When you find out a partner has genital herpes, you may be shocked at first and then have lots of questions. Here are some answers.
How likely is it that I've been infected with genital herpes, too?
That depends on whether you have always practiced safe sex, for one thing. Also, it may depend on how long you've been sexually intimate with each other.
If you've had sex only once or twice, and if you used a condom each time, the risk is lower than if you've had unprotected sex for a long time. But you could have been infected during any one encounter.
Don't think you're in the clear because you've never seen herpes sores on your partner's genitals or your own. The symptoms of genital herpes are often subtle and easily mistaken for something else, like bug bites, pimples, razor burn, or hemorrhoids. What's more, the virus can be contagious even when there are no symptoms.
How can I protect myself from genital herpes if we keep having sex?
While no prevention method short of abstinence is 100% effective, using a latex condom offers some protection. Your partner should tell you when symptoms flare up, which is when the virus is most contagious. Avoid sex when your partner has symptoms.
How can I find out if I've been infected with genital herpes?
Go to your doctor and get tested. A doctor may take a sample from what appears to be a genital herpes sore and send it to a lab for testing.
You can also have a blood test. The blood test looks for antibodies to the virus that the immune system would have made when you were infected. The second type of herpes simplex virus, HSV-2, almost always infects the genitals, so if antibodies to HSV-2 are detected in the blood, you probably have genital herpes. A blood test that shows antibodies to the other type of herpes virus, HSV-1, means you could have genital or oral herpes. That's because oral herpes, typically caused by HSV-1, can be spread to the genitals during oral sex.
Will my partner have major health problems because of genital herpes?
The biggest impact of genital herpes is usually emotional. Painful symptoms, limitations on sexual activity, and that it's an incurable, lifelong condition can lead to depression. If your partner is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, however, genital herpes is a major concern. Her doctor must be made aware of it. Genital herpes is also more serious for people with HIV and other conditions that weaken the immune system.
What can I do to help my partner?
For starters, you can understand that having genital herpes isn't all that unusual. If you were to leave your partner to find someone else, you'd have nearly a one-in-five chance of meeting another man with genital herpes, or about a one-in-four chance of meeting another woman who is infected.
If your partner isn't coping well, you may want to suggest joining a support group. If you think genital herpes is harming the relationship, you could try couple's therapy.
Could my partner have picked up genital herpes from a toilet seat or hot tub?
It's very rare, if not impossible, to get genital herpes any other way than by sexual contact.
Keep in mind, however, that many people have genital herpes for years or even decades without knowing it. When they are diagnosed, their monogamous partners often assume they were unfaithful, which may not be true.