After receiving a positive test result for genital herpes, one may wonder about available treatments, how to communicate with their partner, and how it will affect their sexual activity. Despite the prevalence of herpes, many individuals lack a comprehensive understanding of the virus's mechanics, the appearance of flare-ups, and its impact on sexual activity.
Receiving a positive herpes diagnosis does not signify the termination of your sexual journey. Instead, grappling with herpes can serve as a chance to foster enhanced openness in your sexual interactions—wherein any form of sexual communication paves the way for heightened pleasure. In this guide, we've compiled six essential insights to help you shed certain stigmas, reclaim confidence, and control your intimate experiences.
Herpes carries considerable prejudice in our society, mainly due to a lack of understanding of the condition. First, let's discuss the facts of herpes and clear up any misconceptions.
It is a common misconception that herpes only resides in either the mouth or genital area. Both herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) can be transmitted to either area. HSV-1 is more commonly found in the mouth and can cause cold sores, but can also be transmitted to the genital area. Similarly, HSV-2 is more commonly found in the genital area but can also be transmitted to the mouth.
Despite popular belief, herpes lesions may not be as easily recognisable as you were taught in high school health class. Many people don't experience symptoms or recognise them when they occur, making it challenging to identify the infection. This means that many people are living with herpes without even knowing it.
It is possible to carry the herpes virus throughout your life, but it does not necessarily mean you will always experience active symptoms. This sexually transmitted infection can be managed with treatment, but unfortunately, there is currently no cure. If you take medication to control the virus, it can go years between flare-ups, sometimes called outbreaks. The virus is most easily transmitted during these active periods of viral shedding, although transmission is still possible during periods of latency. However, the likelihood of transmission is significantly lower during these times.
Despite the stigma surrounding a herpes diagnosis, it doesn't have to mean the end of your sex life. Having herpes doesn't have to be a barrier to having positive, healthy, and enjoyable sexual experiences. You can still have fulfilling intimate relationships with the proper knowledge and preparation.
Stigma isn't just felt during interactions with others; it can be deeply embedded within your self-perception. Realising you've tested positive for an STI can evoke strong emotions, even for those who are otherwise open-minded and confident about sexuality. Such a diagnosis might result in feelings of diminished self-worth, depression, anxiety, or even challenges in experiencing sexual pleasure.
This is the direct influence of stigma. It's vital to reframe your perspective from viewing yourself as "flawed/dirty/imperfect/unworthy due to my condition" to recognize that you are merely a person dealing with a standard, manageable virus. Embracing this understanding can alleviate the burden of internalised stigma and foster more effortless conversations about your condition with partners, friends, and medical professionals.
If you're considering becoming sexually intimate with someone, discussing your STI status beforehand is essential. Talk in a place where you both feel safe and secure and come to the conversation ready with facts about how common STIs are and how they can be effectively managed. If you come to the conversation calmly and collected, your partner will likely respond in kind.
Before having a conversation about herpes, prepare answers to any questions your partner may have, such as "What does it mean for us to have sex?". However, there is no need to answer all questions. Inquiries like "How did you get it?" only serve to reinforce the stigma and misconceptions around herpes, and in reality, it is hard to pinpoint how you may have contracted it. You both may have it, but the other partner is asymptomatic and unaware.
it's not necessary to disclose to everyone in your life. The stigma surrounding STIs is real; if you think it could put you in a dangerous situation, you don't need to tell them. However, if you plan to have sex with them, disclosing is essential. This is not only because of specific laws that require disclosure but because everyone deserves to be fully aware before engaging in a sexual experience.
Herpes may not be a significant concern for most people, but it is still essential to prevent the spread of the virus to sexual partners if possible. Fortunately, herpes is highly treatable. With medication, minimising the number of active periods when you are most contagious is possible. Developing a sexual safety plan with your partners can help you feel secure when engaging in sexual activities, regardless of how long it has been since your last flare.
It's essential to be familiar with your herpes symptoms to make an effective sexual safety plan. Please take note of the changes in your skin, such as lesions or tenderness, and where they occur. This will help you better understand how to protect yourself and your partner from transmitting the virus.
It is essential to be aware of your herpes and how it appears and feels to make the best decisions regarding a safety plan for you and your partners. This could involve using barrier methods like dental dams, condoms and gloves, or it may mean that your partner is comfortable with the risk of transmission during flare-free periods and pleasurable activities are avoided during flares. For an ongoing relationship with a partner who does not have herpes, taking an antiviral medication daily can significantly reduce or even stop flare-ups and lower the chances of virus transmission to the partner by up to 50%.
There is no one right way to have a safety plan for your sexual safety, and you should discuss it with your partner. You have to find what works for you!
During flare-ups, some individuals may choose to forego sexual activity, opting instead for non-sexual touch and care. At the same time, others may be eager to explore alternative approaches to pleasure and intimacy. It is important to note that pleasure is still an option during flare-ups and should not be wholly taken away.
If you or your partner is going through a flare-up period, discuss what might help you both feel better. Consider engaging in sensual massage, sexting, or mutual masturbation. You could also explore different, low-risk sexual acts during your flare-up.
Regardless of your current symptoms, it is essential to remember that it is okay to embrace your sexuality and participate in other activities that can help you cultivate a positive body image and foster intimacy with your partner. On the other hand, if you want to take this time to rest and recuperate, that is also a valid choice. Ultimately, the decision is yours; you should do whatever feels right.
It's important to remember that even after learning that you have herpes, you still deserve pleasurable sexual experiences. Having herpes does not mean you are less worthy of enjoying sex, and it is still possible to have a safe and satisfying sexual encounter.
Even the most open-minded individuals can be emotionally shaken upon discovering they have an STI. It's natural to experience intense emotions, but it's essential not to be overly self-critical about the diagnosis. Allocate a special moment each day to indulge in activities that make you feel good, whether sexual or not. Doing this reinforces the belief that you deserve pleasure and contentment.
Engaging in intimate activities with herpes is feasible, and the experience can be just as satisfying as before.
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