Getting diagnosed with the disease doesn’t mean you can’t have a great sex life. Use this guide to get busy without the worry. If you’ve recently been diagnosed with herpes, you’re not alone. One in six people has the sexually transmitted disease (STD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital herpes is caused by one of two viruses: herpes simplex type 1 or 2. Those with the infection experience occasional outbreaks of painful sores or blisters around their genitals But not everyone with herpes has symptoms, which can make it tricky to stop the spread of the STD. Indeed, an April 2011 study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that it’s people who don’t know they have the virus who are at most risk of transmitting it to their partners.
The good news is: It is possible to have a great sex life when you have herpes. “It doesn’t take away from your ability to be intimate, but it does inform how you will be sexual,” says Katherine Bettin, PhD, a psychologist and certified sex therapist in Midlothian, Virginia. Read on to learn what you can do to have a healthy and satisfying sex life when you have herpes.
Communicate with Your Partner
If you have herpes, it’s important to be open and honest about it with a new partner. “This is a conversation that has to come right up front if you feel like you’re going to be sexually active with someone new,” says Dr. Bettin. Both people should get an STD test (even if you know you have herpes, you should also get tested for other diseases). “You want to know what you’re each bringing to the relationship. This is a trust builder — and hiding the information can be a trust breaker,” she says.
Being open will protect you both and help your partner understand why you want to use condoms. Not sure how to get the conversation started? Check out these talking points from the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA).
Take Steps to Prevent the Spread
One of the first questions people ask when they get diagnosed with herpes is: “What’s the risk I’ll give it to a sexual partner?” says Fred Wyand, a sexual health educator and manager of ASHA’s herpes simplex virus programs. “Your chances aren’t zero, but you can control the risk more than you might think,” he notes. Follow these three steps for prevention:
1. Avoid Sex During Outbreaks
Although it’s unlikely that you’re going to want to be intimate during an outbreak, it’s important to know that this is the time when the virus is most active and most likely to be transmissible. “Wait until all your symptoms go away, including any sores, itching, and tingling,”
2. Use Male Condoms
Using condoms consistently will diminish your risk of transmitting herpes to your partner. Over time, couples in monogamous relationships may decide to forego the condom entirely. “There’s nothing unreasonable about that at all, and it all depends on your comfort level in the relationship.
3. Try Medication
Talk to your doctor about an antiviral medication to suppress the virus. You can take it to speed healing at the onset of an outbreak, or daily if you suffer from frequent outbreaks.