If you've recently learned that you've contracted genital herpes, you'll have a lot of questions. It can be a stressful time full of unknowns, with one question being the future of your sex life. With some precautions and the correct information, though, it's perfectly possible to continue having a happy and healthy sex life with an HSV-1 or HSV-2 diagnosis. If you've recently contracted herpes, the first phase of symptoms can be terrifying, and may make you worry about your future, but continuing your sex life and overall life outside of sex can be managed and may be easier than you expect.
Herpes: More Common Than You May Think
The term ‘herpes’ is used for a collection of similar but different viruses. The main two are known as Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) and Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2). These two strains of the virus will give the same symptoms, but affect the body in different ways. To start with, HSV-1 is the more common of the two variations. You may be surprised to learn that it affects somewhere between 50% and 70% of the population under 50. This means that as you carry out your day-to-day life, over half of them may have the virus. HSV-1 causes sores around the lips called cold sores and can, in rare cases, cause sores around the genital area. While very common, the majority of those people infected with HSV-1 don't get any symptoms from the virus. You can go your whole life with the virus and never get a cold sore.
The second form of herpes is HSV-2 and is more commonly associated with the term ‘herpes.' This strain is less common than HSV-1 but still affects around 10% of people between the ages of 14 and 49. From this information, it's essential to understand that having herpes doesn't bear any relation to who you are, your cleanliness, or because of poor sexual behavior. It's the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world and can infect anyone.
Treatment for Herpes
When you get your first outbreak of herpes, this is often when you first find out that you've contracted the infection. The first outbreak is known as primary herpes and is usually the most aggressive case of symptoms you'll experience. It will start with itchiness around the area that sores will eventually appear, and after a few days, will turn into blisters. This can be irritating and itch and will eventually burst to leave open sores that will eventually heal. The healing process can take between two weeks and a month, and it's best to remain sexually inactive at this stage as this is when you're most contagious.
Additional symptoms may include feeling like you have flu, with a fever, and overall muscle soreness. In the first week, the virus is replicating and spreading throughout the body, and eventually makes it to the nerves. At this stage, your body hasn't had a chance to learn how to deal with the virus, which is what makes it more severe than later outbreaks.
At this stage, the best thing to do is to visit your doctor to get advice and treatment. The only way to know for certain that you've contracted herpes is to get a test, which your doctor will be able to perform. There are also at-home testing kits available from websites like Self Collect. Because herpes is a virus, there's no cure, but there are antiviral treatments and medications that can help your body heal more quickly. You may also want to get some additional medication to help with the pain and muscle soreness. While you still have the symptoms, make sure to avoid having sex until the symptoms are gone, and if you have HSV-1 and have cold sores, try to avoid kissing your partner.
Living with Herpes: Dealing With Recurring Outbreaks
Some people will never have an outbreak of herpes symptoms again after the initial phase. Other people will have to deal with additional outbreaks of sores, though, as the virus can't be cured. Because of this, it's essential to be prepared for outbreaks, which are often triggered when someone is stressed or run down. The first thing to do to try to prevent additional outbreaks then is to manage your stress and try to live in a way that allows you to get enough sleep, for example.
Unfortunately, this isn't always possible, so speak to your doctor about the next steps to help if and when you have an outbreak. Again, there are medications like valacyclovir that can help manage the symptoms of herpes.
If you're having an outbreak, it's essential to stop having any sexual intercourse with your partner, including vaginal, oral, or anal. This is when you're at your most contagious, and the sores that occur contain a lot of viral fluid. The best thing to do is to wait until the symptoms have subsided again before you start having sex.
This may be frustrating, but the longer you have the virus, the more capable your body will become at dealing with it. This means that outbreaks generally become less frequent over time. People with HSV-1 can get between one and two recurrences a year, and those with HSV-2 can get four or five each year. Once the body becomes more adept at dealing with either of the two strains, though, and once you get medication that speeds up the healing process, you shouldn't have too much difficulty dealing with the virus.
How to Have Sex When You Have Herpes
If you have herpes and your partner doesn’t, there are ways to still have a full sex life. There will always be a risk that the virus will be passed on even if every precaution is taken, though, so keep this in mind. The best thing you can do is to never have sex during an outbreak and to always use a condom when having sex. This will provide as much protection as possible and prevents the virus from spreading to up to 95%.