How to Have Sex With Someone Who Has Herpes

woman in blue shirt lying on bed

Given the stigma around herpes, it’s no wonder that many people who have herpes are worried about having a fulfilling and safe love life. Luckily, herpes is treatable and antiviral medications like acyclovir and valacyclovir can help to prevent herpes transmission during sex.

Still, it’s important to skip sex when you have herpes sores and to use condoms during sex if you have herpes, even if you are not currently having an outbreak.

1. Share Your STI Status Early

It’s always a good idea to be upfront with your sex partner(s) about STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and how they can be transmitted. Having an honest conversation about STIs is the only way to ensure that you and your partner(s) can practice safe sex.

However, it’s important to disclose at a time that’s comfortable for you and your partner(s). If you have herpes, it might be better to wait until after you and your partner(s) get intimate, like after you’ve shared a kiss or before having genital contact, so they can take preventative measures.

Remember, genital herpes (HSV-1 and HSV-2) can live in the body for years without showing symptoms. When it does flare up, herpes sores are usually on or around the genital area, rectum, or mouth and may resemble cold sores, including the appearance of blisters that take a week or more to heal. Outbreaks can also cause flu-like symptoms, including fever, aches and pains, and swollen glands.

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It’s also helpful to discuss other ways you and your partner(s) can be intimate or express feelings, such as cuddling, holding hands, kissing, and even hugging. Disclosing your STI status early is an opportunity for you and your partner(s) to discuss other methods of safe sex, such as regularly using condoms, testing your partners before sexual contact, and discussing when and how to use barrier protection.

2. Manage Your Outbreaks

Despite the STI stigma, many people with herpes still have full and fulfilling love lives. The right attitude and plenty of frank conversations can make all the difference. For starters, it’s important to talk with your partner and discuss sexual boundaries. You may decide to use barrier methods like dental dams and latex condoms, and abstain from sex during an outbreak. You’ll also want to use the antiviral medications available to reduce outbreaks and transmission.

It’s a good idea to remind your partner that you’re most contagious when you have sores, but that you can spread herpes even when you don’t have symptoms via “viral shedding.” This means tiny particles of the virus can come off onto objects, and then touch another area of the body. You can prevent this from happening by using latex condoms during sex and washing your hands frequently.

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It’s also a good idea to abstain from sex until you’re no longer contagious, which typically means when the sores heal and the scabs fall off. You can also prevent outbreaks by avoiding stress-inducing situations, because herpes is more likely to flare up during times of increased stress. Finally, it’s a good idea to minimize herpes outbreaks by getting plenty of sleep and eating a balanced diet. This will help keep your immune system strong.

3. Take Suppressive Medication

For those with herpes, taking suppressive medication to prevent future outbreaks can be a big help. It also reduces the chance of transmitting herpes to your partner during sex and decreases the symptoms you might experience, such as flu-like discomfort. You can easily get a prescription from your doctor through a platform like Pilot and have the meds discreetly delivered right to your door.

It’s important to let your sexual partner know what herpes medications you’re using, so they can be aware of the risk factors. It’s also helpful to share information about herpes (which type you have and how it spreads, for example) with your partner before starting a relationship to put them at ease.

You can also explain how to have safe sex with herpes, such as using condoms, abstaining during outbreaks and taking herpes medicines. The more you and your sexual partner are prepared for herpes, the easier it is to have a loving and fulfilling sex life.

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Even though STI stigma still exists, people living with herpes are having successful relationships and a sexy life. It may take some work and fumbling in the bedroom, but opening up about herpes early on can prevent shame and anxiety and pave the way for a happy love life. With open communication and the right herpes treatments, there’s no reason to fear herpes.

4. Talk About It

There’s a lot of awkward stuff that happens in the bedroom, including fumbling and fidgeting, but one topic that is often skipped over entirely is sexually transmitted infections (STIs). For those who have herpes, the conversation can be particularly challenging to navigate, especially with new or short-term partners.

Finding out a sexual partner has herpes can trigger a variety of feelings, from shock and fear to confusion, embarrassment, and even a sense of betrayal. And it’s important to remember that herpes is extremely common—at least one in seven people carry herpes simplex virus (HSV), and most of them don’t know it.

Herpes is a highly contagious infection that can spread through skin-to-skin contact, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex. It can also be passed through kissing, or by sharing items such as utensils and razors that may have come into contact with a herpes sore.

Despite the stigma surrounding herpes, many people with herpes are living normal lives and dating and having sex, even after receiving a diagnosis. Having the right conversations up front and taking some extra precautions can help make for happy, healthy relationships—even with herpes.

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