Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
How can I keep from spreading genital herpes to my boyfriend?
I was raped and found out later that I have herpes. Can I have sex with my boyfriend without infecting him and are there limits to what we can do sexually? Is there some kind of vaccine he can get so that he doesn’t contract this virus?
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 14, 2011
I’m so sorry to know that you’ve been raped. But please remember that many women have not only survived the violation…they’ve moved past the pain to enjoy happy, sexually satisfying lives with a committed partner.
I’ll do my best to answer your questions…but first, allow me to point out that although you may have gotten herpes as a result of the rape, there may be other possible explanations. If you tested negative for herpes prior to the rape, and then tested positive for the virus within 3-12 weeks afterward, then, yes, I would say it is likely you contracted the virus from this assault.
However, if you weren’t tested prior to the rape, you may have contracted the virus earlier.
Has your boyfriend been tested for herpes and other common STDs? If not, I would encourage him to do so, so that you’re both clear about each other’s STD status. Remember, herpes ⎼ like many other STDs ⎼ doesn’t always show any obvious signs or symptoms. So the only way to know whether you have an infection is to get tested. Many people have herpes for years or even decades without knowing it. In fact, according to the Centers For Disease Control about 1 out of every 6 people in this country has genital herpes, but only about 10% of those people know it.
The sooner you and your boyfriend know each other’s STD status across the board (also including common STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV and hepatitis B and C), the sooner you can get treated if necessary. If you’re both positive for herpes, then you can let go of any worries about spreading the infection to him in the future. You have enough on your mind right now, so let’s do everything possible to reduce your stress!
There is no vaccine to keep someone from getting herpes...yet. But, if it turns out that your boyfriend doesn’t have herpes, there are other ways to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to him. As the herpes carrier, if you take antiviral medication – such as Acyclovir, Famciclovir or Valacyclovir – the chance of transmitting the virus to your boyfriend drops by about 50%. All of these medicines are available in generic form, and the costs can be quite reasonable.
In addition, safer sex practices ⎼ like using a condom each time you have sex ⎼ drop your chances of transmitting the herpes virus by 30-50%. If you follow these two precautions, the odds are pretty good that your boyfriend won’t become infected.
While herpes isn’t curable, it’s not life-threatening in adults...and proper treatment can prevent or shorten the duration of herpes outbreaks, and decrease the risk of passing the virus to your boyfriend. For more information about herpes testing and treatment, you may want to read through our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2.
Finally, remember that you are a rape survivor…not a rape victim. You’re probably experiencing a range of emotions resulting from the trauma of being raped. I encourage you to seek out the help of supportive family, friends or counselors to help you move past the stress of the event.
I wish you strength and courage, and I hope that you and your boyfriend get tested, stay healthy and take good care of each other.
Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.