Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection. It causes blisters and sores to appear around the genitals or anus. It’s passed on during sex, including oral and anal sex. It’s possible to carry the virus without ever having symptoms so many people might not know they have it.
Having sexual contact with someone who has genital herpes means you are at risk of catching it. It is transmitted through skin to skin contact with the area infected with herpes. You can catch it orally by performing oral sex on someone who has herpes and vice versa; i.e. if a cold sore touches your genitals. It can also be passed on by sharing sex toys.
If your partner has genital herpes, the risk of catching it is much higher while they have an outbreak, which is when the blisters or sores are visible, as this means they are contagious. You should avoid sexual contact during this time, even with a condom, as they can easily pass on the infection to you. When the sores have healed and the symptoms aren’t visible, using a condom during sex means the risk of catching it is low.
Genital herpes cannot be passed on through saliva but kissing someone with a cold sore could result in developing oral herpes. Genital herpes can only be transmitted during intimate sexual contact, the virus cannot survive outside of the body.
Genital herpes resembles small blisters around the genital area. Eventually, they burst to leave red sores. Other symptoms include a tingling, itching or burning sensation around your genitals, pain during urination and an unusual discharge from the vagina. You can get tested at an STI clinic if you have visible blisters or sores where the doctor will do a swab test on the infected area.
You can carry the virus for a long time before ever having symptoms so it’s impossible to tell how long you’ve had it for. Once you catch genital herpes there is no cure but treatment can help you to manage your symptoms when you do have an outbreak.
After getting tested for genital herpes, you can get antiviral medicine (such as Valaciclovir or Aciclovir) and cream to reduce your symptoms and stop them from getting worse. Each time you start having an outbreak, taking the medicine will help to heal the blisters quicker. Keeping the area clean and using vaseline, an ice pack or cream to ease the pain can help to soothe the blisters and prevent infection.
You shouldn’t have sex while you have an outbreak of herpes, even with a condom as you could still infect your partner. Once the sores have healed, you’re not at the contagious stage. To minimise the risk of infecting your partner, use condoms each time you have sex and a dental dam as a barrier during oral sex. Talking to a new partner to let them know that you have genital herpes before you get physical is advised.