Relationships and Herpes
This is a list of Frequently Asked Questions designed to help you explore and understand a few of the thorny issues that can come up in relationships as a result of one or both partners having herpes. The questions and answers below were chosen to give the reader an idea of how to understand the possibilities in each situation, how to find the answers you need, and how to proceed once you get your bearings. If you still aren’t sure about your own situation, you may Ask the Doctor for a more personalised answer.
- I just found out I have genital herpes. How can I prevent my partner from getting it?
- How do I tell a new partner I have genital herpes?
- My partner suddenly got symptoms but I’ve never had any. Has he/she been unfaithful?
- I just found out that my sexual partner has genital herpes. He/She must have lied to me! What should I do?
- I had sex with someone without telling them I have genital herpes. We even used a condom. Do I really have to tell them?
- I just found out that I have genital herpes. Now I have to tell my sexual partner. How do I tell them?
- I had an affair and I think I might have caught genital herpes from that person. What should I do?
- My partner had an affair and I’m worried that he or she caught genital herpes from that person. What should I do?
- I’ve been dating someone who just told me he/she has genital herpes. I don’t know if I want to continue dating this person.
A: There are definitely steps you can take that will significantly reduce the risk of transmission. However, both you and your partner should also be aware that there is no way to absolutely guarantee that transmission won’t take place (short of total abstinence from all sexual contact). Here is a four-fold strategy that you can use that will definitely reduce the risk:
- Your partner should avoid direct contact with your genital, anal and pelvic area while you are having an outbreak. Skin-to-skin contact is how transmission takes place during times when you’re contagious. You are most contagious when you have symptoms present (although you are sometimes contagious even when there are no symptoms). Also, for maximum protection, it’s a good idea to avoid sexual contact when you have “prodrome” or sensory warning symptoms that often precede an outbreak, like itching, tingling, burning, swelling, pain and other discomfort in a specific location within the “boxer shorts” area, especially if you have had an outbreak in that location before. One last caution – be sure to wash your hands well after touching your outbreak sores, before touching your partner or another part of your body (e.g., rubbing your eyes or scratching). The risk is minimal but there is still a small chance you might have the active virus on your hands for several minutes (before the virus dies from being exposed to the air).
- Use a condom EVERY TIME you have sex, whether you have symptoms present or not. Although using a condom does not absolutely guarantee protection for your partner (you might still be shedding the virus outside the condom-covered area), doing this will greatly reduce the risk of transmission due to asymptomatic viral shedding. (You can learn more about viral shedding, here.)
- Talk to your doctor about going on suppressive antiviral therapy, especially if you are getting frequent outbreaks, and/or if you and your partner want to ensure maximum protection against transmission. Your doctor can advise you about prescription drugs available, like acyclovir, Valtrex and Famvir. You might also consider trying one of the alternative remedies that many people find helpful, like Lysine, Opuntia, H-Balm, Oregano Oil, Olive Leaf Extract, etc. It is wise to consult a trained herbalist, naturopath or other alternative practitioner if you want to try herbal or alternative treatments. Be aware, however, that although alternative treatments can reduce the number of outbreaks in many people, there are no studies (that I’m aware of) that measure if or how much they might also reduce asymptomatic viral shedding. (You can learn more about various treatment options, here.)
- Discuss your herpes status with your partner, well before the two of you have sexual contact. Your partner has the right to know that they are taking a risk for getting herpes. It’s important for them to have the chance to decide if they are willing to take that risk of exposing themselves to herpes. And this is more than just a moral issue – it is important that your partner be included in deciding on a prevention strategy with you. If they are willing to take the risk, they will also need to know what to watch for in case transmission does occur.
A. Having “The Talk” can be very stressful but it is important to do. How you approach it can make a difference to how well it goes – for both you and your friend. Some basic ideas about how to have “The Talk” are:
- Talk to your partner in a relaxed private location, preferably not in a public setting. You yourself might be used to talking or thinking about this, but it may be very new and awkward for your friend. She or he will probably be more receptive if they don’t feel self-conscious or exposed.
