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Hump Day: Having Sex With Herpes

Welcome to Hump Day, TrèsSugar's sex advice column. If you have questions about sex, send them to TrèsSugar, and our friend Dr. Charlie Glickman from Good Vibrations will offer his sound advice!

Today's question:

“I contracted genital herpes in my last relationship. I now feel like I am cursed to never be in a sexual relationship again. How do I tell new partners that I have herpes? If thanks to my prescription I haven't had an outbreak in a really long time, do I have to tell?”

To see Dr. Glickman's answer,


There’s a lot of stigma attached to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and it’s always seemed so strange to me. After all, lots of people who don’t think twice about spreading the flu or other illnesses often freak out about STIs. For centuries, STIs were seen as divine retribution against sex. But these days, we know that they’re caused by bacteria and viruses, just like colds, measles, and such.


Herpes medications make outbreaks less likely, but since the virus is present on the surface of the skin and can be transmitted to someone else medication doesn't give you a 100 percent guarantee. So even if you never have another outbreak, it’s still possible to transmit herpes. That being said, you are definitely not "cursed to never be in a sexual relationship again." There are also lots of people who understand how herpes works and how to have safer sex. So while it’s a bit more complicated for you, it’s nowhere near as hard as it feels right now. As for whether you have to tell someone, my personal belief is that a healthy sexual relationship depends on informed consent and that can only exist when someone has full information. Assuming that you decide to tell potential partners, there are a few different elements to consider: when to tell someone, what to tell them, and how to tell it. I’ll take on each of these separately.

When to tell someone: You’ll likely be better off if you let a potential partner know about your situation before things have gotten past the point of being able to make a good decision. But, it’s also not really necessary to tell someone before you’re even sure that you want to have sex with them. Perhaps after a first kiss, so you at least know that there’s some chemistry, and it's before clothes come off. If someone is going to have a negative reaction, it’ll probably be a lot bigger if you tell them after you have sex with them and it’ll almost definitely be much bigger if they find out by having an outbreak. That’s the sort of thing that can lead to a breakup.

What to tell someone: It can be as simple as “I have herpes. I take medication and I haven’t had an outbreak since…" Or it can be more detailed, depending on how much you know and how much you want to share. You can get lots of great info at or check out the books Managing Herpes or The Good News About Bad News: Herpes.

You could also tell them where you have had outbreaks since those are the places that the virus would be most likely to spread from. That can help you strategize around safer sex. One of the hassles of herpes is that condoms don’t always cover all of the places that it can show up. If you’re going to receive oral sex, you can use a dental dam. Dams come in latex and non-latex versions. If you’ve never used dental dams before, page 12 of this guide tells you all about them, along with lots of other great safer sex info.

The Female Condom covers more of the vulva, giving you some extra protection. The manufacturer is currently producing the FC2, which will be less expensive and feel somewhat better, so I expect them to be available soon. Gloves can also help reduce the risk of transmission and they’re really easy to use and can be kind of sexy.

How to tell someone: I find that the best way to do it is to be upfront about it and not let embarrassment or shame creep in. The calmer you are and the more direct you are, the easier it’ll be for a potential partner to hear. If you’re nervous about it, that’ll send a message that this is something to be anxious about. If you have a friend or two that you can tell about having herpes, it’ll give you a chance to practice saying it without the pressure of worrying if it will complicate things.

Think about how you might tell someone you’re going to have dinner with that you’re vegetarian or that you’re allergic to seafood. It’s important information that you’re sharing in order to find a solution. Try to tell a potential sexual partner about this in the same way.

Herpes is definitely not the end of your sex life. It’s simply something to take into consideration. It might take a little practice to figure out when, what, and how to tell someone, but plenty of other people have found ways to do it and you can, too.

Image Source: Getty
Join The Conversation
Autumns_Elegy Autumns_Elegy 7 years
Oral herpes is different to genital herpes. And yeah, you can get oral herpes around the genitals, or genital herpes around the mouth. And they are two different viruses (simplex I and simplex II). If I was about to sleep with someone and I had genital herpes, I WOULD tell them! Regardless of whether I was breaking out or not! At least then the other party is informed and a safe method for sex can be sorted out.
reesiecup reesiecup 7 years
correction to my previous statement: others could still contract herpes, but at least caution would be used during sexual activity to minimize risk of transference
reesiecup reesiecup 7 years
it is my personal belief that persons with herpes (or any STI for that matter) should give the common courtesy of informing their partners. had their partners done the same, they wouldn't have herpes!
xgreenfairyx xgreenfairyx 7 years
CORRECTION: They can reside at BOTH ends of the body, causing virtually identical symptoms, hence your herpefication. They can't actually 'cause' each other, but its basically the same thing. I wanted to add that at the end of my first paragraph, cuz the last sentence is misleading.
xgreenfairyx xgreenfairyx 7 years
Um, someone wanna explain to me why I'm finding information that ORAL herpes CAN cause genital herpes? Just because it's a different subtype, doesn't change the action of the virus. The only real difference is the membrane with which it first comes in contact. They USED to believe HSV1 (oral herpes) didn't cause HSV2 (genital herpes), but its been shown not to be the case. If someone performs oral sex on you and they have/had a cold sore, you ARE putting yourself at risk for gential herpes. And yes, you SHOULD tell people you want a romantic relationship with if you've EVER had a cold sore or gential herpes. I ALWAYS ask potential partners (way before I kiss them) if they ever had either type, and if they said they did, I tell them that I'm afraid I'm not interested. A managable, incurable disease is still uncurable, even if 1 in 4 people have it.
lauraxtc lauraxtc 7 years
wow, this is deep. My bff got genital herpes through her baby daddy (he was cheating on her constantly) and they gave her Acyclovir. She says she get a a couple of out breaks a year but she also felt cursed when she found out. I had to be there for her and look into it to reassure her that life goes on. But now she is dating another guy and she never said anything to him about having herpes. Which I thought was wrong.
Janine22 Janine22 7 years
spacekatgal: I don't know about oral herpes, but my good friend (who is a nurse) got genital herpes from sleeping with a guy that had no signs or symptoms of it, plus they used a condom the whole time. She said that she got the first sore on an area not covered by the condom. It is called asymptomatic shedding of the skin. So yes, you can get genital herpes if the person has no symptoms and I would venture to guess that that this is the way it is usually spread. OP yes, you absolutely have to tell your sexual partners. It would be very irresponsible and unfair not to, especially since they still have the chance of contracting it if you do not have an outbreak. But if you and your partner are educated about the issue then you should realize that 1 in 4 people already have it and most do not even know that they do. While I am sure it is not pleasant, at least it is not life threatening or damaging to your health like HPV can be. I think that once you get over the initial shock of it all, you will realize that it will be ok. My friend is married now and she says she has a great sex life with her hubbie, who just worships her. Good luck.
Ac2366 Ac2366 7 years
Uhm, taken from the Valtrex website: "Once you have genital herpes, no matter how few outbreaks you get, you may be at risk of spreading the disease, even when you're not having an outbreak. Although the virus is most contagious during an outbreak, it can be active on the surface of the skin without showing any signs or causing any symptoms."
Ac2366 Ac2366 7 years
We've all heard the Valtrex commercial a million times. "It's still possible to spread the herpes virus while not having an outbreak." It's definitely not cool to keep that information from someone.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 7 years
"Assuming you tell" someone? No, sorry, you *have* to tell potential partners. It's not even an option.
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