Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

anonymous on September 14, 2011

My partner and I both have genital herpes...do we still need to use protection?

My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for about six months and we both have genital herpes from previous relationships. We're confused about the subject of oral sex and touching each other. We both want to give and receive, but we're worried about moving the virus to different parts of each other's bodies. Of course, there is always protection that can be used with oral sex, but both of us would really prefer just going natural. 

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on September 14, 2011

Thank you for sharing your experience. It sounds like you and your boyfriend are open with each other when it comes to talking about STDs. That’s a big plus in a relationship.
  
As you know, there are two strains of the herpes virus. HSV-1 frequently infects the mouth area but also causes many new cases of genital herpes; and HSV-2 mostly infects the genitals. From your description, it sounds like you both have genital herpes, probably from HSV-2...but if you don’t already know what type(s) of HSV you both have, get tested before you have sex without protection.
 
Fortunately, if you both have the same type of HSV, you likely don’t need to worry about passing it to each other, or to different areas of the body. If you don’t have the same type(s), continuing to use protection is a good idea.
 
That said, are you both being treated for your genital herpes infections? Of course, depending on how serious each of your herpes outbreaks are, you may not need treatment. But antiviral medications are a safe and effective way to prevent or reduce the duration and severity of herpes outbreaks, and they can reduce the risk of spreading herpes to an uninfected partner. You can learn more about herpes treatment in our Expert Guide to Herpes 1 + 2.
 
Now, about “going natural”…I understand that’s your preference, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to spread herpes to other areas of your body. Not to say it can never happen, but it would be uncommon. Herpes typically stays in the area of the initial infection, and it’s uncommon for genital herpes to spread to the mouth. 
 
In addition to using latex condoms, keep in mind that the best way to have safer sex is in the context of a mutually monogamous relationship (you only have sex with each other) in which both partners have been tested and know each other’s STD status. You know that you both have herpes, but you can’t be entirely sure that you don’t have other infections without being tested...so I encourage you both to get tested for common STDs ⎼ and get treated for them if necessary ⎼ before you go au naturale
 
I’m glad you asked this question because understanding herpes risks can be confusing. Good luck to you and your partner!
 
Related Info: 

Lisa Oldson, MD

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.

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