What is genital herpes?
Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted disease (STD) that any sexually active person can get. Most people with the virus don’t have symptoms. Even without signs of the disease, herpes can still be spread to sex partners. The causes of genital herpes are two types of viruses: The viruses are called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
Can I still have sex if I have genital herpes?
You can have a fulfilling sex life if you have genital herpes, even though it may be more complicated than it was before your diagnosis. Now, you must be careful about what you do and when you do it. Avoid these sexual activities when you have sores on your genitals, or when you feel a herpes outbreak coming on:
- Vaginal sex
- Anal sex
- Receiving oral sex
How to Have Safer Sex if You Have Herpes
Even if you follow every safe sex guideline and use antiviral drugs to suppress herpes within your body, it simply isn’t possible to completely eliminate the risk of spreading the virus to your partner. However, a few small steps can go a long way towards reduce your transmission risk. These steps include:
- Never having sex during a herpes outbreak. Outbreaks are when the most “viral shedding” occurs, meaning your risk of infecting someone else with herpes is higher when you have blisters, open sores or herpes scabs on your genitals.
- Use antiviral medication. Antiviral medications such, as valacyclovir, stop the herpes virus from spreading within your body, reducing the level of viral shedding. Studies show that you’re 48% less likely to transmit herpes to your partner if you take valacyclovir for suppressive herpes therapy—a reduction in virus acquisition risk from 3.9% to 1.9%.
- Use condoms. While condoms don’t completely eliminate the risk of transmitting herpes to your partner, they do make a huge difference. Study data shows that condom use reduces the per-act HSV-2 transmission probability from male to female by 96%, and by 65% from female to male. In short, using a condom cuts your risk of herpes transmission to one third or one twentieth of what it would be without protection.
- Accept that there’s still a risk of infection. Finally, it’s important to be aware that even with the safe sex practices listed above, it’s still possible for the herpes virus to spread to your partner.
This means that both you and your partner need to understand and accept the risks and implications that come with a herpes infection before having sex.
Symptoms of genital herpes
The first signs of genital herpes usually show up two to 12 days after having sexual contact with someone who has herpes. Symptoms can last from two to four weeks. There are other early symptoms of genital herpes:
- Feeling of pressure in the abdomen
- Flu-like symptoms, including fever
- Itching or burning feeling in the genital or anal area
- Pain in the legs, buttocks, or genital area
- Swollen glands
- Unusual vaginal discharge
Can genital herpes be cured?
There is no cure for herpes. However, there are medicines that can prevent or shorten outbreaks. One of these anti-herpes medicines can be taken daily, and makes it less likely that you will pass the infection on to your sex partner(s).