Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions
I think I have herpes...will I ever be able to have sex again?
I am a male who has never had sex with a female, and about a year ago I had sexual activity with another male. Come to find out, I got genital herpes from it. I have never been tested or taken medication, but I’m pretty sure I’ve had about three herpes outbreaks. I am straight and all of my friends think that there is something wrong with me because I have not had sex yet (with a woman). But now I don’t want to take the risk of having sex with a woman and spreading the disease, especially because everyone knows I’m a virgin. Could I say I got herpes from oral sex? I have no clue what to do!
Lisa Oldson, MD on September 14, 2011
I commend your concern about spreading herpes to your future partner(s). But I’m here to tell you that you can definitely look forward to a healthy, happy sex life...even if it turns out that you have herpes.
But first, the outbreaks you are having may not be herpes. Please get a herpes test to find out...and while you’re at it, consider getting tested for other common STDs as well including chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B and C, HIV and syphilis so you know your status.
If you do have herpes, how can you lower your risk of spreading it? Herpes is most often spread through skin-to-skin contact, or unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. You can lower that risk by practicing safer sex...use condoms and avoid sex during an outbreak when you are more likely to shed the virus.
Also, you have the option to take an antiviral medication, like valacylovir (Valtrex), on a daily basis to reduce the risk of transmission to an uninfected partner.
In 2004, a breakthrough study in The New England Journal of Medicine assessed the ability to interrupt transmission of HSV-2 using oral valacyclovir therapy. The study enrolled 1,484 heterosexual, monogamous couples in stable relationships where both partners were aware that one of them was infected with symptomatic genital herpes. Valacyclovir reduced the risk of transmitting HSV-2 to the uninfected partner by 48%.
As a result, the International Herpes Management Forum now recommends that physicians offer suppressive valacyclovir therapy to anyone concerned about transmitting genital herpes to a partner, and advises safer sex to further reduce the risk of spread.
In addition to taking anitviral medication, it is also a good idea to tell your partner about your diagnosis. Why? Research shows that ⎼ if you know you have genital herpes and share that information with your partner ⎼ your partner is less likely to become infected than if you didn't disclose your status.
Only you can decide when you're ready to open yourself up to dating and possibly having "the talk" with a new romantic interest. Talking with a counselor, first, may help you resolve the conflicted emotions you’re experiencing and get past any need for dishonesty about how you might have contracted a disease. A counselor can also help you explore lingering concerns about your sexual orientation, if any. Whether you decide to have sex with men or women or both, what's important is that you don't let herpes define who you are. Good people get STDs, too!
Keep in mind that if you have herpes, you’re not alone. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, at least 50 million people in America have genital herpes; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 1 of 6 Americans has herpes, although nearly 90% of those people don’t know they’re infected. So you may well find that the next person you meet is faced with the same issue.
Be sure to check out our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2 for more detailed information about herpes risk factors, treatment and prevention. And thanks so much for your question...by taking the time to share your situation, you’ve helped a lot of other people with similar concerns.
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.