Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Dec 07, 2018
Last Modified Date: Dec 07, 2018
Published Date: Mar 09, 2018
Have you had a Herpes test that came back positive? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one out of every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 years old have genital herpes. After your diagnosis, you may be under the impression, as are many newly-diagnosed individuals, that your sex life is over and you are doomed to be alone. However, as common as that impression is, it is a false one. It is very possible to have a healthy and fulfilling sex life while living with herpes. Here are some pointers on how to have safe sex with herpes.
Communicating with Your Partner is Vital
This is likely the most important step you can take in terms of having safe sex with herpes. As difficult as it can be, it is essential to be very upfront with current or new sexual partners about your diagnosis. Fact is, taking the right precautions can make transmitting the disease to your partner very unlikely, but cannot totally eliminate his or her risk of infection. Your partner deserves the opportunity to make an informed decision about his or her own health, since he or she will be assuming some level of risk of contracting the disease. Additionally, if this is or may become a longer term relationship, being honest right from the start establishes a solid foundation of trust for a healthy relationship. It is also important to note that in some states, there are legal penalties that can become an issue for people who know they are infected with herpes and fail to disclose that information to their partner – especially if that partner develops the disease.
Avoid Sexual Activity When Symptoms Are Present
Risk of transmitting the virus to others is greatest when herpes sores are present, so be sure to avoid all sexual contact when you have an outbreak or when you feel one coming on. Recurring outbreaks may be very mild, so if you are sexually active, examine yourself carefully and regularly. While some outbreaks may present as painful blisters or sores, others may be less obvious, presenting as small red bumps, resembling pimples, a simple rash or ingrown hairs on the genitals, buttocks or thighs that may or may not produce an itching, tingling or burning feeling. Even during mild outbreaks, the herpes virus is active, which means it can be easily transmitted to your partner.
Herpes has no cure, but it can be treated. Seeking treatment can not only make outbreaks less frequent and less severe, making the disease easier to live with, it can also greatly reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others. The most common and effective treatment options for herpes sufferers are antiviral medications, which can reduce your risk of transmitting herpes to a sexual partner by nearly 50 percent, so long as you are careful to take your medications daily as prescribed by your doctor.
Learn About Effective Protection
Herpes is spread via skin to skin contact, and there is some level of risk even when no obvious herpes symptoms are present. For this reason, use barrier methods to reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to others. Condoms should be part of every sexual encounter, including sexual intercourse, oral sex and anal sex, and dental dams are an important precaution to take when performing or receiving vaginal or anal oral sex.
Be Vigilant About Taking Precautions during Sex
The combination of antiviral suppression therapy and effective use of condoms and/or dental dams during sex can make the risk of transmitting herpes to your partner very small. However, getting that type of solid risk reducing results means being very consistent in using those precautions. That means taking antiviral medications regularly, as instructed by your doctor, and being vigilant about using protection with every sexual encounter. The only potential exception to that rule is if you are having sex with a partner who already has herpes, since being exposed to the herpes virus again presents no added risk to that partner. However, using condoms and/or dental dams is still important to reducing risk of other STDs – which can be easier to catch when you have herpes. So, unless you are in a long-term monogamous relationship with this partner and you have both been tested for STDs, it is still wise to take precautions.
Regular STD Testing Is Important
Even with all those precautions, you should get screened regularly for STDs, since the only 100 percent certain way to protect against all STDs is to avoid sex entirely. Both you and your partner should be tested for common STDs about once a year, and that screening should include herpes testing for your partner. Other important times to get tested are when you have a new partner, are having sex with more than one partner or have had any type of unprotected sex, whether it is sexual intercourse or oral sex.
Be Well Informed About Herpes And Well Equipped to Explain It
As mentioned above, effective communication with a current or potential partner is the key to a safe and fulfilling sex life. That means being very sure of the facts surrounding your condition, able to explain the precautions you and you partner need to take to be safer during sex and how they help to reduce risk of herpes transmission. Being well-informed on these matters will give you the opportunity to explain them thoroughly to your partner, helping you reassure him or her about your concern for his or her sexual health and commitment to protecting it. Of course, it will also help you protect your own sexual health, which is just as important to enjoying a happy, healthy and safe sex life after a herpes diagnosis.