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Sex ed - can someone educate me please regarding herpes?

(71 Posts)
educatemeplease Mon 29-Jul-13 17:06:08

I have to admit I am appalled by some of the things I don't know regarding sex and STIs etc. I had always thought that condoms protected you from everything (provided they didn't break obviously) but have only found out in the last few years that this isn't the case at all and that you can get herpes even using a condom that doesn't split. I am 31 ffs, how did I not know this?

I have also just realised that the tests you get for STIs on the NHS don't actually test for herpes. I was under the impression that this was because it couldn't be tested for but have since found out that this is not the case at all. Can anyone tell me why this test is not done as a matter of course? I'd have thought it was one of the most important ones?

Also, can anyone tell me the likelihood of getting herpes from sex if using condoms? Has anyone actually "caught" it even though they used condoms? I don't have any symptoms or anything but have just met a new partner and want to protect myself (he has just come back from travelling and by the sounds of things had unprotected sex with 2 or 3 girls while away).

maddy68 Mon 29-Jul-13 17:10:11

It's because the tests for herpes test for a viral infection. Who hasn't had a viral infection? Also if you have ever had a cold sore it will show positive. Many people if tested would have a positive result without having genital herpes

DragonsAreReal Mon 29-Jul-13 17:10:13

Most people have herpes 1 in 3 I think the statistic is, and most never realise they have it.

It is just the same as a cold sore but down there. I think you can get tested in america but here they only diagnose when they can see it.

I think (this is vaguely from leaflets and sex ed) you can only catch it when the other person has a flare up or about to have a flare up.

NowIncognito Mon 29-Jul-13 17:20:36

Hi educate
Yes it's possible for herpes (HSV) to be transmitted even when using an intact condom. As far as I recall, condoms reduce the risk of HSV transmission by about 40%. This is because the virus can be shed from all mucous membranes in the genital area, many of which are not completely covered by a condom. It can also be transmitted via oral sex, even if your partner has a coldsore rather than genital herpes (the herpes simplex virus causes coldsores as well as genital herpes, and sometimes different subtypes of the virus infect different areas ie. it's possible to have both HSV-1 which typically - not always - affects the mouth and HSV-2 which usually infects the genital region).
NHS tests for sexually transmitted infections only include an HSV test if there are symptoms or signs of HSV at the time of examination, when a swab is taken from a blister or sore. If there are no symptoms, it is difficult to test (blood tests can be used, but they are not widely available on the NHS - usually all they tell you is whether you have been in contact with HSV 1 or 2 at some time in the past, which doesn't tell you whether you could be at risk of developing symptoms). It's possible to carry HSV for years and not develop any symptoms, but you could pass it on to any sexual partners.
Hope that helps answer some of your questions. As for the likelihood of catching it, very difficult to say for sure if your current partner doesn't have any symptoms. Have you asked him whether he has a history of HSV in the past?

Auntfini Mon 29-Jul-13 17:25:11

You can't protect yourself. Seriously, this just is not worth worrying about! I got it and we used condoms every time. (He didn't know he carried it, never showed symptoms). Really is not a big deal.

Auntfini Mon 29-Jul-13 17:26:01

Or rather, he never showed symptoms that he'd noticed. Whether he had actually ever or not, he wouldn't know

Dahlen Mon 29-Jul-13 17:54:05

I don't want to miss the point here, but I wouldn't be having sex with a man who has had unprotected sex with two complete strangers full stop, regardless of whether or not he's got herpes. Such a cavalier attitude towards sexual health and personal responsibility does not bode well.

educatemeplease Mon 29-Jul-13 18:00:43

God, honestly, it freaks me out it's so easy to get. Auntfini - sounds like your DP/DH is person you got it from which surely makes it not such a big deal for you because you're still together? I have enough trouble trying to find guys I actually want to go out with (new guy is a good bit younger than me and I suspect not looking for anything serious). I just feel that I might only get 1 chance at finding someone that's right for me and if he backs out because I have to tell him I have herpes I'd just feel like my only chance had gone.

educatemeplease Mon 29-Jul-13 18:04:03

NowIncognito - thanks for your very informative post. I haven't asked him anything yet. But I will be having a conversation with him before we get physical.

