The herpes simplex virus is highly contagious. If you have herpes but your partner does not, you may worry about accidentally spreading the virus. Or perhaps your partner is nervous and busy researching “my partner has herpes, how do I protect myself?” on Google.
The truth is that it’s impossible to guarantee your partner won’t become infected with herpes. But there’s still good news! With appropriate care and precautions, you can significantly decrease the likelihood of transmitting herpes in your relationship.
Use these tips to learn more about how to protect your partner from herpes and enjoy a fulfilling and intimate relationship.
How High Is the Risk of Spreading Herpes?
The risk of spreading herpes depends on a number of factors, some of which are within your control:
- - Length of time you have been infected with the herpes virus
- - Whether your partner is a man or a woman
- - How frequently you use condoms during sex
- - Whether you take antiviral medication
Research shows that in couples where one partner had genital herpes and condoms were only used during outbreaks, the other partner became infected within one year in up to 10% of couples.
The risk drops significantly with additional precautions like consistent condom and antiviral medical use. One large study reported that only 1.9% of susceptible partners became infected with clinically symptomatic HSV-2 when given the antiviral valacyclovir as a precautionary treatment.
When Are the Most Contagious Times?
The herpes virus is always contagious, even when no symptoms exist. However, the risk of transmission increases significantly when wet, open sores and blisters are present in the midst of an outbreak.
From the time that you begin to feel the itching or burning sensation of developing herpes sores, until your outbreak has completely scabbed and healed, consider the virus highly contagious for your partner.
If you’re the susceptible partner in the relationship and want to learn how to not get cold sores from your partner, be sure to abstain from intimate contact until each herpes outbreak has cleared.
What Can Be Done In Addition to Using Condoms?
Wearing condoms during sex doesn’t provide guaranteed protection from a herpes infection, but it’s one of the most effective ways to reduce your partner’s risk. In fact, research indicates that consistent condom users face a 30% lower risk of HSV-2 infection compared to those who never use condoms at all.
But nothing is foolproof, so these additional precautions can help you reduce the risk of infection as much as possible.
General Hygiene Best Practices
Sometimes the simplest acts are the most powerful. Implement these hygiene best practices to ensure you don’t accidentally spread the herpes virus to your partner.
- - Keep the infected area clean and dry
- - Avoid touching sores
- - Wash your hands immediately after any possible contact with sores
- - DON’T pick at sores since this will cause infection
- - DON’T make choices that you know can trigger an outbreak
You or your partner can take antiviral medication to fight the herpes virus and prevent it. A few different antivirals are available with a prescription from your doctor or online pharmacy:
- - Acyclovir (Zovirax) is a prescription medication used to improve the healing of sores or blisters caused by a number of conditions, including first-time and repeat outbreaks of genital herpes. It works by slowing or stopping the spread of the herpes virus within the body, but it cannot cure genital herpes.
- - Valacyclovir (Valtrex) is another antiviral prescription drug used to treat genital herpes and shingles. Taken twice a day for five days, Valtrex may decrease uncomfortable symptoms and help sores heal faster. In some cases, this antiviral can also prevent new sores from forming.
A dental dam is a thin, flexible piece of latex that prevents direct oral contact during sex. If you’re wondering how to protect your partner from herpes, a dental dam offers an effective way to stop the spread of HSV-1 and HSV-2.
Dental dams work like a condom for the mouth, though they’re not nearly as well-known or easy to find as condoms. You may need to order dental dams online instead. They’re available in a range of shapes, sizes, and even flavors.
Experts Say Male Circumcision Can Help
According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), heterosexual men who undergo medical circumcision can significantly reduce their risk of herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection.
In the study, male volunteers who received immediate circumcision were about three percent less likely to become infected with HSV-2 compared to those in the control group.
HSV-1 Genital Infection Vaccine
Though a herpes vaccine hasn’t yet been fully developed and approved by the FDA, pre-clinical study results show promise for a leading experimental vaccine candidate.
The vaccine candidate contains a genetically edited form of a herpes simplex virus that protects against HSV-1 and can even cross-protect against HSV-2. Testing in guinea pigs indicates that the R2 vaccine may reduce the shedding period—the most contagious phase—of the herpes virus from 29 days to about 13 days.
How Often Should Your Partner Get Tested?
The herpes virus doesn’t always trigger outbreaks and symptoms, so testing is an important way to monitor your health. The CDC recommends testing if you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to herpes or if you recently had sex with a new partner who has genital herpes.
The Differing Risks for Men and Women
When someone wonders, “My partner has herpes, how do I protect myself?” the answer may be different for men than women.
Data show that genital herpes is more common among women than men. In 2015-2016, 15.9% of adult women were infected with HSV-2 compared to 8.2% of men. This trend may occur because it’s easier for a man to accidentally transmit the herpes virus to a woman during sex.
Pregnant women with genital herpes must also consider the potential risk of passing the infection along to their babies. Fortunately, there are many preventative measures women can take to protect their newborns from neonatal herpes, including having a C-section and taking antiviral medication.
Can Herpes Be Spread Through Towels and Other Items?
Herpes is one of the most stigmatized STIs, despite it also being one of the most common. It affects billions of people around the world! Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding herpes is the myth that it can spread through towels and other items.
The truth is that the herpes virus can’t survive on objects like towels and toilet seats. If you or your partner has genital herpes, you can safely share a bedroom and bathroom without feeling the need to sanitize everything between each use!