- Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted infection.
- There are two types of herpes simplex virus.
- You can get genital herpes from someone without symptoms.
- You can also infect someone else without knowing you have the disease.
- If you have herpes, you can infect your partner(s) through sexual activity, but herpes doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life.
- All men with herpes should know how to have safe sex with the condition.
- There is no cure for herpes, but effective treatments are available.
Genital herpes is a very common sexually transmitted infection (STI) you can get through intercourse and oral sex. Safer sex practices can help you avoid an infection. If you already have genital herpes, learn how to protect your sexual partner or partners.
What’s Genital Herpes?
Genital herpes is an infection caused by a virus called herpes simplex. Herpes is a very common disease; the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are over 500,000 new cases every year. There is no cure for herpes, but symptoms of this condition can be controlled with medication.
Are There Different Types of Herpes?
There are two types of viruses that can cause genital herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2.
- HSV-1. This version of the virus is called oral herpes. These are the cold sores that many people get on their lips from time to time. HSV-1 can be spread from kissing a person with a cold sore. Unfortunately, it can also spread to the genitals during oral contact.
- HSV-2. This is the genital herpes virus that’s transmitted during sexual contact.
Globally, more people have HSV-1, but HSV-2 is a big problem as well.
Are You at Risk for Herpes?
If you’re a healthy guy who sleeps with only one (or just a few) partners you know well, you may be wondering if you’re at risk of herpes. Sadly, the answer is yes.
Even if you’re in an exclusive relationship with someone, you’re not safe from risk. And if you’re single and having sex with multiple partners, you can get herpes without even knowing.
The tricky part of this disease is that there’s a small risk even if you don’t see the cold sores or blisters on someone’s genitals. This can happen because of a process called “viral shedding.” This term refers to the period before a flare-up when the virus is on the skin but you may not have any blisters yet.
What’s more, herpes is a virus that can lie dormant for years. Many people have herpes without realizing it, meaning they can unknowingly spread it to others.
How Does Genital Herpes Spread?
Type 2 herpes is the “classic” sexually transmitted infection, but type 1 can also spread to the genitals.
Here are the most common ways the virus spreads:
- Kissing (especially with visible cold sores)
- Oral sex
- Rimming (oral-anal contacts)
- Sexual intercourse (vaginal or anal)
- Touching the mucous membranes (the soft tissue inside the mouth, for example, the labia, or the head of the penis)
- Skin-to-skin contact (unlikely unless you have a small cut or abrasion of the skin)
- Sharing sex toys
- Mother to child transmission in rare cases
People who have type 1 herpes can also get type 2.
Symptoms of Herpes
Again, many people go through life not knowing they have the herpes virus. Others will find out when they have their first outbreak.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Itching or tingling of the skin
- Painful, fluid-filled blisters
- Cold symptoms, such as fever and muscle pain
- Burning feeling when urinating
- Eye infection
If you have any of these symptoms, don’t wait! Talk to your doctor right away.
How Do I Get Tested for Herpes?
If you have a flare-up, your doctor will be able to tell if you have herpes by looking at the sores, but they will often take a swab for testing to make sure.
If you don’t have any signs of the virus but would still like to check yourself, there is a blood test available. Results will be accurate approximately three months after infection. That’s how long your body needs to produce enough antibodies for the test to detect.
Safer Sex With Herpes
Because herpes is not a deadly disease, you may think it’s not a big deal — but it is. If you’re sexually active, especially with many partners, herpes increases your risk of getting HIV. And for that we still have no cure.
Besides, do you really want to be the guy who spreads herpes to every woman he sleeps with? We didn’t think so.
So, how does a gentleman behave if he knows he has genital herpes?
Get Tested Regularly
Even if you’ve never had typical symptoms, you may still carry the virus and spread it to your partner or partners. Get a blood test to make sure. When requesting an STD panel, ask for herpes testing specifically. Many clinics don’t include it in their basic STD testing.
Talk to Your Partner
Discuss STI testing and tell your partner or partners about your infection. Explain the risks and how you can minimize the chances of transmission. It’s not easy, but this is the only way — short of abstaining — to protect the other person.
Know Your Triggers
If you know you have genital herpes, learn what can trigger the next outbreak. For some people, it’s a simple cold, stress, or a bad sunburn.
Watch for Signs
Once you get the virus, it may show up from time to time. To avoid spreading it to your lover(s), know the early warning signs so you can avoid infecting someone in the asymptomatic shedding phase. For most people, itching and tingling are the first signals.
Use Condoms and Barriers
Use latex barriers every time you have sex. Put a condom on for intercourse and to receive oral. To be extra safe, you should use latex sheets or dental dams when giving oral or rimming. For maximum safety, you may also caress your partner’s genitals wearing latex gloves (especially if you have cuts on your fingers).
Avoid Sexual Contacts During an Outbreak
When the virus activates, you probably won’t be in the mood for bedroom play. In any case, the risk of spreading genital herpes is highest when you have visible sores, so better to wait until they are fully healed.
Take Herpes Medication
Finding out you have herpes may sound like a life sentence. Fortunately, there are treatments available to make your life (including sex) easier and more enjoyable. While antivirals will not cure your infection, they are very effective at managing outbreaks. You will have fewer episodes and recover from them faster.
Medications for Herpes
It’s important to start taking herpes medication as soon as you notice signs of a flare, so don’t wait to call your doctor. Your provider will help you choose the right option for you, considering your health, preferences, and budget.
Here are the commonly prescribed antivirals for genital herpes:
Valacyclovir (Valtrex) for Herpes
You may also have the option of using daily Valtrex as suppressive therapy. Research shows that daily doses of valacyclovir can reduce flares and the risk of transmitting the virus to your partner.
Acyclovir for Herpes
Acyclovir is less expensive than Valtrex and works just as well, but you will need to take it two to five times a day to treat an active infection. Acyclovir is also available in intravenous (IV) form for severe cases.
Famvir for Herpes
Famvir (generic name famcyclovir) is used most often to treat shingles (herpes zoster). While it can treat cold sores, sores around the anus, and genital herpes, Famvir is used most often for people who have compromised immune systems.
Which Herpes Treatment is Best?
There is no “best” herpes antiviral; all three are equally effective at managing outbreaks. The best choice for you will depend on how frequently you want to take the medication, whether you and your doctor feel daily suppression is right for you, and your budget.
Trust eDrugstore for Your Sexual Health Needs
Gentlemen don’t spread herpes. To help you manage outbreaks and protect your partner(s), we carry valacyclovir, Valtrex, and acyclovir.
At eDrugstore, we make it easy to do the right thing. Talk to one of our U.S.-licensed physicians today, and we’ll get your FDA-approved medication to you quickly and discreetly. Order your herpes medication today.
Anka Grzywacz is a sexologist, reproductive health expert and Certified Sex Coach™. In her online practice she helps busy women and couples solve their intimate problems.