- Avoid talking to your friend about this at a time when the two of you are in the heat of passion or feeling rushed or preoccupied by other concerns. Leave lots of time and space for both of you to talk about it at length.
- Try to be confident and accepting of your health condition. This may be easier said than done, but the more you can project a sense of being at peace about your condition and feeling positive about who you are, the easier it will be for your partner to respond with confidence and acceptance. Although you can’t MAKE someone accept your condition and want to be with you regardless, the attitude you have about your condition can make a difference in the kind of response you get from a potential partner.
- Give your friend time to think about what you’ve told him or her. This means you might have to wait a few days before you have their answer. This could be a bit nerve-wracking for you, but try to be patient and give your friend some space. They may need time to learn more about herpes, to consider how they feel about their relationship with you, and to weigh a variety of factors before they’re ready to respond to you. Even if they are okay with the fact that you have herpes, they still might need some time to process this news and get used to the idea. Try to be patient if they need to take a bit of time and space.
- Be prepared to provide your friend with information about herpes, as best you can. Be willing to answer questions and educate them a bit about herpes. Many people don’t know much about herpes and this may be very new to them. They may also have some misconceptions or misinformation about herpes, and you can help them come to a more accurate understanding. They might want to avoid asking “stupid questions” so it may help to volunteer some information about herpes and assure them that it’s okay to ask any questions at all about it. Give them some printed material to take away and read, if you can. For example, information brochures are available through ASHA that you can give your partner. You could also print off a couple of website articles or some website links where they can learn more, like our website: www.herpes.org.
- Don’t raise the subject too soon – or wait too long. That might sound like strange advice, but timing can make a difference on many levels. Only you can decide what works best for you in terms of how long to wait before you tell your friend. Everyone is different, and the feelings, needs and consequences for both you and your partner should be taken into account when you decide when to talk about this. There is no one right time to do this, but there can be advantages and disadvantages to consider. Try to strike a balance between rushing in too quickly and waiting too long to disclose that you have herpes. The important thing to remember is that until you disclose, there should be no direct skin-to-skin contact with your genital, anal or pelvic area, since this could put the person at risk. Here are some pros and cons to consider in terms of how long you wait before having “The Talk”:
- SHORT TIME: (example: disclosing the day you meet someone or after just a few dates) The advantage is that you can protect yourself emotionally. If you are turned down, you won’t be so emotionally invested that it will be devastating if you’re turned down. The disadvantage is that this makes it a lot easier for the person to say “No thanks.” They don’t know you well enough to realise what they’d be missing, and most people will err on the side of caution when they’re in doubt.
- LONG TIME: (example: disclosing after many weeks or even months of dating) By taking your time, the advantage is that you can give the relationship a chance to develop. This gives both of you time to know if you even want a relationship together. If you discover problems that make the relationship unworkable, you can end it without even having to mention herpes. Also, you are usually less likely to be turned down when your partner has had a chance to get to know you as a whole person. It doesn’t guarantee you won’t get turned down, but it tends to lower the chance of that happening.
However, there are two disadvantages to waiting a long time. For one thing, if your partner does decide not to continue the relationship then you leave yourself open to getting badly hurt, since you’ll be more emotionally invested. Second, if you wait too long the other person might feel you’ve been dishonest or deceptive because you hadn’t told them about an important part of your life. It could damage their trust and confidence in how well they know you and make them wonder if there are other secrets you’re keeping from them. It’s a good idea to weigh your partner’s feelings and the impact this will have on them too, as well as on you.
How will you know when it’s the right time? There’s no single right answer to this question. You need to weigh your own needs and feelings along with your partner’s needs and feelings. You need to gauge how well you two are getting to know each other and how close you’re getting. That can happen quickly or slowly, depending on how often you see each other and how personal other topics of conversation get between you. You need to ask yourself what is making you hold back from telling your partner – if you don’t quite trust them, then maybe there are other issues in the relationship that are bothering you, not simply how they would respond to the knowledge that you have herpes. If you are just too scared to be turned down and you can’t find the courage to tell your partner, you might want to consider getting support for doing this from a trusted friend or even a counsellor. There may be more holding you back than you realise.
