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Genital Herpes is Not a Death Sentence for Your Sex Life

written by Carrie Borzillo - Jan 4, 2021
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - Oct 13, 2021

Photo Credit: Mouth herpes: CDC/ Dr. Herrmann
Photo Credit: Mouth herpes: CDC/ Dr. Herrmann

It’s a good chance you either have genital herpes, have a partner with it, or will have a partner infected with this common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in your future. But relax. This is not a death sentence for your sex life and no longer has the intense negative social stigma that it used to. So many people have it — like, BILLIONS! — now that it’s more accepted than ever, and there are many ways to have a healthy, fun, and active sex life with it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one out of every six people in the United States aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that about 67% of people below the age of 50 years old (approximately 3.7 billion people) have Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1), which is one of the two viruses that cause herpes. Another 11% (417 million people) between the ages of 15 and 49, globally, have the second type: Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 (HSV-2).

The difference? HSV-1 is usually the cause of oral herpes, which results in cold sores or blisters around the mouth, but it can also cause genital herpes. This is the more common version and people infected often don’t have symptoms. HSV-2, on the other hand, is sexually transmitted and can cause sores or blisters in the genitals.

If you recently tested positive for herpes, or have a partner with it, don’t freak out, just follow these tips and you’re on your way! But before engaging in sexual activity, you have a few calls to make: Your sexual partners and your doctor.


Statistics aside, the most important piece of this puzzle is understanding how it’s spread. Remember, while during a flare up, one can experience painful blisters, both HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be asymptomatic, meaning you can have it but aren’t experiencing symptoms and can still infect others. Regular STD testing, especially when one has more than one partner or isn’t in a monogamous relationship, is recommended to be safe. How often you get tested depends on your relationship status, the number of partners, and specific sexual activity. The National Coalition for Sexual Health has a handy breakdown of who should get tested and when here.

While most know that you can get infected if you come into contact with the herpes sore directly, as well as contact with saliva (if the infected partner has an oral herpes infection) or genital secretions (if your partner has a genital herpes infection). But, contrary to popular belief, you can also still get it if you have sex with someone who does NOT have an outbreak. The CDC writes, “You can get herpes from a sex partner who does not have a visible sore or who may not know he or she is infected. It is also possible to get genital herpes if you receive oral sex from a sex partner who has oral herpes.”

The good news is… science! Treatment for herpes has come a long way and there are many different medicines on the market, including the antiviral drugs Valtrex, Zovirax, Famvir, and more. Your doctor can help you figure out the best course of action for you. Ignoring it will not make it go away because as we all know how the saying goes: “The loving might not last long, but herpes is forever.”

There are a few ways to lower the risk of spread, though. The CDC states that if you are in a relationship with a person who has herpes, or you have it yourself, you can lower the risk by taking an anti-herpes medication every day and avoid having vaginal, oral, or anal sex when you have symptoms.


Now that you’ve consulted your doctor and informed your sexual partners, it’s time to go shopping. You’re going to need a lot of latex condoms, which are a great source of protection (but not 100% foolproof, of course) from the virus for intercourse as well as fellatio. First, heed the CDC’s warning: “Be aware that not all herpes sores occur in areas that are covered by a latex condom. Also, the herpes virus can be released (shed) from areas of the skin that do not have a visible herpes sore. For these reasons, condoms may not fully protect you from getting herpes.”

Photo Credit: Durex manufacturer
Photo Credit: Durex manufacturer

For vaginal intercourse and anal sex, any latex condom will do. But, for fellatio, you’re going to want to stock up on flavored condoms as no one likes the taste of latex. Two great places to shop online are and — they’re like a candy store for condoms! They come in many different flavors and are wrapped up in such fun packages, such as ONE Flavor Waves condoms’ assortment in island punch, fresh mint, chocolate strawberry, bubblegum, banana split, and mint chocolate.


While most people worldwide have had sex with a condom before, a large percentage of sexually active people have never used a dental dam. You might even be asking yourself right now: What is a dental dam? Well, it’s a thin sheet of latex or polyurethane about 6-inches by 8-inches that you place over a woman’s vulva (which includes the opening of the vagina, the labia majora, the labia minora, and the clitoris) for cunnilingus or over any person’s anus for analingus and them you perform that sex act just as you would without it.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

No, it doesn’t sound fun, but it does protect you and your partner. These also come in many flavors and fun colors, such as Satin’s Assorted Flavor Dental Dams in vanilla, spearmint, strawberry, or wildberry. And they’re easy to use. Either you or your partner can hold it in place to make sure the mouth, tongue, and lips never touch flesh.

Fun fact: Dental dams were originally and still are, used by dentists to isolate teeth for dental procedures. Then the sex industry adopted them as a safe sex product for oral sex.


The safest route to go when having sex with someone with a herpes outbreak is abstinence, of course. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be sexually active together. It’s time to think outside the box and get creative. One sexual adventure to try out during this time is mutual masturbation.

Mutual, what, you ask? This is where you masturbate solo in front of your partner without ever touching each other. You can do this in person, via Zoom, or as old-school phone sex. This practice isn’t just super safe, but it can also be a fun way to just spice up your sex life too.

Here’s one sexy scenario to try that I wrote about in Men’s Health magazine a few years back… Have her sit in front of you on the bed, leaning into your chest as she masturbates. You can talk dirty to her, kiss her neck, caress her body, without ever coming in contact with the virus, or if you’re the carrier, without spreading it to her. Another version of this is to be in the same position, but you put your hand on top of her hand as she masturbates so you can learn by feeling the amount of pressure she likes.



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