One in five Americans has genital herpes, but many don't know it because the symptoms can be mild or even absent. Genital herpes is usually spread by sexual contact and caused by the type 2 herpes virus (HSV-2). However, the type 1 herpes virus (HSV-1), which more commonly causes cold sores, can also infect the genitals -- usually through oral sex.
There's no cure for genital herpes. Once infected, you're infected for life.
A partner who has genital herpes needs support and acceptance. It took a lot of courage for your partner to tell you, and it means he or she cares about your well-being and values your trust. "No good deed goes unpunished" is often a harsh fact of life. But don't let it be that way in the relationship.
Of course, your feelings and concerns matter, too. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of having sex with your partner again, or becoming sexually intimate for the first time, you're entitled to...
Herpes is most often spread from active sores. But you don't have to have a sore to give the virus to another person. Occasionally, an infected person "sheds" infectious virus without obvious signs of an outbreak. That's why it is especially important to get tested -- to help prevent spreading the infection.
If you have been exposed to the genital herpes virus, there are steps you can take to prevent spreading the infection to a sexual partner.
The best way to prevent spread -- short of abstinence -- is to use a condom every time you have intercourse. In addition, some studies indicate that treatment with genital herpes medication may be able to help prevent spread of the infection from partner to partner among monogamous couples.
It's also very important for women to avoid getting a new herpes infection while pregnant. And if a woman is going to have a baby, she should know whether she has genital herpes. It's rare for a mother to give herpes to her newborn -- unless she's having an outbreak of genital herpes during delivery. In this event, a C-section may be necessary.
If you think you may have been exposed to genital herpes via sexual contact, it's a good idea to discuss testing with your doctor.