Can You Get Herpes After 10 Years of Marriage or Monogamy?

Sudden Symptoms May Be Caused by Exposure a Decade or More Ago

You can have your first genital herpes outbreak after 10 years of marriage or partnership, but the reason for this may not be what you think.

It is possible that your wife, husband, or partner has herpes and didn't tell you, or that they had a sex outside of the relationship with someone who was infected. But it's also possible that you contracted herpes years ago—before you got together with your significant other—and it's just causing symptoms now.

This article explores some of the more common reasons why you may discover you have herpes after years of only being with one partner. It also discusses herpes prevention and treatment.

Young romantic couple in bed
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Herpes in Monogamous Couples

Just because you had your first outbreak doesn't mean you or your partner were just infected, that your partner lied to you about having it, or that they have genital herpes at all.

Here are some reasons why someone may get herpes even when they are in a monogamous relationship in which neither partner is known to be infected.

The Virus Has Been Dormant

There's a chance that you or your partner became infected with herpes before you paired up and didn't realize it.

It is not uncommon to have been exposed to the virus earlier in life and for the infection to only become symptomatic months or years later.

Dormancy periods vary, and there's no way to predict how long the virus might be "asleep" in one's system before symptoms flare up.

Your Partner Is Asymptomatic

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the one in six adults with herpes will have a case that's asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms) or the symptoms may be so mild that people don't even notice them.

Because of this, many people don't even realize they have herpes until one of their partners has an outbreak. In other words, if your partner says, "I didn't know I had herpes," they may be telling the truth.

Your Partner Became More Infectious

The herpes virus is also more infectious at certain times than others. Asymptomatic shedding, in which the body suddenly releases viral particles, can increase or decrease—and often for no apparent reason. When viral shedding is low, so too is the risk of transmission.

It's therefore possible your partner had it (unbeknownst to them) and didn't infect you right away.

Your Partner Has a Cold Sore

While it is true that herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is commonly linked to cold sores and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) is commonly linked to genital herpes, it is possible to get genital herpes if someone with a cold sore performs oral sex on you.

On the flip side, you can also get a cold sore by performing oral sex on someone with genital herpes.

Herpes autoinoculation is also possible. This is when you touch a cold sore and then touch your genitals (or vice versa). Although this is rare, it can occur.

People have also been known to get herpes in their eyes when they accidentally transfer the virus from the genitals or mouth. For this reason, washing hands frequently is important if you have a herpes outbreak of any sort.

Herpes Treatment

If you have a genital herpes outbreak, the first thing to do is get treated. Your doctor will likely put you on a short course of an antiviral drug like Famvir (famciclovir), Valtrex (valacyclovir), or Zovirax (acyclovir).

There is also an over-the-counter topical cream for lip herpes called Abreva (docosanol), although it may not be strong enough if the outbreak is severe.

Antiviral drugs neither "cure" herpes nor prevent outbreaks from coming back but rather decrease viral activity so that symptoms disappear.

Although may be uncomfortable to do so, you should also contact sexual partners to inform them of your diagnosis. In this way, they can undergo testing and access treatment if needed.

It often helps if you and your partner speak with a healthcare provider together.

Herpes Prevention

As common as genital herpes is, it can be avoided. In addition to practicing safer sex, including the consistent use of condoms and a reduction in the number of sex partners, you and your partner should talk openly and honestly about your sexual history and the ways to reduce the risk of herpes and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Pre-relationship discussions like these aren't meant to weed out potential partners. Dating with herpes is certainly possible (and common), but it's important to be able to make informed choices about your sexual health and risks.

If a partner does have herpes, steps can be taken to avoid passing the virus. This includes abstaining from sex until the outbreak clears and taking daily antiviral drugs to keep the virus in check.

Herpes testing is currently not recommended for asymptomatic people unless a sexual partner has been already diagnosed. This is because a positive result has not been shown to either change sexual behaviors or slow the spread of infection, according to the CDC.

In addition, a herpes test cannot tell you when you were infected and who you got the virus from.


Having a first herpes outbreak doesn't necessarily mean that you were recently infected. Genital herpes is very common and often causes no symptoms when you are first exposed. For some, symptoms may not develop until months or years after the initial infection.

It is also possible to get genital herpes if someone with a cold sore performs oral sex on you.

A herpes test can confirm if an infection has occurred. Antiviral drugs can then be prescribed to help clear the outbreak. The best way to prevent genital herpes is to practice safer sex and to discuss your sexual history with a partner before having sex.

A herpes test is not recommended to screen potential partners for the disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the incubation period for genital herpes?

    The average incubation period for genital herpes is four days, although it can range from two to 12 days from the time of exposure.

  • How can you prevent giving herpes to your partner?

    You can reduce the risk of herpes by consistently using condoms. Even so, this does not completely eliminate the risk. Abstaining from sexual activity during outbreaks and taking a daily antiviral medication can help reduce the risk of passing the virus to your partner.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD Facts - Genital herpes (detailed version).

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.