If they get upset or respond in a negative way, DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! That might sound crazy to say, but their reaction is NOT a reflection of something bad about you – their reactions and feelings are THEIR reactions and feelings. You are still the same person, regardless of how they react. If you have discussed your herpes with them before putting them at any risk, then you have done your best. There may be ways that are more or less effective in terms of how to talk about it, but that is a shortcoming of communication skills – it is not a basis of judging your worth as a human being.
The important thing is that you not put them at risk for getting herpes before you disclose to them that you have it. If you get a negative reaction from your partner, get some support from a trusted friend or herpes support group to help you through this. Do things that reinforce who you are as a whole and worthwhile person. And remind yourself that YOU DID THE RIGHT THING by telling them, regardless of what their reaction was.
A. Not necessarily. There are actually 5 possible explanations in this case.
- Your partner’s symptoms may not be caused by herpes at all. Many conditions can easily be confused with herpes (and vice versa). Your partner should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, while there are still symptoms visible to examine, test and diagnose. However, even if there isn’t much left of the symptoms, your partner should see a doctor anyway.
It’s also a good idea for YOU to get tested now as well, using a type-specific blood test. If both of you get a blood test right away, it will indicate which HSV types (HSV-1 or HSV-2 or both) each of you has, accurate to up to 4 months prior to the time of testing. If the test results for either of you come back negative for either HSV type, get retested 3-4 months after your partner’s initial onset of symptoms. The blood tests can take up to 4 months (in very rare cases, up to 6 months) to return accurate results.
- Your partner may have had herpes asymptomatically (without symptoms) for years and never knew he or she had herpes. This is a lot more common than most people realise. In fact, most people who have genital herpes either don’t get symptoms or else their symptoms are so mild, infrequent or unusual that they don’t realise they’re caused by herpes. As a result, as many as 90% of people with genital herpes don’t know they have it-yet they can still pass it on through sexual contact.
When someone has herpes asymptomatically, the sudden appearance of symptoms can be brought on by a time of very high or prolonged stress, a weakened immune system, general changes to their health and metabolism, or any number of other factors could tip the balance of their health. In this case the person would be wise to see their doctor to find out if there may be other health concerns that should be looked into, which have changed how their body handles the herpes virus.
You can read more about asymptomatic viral shedding here.
- You yourself may have herpes asymptomatically and your partner just recently contracted it and showed symptoms. You both should get type-specific blood tests to find out if you both have the same type(s). If either of you tests negative for HSV-1 or HSV-2, get retested again after 4 months following your partner’s initial symptoms.
- Your partner may have recently contracted herpes from you via oral sex at a time when you had a cold sore or were shedding the virus asymptomatically around the mouth. This explanation assumes that you yourself are one of the majority (50-80%) of the population who has oral herpes (which causes cold sores and fever blisters). Most people don’t realise they can transmit herpes to their partner’s genitals by performing oral sex (when they are shedding the virus, which may or may not be accompanied by visible symptoms). If you’re unsure whether you have oral herpes, a type-specific blood test through your doctor will show this (you will most likely test positive for HSV-1).
- It is also possible that your partner may have recently contracted herpes through sexual contact outside of your relationship, although as you can now see, this is not the most likely explanation. In this case, if your partner contracted it very recently (within the last 2-3 months) then it might not show up in a blood test that is done right away; nor is it likely to show up in your own blood test results yet. It sometimes takes up to 4 months (even up to 6 months in very rare cases) for antibodies to show up in a blood test, so if your partner tests negative for either HSV-1 or HSV-2 then he or she should be retested after 3-4 months following the initial onset of symptoms.
4. Q. I just found out that my sexual partner has genital herpes. He/She must have lied to me, right?
A. You have been sexually intimate with someone and you thought you took all the precautions, asked all the right questions and you felt confident that you weren’t putting yourself at risk for getting any STDs. Then suddenly you learn that your partner has herpes. Maybe they suddenly developed symptoms, or maybe it shows up in a blood test, or maybe someone else tells you this news – there are many different ways you could discover this. Whatever way it happens, this can send a shockwave through you on multiple levels. It’s understandable that you’re probably feeling upset, worried and suspicious about why you weren’t told about this.
