Dating with herpes can be a challenging experience. While the virus is very common (about two thirds of all adults have HSV-1, and 11-20% HSV-2), finding out that you have herpes can have a significant effect on your self-esteem and interest in meeting new people.
If you’ve recently found out that you have herpes, or recently found out you might be considering dating someone with HSV-1 or HSV-2, it’s vital that you stay positive. With the right combination of medication, conversation and understanding, it’s still very possible to form and maintain normal romantic relationships.
In this guide, we’ll cover the essentials of dating with herpes, from coming to terms with the fact that you have the virus to disclosing herpes to your partner, educating them about the virus and reducing your risk of transmission.
For the most part, we’ll focus on genital herpes (which can be caused by both HSV-1 or HSV-2), rather than oral herpes. However, the information provided below is relevant regardless of your herpes infection type.
Putting Herpes in Perspective
Right now, there’s no cure for herpes. This means that if you contract HSV-1 or HSV-2, the virus will remain in your body for the rest of your life, or until a cure is discovered.
Finding this out can be devastating news, especially from the perspective of your dating and romantic life. After all, you have an incurable, lifelong virus that spreads through either oral or sexual contact—two things that, last we checked, are pretty important in every romantic relationship.
The reality is that herpes probably isn’t as big of a problem for your relationship as you think it is. Every day, millions of people around the world are completely able to have normal, healthy relationships in spite of their HSV-1 or HSV-2 status.
One easy way to put the herpes virus in context is through statistics. More than 60% of adults have HSV-1, affecting either the mouth or genitals. Between 11% and 20% have HSV-2, which almost exclusively affects the genitals.
In total, an estimated 20-30% of all American adults have symptomatic or asymptomatic genital herpes, either in the form of HSV-1 or HSV-2. It’s a very common virus, and there’s nothing bad, “unclean” or “unsafe” about you if you’re infected.
Your Dating Life is Not Over
If you’ve recently found out that you have genital herpes, it’s easy to assume that your dating life is over.
This is a normal, common reaction. Finding out you have a sexually transmitted infection isn’t an enjoyable experience, and it’s completely normal to assume that catching herpes will mean the end of your sexual and romantic life.
The reality, however, is that genital herpes isn’t as big of a deal as you think.
First, genital herpes doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Many people with genital HSV-1 or HSV-2 have frequent outbreaks of the virus. However, many people only occasionally deal with outbreaks, and some people with the virus never get any genital herpes outbreaks at all. Our guide to what you can expect from your herpes outbreak frequency goes through every question you might have about it.
Second, even if you do experience herpes outbreaks, they’re temporary. Herpes outbreaks can happen once a year or once every three months, depending on the type of virus you have, your immune system, your diet and other factors.
However, the physical symptoms of a herpes outbreak don’t stick around for long. Usually, your body will repel the virus and heal within two to three weeks, giving you months in between each outbreak for you to enjoy a normal dating life.
Third, genital herpes is easy to treat. Modern antiviral medication like valacyclovir can suppress the herpes virus, helping you quickly treat herpes outbreaks, recover faster and reduce your risk of transmitting the virus to other people.
In short, you shouldn't think of herpes as a big deal because it isn’t. Treated and managed with the right care and attitude, genital herpes shouldn’t limit your ability to date, meet new people or enjoy a relatively normal sex life.
Be Transparent With Your Partner
One of the most important aspects of dating with herpes is transparency. If you’re interested in a certain person and want to start a relationship with them, you need to let them know about your herpes status before initiating sexual contact. Not disclosing HSV-2 or HSV-1 isn't an option.
Genital herpes can spread through oral, anal and traditional intercourse. This means that you need to inform your partner before any first sexual activity, not only before penetrative sex.
Being open, honest and transparent with your partner (or prospective partner) is an important part of building trust and creating an honest connection. As impossible as it can seem, telling your partner that you have genital herpes isn’t as hard as you might think, and is way better than not disclosing HSV-2 or HSV-1 to them and having to tell them after the fact (Or worse, after they've contracted it).
Our guide to having sex when you have herpes covers this topic in more detail, with several tips that you can use to gently break the news to your partner. We like to think we did a pretty good job with it.
As always, it’s important to stay positive. If you have a strong connection with someone, they’ll listen. You might even be surprised to learn that your partner is accepting and doesn’t care about your genital herpes, or even that they also have HSV-1 or HSV-2.
Take Steps to Reduce Your Transmission Risk
If you have genital herpes and your partner doesn’t, you can take several steps to reduce your level of viral shedding and lower your transmission risk:
- Talk to your doctor about using antiviral medication like valacyclovir. Taken regularly at a suppressive therapy dose, valacyclovir greatly reduces your risk of transmitting genital herpes to other people.
- Use condoms, dental dams and other barrier contraceptives. While contraceptives aren’t 100% effective at preventing herpes transmission, physical barriers like condoms reduce the amount of direct skin contact that occurs during sex, lowering your transmission risk.
- Having an outbreak? It’s best to avoid sex during herpes outbreaks, as this is when the virus is most likely to spread to other people.
- Take your HSV-1 or HSV-2 transmission risk seriously. Even with the tactics listed above, there’s still some risk of you transmitting herpes to your partner. Before you have sex, it’s important that you’re both aware of and willing to accept this risk.
With the right approach, you can significantly reduce your risk of transmitting genital herpes to other people, making it easier for you to enjoy a normal sex life even after learning about your herpes status. Whether you have herpes, or whether you're contemplating dating someone with HSV-1 or HSV-2, it is possible and you can do it if you take the right precautions and accept the small (but real) risks.
Learn More About Living With Genital Herpes
Worried you might have herpes? Our guide to HSV-1 and HSV-2 covers almost every aspect of living with oral or genital herpes, from prescription medicine to over-the-counter treatments, the signs and symptoms of the virus, herpes statistics and more.
If you’re concerned that you may have caught genital herpes from a partner, be sure to read our guide to the signs and symptoms of genital herpes. And if you're interesting in getting tested for herpes, we have you covered there, too.