Genital Herpes: What Does It Mean For Sex? | Speed Read
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Genital Herpes: What Does It Mean For Sex?

Genital Herpes: What Does It Mean For Sex?

A diagnosis of genital herpes can be devastating. You might feel confused, angry, bitter, afraid, and sad. How could this have happened? Who “gave” you the virus? How will you explain this to your partner? Will this be the end of your sex life?

It’s a delicate problem, and it takes time to process. The good news is that you can still enjoy intimacy with your partner. But from now on, you need to be very, very careful about your sexual relationships.

What is genital herpes?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). It can be spread by skin-to-skin and genital contact, and also through oral sex.

There are two types of HSV linked to genital herpes. HSV-1 usually causes cold sores and blisters around the mouth, but it can cause genital herpes, too. But most people who get genital herpes are infected with HSV-2.

There is no cure for genital herpes. Once the virus enters your body, it will stay with you. You can pass the virus to a partner even when you’re not having active symptoms.

What are herpes outbreaks?

HSV can be an unpredictable virus, and outbreaks come and go.

Outbreaks are times when you have the most herpes symptoms, which include lesions, sores, and blisters that appear on the genitals (the penis, scrotum, vagina, cervix, and vulva, for example), buttocks, or thighs. Sometimes, sores develop around the anus or mouth. The sores may be itchy or painful. Broken blisters may ooze, then scab over.

For some people, the first outbreak takes the longest to heal. After that, outbreaks tend to be shorter, but the time frame between outbreaks can be difficult to predict. Some people have “prodromal symptoms” like pain and tingling sensations, that let them know an outbreak is about to start.

It’s also possible to be infected with HSV and have no symptoms at all.

How is genital herpes managed?

Doctors treat herpes by prescribing antiviral drugs, such as acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir. Some patients are advised to take these medications every day to keep outbreaks under control.

Can I still have sex with genital herpes?

If you have genital herpes, you can still enjoy a healthy, satisfying sex life, but you should be extra cautious. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Your partner needs to know. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but anyone you have sex with should be aware of your situation. You can reduce the risk of spreading herpes, but you can’t eliminate it completely. Your partner will need to weigh that risk.
  • Never have sex during an outbreak. Herpes can be transmitted regardless of whether a person has active sores. But the likelihood increases during an outbreak.
  • Don’t touch the sores. Even if you are not having sex, you and your partner should never touch herpes lesions. If you do, wash your hands immediately.
  • Always use a latex condom during every sex act. And never re-use a condom. This means that if you and your partner engage in vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and mutual masturbation in one night, you need at least three condoms. You might consider carrying several with you to be on the safe side.
  • Don’t perform oral sex if you have a cold sore. This applies to both you and your partner. Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus, which can be transmitted during oral sex.
  • Practice good hygiene. Washing your hands regularly is a good practice for everyone, but especially for people with herpes. Use a separate towel for your genitals, too.

Remember that even if your sex life changes somewhat, your bond with your partner can still stay strong. And you can still stay physically connected through activities like kissing and cuddling. Having herpes may call for some adjustments, but it shouldn’t end the possibility for intimate relationships.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed)”

(Page last reviewed: January 31, 2017)

Migala, Jessica

“How to Have a Healthy Sex Life if You Have Herpes”

(June 22, 2016)

Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Medical School

“Genital herpes: Common but misunderstood”

(Updated: April 16, 2019)

Mayo Clinic

“Genital herpes – Diagnosis & treatment”

(October 3, 2017)

“Genital herpes – Symptoms & causes”

(October 3, 2017)


“Dating with Genital Herpes”

(September 9, 2018)

“How to Tell Your Partner You Have Genital Herpes”

(November 10, 2018)

“Genital Herpes and Your Sex Life”

(September 9, 2018)

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