Herpes + Marriage?
July 16, 2006 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Question for those of you who are married/committed where one partner has genital herpes: Is there a time frame after which you'd consider not using condoms?

My partner and I are getting married, and have talked about not using condoms after that, while keeping the Valtrex as suppressive therapy. Considering only the implications of herpes transmission, has anyone else ever considered/done this? What was your experience and/or how did you come to this decision? For questions or to share your personal experience, please write to you.love.hazel at gmail dot com. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I dont' have personal experience to share, but It's my understanding that condoms don't prevent the spread of herpes. I'm not a doctor. You should talk to one, but I'm not sure condoms will do anything for you anyway.

It can't hurt unless you're trying to get pregnant, but you're taking a risk every time you have genital contact, so if you want to lose the condoms, it's probably only marginally more risky. Again, I'm not a doctor, and you'd be a fool to pay any attention to some stranger on the internet.
posted by willnot at 9:19 PM on July 16, 2006

It's my understanding that condoms don't prevent the spread of herpes.

You're half right. They're not as effective against herpes as they are against other (i.e. fluid-borne) diseases. But even for herpes, they still reduce the risk of infection.

So Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous will be facing a significantly greater risk if they quit using condoms. It may be a risk they decide is worth it — I've never been in their shoes, so I won't comment on that — but it is a risk. Hence the question.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:15 AM on July 17, 2006

Follow-up from a MeFite who would like to remain anonymous:

My understanding is that if the condom is positioned as a barrier between the site of the sore and the site of expected transmission that it greatly reduces the chance of infection. I tried your approach (without the Valtrex), because I find condoms to be an incredible turn-off. Herpes behaves like most virii in that the "shedding" period of maximum contagion is early in the infection cycle, coinciding with the itching phase and initial breakout. This is fairly easy to navigate around, however often there will be a relapse, or secondary infection. My rule was to wait one month after infection before resuming "activities".

I eventually succumbed to temptation and got caught violating this rule. While I understand that for some people the symptoms are quite severe, for those I know this amounts to the equivalent of a mosquito bite in the nether regions, and a slight flu, occurring once every couple of years. The social stigma is another matter, and if one is not paired for life could be quite distressing. Personally, I am content with the choice.
posted by jessamyn at 4:59 AM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I dated a man with genital herpes, so I did some research while deciding the level of sexual activity we should reach. One concern that nobody has touched on is childbirth. You don't make it clear whether you, the herpes-free partner, is male or female, but if you're female you might want to avoid getting herpes before you have kids. Having an outbreak during pregnancy can lead to birth defects, and having an outbreak when you go into labor can mean a C-section.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 5:54 AM on July 17, 2006

One thing to consider if you're thinking long-term is that a vaccine to prevent herpes in women has been developed by GlaxoSmithKline and may be approved by the FDA in a few years.

More here:
- Herpes Vaccine Likely To Protect Teens
- Glycoprotein-D–Adjuvant Vaccine to Prevent Genital Herpes
posted by peppermint22 at 7:28 AM on July 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have genital herpes, and my husband and I do not use condoms for protection with the herpes. This was a risk decision on his part, and I would have respected his preference either way. We have been together for ten years. He has not shown any sign of contracting herpes genitally, but does get cold sores in the mouth - something that is generally not as well known as it should be is that herpes can be transmitted from mouth to genitals and vice versa. I recommend that anyone with herpes who has casual partners warn them about this possibility and consider abstaining from vaginal oral sex unless you use a dental dam. (mouth to vagina seems to be the most risky behavior)

I have had other partners in the past who preferred to use condoms - they offer some protection but not complete protection. I understand that, especially for men, washing with an antiseptic soap immediately after intercourse may also reduce the chance of transmission.

We generally refrain from sexual activities anytime during a herpes break out, from the moment I feel the tingling/burning onset until after any sores are healed and gone. I also take 1000 mg of L-Lysine daily to supress the virus. I highly recommend this as it seems to help a lot; taking 3000 mg of L-Lysine during outbreaks also helps them heal faster. Outbreaks of herpes tend to correlate with physical and emotional stress, so abstinence or protection during periods of extreme stress and exaustion may be a good idea as well.

Keep in mind that the longer a person has herpes, the less dramatic their outbreaks will be. The onset infection is always the worst. Someone mentioned the possibility of birth defects -- This happens only in rare cases, and only when the outbreak is a first occurrance - if you're a woman whose partner has herpes you might consider going ahead and not using protection before starting your pregnancy in order to go ahead and get the virus and thus not risk contracting the virus *while* pregnant. Alternatively, you could abstain from oral, anal, and vaginal sex during pregnancy. A C-section is in some cases recommended for a woman with herpes, because during natural birth herpes could get into the child's eyes and cause blindness or life-threatening infection. But this won't occur in most women with long-standing recurring herpes; it's only a severe concern with an onset infection.

When I first got herpes, my mom was very upset, especially regarding the risk for giving birth. Luckily for me she spoke to a friend of the family who revealed that she and her husband had had it for 25 years, and calmed her down. As a recurring infection it is mildy painful, and certainly inconvenient and irritating, but not disabling. So long as it is not transmitted to the newborns and the elderly, it is not a big deal. I would not want to give it to someone else, but if I were you I would respect your partner's wishes for what risk he is willing to take in catching it from you.

I recommend anyone considering these issues read the Mayo Clinic article about it, as well as the information posted to the Planned Parenthood website, here.
posted by netmouse at 10:07 AM on July 17, 2006

I would like to say that no matter what you choose for vaginal sex, ALWAYS use condoms during anal. I've never had them personally, thank god, but anal herpes sounds really, really bad.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:36 AM on July 18, 2006

To second netmouse, my GYN and I discussed herpes at one point when I was concerned that I may have contracted it. He pointed out that with the oral/genital contact that many, if not most, people have, there are now many cases of HSV1(generally considered to be oral herpes) which are found in the genitals and many cases of HSV2 found in the oral area. You have to be very careful when you have a herpes (or "cold") sore ~anywhere~ if you want to be as sure as you can be.

There are also incidences where one is infectious but there are no noticeable sores, especially in females. It's called silent shedding, or a silent infection.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 8:04 PM on July 24, 2006

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