Thursday, October 29, 2009

Q & A: "I don't have to worry about catching herpes if he has no sores at the time we have sex"

My boyfriend says he once had an attack of genital
herpes, but that I don't have to worry about catching it if he
has no sores at the time we have sex. Is he right?

Not exactly. Genital herpes (usually caused by the virus
herpes simplex type) is transmitted through vaginal and
anal intercourse. Most frequently, there are multiple painful or
burning sores involving the vagina, labia, vulva, or rectum in
women, and the penis, rectum, or area at the base of the penis in
men. The sores will go away, but as the virus remains dormant in
your body, sores may reappear months or years later. If you or
your partner have herpes sores at the time of sexual contact it
is very contagious.

Unfortunately, genital herpes is not curable. Therefore, once
you've had an initial outbreak, there is the possibility of
transmitting the disease. This is true even if you have no
visible sores. The reason for this is that a carrier of herpes
begins to shed the virus (meaning you're contagious) just before
an outbreak occurs -- in other words, while you feel fine, or
when you first begin to feel a burning or itching sensation, and
before there are any visible sores. The frequency with which you
can get herpes from someone who has the virus and is completely
asymptomatic is not known, but probably relatively low.

The best thing to do is to always use a condom, and if sores are
present, avoid sex altogether. Remember that just the physical
contact between the vulva and the base of the penis while using a
condom can transmit herpes. The Reality female condom protects
those areas somewhat better.

-- R. Jandl

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