When your Partner has Genital Herpes and you Don't

Finding out that a partner has a sexually transmitted disease like genital herpes can turn out to be a major stress trigger in a relationship. Not only do you have to deal with the medical implications of a partner with an STD but also the probability that he/she partner may have been unfaithful to you, especially since you are infection free. Here are a few ways to cope when you find out that your partner has genital herpes while you don’t.

Get the facts right

 Sexually transmitted diseases are as much a source of panic and mistaken notions as they are of a medical condition. So it is important to know the facts yourself before you can discuss the matter with your partner. According to the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the country. Across the nation, 16.2%, or about one out of six people from 14 to 49 years of age have genital herpes caused by infection by HSV-21. Genital herpes causes blisters or groups of small ulcers (open sores) on and around the genitals in both men and women.Treatment for genital herpes includes taking painkillers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen if the sores are painful as well as antiviral drugs if the outbreak is particularly severe. If your partner is pregnant or trying to get pregnant, genital herpes is an even bigger concern. Her doctor must be made aware of it. Genital herpes is also more serious for people with HIV and other conditions that weaken the immune system. Being armed with accurate information will not only help your partner to get the right tests and treatment but also better prepare your relationship to cope with the consequences.

Don’t jump to conclusions

The fact that your partner has come down with genital herpes while you have not isn’t always the consequence of infidelity. One of the reasons why STDs are such a great cause of concern is that they a few of them may lie dormant without producing any symptoms for several months or even years after the first contact with an infected partner. Thus you partner may be experiencing a herpes outbreak or a relapse now whereas he/she may have been exposed to the virus even before you two got together. The first instinct in such cases would be to blame the partner for having sex outside the relationship where probably he/she picked up the infection. While this may well be true, it is also possible that he/she may have been infected for years and did not realize it until something in their body changed and caused the first noticeable symptom to appear.

Find treatment

The first choice for treatment in case of a genital herpes infection should probably be the individual’s regular physician. This is because he/she is familiar with your partner’s health history and is best placed to decide the right treatment options for the patient. Most family physicians can effectively treat the common run of STDs but in case they have doubts, they can always refer your partner to a specialist. Women in fact are more comfortable talking about their STD symptoms to a gynecologist rather than their family medical practitioner. So if your partner is uncomfortable going to his/her family physician or if the cost of the consultation and treatment are not covered by health insurance, there are several choices of affordable or free STD treatment too. Most local health departments run a free or sliding scale STD clinic which offers anonymous or confidential testing. Yet another affordable option is your local Planned Parenthood clinic which apart from providing contraceptive guidance is an excellent resource for STD testing and treatment. Other affordable options could include the STD clinic in your local hospital or if the symptoms need prompt attention, urgent care clinics which are both more affordable and time-saving as compared to the Emergency Room services.

Be prepared for changes

When your partner is diagnosed with genital herpes, understand that you both will be required to make some space for changes to your lifestyle. The most important of these is perhaps to avoid sex with your partner for the time he/she is undergoing treatment for the STD. Just because the treatment has started and even if the symptoms ease up, it does not mean that your partner is completely infection-free. The doctor will require your partner to be tested again at the end of the treatment to be sure that the infection is gone and that he/she is no longer capable of passing it on to anyone else. So resuming sexual activity before your partner has been given the go-ahead by the doctor may cause the infection to be passed back and forth between you both. Also don’t be under the impression that as long as you are not having vaginal intercourse, it is alright to go the oral way. Genital herpes can spread through the oral route as well and your partner needs to confirm from his/her treatment provider what is and is not safe for you both.  Finally your partner needs to be consistent about the treatment and not leave it mid-way as soon as the symptoms disappear or he/she begins to feel a little better. Apart from developing drug resistance, this will leave the infection untreated thus putting the patient as well as his/her sexual partner at the risk of future infections or even complications.

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Discuss safe sex with your partner

The very fact that your partner has come down with genital herpes implies that there has been a lapse in practicing safe sex somewhere down the line. No matter who was responsible, it is time for you both to discuss how to avoid something like this in future again. Talk about making STD screenings an essential part of your health regimen. Also discuss the advantages of using a condom every time you have sex, whether vaginal, anal or oral. Even though there is a tendency among partners to “get past” the condom after some time into a relationship, short of sexual abstinence it is still the most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases like genital herpes.
The biggest impact of genital herpes is usually emotional. Painful symptoms, limitations on sexual activity as well as the fact it's an incurable, lifelong condition can lead to depression in a partner and significant stress on the relationship. While it is up to you to take a final call in the relationship, keep in mind that even If you were to leave your partner to find someone else, you'd have nearly a one-in-five chance of meeting another man with genital herpes, or about a one-in-four chance of meeting another woman who is infected. In end with lots of love, the right attitude and some caution, it is possible to continue to have a healthy loving relationship even your partner has been diagnosed with genital herpes.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet