Can you have safe sex if you have herpes?

How to protect your partner from herpes


It’s entirely possible to have safe sex if you have herpes. By monitoring your symptoms, having access to treatment and being mindful of triggers, you can lead a normal, healthy sex life. 


What is herpes?

Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the herpes simplex virus. It appears on the skin around the genitals as blisters which eventually burst and become red sores. 

Symptoms include:

  • Blisters and sores
  • A burning, itching or tingling sensation 
  • Discomfort when urinating 
  • Unusual discharge 

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How is herpes diagnosed?

If you have any of the above symptoms, then visit a sexual health clinic to get tested. A doctor will be able to test you and examine your symptoms to confirm that you have herpes. The first case may be worse than any recurring ones, so you might be prescribed with cream or antiviral medication to help clear up the symptoms and reduce pain and discomfort. 


How to treat herpes

Herpes is only contagious when you have an outbreak. Taking antiviral medicines helps to speed up the healing time to 2-3 days. You can also take them daily to prevent outbreaks and avoid spreading the virus if you experience frequent bouts of herpes. 

There are things you can do at home to help soothe uncomfortable symptoms:

  • Clean the affected area with saltwater, or plain water 
  • Use a cold flannel or apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth to the area to help with pain
  • Petroleum jelly can help reduce stinging while urinating 
  • Always wash your hands before and after applying cream


How to have safe sex

If you have herpes, the visible sores generally clear up on their own in a week or so. You should avoid having sex during this time, as this is when herpes is most contagious. Once the sores clear up, you can safely have sex without spreading herpes. It’s advisable to wear a condom to protect yourself from other STIs. 

If you have frequent bouts of herpes, antiviral tablets are available on prescription to take daily and prevent outbreaks. This also allows you to practice safe sex and avoid infecting your partner. 


Why does herpes keep coming back?

Once you catch herpes, the virus lives within your skin indefinitely. Some people only ever get a few outbreaks while others may get it more frequently. There is something that can trigger an outbreak:

  • Ultraviolet light from sunbeds
  • Friction (e.g. from wearing tight clothing)
  • Illness 
  • A weak immune system
  • Menstruation 



NHS> Genital Herpes:

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