Straight Talk on Herpes

Dear Vera,
Can you get herpes from anything other than skin-to-skin contact? I’m seeing this new guy that I really like, and he just told me that he has genital herpes. I really, really like him, and the fact that he was honest and honourable enough to be upfront about his condition before having sex with me makes me like him even more. But now every time I hang out with him I find myself really paranoid! I feel like a jerk, but it’s to the point that I squat to pee when I’m at his house! We haven’t had sex yet, and I really want to, but I’m so freaked out! I would feel like a spectacular asshole for breaking up with him for this reason, but I can’t seem to get over it. What are the real risks here? I know I’m being crazy, but how crazy? And what can I do to make sure I don’t get it from him? I’d really appreciate any help. Thanks!

Freaked and Falling for him…

Dear FF,
The Hot Guide to Safer Sex, genital herpes is caused by the herpes virus (HSV-2). Infection can also occur during oral sex, due to one’s partner having oral herpes (HSV-1). The virus lives in the nerve cells at the bottom of the spine and “creeps” to the surface every now and then to cause the characteristic blisters and sores. Recurrence may be triggered by any number of things including fatigue, menstruation, sunburn and irritation. On average, an individual may have about 4 outbreaks a year.

Transmission of herpes occurs when the herpes virus is on the skin during an outbreak by a carrier and must come into direct contact with other skin or mucous membrane in order to cause infection. Almost always, genital herpes is transmitted by sexual contact. Nevertheless, when lesions are active avoid sharing intimate articles which may contact sores (e.g., a wet towel, a razor or a cup if a sore is on the mouth area). Contact with toilet seats, used by an infected person may—but probably infrequently— transmit the herpes viruses.

So if you’re still not freaked out enough to leave this guy here is even more info to consider. The challenging part about herpes is the active phases of infection. Recurrences will often begin with some sensation or warning sign like a tingle or itch in the area. This warning period is called the prodrome. At this point the virus may appear on the skin so contact with this area of skin should be discontinued until the skin is healed and blisters and any symptoms are completely gone. Sometimes the outbreak is minor and the person does not even know it. There is risk here in this window even in people who are aware of their bodies and do not want to spread this virus.
So you may be thinking this is a crap shoot and you’re going to lose….but wait! I actually know some couples who have been together and have not transmitted the virus to their long-time monogamous partners so it is possible. You can think of your partner as not a diseased person, but rather a healthy person with a minor, recurring skin affliction. Wearing a condom always and avoiding genital contact without protection will be your best way to avoid contracting it yourself.

Herpes is not a sign of promiscuity. One study by Viridae Clinical Sciences in Vancouver reported that 44% of 3000 people with herpes reported having only one sexual partner over the previous 12 months. In fact many people with herpes report a marked reduction in the number of sexual partners and renewed concern with sexual health, along with a good deal of concern for their partner.

This info is just the beginning of your understanding of it and I recommend you visit a local STD clinic in your area and consider all the current information available before making your mind up.

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