Living With Genital Herpes
What it means to have Genital Herpes
Genital herpes is essentially a minor, sometimes recurring, skin infection; 'cold sores' which occur on the
genitals rather than the face. It does not cause long-term ill health or affect longevity of life. People who get
genital herpes can and do lead perfectly normal lives.
As described earlier, a primary infection can be severe and involve generalized 'flu' -like symptoms. This,
combined with the pain and discomfort of the sores and, in some cases, secondary infection, can leave people
feeling very run-down. Fortunately, recovery is fast once the herpes has healed.
Sexual relationships and herpes
People with recurrent genital herpes may reconsider some aspects of sexual intimacy. For example using non-genital
forms of sexual contact when skin blisters or herpes ulcers are present. It also means considering, if, how and
when you are going to tell a sexual partner. Many people do not understand what it means to have genital herpes or
realize how common it is. Most people react supportively when told and appreciate and respect your honesty. People
who choose not to tell a sexual partner risk the burden of fear, guilt and secrecy.
In an ongoing relationship where both partners fully understand the chance of herpes transmission, the use of
condoms becomes less relevant.
For people who experience very frequent herpes recurrences, suppressive antiviral therapy, which reduces the
frequency of herpes recurrences, can help reduce the impact the herpes recurrences can have on sexual activity and
may reduce the risk of herpes transmission.
Genital herpes is not hereditary. HSV has no effect on fertility and is not transmitted via men's sperm or women's
Living With Genital Herpes
Women with genital herpes can experience a safe pregnancy and vaginal childbirth. This is especially so when a
women has a diagnosis of genital herpes prior to becoming pregnant. In the situation when the mother already has a
history of genital herpes, she will have antibodies circulating in her blood which will protect the baby during the
pregnancy and delivery.
Being a Parent
Genital herpes in either parent does not affect babies/children and there is little risk of herpes transmission
as long as normal hygiene is ensured.
Parents should be aware, however, that HSV can be transmitted from oral cold sores simply by kissing and can
cause serious, widespread (disseminated) herpes infection in the newborn. Fortunately, by the time a baby is about
six months, the immune system is well able to cope with exposure to the herpes virus. Initial exposure to HSV in
babies and young children, after being kissed by someone with a cold sore, can cause gingivostomatitis, an
infection of the mouth and gums which goes largely unrecognized and untreated.
Herpes myths vs facts
Myth: Only certain sorts of people get herpes.
Fact: No, it is very common and anyone who has ever had sex can get genital herpes. It's not about being clean,
dirty, good or bad – it's about being normal and sexually active.
Myth: Herpes isn't that common and I am unlikely to get it.
Fact: Herpes is very common and may be caused by both herpes simplex type 1 and herpes simplex type 2 (HSV-1 or
HSV-2). HSV-1 causes "cold sores" on the mouth, and up to 80% of the population has this virus. However, HSV-1 may
also be transmitted to the genitals through oral/genital sex and about 40% of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1. Up
to 22% of sexually active adults have genital herpes caused by HSV-2. Most people with herpes will not have
symptoms and therefore will not be aware they have it. 50% of people getting herpes get it from partners who are
unaware they have it.
Myth: Herpes "cold sores" on the mouth are not the same as genital herpes.
Fact: Cold sores on the mouth or face are caused by HSV-1 and are commonly transmitted to the genitals (causing
genital herpes) through oral to genital sex. Up to 40% of genital herpes is caused by HSV-1.
Myth: Herpes can only affect the genital area.
Fact: HSV-1 typically affects the mouth area. HSV-2 and HSV-1 affect the genitals, pubic area, buttocks, back of
thigh or inner thigh. Herpes can also occur on other parts of the body, although this is less common. On the
fingers it is known as herpes whitlow.
Myth: People always know if they have genital herpes.
Fact: No, 80% of those with genital herpes do not know they have it, as they may have no or very mild herpes
Myth: People with herpes are always infectious.
Fact: A person with herpes is not always infectious but the herpes virus is occasionally shed from the skin when
symptoms are not present. Most of the time when you don't have herpes symptoms you are not infectious.
Myth: When you have an STI check or a cervical smear it always checks for herpes.
Fact: Routine sexual health (STI screens) checks and cervical smear tests do not screen or test for herpes. Tests
for herpes can only be done if a person has symptoms and a swab is taken directly from the lesion.
Myth: People with herpes cannot have children.
Fact: Herpes does not affect fertility in either men or women, and women with genital herpes can have normal
pregnancies and vaginal delivery. Herpes can be passed on to babies, but this is rare. If you are pregnant and you
or your partner has herpes, tell your health care professional.
Myth: Herpes causes cervical cancer.
Fact: Herpes is not associated with cervical abnormalities or cervical cancer. These are caused by HPV (human
Papilloma virus), which is not herpes.
Myth: Herpes is passed through blood.
Fact: Herpes is not present in the blood. People with genital herpes can still donate blood. Genital herpes is only
passed through direct skin-to-skin contact, both orally and genitally.
Myth: If you have herpes you should always wear condoms in long-term monogamous relationships.
Fact: In long-term relationships, most couples choose not to continually use condoms, and understand that getting
herpes is just a part of life. (Your partner may already have herpes without being aware of it). Whilst some people
may experience troublesome herpes symptoms from time to time, for the majority, herpes is not symptomatic or causes
only mild symptoms. Herpes medication is available for those that need it.
Myth: If you have genital herpes you can't have (receive) oral sex.
Fact: Herpes transmission to the mouth is uncommon.
Myth: I can pass herpes to myself from my mouth to my genitals if I accidentally touch myself.
Fact: Once you have herpes at one site, it is rare to then get the same type at another site. This is because your
body develops antibodies which prevent this from happening.
Myth: It's risky living in the same house as someone who has genital herpes.
Fact: The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is not spread through sharing communal facilities. When the herpes virus
leaves living skin cells, it dies. People with genital or facial herpes are able to use the same showers, toilets,
washing machines and swimming pools as anyone else, without the worry of passing on the herpes infection.