Living With Genital Herpes

⚠️ Use Discretion: Graphic human anatomy.

Which Infection Do You Have?


Promiscuity opens you up to many sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some, like AIDS, can be fatal if left untreated. Invasive infections like chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflam­ma­tory disease. There are STIs that are chronic, requiring regular treatment by an ob-gyn or family doctor. Other STIs, or venereal diseases, abate and recur.

Good and Bad News About Genital Herpes

  • Good news: This non-life-threatening virus can limit itself to one or two areas and it frequently goes into remission.
  • Bad news: Herpes is a chronic skin condition. During flare ups, it can be unsightly, uncomfortable, and very contagious. HSV‑1 (Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1) and HSV‑2 thrive in moist mucosal environ­ments. Hence, they can proliferate around the vulva, labia, peritoneum, buttocks, or the oral-nasal areas.

Genital warts is a common term for the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and herpes is a common term for an infection of herpes simplex virus (HSV). Genital warts are small, flesh-colored bumps. Herpes eruptions look like blisters or open wounds.

Cold sores on the lips are popular manifesta­tions of HSV‑1 (ratio 1:2 USA). Genitals are breeding grounds for HSV‑2 (ratio 1:8 USA). However, each virus can appear in either location, particularly with transmis­sion via fellatio or cunnilingus.

So you can contract herpes by kissing, touching, or having sexual contact with an infectious area. The risk to women is 6 times higher than men. Most people with genital herpes do not know they have it while it’s in a dormant state.

Symptoms of Genital Herpes

  • Painful blisters on the penis, labia, and/or anus.
  • Red, broken skin on the penis, labia or anus.
  • Itching in genital region.
  • Burning sensation during urination.
  • Pus discharge from the penis, vagina and/or anus.

Sex with Herpes

It is okay to have sex between outbreaks (7 days after outbreak subsides), as long as your partner understands and accepts the risk of contracting herpes. Some people in monogamous relationships accept mutual infection as an alternative to abstinence.

Your partner can become infected with herpes even when you don’t have symptoms or sores. Condoms do not guarantee infection prevention, but research has shown that they are helpful.

Treatment for Genital Herpes

Sexually active individuals who test negative require frequent checkups since the likelihood increases with each encounter. Anti-retroviral therapy suppresses painful blisters and reduces the amount of virus you shed by about 50%. Early treatment lessens the length and severity of each outbreak. Depending upon the location (i.e.: torso, arm, leg), a bandage may reduce contact spread.

A small but permanent colony of viral particles nests inside your body. This colony is often completely inactive (or “asleep”). Herpes pustules flare up and subside throughout your lifetime.

Learning that you have an STI can be devastating. It does not have to end your opportunity for a satisfying life. People with herpes have romantic and sexual relationships with each other, or with partners who don’t have herpes. This requires fastidious hygiene, timed prophylactic intercourse, and less intimate kisses.

It is important to reveal your herpes before having sex with (or kissing) your partner. Your best hope is that you both already have it. The safest course of action to prevent infection is sexual abstinence during a herpes outbreak, even with a condom. For more information, see the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) anatomy poster.

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Updated: Mar 23, 2023