you have herpes before having sex. Allow them to decide what to do.
- Use latex or polyurethane condoms, and avoid sex during symptomatic outbreaks.
- Do not kiss or have oral sex when you have a sore on the lips or inside the mouth.
- Do not share your towels, toothbrush, or lipstick. Make sure dishes and utensils you use are washed well with detergent before others use them.
- Wash your hands well with soap and water after touching a sore.
- Consider using daily antiviral medicine to limit viral shedding and reduce the risk of passing the virus to your partner.
- You may also want to consider getting your partner tested even if they have never had an outbreak. If you both have the herpes virus, there is no risk for transmission.
Why You Should Go To A Sexual Health Clinic
You can see a GP, but they’ll probably refer you to a sexual health clinic if they think you might have genital herpes.
Sexual health clinics treat problems with the genitals and urine system.
Many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service, where you do not need an appointment.
They’ll often get test results quicker than GP practices and you do not have to pay a prescription fee for treatment.
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What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
- What is the best treatment for me?
- What happens if I dont treat a cold sore?
- What are the side effects of antiviral medications?
- How can I reduce the risk of future outbreaks?
- Whats the best way to prevent getting another STI?
- How can I protect my partner from getting genital herpes?
- Should I lookout for signs of complications?
Does A Cold Sore On My Mouth Mean I Have Genital Herpes
No, a cold sore on your mouth usually means you have herpes simplex virus type 1 . You can get HSV-1 by kissing someone or sharing utensils, towels, razors, or lipstick with someone who has HSV-1.
HSV-1 cannot turn into HSV-2 , but you can get a cold sore on your mouth from HSV-2 if you give oral sex to someone with HSV-2. Cold sores caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2 are contagious. You can spread it to other people or other parts of your body if you touch an open sore and then touch another part of your body. That means if you have a cold sore and give oral sex to someone, that person will get the herpes virus on his or her genitals.
Avoid touching your cold sore as much as possible. If you touch your cold sore, wash your hands right away to avoid spreading the infection to other parts of your body or other people.
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Dont Forget Your Mental Health
Living and dating with herpes can come with unique stressors. Arming yourself with the right tools and information can help both your physical and mental health Ã¢ and help you feel better about your sex life.
Learning how to cope with your diagnosis can also mean seeking mental health support. The good news is, that support is available.
In Toronto and Vancouver, there are:
If youÃ¢re struggling with your mental health, itÃ¢s important that you talk to your healthcare provider. You can also speak to a counsellor about your herpes diagnosis at the Ontario Sexual Health Infoline at 1-800-668-2437.
If youÃ¢re ever in an emergency, call 911 right away.
How Do I Deal With The Stigma Around Herpes
Even people with symptomatic herpes often argue that the negative connotations are the worst part of having it. Physically, yeah, it does suck, Sarah said. But the emotional toll that this takes on people is all because of the stigma.
After being diagnosed with genital herpes, some people report feeling anxious, depressed, and alienated. Pierce described years spent feeling like a walking virus, always worrying about transmission.
Medical care providers can exacerbate this insecurity by failing to give people meaningful information about how to navigate sex with herpes. When I got my diagnosis, the nurse just gave me a pamphlet and told me to go on with my day. Sarah said. Too often, providers also use openly stigmatizing language, misrepresenting the severity of the condition. When I told my family doctor about my diagnosis, she was horrified, Sarah added. She said, I wish youd gotten chlamydia instead, because then, I could have just given you a pill, and it would have gone away. Now, you cant have kids.
When I tried to research this on my own, most of the information I found was pretty vague, and a lot of sources seemed to contradict each other at least a bit, Sarah added.
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How To Have Safe Sex With Herpes
Even if you have herpes, you can still maintain a fulfilling sex life. Although it might prove to be a bit more complicated, an enjoyable and safe sex life can be reached if you follow some guidelines. The way herpes spreads is through sexual contact between an infected partner and an uninfected partner. Herpes is the most widespread sexually transmitted infection in the world. Thats why it is paramount to understand the safe ways you can perform sexually in order to protect the virus from spreading.