Living With Herpes

If you've been diagnosed with genital herpes, the discussion with your doctor may have been a life-changing one. Receiving a herpes diagnosis can be scary due to how the disease is portrayed by society and the media.

People with herpes have long been sent the message that they are dirty or somehow flawed, but this is not true.

Many people around the world are living with herpes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in eight Americans has genital herpes.

The fact that someone has herpes says nothing about them other than that they were exposed to a virus. 

Living with herpes isn't always easy, but it's not as awful as many people expect. If you've been diagnosed with herpes, know that you won't always be uncomfortable or in pain, and you can still date, fall in love, and have sex.

Herpes is a disease and like many others, you can learn to live well with it. It's not a curse, a judgment, or the end of the world.

What to Do After Diagnosis

If you've been diagnosed with genital herpes, try not to panic. You have time to learn everything you need to know to live well with herpes.

You were probably diagnosed because you experienced an outbreak. It may have been scary and painful, but don't panic. Do some research and learn all you can about the disease.

Once you've had one herpes outbreak, you'll probably have several more over the next year. Over time, outbreaks usually become less frequent. You may even stop having symptoms altogether.

You should also talk to your doctor about treatment. Medication and other treatments for genital herpes can help:

  • relieve your symptoms
  • reduce the frequency of outbreaks
  • make it less likely that you will transmit the virus to someone else

Asymptomatic Infection

If you were diagnosed with genital herpes through a blood test because your current or former sexual partner told you that you might have been exposed to the virus, it's possible that you will never have a noticeable outbreak.

Most people with genital herpes have asymptomatic infections. If you don't have a symptomatic outbreak within a month after being infected with the herpes virus, you may never experience genital symptoms.

Being asymptomatic doesn't mean you can ignore the infection. Genital herpes can be transmitted even in the absence of symptoms (in fact, that may be how you were infected with the virus).

Dealing With Shame and Blame

When you are first diagnosed with genital herpes, you may want to find someone to blame, but try not to. Most people with herpes don't have any symptoms, so your partner may not have realized they were putting you at risk.

However, if your sexual partner knew they were infected with the herpes virus and lied to you about it, you might want to reevaluate the situation. You may not feel that you can trust them or that you want to continue the relationship.

Before you judge others, evaluate your own actions. Did you seek out STD testing? Did you consistently practice safe sex? Before having sex with a new partner, did you disclose sexual health issues and ask about their history?

No matter how tempting it is to throw blame around, you may decide that it's unfair to hold others to standards you have not upheld yourself.

People may not disclose herpes infections because they feel embarrassed or ashamed. When they first start seeing a new person, the shame may keep them from disclosing even though they want to and know that they should.

These discussions tend to get harder as time goes on. If someone waits until later in the relationship to discuss herpes, they may worry that their partner will wonder why they kept it secret or will blame them.

Talking to Your Partner

Telling your partner you have genital herpes may be one of the hardest things about living with the disease. Whether you've been together for years, or your relationship is brand new, the conversation will be difficult. Still, it is one you need to have.

To prepare for the discussion, become comfortable with all the pertinent information about herpes. Know how herpes is transmitted and how you can reduce the risk of giving it to your partner.

Whether you've been together for a long time or are just starting a new relationship, recommend that your partner get tested.

Remember that condoms aren't 100% protective against herpes. There's still a chance you will pass the disease to sexual partners.

While it won't completely eliminate the risk, consistent and correct use of barrier methods for oral, anal, vaginal, and manual sex greatly reduces the chance of spreading herpes to a partner.

Suppressive therapy can also reduce the risk of transmission. These medications lower the amount of virus in your body. However, remember that you can transmit the herpes virus when you don't have symptoms.

Sex and Herpes

While it's true that practicing safe sex does not completely eliminate risk, a herpes diagnosis doesn't need to be the end of your sex life. Consistent and proper use of barrier methods, as well as avoiding sex during outbreaks, makes it less likely you will pass the infection to a partner.

It's also important to avoid sex during the prodromal period before an outbreak. This is when you start to feel itching or tingling under your skin and other symptoms that suggest the herpes sores will soon appear.

Dating when you have herpes may not be nearly as difficult as you think; remember, millions of people around the world are infected with the herpes virus.

However, even if you have both been diagnosed with genital herpes, it's important to continue to practice safe sex to prevent other sexually transmitted infections.

You should also know that having oral herpes does not protect you from getting genital herpes; in fact, oral herpes is even more contagious than genital herpes.

Therefore, safe oral sex practices are also important for preventing herpes. Cold sores (which are oral herpes) can be transmitted to the genitals and vice versa.

Other Health Effects of Herpes

Herpes can also have other effects on your health. For example, people with herpes are at increased risk for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and have a higher risk of transmitting HIV.

Still, herpes is not a disease that will affect most areas of your life. Outside of sexuality, the major risk pertains to childbearing.

Herpes infections can be extremely dangerous to infants. People with herpes who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should discuss minimizing risk with their obstetricians.

You may need to take medication or make specific birth plans (such as having a cesarean section) to reduce the risk of transmission.

The greatest risk of transmitting the virus to infants occurs in people who become infected with the herpes virus during pregnancy. People who are pregnant need to be especially cautious with new sexual partners.

Support

You may want to find an in-person or online herpes support group. Talking with others who have been where you are can help you cope with your feelings after diagnosis, find the knowledge and resources you need to live well with the disease and empower you to discuss herpes openly with your partners.

A Word From Verywell

If you've recently been diagnosed with herpes, the stigma surrounding the virus may have you wonder how you'll ever learn to live with the disease.

While herpes can be easy to spread (including when you have no symptoms) there are ways to protect yourself and your partners.

You can also continue to date and have sex if you have herpes, as long as you have open conversations with partners and consistently practice safe sex.

If you are pregnant or want to become pregnant, you should talk to your doctor about minimizing the risk of transmitting herpes during childbirth.

As you adjust to living with herpes, you may want to join a support group where you can learn from and discuss your feelings with others.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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