Above all, don’t panic and jump to conclusions! There are several things to consider:
- Are you really sure your partner actually has herpes? If you heard this from someone other than your partner, it might be simply a rumour going around about the person, which may or may not be true. If this is the case, talk to your partner and ask them about it. If they insist they don’t have it and you are not satisfied by this, request that you BOTH get type-specific blood tests for HSV. This will show what each of you has – HSV-1 or HSV-2 or both. (See elsewhere in the FAQ’s for more information about how to find out if you have herpes and how to understand blood test results.)
- Your partner may have herpes but not know it. This is far more common than most of us realise. The majority of people who have genital herpes don’t know it. Either they don’t get symptoms or their symptoms are so mild, infrequent or atypical that they don’t realise they have herpes.
- Your partner may have known they had herpes, but not be up to date in their information about it. Again, this is far more common than most people realise. Not everyone with herpes knows that they can pass it on in between outbreaks. It was only about 15 years ago that research proved the existence of asymptomatic viral shedding, which means the virus can become active without producing outward symptoms. The person is usually contagious when the virus is active, whether there are visible symptoms or not. Many people are out of date in their information (including some doctors!) and don’t know about asymptomatic shedding.
Your partner may have hidden their herpes diagnosis from you, thinking that as long as they were not putting you at risk (by abstaining from sex during outbreaks) then it was okay. Your partner may have mistakenly thought they could avoid having to tell you and still keep you safe from getting it. Unfortunately, even some doctors may wind up misinforming their patients or not informing them enough about how herpes is transmitted. If this is the case for your partner, they may have thought their doctor’s information was sufficient to protect you, not realising there was more to know.
Yes, you certainly have the right to know that a partner has herpes before you become sexual with them. However, it may have been more a case of misinformation and misunderstanding about herpes, and possibly a well-intentioned bad judgement, that led your partner to hide this from you, rather than deceit. You and your partner need to sit down and talk about this in depth, allowing both of you a chance to say what you’re feeling. Keep an open mind about it and explore with your partner how the damage to your relationship can be healed between you.
In general: It’s easy to assume that if someone has genital herpes, then they must know all about it, and therefore they must have deliberately lied to you by not telling you. Although that is one possibility, it is not necessarily the whole truth. Try not to jump to conclusions until the two of you have a chance to sit down and talk in depth about the situation. It’s possible, of course, that he or she deliberately withheld this information from you but not necessarily, and even in that case their reasoning may have been well-intentioned. As you can see from the scenarios above, the situation may be more complex than you first thought.
Take some time to talk calmly and rationally with your partner about the situation. If your partner does have herpes and didn’t know it, this will be as much of a shock to them as it is to you. They may react with denial, anger, defensiveness or even indifference (which may be a mask to hide a sense of guilt). It’s likely to be overwhelming and upsetting for them to suddenly learn that they have a chronic STD if they didn’t know they had it. And it will probably be upsetting for them to realise they may have infected you without knowing they were even putting you at risk. Give the situation some time to sort through – there is probably more going on for both of you than there appears on the surface.
If your partner did know they had herpes and withheld this from you (whatever their reasons), the two of you need to talk in depth about this. Tell your partner how you feel – it may seem obvious to you what your feelings are but your partner may need to hear the words from you, and you probably need to say them.
Whatever the circumstances that lead to this situation, give your partner a chance to say how he or she feels about the situation and to explain why they chose not to tell you. Be willing to listen, whether you agree or disagree with their reasons. Keep an honest dialogue going between the two of you, which will flourish best in an atmosphere of open communication of feelings, information and thoughts, with a maximum of listening and a minimum of judgement and blame. Then you can decide if and how your relationship can be healed from this.
5. Q. I had sex with someone without telling them I have genital herpes. We even used a condom. Do I really have to tell them?
