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Genital Herpes and Your Sex Life

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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:

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Treatment Options for Genital Herpes

Treatment with antiviral drugs can help people who are bothered by genital herpes outbreaks stay symptom-free longer. These drugs can also reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when they do flare up. Drug therapy is not a cure, but it can make living with the condition easier. There are three major drugs commonly used to treat genital herpes symptoms: acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These are all taken in pill form. Severe cases may be treated with the...

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  • Vaginal sex
  • Anal sex
  • Receiving oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, and analingus)

Between outbreaks, it's OK to have sex, as long as your partner understands and accepts the risk. For example, as long as you don't have herpes sores on your mouth, you can perform oral sex on your partner, including when you have an outbreak of genital symptoms.

But your partner can be infected with herpes even when you don't have symptoms or sores. To help prevent that, always use a latex condom for vaginal sex, anal sex, and receiving fellatio. Condoms are not guaranteed to prevent infection, but research has shown that they provide some protection. Use a dental dam for cunnilingus and analingus.

Otherwise, use your imagination. There are many ways people can express themselves sexually without having genital-to-genital or mouth-to-genital contact. Exploring them can enrich your sex life and make up for having to avoid other activities because of genital herpes. Consult a health care professional if you have any doubts about what's safe and what is not.

For example, you could try mutual masturbation, which poses almost no risk: You could masturbate together -- side by side, facing each other, or back to back -- or masturbate each other manually. Just make sure you don't have any broken skin on your hands, and wash hands with soap and warm water afterward. Also, never touch a herpes sore and then touch your partner, and make sure no bodily fluids could be exchanged by accident. If you and your partner like vibrators or dildos, you could try using them on each other. Make sure you wash the toy before and after, and don't share it.

A Drug for Genital Herpes May Be Right for You

You might also consider taking antiviral drug therapy for genital herpes to reduce the amount of virus you shed. A recent study shows that daily suppressive therapy (taking a drug daily to sharply reduce the frequency of outbreaks) may help keep your partner from being infected. (You should still use a condom, however, because suppressive therapy is just 50% effective in preventing transmission.)

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