Someone you love has herpes

What does a herpes diagnosis mean for dating, sex and relationships?

If you’re building up to having sex with someone, and they tell you they have herpes, a common reaction can be to freak out a bit, and feel stressed and worried. There’s unfortunately a lot of fear and stigma around herpes, but knowing a bit about the infection should help. So let’s start with the good news, having herpes should not be a deal breaker in a relationship.

If someone has herpes and they tell you about it - it’s a dating green flag! They’re telling you that their sexual health, and yours, is important to them. They’ve been honest and they’re communicating with you. These are all excellent traits for a partner. Try to respond calmly, be honest, and ask for more information if you need it.

Having herpes does not mean someone is ‘unclean’. It does not mean they have not looked after their sexual health, nor does it mean they have unprotected sex. It also does not mean that you’ll get herpes if you have sex with them.

The facts about herpes

Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus can stay in your body for years without showing any signs, so many people do not know that they have it. But some people will have herpes outbreaks, where blister-like symptoms appear on the skin.

These outbreaks can happen at any time, so the appearance of blisters does not mean the virus is recent. Outbreaks most often happen when the immune system is struggling. So when someone feels ill, run-down or stressed out.

Once someone knows they have herpes, they can take steps to manage the infection. Some medications can help with outbreaks. And there’s steps you can take to lower the chance of passing on the infection.

Safer sex and herpes

You can still enjoy as much sex as you want. Be open to communication with your partner and encourage conversation about the virus. And it’s helpful to learn the basics of herpes and how it’s transmitted.

Herpes is passed on through skin-to-skin contact. You cannot get it from sharing a toilet seat, towels or anything like that, because the virus does not live long outside the body.
Most of the time, when there’s no outbreak or visible symptoms, using condoms will reduce your chances of getting herpes.

When your partner has an outbreak, we recommend you avoid having sex for a few days while the infection clears. They might feel a bit unwell, so make sure to respect their mood at this time. But don’t withdraw, you can keep things close and intimate with cuddling, kissing, touching over clothes or simply talking about your erotic thoughts.

During an outbreak, you should avoid sleeping naked beside each other. Because the virus can spread through skin contact, touching each other when naked could mean you transfer the virus.

Another useful thing to know is that washing with soap and water can kill the virus and stop it being spread. So wash your hands before and after any kissing and touching during an outbreak

Lastly, be aware of asymptomatic shedding. This is when there are no symptoms but the virus is still contagious. The chance of this is greatly reduced after the first year of infection and if someone is on antiviral medication.

If you’re having sex with someone who knows they have herpes, knows how to manage their herpes, and has been open and told you they have the virus then you are in a much better position than if you were having sex with someone who didn’t want to tell you they had it.

Really the only way that herpes should affect your relationship is that it might mean you have to take sex off the table now and then. This means you can get more creative together, finding ways to stay close and intimate without worrying about the virus.

Written by Hel Burrough. Senior Content Designer, SH:24 and Fettle
Reviewed by Helen Burkitt. Senior Sexual Health and Contraception Nurse
Published on: 22 May 2024