How to Navigate Sex and Intimacy When You Have Herpes

No one wants to learn they have a sexually transmitted disease (STD), even when it’s a common one like herpes. 

More than one in six Americans between ages 14 and 49 have genital herpes, and a staggering 3.7 billion people worldwide under age 50 live with the virus. But we know these numbers offer little consolation if you receive a diagnosis yourself, and it can be easy to think your sex life is over.

Fortunately, Margie Corney, MD, at Women First GYN in Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, Virginia, is here to guide you through your diagnosis, so you can feel comfortable navigating sex and maintaining intimate relationships in the days to come. 

Here's what you should know about herpes and how to keep your partner safe.

How herpes spreads

Genital herpes develops because of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus can pass from person to person through sexual or skin-to-skin contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Once infected with HSV, the virus remains in the body indefinitely, often reactivating several times a year.

At least 25% of Americans have herpes, and experts estimate that there are a million new infections each year. Women have higher risks of testing positive than men. In many cases, women with HSV don’t realize they have the disease until tested or educated about its symptoms.

Recognizing the signs 

Herpes symptoms can take days or even years to surface after an infection occurs, and they can range from mild to severe. Many women experience warning signs before an outbreak, such as itching, burning, or tingling sensations in the genitals.

Common signs of a genital herpes outbreak include:

It can be easy for women to confuse the symptoms of a herpes outbreak with vaginitis, urinary tract infections, or hemorrhoids. You can also have herpes without any symptoms, which can make it easier to pass on, because you can be contagious without having visible signs.

Maintaining a healthy sex life

Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for HSV, so receiving a herpes diagnosis can cause significant psychological distress, including feelings of guilt, anger, or isolation. But it’s essential to know that you can continue having a full and healthy life inside and outside of the bedroom, despite your diagnosis.

Dr. Corney offers these insights to get you started.

Get the facts

You’ve probably heard the old adage that knowledge is power, and that’s the case when it comes to herpes. When facing a diagnosis, take time to learn more about HSV and your treatment options, such as antiviral medications. Using condoms between outbreaks can also help reduce the chances of passing on the virus. 

Abstain from sexual activity during outbreaks

The minute you feel an outbreak coming on, avoid engaging in all sexual contact. During these highly contagious periods, the virus can spread through all types of contact, including sores, sweat, and vaginal fluids, so a condom may not prevent viral transmission. To play it safe, wait at least seven days until any sores heal before resuming sexual activity.

Talk to your partner

First, take a deep breath. Millions of women live with herpes and still have a healthy sex life. Talk to your partner about STDs and whether they've undergone testing. Then, share your own diagnosis and outline the steps you can take together to stay safe, including using condoms between outbreaks, abstaining from intimacy during high-risk periods, and taking antiviral medications to reduce flare-ups.

Remember, herpes is very common, but it does require making a few adjustments when it comes to safe sex. Dr. Corney can help answer all of your questions and provide additional insights into your herpes diagnosis. To learn more or to schedule an STD testing, book an appointment online or over the phone with Women First GYN.

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