Genital Herpes and Your Sex Life
Genital Herpes and Your Sex Life
People with genital herpes must be more aware and attuned to their bodies and
take precautions so that they may reduce the risk of transmitting the disease to partners who do not already
Because herpes is a highly transmittable disease, even when you don't have an
outbreak, it's up to you to be responsible about when and how you interact with your partner.
But remember that sex isn't only about intercourse. The most intimate
experiences we have may involve kissing, touching, snuggling, and holding hands. Having genital herpes may
inspire you and your partner to think differently about sex and be creative.
You undoubtedly have a lot of questions as to how your sex life is going to
change from now on. Look at the following areas of interest to get some answers.
When Can I Not Have Sex?
There are people who become so concerned about transmission that they decide they should never have
sex again. This choice for celibacy is a personal choice, but many people continue to have active sex lives. Sexual self-expression is a creative and joyous part of being human, and,
by practicing safer sex, it may be just as big a part of your life now as it was prior to your diagnosis.
Remember, there is no cure for genital herpes, and even with antiviral treatment, it is possible to spread the
herpes virus to other people. Positive Singles
The most important commitment you can make is to abstain from sex completely
when you're having an outbreak. Even if you are at the prodrome stage, you should avoid sexual contact. The
nerve endings just under the skin signal that an outbreak is ready to occur, causing the symptoms of tingling,
itching, and pain. And once you develop early redness and the skin is tender to the touch, you should consider
yourself in the active phase of the infection. This phase generally follows a pattern.
- The skin swells at the site and redness may occur
- Vesicles (blisters) form on the top of the sore
- The shell of the vesicles comes off and becomes a wet ulcer
- The fluid from the ulcer dries and the sore scabs over
- As the crust hardens, new skin grows underneath
- The crust falls off or the lesion dries up without ever forming a
The entire cycle typically takes three weeks for a primary infection, but
recurrences may be as short as 5 to 6 days, and not everyone goes through all the stages mentioned above.
However, no matter how long it takes, you should never have sex during an outbreak.
Some recurrences have hardly any symptoms—you might only have a tiny bump on
the anus or labia or foreskin, and it might not even hurt. However, no matter how small the sore, it is still an
active outbreak. Everyone's genital herpes is different, so it's important that you get to know your own
If you're in any doubt about whether or not you are having an outbreak, DON'T
What Is Safer Sex?
In the 1980s, when HIV first became a concern, there was a great deal of talk about "safe sex."
Campaigns to stop the spread of the disease as well as other STDs always focused on the use of condoms (sometimes
two at a time) and spermicide.
But safe sex turned out to be a myth. We have learned in the past two decades
that there is no sex between two people that is absolutely safe. Condoms can and do break. And for people with
genital herpes, condoms don't always cover the area of outbreak. Ideally, for complete coverage, you'd need to
use condoms, latex gloves, and sheets of latex (if you are allergic to latex, talk to your healthcare
professional about other barrier protection). This is too difficult for most couples.
So we are left with safer sex, which consists of a variety of erotic activities
that are lower risk. Practice safer sex and you may be more likely to protect yourself and others:
- Limit your number of sex partners.
- Know as much as you can about your sex partners. Before you go to bed with
anyone, try and spend time getting to know him or her. You may want to talk about your sexual
- Know how to put on and take off a condom. Practice when you're by yourself
and not under pressure to perform.
- Never reuse a condom. They are designed to be unrolled and used only once.
This is true even if you have not had intercourse.
- Try to avoid having sex when you are under the influence of alcohol. You
may be less likely to use condoms effectively.
Do I Always Have to Use Barrier Protection?
The basic answer is "yes." To help reduce the risk of transmitting the herpes virus to others, you
should always use barrier latex protection. (Please see your healthcare professional for alternative barrier
methods if you're allergic to latex.) This is true even when you're not having an outbreak because you still may be
shedding the herpes virus. Asymptomatic viral shedding occurs when you don't have any signs or symptoms of genital
herpes but the virus is present on your skin, and you can transmit the virus to others.
But unfortunately, condoms don't always protect against genital herpes. If the
sore is just slightly to one side of the labia, for example, or further down on the shaft of the penis, you
won't have complete coverage. You may wish to use both a regular latex condom and also a female condom, which
covers the entire vulva. It's also a good idea to keep latex examination gloves around for safe manual play.
(Please see your doctor for alternative barrier methods if you're allergic to latex.)
Lesbian women may choose to use a latex barrier for activities where their
genitals may be in contact—you can buy sheets of latex from surgical and dental supply stores or from websites
and cut them to size.
Gay men should both be wearing latex condoms, even if only one is infected.
(Please see your healthcare provider for alternative barrier methods if you're allergic to latex.)
If you are in a mutually monogamous relationship with someone who does not have
herpes, the two of you have to spend some time deciding whether or not you will also wear a condom. The first
year of diagnosis is when the highest susceptibility of transmission occurs—not only may there be more
outbreaks, but there is a higher rate of asymptomatic viral shedding.
Some couples may have a lower likelihood of virus transmission the longer they
are together. This may have to do with the susceptibility of the partner, or the fact that the person with
genital herpes is aware of exactly when he or she is having a recurrence.
All About Condom Use
At the point when you need a condom, you're rushed, excited, and can't be bothered with reading any
instructions. That's why it's a good idea to learn exactly how to put on and take off condoms when you're calm and
collected. Women and men both should become experts at this skill:
- Use latex condoms every time you have sex. Natural membrane condoms are
too porous, and the virus can get through them. If you are allergic to latex, talk to your healthcare
professional about other barrier protection. Only buy packages with expiration dates that contain the words
"electronically tested." These are less likely to break under pressure.
- Keep your condoms away from heat, and be careful of long fingernails and
jewelry when removing them from the package or putting them on.
- Never use oil-based lubricants like petroleum jelly on latex—they make
condoms brittle, which means that they can dissolve or crack.
- As soon as you have an erection, it's time to put the condom on. Any type
of contact between genitals can potentially transmit the virus.
- Open the package and squeeze the tip to remove all air
- Unroll the condom about half an inch. You can apply a little water-based
lubricant. If you put lubricant on the inside, after penetration it will warm up, giving you more
- Place the condom at the tip of the erect penis and grasp between your
index finger and thumb. If you're using the type with the reservoir tip to catch the semen, pinch it a
little to let the air out.
- If the penis is uncircumcised, pull the foreskin back before putting the
- Keeping contact all the way up, smooth the condom up the shaft of the
penis. Unroll it all the way to the top. You can apply more spermicide and/or a water-based
- The condom will be slippery at this point, so when you're ready for
penetration, you may need to grasp the rim to hold it in place.
- If the condom breaks or tears, or it doesn't unroll all the way, stop. Get
a new one.
- After ejaculation, withdraw slowly. Don't wait for the penis to become
flaccid. If you do, fluids may leak out the sides of the condom and into your partner. Grasp the rim of the
condom, pull it gently off the penis, and throw it in a plastic bag.
- Never flush condoms down the toilet.
If you might consider having sex several times in one day or night, be sure to
have supplies of condoms on hand. Never reuse condoms.
Genital Herpes Issues and