A. Yes, even if you used a condom during sex, you still have the responsibility to tell your partner that he or she might have been exposed to herpes. (Condoms do reduce the risk, but transmission can and does still take place.) Even if you don’t expect to have sex with this person again, you should tell them. (They have the right to know they were at risk. By knowing, they can monitor their health through testing and observation.) Even if it’s been several weeks and this person hasn’t shown any symptoms, you still need to tell them. (They might still have caught it and not show any symptoms.)
If you were in their position, you would want to know, right? Maybe you yourself got herpes because a partner didn’t tell you beforehand. In that case, you likely understand how upsetting, confusing and painful it can be to discover you have herpes and maybe not even know how you got it. As upsetting as it would be to be told by the person you got it from that you had been exposed to herpes, you probably would have preferred that to being left to discover it on your own, right? At least that way your could have monitored your health and made better decisions for yourself. Your partner deserves the same consideration.
Start by having a heart-to-heart talk with yourself, to find out why you decided to withhold this information from your partner. Your reasons for not telling your partner don’t necessarily excuse you putting them at risk, but it may help you to understand your motives and to explain them to your partner. It might help to talk to a trusted friend, counsellor, therapist or herpes support group about this, to help you focus your thoughts. We all have reasons for doing what we do, even when our decisions aren’t the best.
Some possible motives are:
- Maybe you were afraid you’d be rejected if your partner knew beforehand. (The pain and fear of loneliness can strike deep, especially when you have herpes, but your partner still has the right to know they might have been at risk.)
- Maybe you thought using a condom would be enough, but now you’re not so sure. (Condoms greatly reduce the risk of transmission, but don’t guarantee protection. Viral shedding can occur outside the condom-covered area, putting your partner at risk.)
- Maybe you thought that as long as you weren’t having an outbreak, your partner was safe, but then you discovered you had a sore when you had sex. (Unfortunately, even when you don’t have any symptoms it doesn’t mean your partner is completely safe. You can shed the virus at any time, and especially during or within a few days of an outbreak.)
- Maybe you were drunk or stoned and didn’t have the strength of mind to say no or delay intimacy. (Intoxication can compromise our better judgement in many ways. If your better judgement dissolved while under the influence, you need to tell your partner this.)
- Maybe you’re afraid no one would want to be sexual with you if they knew the truth, so you believed you had to lie in order to keep from being lonely. (Having herpes does not have to mean the end of your love or sex life! However, the fear of being alone can sometimes make us feel desperate and drive us to behave in ways that we know deep inside are not right. Nevertheless we still have the responsibility to do the right thing. It may indicate you need more support in learning how to deal with having herpes than you’re getting.)
When you feel you understand your motives a bit better, talk to your partner. If you can understand what held you back from telling them, you will be better able to explain it to them. Let your partner have and express his or her feelings. I’m not suggesting you should tolerate abuse, but that you should allow them the time, space and opportunity to say what they need to say and to process the news.
Help them understand what they need to do now:
- Find out which HSV type you have genitally, if you don’t already know, because your partner will need to know which type to watch for in any tests they have done.
- Your partner should get a type-specific blood test as soon as possible. In particular, if their exposure to herpes was within the last couple of weeks, it is especially important that they get the test done ASAP so that they have a “baseline” to compare future test results to.
- They should get retested after about 2-3 months following the exposure (assuming they don’t test positive for the same type that you have genitally).
- They should also watch for any symptoms in their genital, anal and pelvic area, and see their doctor immediately if anything shows up so that they can get a swab culture on any sores (ideally within 48 hours of when they appear).
It’s not going to be easy to tell this person that you have put them at risk for getting herpes, but with some support, planning and information you can do this!
6. Q. I just found out that I have genital herpes. Now I have to tell my sexual partner. How do I tell them?
A. First get the facts and an accurate understanding about your own diagnosis. If you aren’t sure how long you’ve had herpes or where you got it from, one possibility is that you might have caught it FROM your partner. Your partner might be one of the many people who have genital herpes asymptomatically and do not realise they have it. Alternatively, if you have genital HSV-1, you might have caught it from your partner through oral sex when he or she had a cold sore or was shedding the virus asymptomatically around the mouth.
