Dating's enough of a challenge on its own, but having herpes and dating can be especially tough. Do you tell people? When? And is it still possible to find love?
Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a virus called Herpes Simplex. It's passed from person to person by contact with infected skin. You can get genital herpes by having sex with someone who has it. You can also get herpes by kissing someone who has an oral (mouth) infection, by having oral sex with someone who is infected, or by any skin-to-skin contact involving an infected area. Herpes sores look like small blisters. When the blisters break, they leave small sores, also called ulcers, which can be very painful. The sores can take two to four weeks to heal. Many people report feeling a tingling sensation in the area before the blisters appear. When herpes infection occurs on the mouth and lips, it may appear as "cold sores" or "fever blisters." These aren't really caused by having a cold or fever; they're caused by the herpes virus, and they are highly contagious.
Having Herpes and Dating Someone New
If you have herpes, it's important to tell potential sexual partners before you become physically involved. Many people think that herpes can only be transmitted when there are active blisters or sores, but that isn't true. The virus still lives in the skin, even when it looks normal.
People with herpes face many fears about dating:
- If I tell someone, will they still want to date me?
- Will they think I'm a bad person?
- Will they tell other people?
- Will I ever be able to have sex again?
The most important thing to remember, when it comes to herpes and dating, is this: Your life isn't over just because you have herpes!
You can still date. You can still fall in love, and someone can still fall in love with you! Yes, you have an additional hurdle when it comes to finding new relationships. But many, many people have gotten over that hurdle and are happy with their lives - including their sex lives.
Why You Need to Tell
It's unrealistic to expect your dates not to care that you have herpes. Although there are medicines to keep outbreaks in check, there is no cure. Additionaly, even when there aren't any sores, it's still contagious. Therefore, it is only reasonable for the man or woman you're dating to want to avoid becoming infected.
Many people with herpes say that it helps them "weed out" people who aren't truly serious about relationships. If your partner leaves you because you have herpes, that probably wasn't someone you'd want in the long term, anyway. While it can be hard to watch a relationship end like that, remember that you can find someone who will honestly care about you, even with an infection such as herpes.
Stories from People With Herpes
Reading other people's stories can be helpful. Here are some web sites with stories, message boards, and other forms of support for people with herpes:
- The H-Files are real-life dating stories from people with herpes.
- The Original Herpes Home Page has a message board with a success stories section full of hopeful stories and happy endings. The board also has discussions of treatments, relationship issues, herpes and pregnancy, and more.
For more advice and information, check out WebMD's Sexual Health and Genital Herpes section. Not only will you find information about herpes, but also details on how to have safer sex, advice on getting back into the dating scene, and telling potential partners.
Protecting your partner is very important if herpes and dating are both part of your life. Unfortunately, there's no way to be 100% certain you won't transmit herpes to your partner. That is why it's important to tell. It's not fair to put someone else at risk without at least giving them a choice. Once you and your partner have agreed to take the chance, here are some things you can do to decrease the risk of transmission..
If you have genital herpes:
- Use condoms. Condoms are only 10-15% effective in preventing herpes transmission, but it's a start. The main reasons why they don't work better include infection of skin that's not covered, skin contact before the condom is put on, and breakage or shifting of the condom.
- Consider taking an antiviral medication. Acyclovir and valacyclovir decrease the frequency of outbreaks and the likelihood of transmission. They're usually prescribed for people who have frequent outbreaks, but your doctor can help you decide if one of these medicines would be right for you.
- Abstain from sexual intercourse when you have an outbreak.
If you have oral herpes:
- Avoid intimate contact (such as kissing) when you have an outbreak.
- Use condoms or dental dams for oral-genital contact.
- Consider antiviral therapy. Over-the-counter creams and gels are less effective than prescription medicines.