While the virus mostly remains dormant and doesn’t cause visible symptoms, the virus is still present and can be passed on to others.
Herpes is very common. Worldwide, as many as 90% of people have either one or both viruses. Oral herpes is most common, as it is usually transmitted during childhood from intimate contact with family members. Roughly 492 million people (13% of the world’s population) have genital herpes.
However, having herpes doesn’t mean you can’t date new people and explore relationships. Keep reading to learn how to date safely and confidently if you have a herpes infection.
Yes, it’s entirely possible to date with herpes. For many couples, a partner having herpes is a mild inconvenience at most.
The herpes virus is spread through skin-on-skin contact. It is most contagious when you have symptoms, or when an outbreak is about to happen. Usually, itching or tingling on the affected area is a warning sign
By avoiding sex during outbreaks and using condoms, you can limit your chances of transmission. Whilst the risk of transmission isn’t 0 - you can feel confident that you won’t infect your partner.
Oral herpes (HSV-1) presents as cold sores. It is easily spread by kissing or face-to-face contact, but can also be passed to the genitals during oral sex. Cold sores are most contagious when the blister has burst, but continue to be contagious until fully healed.
Genital herpes (HSV-2) is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that causes small blisters on or around the genitals. You can catch genital herpes from sex, sharing of sex toys, or genitals coming into contact. It’s also possible to get HSV-2 orally after performing oral sex.
Dating safely with herpes involves being open with your partner, timing sex around outbreaks, and using protection.
The most important thing when dating with herpes is being upfront and honest about your infection.
While you might be tentative about revealing this information about yourself, it’s only fair that any new partners are made aware of any potential risks. After all, herpes can’t be cured with a quick round of antibiotics, like other STIs.
Make sure to disclose this information before you attempt to engage in sex. Don’t leave it till the last minute either - being in the mood might prevent your partner from thinking rationally.
The right partner will acknowledge that herpes is just a common health condition that needs to be worked around. It doesn’t have to feel like a strain on your relationship.
Herpes flare-ups or outbreaks happen when the virus becomes active and causes symptoms. During these periods, the virus is very contagious. Using barrier methods (like condoms) cannot stop you from passing on your infection.
Therefore, the safest option is to avoid sex altogether during a flare-up. This includes:
Having sex with open sores can also be uncomfortable and painful.
Recurring outbreaks usually last 7-10 days. Once any blisters have scabbed over and healed properly, you become much less infectious and can engage in (protected) sex.
It’s also important to notice any warning signs that an outbreak is about to happen. Most people experience itching, tingling, or burning before the sores appear.
These warning signs show that the virus has become active again, meaning you are once again contagious - even if the blisters haven’t formed yet.
Using barrier methods of contraception (like condoms and dental dams) will help to reduce your chances of transmission when having sex in between outbreaks.
This is because, while you’re less contagious in between outbreaks, there’s still a small chance of transmission.
One study compared the rate of transmission between symptomatic herpes (during an outbreak) and asymptomatic herpes.
The results showed that:
- 10% of people with asymptomatic herpes were contagious
- 20% of people with symptomatic herpes were contagious
Using a condom is the safest way to approach sex when you or your partner has a genital herpes infection. Barrier methods should be used:
While type 1 herpes may seem less serious than its type 2 counterpart, it is equally important to avoid spreading it to someone you’re dating.
To avoid spreading HSV-1, do not kiss your partner when you have an active cold sore on or around your mouth. Kissing must also be avoided right before a cold sore forms (when a tingling sensation is present).
Wait until any cold sores have completely healed and disappeared before having mouth-to-skin contact with your partner.
You must also avoid giving oral sex when you have a cold sore, as this might result in spreading the virus to your partner’s genitals.
It is possible to purchase cold sore patches from your local pharmacy during an outbreak. These patches help the sore to heal faster and reduce your discomfort. They also act as a protective barrier, reducing your chances of giving it to other people.
Being in control of your outbreaks will help to improve your sex life. The best way to manage herpes is to take antiviral medication and avoid possible triggers.
Antiviral therapy is available to those with recurring herpes outbreaks. They help to reduce how often an outbreak takes place, as well as the length of an outbreak.
Antiviral medicines include:
Antivirals can reduce the frequency of outbreaks by 70-80% among people who frequently present with herpes symptoms.
Certain things can bring on, or ‘trigger’ herpes outbreaks. Sometimes these triggers are unavoidable, such as stress, illness, fatigue, and having a menstrual cycle.
However, some other triggers can be avoided. These include:
If you are dating someone with herpes, the same rules apply. Keep using barrier methods during sex and abstain from any sexual intimacy when your partner has open sores or is symptomatic.
It is entirely possible to have a long-term relationship with a herpes sufferer - by being cautious you can keep yourself from contracting the virus.
Just make sure you’re aware of the risk. While you’re unlikely to catch the infection when your partner is between outbreaks, the chance isn't 0.
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