So if you’re feeling guilty and worried that you’ve put your partner at risk unknowingly, remember that the facts might be more complex than you think. It is the right thing to do to tell your partner, but it will help both of you to see your diagnosis within the bigger picture of possibilities. Your partner should get a type-specific blood test to see if he or she has the same HSV type as you have genitally. If they test negative for that type, they should get retested in about 3-4 months to see if that type shows positive (this would indicate that they were only recently infected).
If your partner does not have the same HSV type (especially in the second test) then the two of you will need to talk about how to protect your partner from getting herpes from you. Make it a joint project to learn more about herpes together and decide on a protection strategy. This should certainly involve using condoms consistently, and you should discuss the possibility of you going on antiviral suppressive therapy to reduce your viral shedding and outbreaks. If you both feel this is what you want to try, talk to your doctor more about this.
Regardless of what the test results are, talk to your partner to share your feelings and listen to theirs. If you genuinely didn’t know you had herpes, and especially if you unknowingly infected them, there are likely to be a lot of feelings in both of you that need to be sorted through. Try to avoid judgement, blame and simply venting anger at each other, as well as at yourselves. Give yourselves time to process the information and learn more about it, both as a couple and individually.
7. Q. I had an affair and I think I might have caught genital herpes from that person. What should I do?
A. First find out if you do in fact have herpes. See your doctor ASAP and get tested. If you have symptoms, the sooner you see your doctor the better your chances of being able to get meaningful test results from a swab culture. You should also get a type-specific blood test done to see what shows up; then get retested after about 3-4 months following what you believe was your last exposure. Don’t be surprised if you test positive for HSV-1, which most people have orally (which causes cold sores and fever blisters) and which is usually caught in early childhood from family and friends.
If you believe you have genital herpes, you must tell your partner or spouse, especially if the two of you have had sex since you believe you were infected by the other person. Your partner/spouse has the right to know they might be at risk for getting herpes, and they will need to be tested so they can monitor their health. They should get a type-specific blood test right away, and they should see a doctor ASAP if they get any visible symptoms (ideally within 48 hours of when symptoms appear).
See elsewhere in this FAQ for suggestions on how to tell a partner after they have been exposed to herpes by being sexual with you.
Even if it turns out you don’t have herpes, consider telling your partner/spouse about your affair, or at least tell them why you felt you had to go outside your relationship for sex. You were “that close” to getting a chronic STD and possibly infecting your partner – this is wakeup call. You have an opportunity now to talk to your partner about what isn’t working for you in your relationship. Only by talking about this will the two of you have a chance to solve the problems and heal the damage. If you just keep it inside and never talk to them about the problems, you could wind up eroding your closeness anyway and do further damage to your relationship, as well as your own emotional peace. Think about it.
8. Q. My partner had an affair and I’m worried that he or she caught genital herpes from that person. What should I do?
A. There are many levels of impact of something like this to deal with.
PHYSICAL: Go to your doctor
9. Q. I’ve been dating someone who just told me he/she has genital herpes. I don’t know if I want to continue dating this person. What should I do?
A. There are several things to consider in this situation.
First of all, know that it took a LOT of courage for your friend to tell you that he or she has herpes. They have taken a big risk to do the right thing by telling you about this, and they are probably very nervous right now that you might reject them because of it. Regardless of what you decide about the future of your relationship with them, it will help to bear this in mind and to be sensitive about how you respond to them.
Second, do not judge your friend’s moral character based on the fact that they have herpes. Although the chances of getting herpes increases with the number of sexual partners you have, it does not mean that everyone who has genital herpes therefore must be promiscuous. You only need to have sex once with one person to get genital herpes – and in fact, you can even get herpes and still be a virgin! (It is possible to get genital herpes by receiving oral sex when the giver has a cold sore or is shedding the virus from the mouth. This is more common than most people realise.)
