By Kendra Holliday | September 22, 2014
I’m about to start a relationship and the woman told me she has genital herpes. I like her, but sex is a really important part of a relationship to me and I’m not sure how to safely deal with this. I want to do the right thing by both of us and I just don’t know how to proceed. I’m also worried that this will make me more timid when/if we do have sex, which would not be as much fun for me.
My friend had this posted as her status update on facebook the other day:
“When I was in 2nd grade we were given an assignment to write about the three things we feared most. I chose 1) killer bees 2) Russia 3) herpes.”
Good news for those who haven’t been properly educated since the 2nd grade – herpes is not as big a deal as you think. Here, a man who has herpes tells his story:
“I’ve had herpes for 35-plus years. It’s been an occasional complication when dating, but rarely a deal breaker. I can only remember one woman deciding not to have sex after I told her about the herpes. It did take my now-fiancée a number of months, a lot of research and an evaluation of the risks to decide to have protected sex.
I’ve (almost) always told potential lovers about the herpes *before* sex. That’s just plain respectful and ethical. It’s best to have the discussion before you start seriously thinking about ripping each other’s clothes off. I’m not proud of the few times I was not honest and ethical. Liquor and lust are not acceptable excuses.
A surprising number of times the woman (including my to-be/now-ex wife) has said ‘Oh. I have herpes too.’
Blood tests show that around 16% of the U.S. population has herpes. Of those, only around 20% are aware that they have it; the other 80% have no symptoms or symptoms so mild that they don’t recognize them. Infection rates are higher for women (nearly 21%) than men (11.5%). (Source: CDC)
(If one person knows that they have herpes and the other person believes that they don’t, that person might want to get tested. Maybe he/she already unknowingly has herpes.)
More to the point, non-monogamous people should include testing for herpes in their periodic STI tests. People entering into a monogamous relationship should include testing for herpes in their STI tests.
I got herpes from a woman who insisted that she didn’t have it. Thirty five years ago there weren’t the blood tests that showed most people with herpes are asymptomatic.
More recent research has also shown that there can be viral shedding – and transmission – even when there aren’t any signs of an outbreak. Shedding can occur from tiny skin lesions on the genitals and around the anus. Condoms aren’t complete protection against transmitting/catching herpes, but they do reduce the amount of exposed skin.
I did give one long-term (15 years) partner herpes even though we used condoms.
There is a drug called Valacyclovir which can be used with herpes. You can take it when an outbreak occurs to shorten the duration of an outbreak or take it every day to reduce the numbers of outbreaks. I take it every day and I haven’t had an outbreak for (I’m guessing) at least 10 years. The drug recently became available in generic form and the cost is now very reasonable. As noted above, however, you can still shed the virus even without having symptoms of an outbreak.
A study in 2002 followed 1494 monogamous, heterosexual couples, one of whom had herpes, for 8 months. In half the couples the person with herpes took Valacyclovir daily and the others received a placebo. The couples were repeatedly counseled on avoiding sex during outbreaks and on the full-time use of condoms, but adherence to this counseling was not tracked. The results of the study were that 3.8% of the partners of placebo recipients developed herpes (1.5% of them without symptoms) vs. 1.9% of partners of people taking Valacyclovir (1.4% of them without symptoms).
Using Valacyclovir and condoms together reduces the chances of transmitting herpes, but there is no absolute protection.
All of these are even more reasons to use safer sex practices until all members of a given sexual network have been tested for STI’s including herpes.
As far as diseases go, herpes definitely falls in the ‘annoyance’ category. There don’t appear to be any other health effects beyond the outbreaks and the social stigma.”
And now, let’s hear from a woman dating a man who has herpes:
“I have been involved with my significant other for more than two years. We are both sexually active together and with other people and have a very open, loving, hot and sexy relationship. He has herpes and I do not.
He had not mentioned in advance that he had herpes, that is, before it was clear we were headed towards definite sex. I understand why. It is something that you don’t really need to talk about unless you are going to have sex with someone. It was the first time that we connected sexually and we were kissing and definitely headed in the direction of intercourse… that freight train that can’t be stopped kind of moment…. but he stopped.
He said, ‘I need to have a serious conversation with you before we go any further.’ He told me he had genital herpes, for how long, what the risks were and that we could wait and I could go and investigate it myself if I needed to before we took that next step. I ended up asking him questions that night and chose to take the risk. I am glad that I did… and I did not hold back or express any timidness once I made up my mind. I then went home and researched the hell out of it.
The reality of genital herpes is that if you have had more than four sex partners, you have likely already had sex with someone who has the virus… they may just not have known or they may have failed to tell you. 1 in 4 American women and 1 in 5 American men have them… and that is just the genital kind (H2). Something that a lot of people don’t know is that herpes 1 (H1), the kind people get around their mouths from kissing their mother, can also be passed to the genitals, so you can get H1 on you genitals and H2 on your mouth.
What has helped me accept it and not hold back at all with my partner is this…. in the end, it is simply a skin condition. It is a skin condition that some people never even get an outbreak from. My boyfriend gets one outbreak a year. And, all that means is that we don’t have sex for that week. There are no other health consequences. Yes, it is contagious at times when you don’t have a breakout, but if you partner is on suppression meds (like Valtrex) the percentage rate of passing the virus goes down to like 3% a year with a regular sex partner.
I have accepted that I may get it and I am OK with that. I get tested about three times a year. We have had sex with four other women together… and he has been with at least a few separate from me… and none of them said ‘No, I don’t want to have sex with you because you have herpes.’ He just tells them the truth, confidently and calmly and lets them make their own decision. He lets them know it is a matter of their own health and is their choice to make, and let’s them know in a sexy way that if they don’t want to have sex because of that, they can do other things that can be just as fun. 😉
Having herpes does not mean never having another sex partner, like some people might think… I have proof. ;P
Also, I take Valtrex myself as a precaution. Many doctors believe that preemptive use may further help lower the chances of catching it with a regular partner. It is expensive without insurance though ($400 a month), but your insurance should cover it as a preventative treatment. When I bring up getting tested for it, most doctors, even when I am in for an STD screening, almost laugh that I want to get tested. In their medical opinion, it carries such little risk. They have often tried to talk me out of being tested since I have never had an outbreak. In my opinion, it is a vanity STD. It is mainly the shame factor that bothers people about getting it… and the fear of having to talk to a potential partner about it.
One more thing. If someone has H1, their chances of getting H2 are much lower. Not sure by how much, but that is another factor. If you have ever had a cold sore, your chances are diminished of getting genital herpes.
I don’t hold back at all with my man. I enjoy every minute I am with him. If you are into this girl and chose to take that next step, don’t second guess yourself. Lose yourself in it. There is absolutely no reason to be timid.’