Dating, sex, and herpes: the lowdown
Let's talk about having sex with and dating someone with herpes. You've probably heard about the herpes simplex virus, but there are so many myths surrounding this sexually transmitted infection, and in most cases, it's not as scary as it sounds. Herpes is a common virus that millions of people have. In the UK, it's estimated that about 70% of people will have been infected by their 25th birthday! Despite this, many people may not even be aware that they are infected with the herpes virus.
There are two types of the herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 (oral herpes, which manifests as cold sores) and HSV-2 (genital herpes).
Sharing is caring
When it comes to herpes or any other STI, communication is key. If you're into someone and find out they have herpes, don't freak out. Instead, create a safe space for them to talk about it openly. It's likely they'll feel nervous to disclose their status and fear being rejected - show them you care by listening without judgement. If you have herpes yourself, be honest and share your status with a potential partner. It's your responsibility to do this if you have any sexually transmitted infection. Honesty is the best policy.
Break down the stigma
Here's the thing - it's okay to talk about sex and our sexual health. In fact, it's essential! Open communication is a superpower that helps protect our wellbeing. So, let's ditch the stigma. At iPlaySafe, we're passionate about breaking down the boundaries around talking about sex. It can be seen as "taboo" or "inappropriate" to talk about it openly, but times are changing. It's time to be more open, understanding, and educated about sex and sexual health so that we feel empowered to make great decisions. On that note, let's dig deep into the herpes virus and answer any questions you may have.
Herpes 101: everything you need to know
If you're reading this blog, you've probably found yourself in one of two situations. Either your potential partner has herpes, or you have herpes yourself. Before you panic and jump to any conclusions, let's get educated! The herpes simplex virus is extremely common and spreads through skin-to-skin contact during all types of sexual contact - kissing, oral sex, penetrative sex.
You can take steps to reduce the transmission risk. Condoms are your friend! While they might not provide 100% protection, they do a great job at lowering the risk. Use them consistently with a sexual partner if either of you have herpes, or you don't know eachothers' sexual health status.
Time-out during outbreaks
Okay, real talk – sometimes the infection causes herpes outbreaks which are small blisters or sores (including cold sores!) on the mouth or genitals. When that happens, it's best to avoid sex during that time, just to be safe.
Can herpes be spread when there is no outbreak?
Type 1 (oral herpes) is highly contagious when there's an outbreak of the virus with symptoms. It can also be spread during an asymptomatic outbreak, but it isn't likely. When the virus is inactive (dormant) inside the nerve cells it cannot be transmitted to a partner. If there is virus on the skin surface where you get your symptoms, it may be passed on. If you have an oral herpes outbreak (eg. you are displaying herpes symptoms/cold sores around your mouth) you should avoid having sex, using sex toys and any oral contact with a partner.
Type 2 (genital herpes) is most contagious if there's an outbreak of sores but it can also be spread if there are no visible symptoms. The risk of transmission of genital herpes from an asymptomatic partner is estimated to be around 10%. Learn more about genital herpes transmission here.
When can I have sex after the herpes symptoms go away?
Wait for the symptoms to completely disappear before having any sexual contact again. If you or your partner experience the first signs of a recurrence like tingles, burning skin sensations, aches, or stabbing pains, hold off until the skin has healed entirely and fresh skin has grown back.
Should I get tested if I've slept with someone with herpes?
If you have had sexual contact with someone who has herpes, you may consider taking a herpes test. Even if you don’t have visible symptoms it's possible to contract the virus without knowing. A herpes test usually involves a swab or blood test to detect the presence of the virus.
Herpes testing is not a part of the regular sexual health screening done on the NHS unless someone has visible sores or blisters on their genitals, so you would need to contact your doctor separately about this. You could also visit local sexual health clinics or order a home STI test kit (make sure that the one you choose tests for HSV-1 and HSV-2, as not all of them do).
Don't be afraid to seek medical help
If you or your partner have herpes, don't hesitate to consult a doctor or healthcare provider. They may be able to prescribe you antiviral medications (also known as suppressive therapy for herpes) to help manage or reduce outbreaks. Antiviral medications can decrease the severity and duration of outbreaks and also reduce the risk of transmitting herpes to sexual partners.
Does herpes ruin dating?
Absolutely not! Herpes is not a dealbreaker for dating or sex. The World Health Organisation (WHO), estimate that 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 and around 417 million people aged 15-49 have HSV-2. If you're a sexually active person, it's likely you'll come into contact with the virus at some point in your life. Herpes may bring some challenges but it doesn't define someone or their ability to find love and happiness.
Look beyond the herpes status
Remember, love and relationships isn't just about the physical part; it's about the emotional connection too. If you've found out a potential partner has the herpes simplex virus, don't focus solely on the herpes status, it's just one tiny part of them. If you've been diagnosed with herpes yourself, don't panic. It's not the end of the world, or your sex life.
Dating, having sex, and most importantly having fun with someone who has herpes is totally doable! Be open, communicate and use protection. Herpes is no big deal – it doesn't define you or your potential partner.