The point here is to NOT fall into the trap of just assuming that your friend must be promiscuous, or that he or she must be a poor judge of sexual partners if they got herpes from one of them. Most people who have genital herpes don’t know it, so many (probably most) people are infected by people who didn’t realise they were putting their partner at risk.
The worst way you could react would be to panic and slam the door in their face. Before you are tempted to stop dating your friend because of their HSV status, get the facts about your own health. You may not know that genital herpes is very common. One in four women and one in five men have it, and an estimated 90% of them don’t know it – either they don’t get symptoms or their symptoms are so mild, infrequent or atypical that they don’t realise they’re caused by herpes.
To find out which type(s) of herpes you already have (if any), ask your doctor to order a type-specific blood test for HSV. Don’t be surprised if you test positive for HSV-1 – about 50-80% of us have this orally, which causes cold sores and fever blisters. Find out which type(s) your friend has (he or she should check with their doctor if they’re not sure).
If you test positive for HSV-2 and your friend has genital HSV-2, then you already have the same kind of herpes that they have. Since HSV-2 is almost always found in the genital area, you probably already have what you are concerned about getting from your friend. This is bound to be a shock, if that’s the case! The last thing you’re probably expecting to discover is that you have herpes and never knew it. You may find you need some time to take in this news and adjust to the fact that you have herpes. Talk to your friend about this. He or she might be able to share their personal experience and knowledge, and offer some support.
One important thing to remember is that if the two of you have not been sexually intimate yet, or if you only began having sexual contact in the last few weeks, then you did NOT catch herpes from your friend – you would have caught it 2-4 months ago or longer (or else it would not have shown up in the blood test yet).
If you test positive for HSV-1 or HSV-2, but it’s not the same type that your friend has genitally, then you stand a chance of catch their herpes, but at a somewhat reduced level of risk. Having the antibodies for either type can offer a bit of protection against getting the other type or against getting the same type in a new location (like HSV-1 in the genital area). It’s not a guarantee, but there is a small statistical decrease in the rate of transmission for those who have the antibodies of one type already.
If you test negative for both HSV-1 and HSV-2, then you stand a greater risk of catching your friend’s HSV. There is no way to predict how your body would react if you did get it. You might be one of the majority who have asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic herpes, or you might get more frequent or serious symptoms – there’s no way to tell in advance. We do know that a highly stressed or compromised immune system tends to have more frequent and serious symptoms, but having excellent health doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have only minimal or no symptoms.
The fact remains that if you don’t have the same HSV type as your friend, or if you have the same type but not genitally (that you know of), then you do run some level of risk of becoming infected with genital herpes. Either you might catch a herpes type that you don’t already have, or you could become infected with a type you already have in a new location (genitals).
This does not have to mean the end of your relationship! If you are growing to care about this person, and if their herpes is the only thing that is making you seriously doubt your relationship, then the risk might be worth what you stand to gain by being with this person. In this case, the two of you need to talk about a prevention strategy and learn how best to protect you from getting genital herpes. You don’t have to rush into having sex, and delaying until you’re both ready to take things to a deeper level can give you time to explore how right the relationship feels to both of you, before you take the risk.
When the two of you are ready to become sexually intimate, there are methods that can greatly reduce your chance of getting it, including consistent condom use, antiviral suppressive therapy for your friend, and avoiding intimate contact during outbreaks. Although there is no way to guarantee that you won’t get genital herpes, this strategy can dramatically increase your protection. You could stand to gain far more than you risk by not letting herpes stand in your way of a wonderful relationship. The important thing is to remember that you don’t have to rush into anything before you both feel ready.
If, on the other hand, you feel this only a fling or you have significant doubts about how you feel about this person, then you would probably do best to delay sexual intimacy until you feel more sure of your feelings. It might not be worth risking possible life-long consequences. If you feel the risk is not in balance with the potential you see in your relationship, then be honest with your friend about why you are hesitating or why you don’t feel you want to take that risk. It is only fair to your friend that you be as honest and considerate of their feelings as they have been by being honest with you.
If you still have questions about your individual situation, you can Ask The Doctor for a more personalized answer.
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