Dating With Herpes Can Be Hard. Here Are Some Tips To Make It Easier

Dating is never easy. Lack of chemistry, mismatched future goals, decreased interests, a questionable past, and miscommunication are some dating challenges common to relationships of all sexual orientations. Even if these challenges are tough enough to derail the course of your love life, they pale in comparison to the one issue you must resolve before you can consider dating anyone: herpes. Dating while having herpes might sound a bit of a stretch, but it's not uncommon. According to the World Health Organization, roughly 67% of people under the age of 50 have HSV-1 globally, whereas 13% of the global population in the 15–49 age group carries HSV-2.

Per the CDC, there are two types of herpes: oral and genital herpes, characterized by an outbreak of painful blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Oral herpes, caused by HSV-1, spread through kissing or sharing utensils or towels with an infected person. 

Having herpes can have an adverse impact on your dating life. Imagine: as you go about doing the most intimate and romantic things you can do with your partner – like kissing and making love – you risk giving them herpes. So, is having herpes the end of the road for your dating life? Of course not. However, it must be approached in the right way.

Be transparent with your partner

Honesty is the best policy, especially when it concerns health. Before talking to your partner about your condition, visit a specialist for an accurate diagnosis. In fact, it's always better to go for an STD test before you start having a sexual life with a new partner. Whether you're just starting a relationship with someone or you've been dating the person for a while, the sooner you break the news, the better. Not only does sexual health transparency help to reinforce trust and connection, but it also helps minimize your partner's risk of contracting or spreading STDs or STIs.

To make sure nobody interrupts your sensitive conversation, opt to talk in a private and relaxing setting. The worst time to tell someone you have herpes is after having sex, during foreplay, or when your clothes are already off, WebMD points out. Not only does that ruin the mood, but it also makes your partner feel like you don't take sexual safety seriously. According to Ro, the conversation about your herpes diagnosis should focus on the type of herpes you have, how the virus is spread, how to ward off infection, and when to avoid sex. If you're both sexually active, do not forget to advise your partner to get tested for STDs – whether or not they have any symptoms. It's normal for your partner to panic upon hearing the news, so give them the time to process the information.

No sex while having an active herpes outbreak

For women, the initial symptoms of an active infection of genital herpes include the manifestations of blisters in and around the vagina, vulva, buttocks, anus, and thighs, accompanied by a burning and stinging sensation. As soon as your sensitive areas develop these symptoms, get tested for STDs immediately. According to UpToDate, you should not have sex when having a genital herpes outbreak because the virus is at its most contagious during this period. Therefore, the first thing you should do after finding out about your infection is to take a break from sexual activity, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex.

Do not have sex at least until seven days after all your sores have healed and the scabs have come off. At the same time, avoid touching your sores lest the fluids come into contact with your hands and are carried into other body parts. For instance, touching your eyes with contaminated fingers can cause an eye infection. It's also worth noting that a pregnant woman risks passing on herpes to her unborn child if she experiences her first genital herpes outbreak right before giving birth, NHS points out. The chance of transmission can be minimized with careful planning and sexual protection throughout pregnancy. If you have oral herpes, abstain from kissing, oral intercourse, and sharing drinks, lipsticks, and utensils. Once healed, remember to have protected sex at all times unless you're trying to conceive.

Take daily anti-herpes medicine

Many opt to take daily anti-herpes medicine to get their dating life back in full swing. There's no cure for any strain of herpes, but its symptoms can be managed with certain topical and oral medications as well as alternative therapies. Antiviral drugs, like Valtrex (valacyclovir), famciclovir (Famvir), and Zovirax (acyclovir) are the most popular treatment options for herpes, according to K Health. Not only do treatments heal herpes sores faster than other options, but they work to prevent you from passing the infection to your sexual partners. For those with a more severe case of genital herpes, your healthcare provider may prescribe an intravenous antiviral medication, which entails inserting a needle into a vein to administer the antiviral drug straight into your bloodstream.

In some circumstances, doctors may advise adopting acupuncture as an alternative therapy to speed up the healing of sores. A 2022 study published in the Annals of Palliative Medicine on the use of acupuncture to treat herpes zoster (shingles) symptoms concluded that acupuncture was effective in treating herpes zoster, alleviating discomfort, and shortening the length of treatment. At the same time, stick to a balanced, mineral-rich diet independent of foods high in arginine, such as chicken breast, turkey breast, chickpeas, and dairy products during an outbreak of herpes (per Hims). Foods that are spicy, salty, and oily, as well as alcohol, can also exacerbate your herpes symptoms and compromise your treatment results.

Explore a sexless relationship

The problem with having herpes in a relationship is that you can't have intimate moments until the sores are gone and the risks are managed. While sex can perk up a relationship, it's by no means the be-all and end-all in a healthy relationship, sex educator Lexx Brown-James tells MindBodyGreen. Therefore, don't worry about losing your partner's interest if you abstain from sex for a while. The backbone of a healthy relationship is communication. Real communication in relationships, says Tony Robbins, means that you can go to your partner about anything: sharing happiness and sadness, good days and bad.

If a person cannot support you in sickness, they're not worthy of your love when you're in health. Besides, it's not like having herpes robs you of the ability to have sex, or the sexual desire has run its course. Under this circumstance, physical intimacy just falls off the agenda for a couple of weeks as you seek treatment. In the meantime, avert your thoughts to other activities that can strengthen your connection without the risk of spreading a herpes infection. Use this "lean season" as the opportunity to start chasing each other again and get to know each other better. Physical and artistic activities like going green, taking a cooking class, and traveling can keep both of you happily occupied and keep your mind off sexual urges for a while.

Prioritize your treatment

If you have herpes, it's better to focus your time and energy on your treatment before starting a relationship. Being in a relationship can wear you out on so many levels, and navigating the tricky waters of romance while giving your body to treatment can weaken your physical and mental well-being. At a macro level, having an STD complicates dating. If the bond between you and the person is yet to be strong and the person knows you have herpes, there's a high chance your relationship might fall apart. Reasons are varied: either the person believes you're too at-risk to be a potential partner, or you can't stop battling with regrets and an inferiority complex.

Per a study published in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, people suffering from STDs are often ridden with guilt, humiliation, fear of rejection, and fear of not being sexually attractive. Due to the ongoing stigma associated with mental illness, some people may be too afraid and reluctant to disclose their condition to their partner, which can add more pressure to the relationship. STDs are a big deal and demand attention. The vast majority of herpes do not resolve on their own, and, if left untreated, they can cause complications such as an infection in other organs and an internal inflammatory disease, Conway Medical Center points out. After finding out about your infection, focus on your treatment instead of diving headfirst into a new relationship.