A relationship when one partner has HSV2?
October 26, 2008 5:11 PM   Subscribe

So, I've been in three long term relationships, and while I'm not quite a blushing virgin, now that I'm dating, I'm realizing that I'm quite possibly a bit more naïve than most. I've been on a few dates with a really wonderful man, and he's disclosed that he has herpes. Nothing has happened yet that would put me at risk, but I'm trying to figure out what this means.

I know nothing about herpes except what I've learned online in the last few days of research. I know that means that he needs to stay wrapped during all sexual activities, and no sexual contact during a flare up. I understand that just because there's no symptoms doesn't mean that he's not shedding, and that there are some drugs that can be taken daily that may reduce flare ups and possibly cut down on the shedding. I've found some references to a vaccine for women, but all of those mentions seem to be a few years old. Obviously, I should go somewhere and get tested myself, just so I know where I'm starting from, and also talk to the doctor/nurse/technician there about information and options.

But I'd like to know what other things I should be asking about, and what my real risks are of contagion are. And I'd also like to know if there are any down sides of taking the suppresant, and if so, are they worth it? Any real information you have on being in a relationship with someone who has herpes would vastly useful.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can contract herpes even if he wears a condom. This is because a condom only covers the penis, and sometimes not even the base of it. The skin around the base of the penis is not covered and will likely come into contact with yours.

Basically, if you have sex with him, even if he isn't having an outbreak and even if you use a condom, you need to be aware that you can still get herpes. There's no cure for it so it's up to you if it's worth it to have a lifelong STD that could dissuade other people from sleeping with you if it doesn't work out with this guy.

If you can't tell, I personally feel it's a bad gamble. It definitely sucks for people who have herpes; the smartest thing (in my opinion) is to wait until it seems worth the risk -- i.e. you could see a future with him -- but that's difficult to assess if you don't know if you're sexually compatible. From what I have heard, this sort of dilemma is why there are dating sites for people with herpes.

Hope this is helpful.
posted by Nattie at 5:20 PM on October 26, 2008

So you should think real carefully about this. Once you have it, you have it. Herpes can also flare up on other thin skin spots, not just the shaft of a man's Penis. Such as the Testicles and the skin around his crotch. This guy sounds mature and cares enough to tell you he has it. That's a plus.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:36 PM on October 26, 2008

posted by grouse at 6:21 PM on October 26, 2008

there are a lot of ways people can have sexy fun without having sex--he can certainly please you orally with abandon, and i imagine you can perform oral sex on him if you are careful to keep your mouth on the condom and use your hands to play with the naked parts. be sure to wash your hands really well afterwards and don't touch your mouth or eyes before you scrub. wear latex gloves if it makes you feel better. have a couple of glasses of wine and laugh about it.

if you reach a point where you are both ready to make a real commitment (like a happily ever after commitment, not merely the monogamy commitment), then discuss sex. if he's the gent he seems to be, it sounds like he will be open to

no, it's not the way most people without STDs go about this sort of thing, but the herpes is there and has to be addressed. there are people out there with all kinds of barriers to "normal" sex--disability, disease, whatever--who still find ways to make it work, and it all amounts to this: there is no normal. so do what's safe and fun, and don't worry about what you "should" be doing.

also, just to second the above, herpes and HPV are not the same thing: herpes does not lead to cervical cancer, and the gardasil vaccine won't protect you from herpes (although it's a good idea if you are in the right age range). valtrex does help control herpes, but it is not an antibiotic (herpes is a virus, not a bacteria).
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:23 PM on October 26, 2008

If you want actual statistics:

From wikipedia: In couples where the man has herpes and the woman doesn't (assuming you're a woman), the rate of transmission is about 8-10% per year in couples that don't use condoms and simply avoid having sex during outbreaks. Using condoms halves that risk; taking Valtrex also halves it.

So, yes, it is possible to get herpes while using a condom and even if your partner takes Valtrex everyday, although it is not likely.

Whether that seems like too great of a risk of course depends on how much this freaks you out. Personally, I find it a little strange that some people see genital herpes as a huge dealbreaker, while most of us would consider it an overreaction to refuse to date someone who gets cold sores once in a while, which is of course also herpes and also incurable (and can also cause genital herpes if that person performs oral sex on you, even if s/he doesn't have a cold sore at the time...again, not a huge risk, but possible). Putting something into the category of STD (genital herpes) doesn't automatically make it worse than something that is not categorized as an STD (oral herpes).

I know a few people with herpes who are or have been in long-term relationships with people who don't have it, eventually stopped using condoms, and whose partners still test negative. I'm not suggesting this, just pointing out that having sex with someone who has herpes, even without protection, doesn't necessarily mean you will get it.

Also, you should probably get a blood test for herpes yourself before you make a decision. The vast majority of people who have herpes don't know they have it. You may be one of them.
posted by Quintessence of Dust at 7:12 PM on October 26, 2008

there are a lot of ways people can have sexy fun without having sex--he can certainly please you orally with abandon

I'm not entirely certain this is accurate.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2008

But anyway, a rough estimate from multiple sources seems to suggest that anywhere between 70-80% of adults have oral herpes (cold sores), and around 1 in 5 have genital herpes. It is quite common and while it cannot be cured, there is a lot of treatment available to accelerate healing of outbreaks, and there are many ways to make sex with an "infected" (to use the dramatic parlance) partner much, much safer. I would strongly recommend you speak to your ob-gyn or a sexual health counsellor about prevention and treatment.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:21 PM on October 26, 2008

I don't know enough to link you directly to any particular pharmaceutical, but I know of long-term couples who are both(?) taking medication to 'significantly reduce' the chance of it spreading. By 'long-term' I mean I know at least one married couple, with children, where she doesn't have herpes and he does. You should be aware that by many accounts herpes is far worse for women, lending itself to painful outbreaks and infertility in some cases.

I had a sexual partner with herpes, and came away without infection. As thinking woman implied, there are a lot of ways to have sex that don't run the same risks as penetrative sex. In my scenario we agreed to not engage in penetrative sex, and be careful, clean and communicative. This partner (and friend) had not had an outbreak in many years when we were together. It was an awesome experience, and really, amazingly, redefined sex for me.
posted by tamarack at 10:34 PM on October 26, 2008

As for the vaccine you mentioned -- it only worked in women, it only worked in women never exposed to a herpes simplex virus before, and it only worked in 20% of those women. The reason you can't find any references that are current or newer than a few years old is because the vaccine trials were a disaster and that particular vaccine was abondanded.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 5:51 AM on October 27, 2008

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