“The guy I’m seeing just told me he has herpes – what should I know to keep myself infection free should we decide to have sex?” — Don’t Want This Gift Thanks, via email
Kudos to your guy for telling you early on. I can only imagine how awkward that conversation must be. “Hey, can you pass the salt? Also, I have herpes.” But he’s not alone. Apparently 1 in 4 adults in the US have herpes, and some never show any signs that they have it. How scary is that? Now that you know exactly what you’re dealing with, you have to decide how into this guy you are, and if you’re willing to risk getting the disease yourself. There’s no 100% guarantee that if you have sex him that you won’t get it. But there are ways to lower your risk significantly. The first rule of thumb is to NEVER have sex during an outbreak…that’s when transmission is at its highest. However, it’s also possible to transmit the disease when he’s about to have an outbreak, also know as the prodome stage. Symptoms during this stage include tingling and burning where a sore is going to appear. The cycle leading up to an infection can take up to three weeks. Talk to him about how many outbreaks he has a year, and if he knows when he’s about to get one.
Even when there’s no symptoms present you should ALWAYS have sex with a condom, because he might still be shedding the virus (known as asymptomatic viral shedding). A condom is not always a guaranteed barrier, though, as skin on the shaft might not be covered by it. Sound bleak? Well, the good news is that he’s most likely to transmit the virus in the first year he gets it. Also, the longer you’re in a sexually active relationship with him, the less susceptible you might become.
After you decide whether or not this situation is for you, talk to your guy about his past relationships and how he made it work. If he’s been able to have a healthy sex life without transmitting the disease to past partners, then you can feel better about embarking on a relationship with him.
Got a burning question for our amazingly wise Nookie Know-It-All? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your deets between us.
A Note On Playing It Safe: The Frisky thinks safe sex is smart sex – so please practice it in the way that’s right for your relationship.