Dahlen - you might be right about that one. He's lovely though and seems kind and decent in every other way. And I don't know the full story about what he got up to travelling yet. I suspect this will be something casual. I only fall in love about once a decade so having boyfriends always feels a bit dishonest. I rarely feel anything for them.

SlumberingDormouse Mon 29-Jul-13 19:24:42

NowIncognito is right - they can only test for genital herpes by swabbing fluid from an active sore/blister. Experienced STD nurses and doctors are good at diagnosing it visually too.

If they find it in a swab, it may be either HSV1 (which usually affects the mouth but can affect the genitals), or HSV2 (which usually affects the genitals but can affect the mouth!). I believe that there's also a blood test that they can do, but it will only show results a few months after infection (like the HIV test). It also won't tell you whether you have the infection in your mouth, your genitals or both. It may also show up as positive even if you've never had any symptoms and never will! I believe that's the reason why the test is not offered as part of a routine STD screen.

Overall, this isn't something that you should worry too much about. My doctor told me that she considers it to be a cold sore, just in a different place, and that it really isn't a big deal. You may well be immune to it. If your DP does have one or both forms of HSV, you have a small risk of catching it even if you use condoms and avoid sex when he has an outbreak. However, despite there being no cure, it can be managed. There are antivirals available (both oral and topical) which help a lot with either suppressing outbreaks - making them less likely - or treating one that has already started. Oh, and in most people the symptoms become much less severe, much less frequent, and much less contagious over time.

If your DP has had symptoms of genital herpes in the past then I suppose theoretically he could get a blood test. It could easily however give you a positive result when you have no risk of catching it. If he's never had any symptoms, then he might still have it, but using condoms is a good idea anyway. So you'll see that it's a bit complicated, but I hope that helps a bit!

SlumberingDormouse Mon 29-Jul-13 19:27:09

(I'm not a doctor btw but do know quite a bit about this as DP and I both have herpes. If anyone knows more, please correct me if I'm wrong about any of the above.)

lemonstartree Mon 29-Jul-13 19:29:38

It is unusual to 'have' genital herpes ( and thus shed viral particles) without being aware of it, but it can happen. Genital herpes can result form oral sex with a person who has cold sores - and since almost everyone has been infected with HSV1, that's um almost everyone. Again it is unlikely you would catch genital herpes from oral sex with someone who does NOT currently have cold sores - but again not impossible and the viral shed starts before the symptoms of the cold sore.
Genital herpes caused by HSV1 is usually less severe than that caused by HSV2. The two kinds can only be reliably differentiated by a swab of the lesions.

All this is one reason why sexual contact using condoms is called 'safER sex' and not safe sex

ToTheTeeth Mon 29-Jul-13 19:57:48

I'm really confused by these "herpes isn't a big deal" posts. If that's the case why are there specific OD sites for people with herpes, and why do carriers make a big deal about telling prospective partners that they have the virus?

I recently slept with someone with a cold sore and got absolutely paranoid. Oral sex was completely off the menu. Although I didn't catch the cold sore, so does that mean I'm immune, or is the virus just lurking?

SlumberingDormouse Mon 29-Jul-13 20:24:54

I think that some of the 'herpes isn't a big deal' posts (including mine) come from people who actually have it. I was devastated when I found out, but the doctor was very reassuring and said that it really wasn't a big deal. I've since come to agree with her!

As for 'positive' OD sites, not everyone shares this view (and that's fine) - so it can be easier to date people whom we know are positive. That way, it's not a big deal and we don't have to worry about passing it on.

If you didn't catch the cold sore, you may be immune, you may already have the virus (it's often caught in early childhood and may never show symptoms), or you may have just not caught it! Viruses don't transmit every time and they vary in how easily they are transmitted. Herpes is relatively easy but HIV is actually surprisingly hard to catch, especially from vaginal sex.

I hope that helps.

Auntfini Mon 29-Jul-13 21:00:23

Well I've had it, and it isn't. It doesn't affect my life at all anymore. People with cold sores don't have to walk round in utter shame so why should I care just because it's down there. If I have to have hsv1, I'd prefer to have it where no one can see.

Use condoms. But there are worse things you can get than herpes.

theoldtrout01876 Tue 30-Jul-13 03:10:30

see if you can get the blood test for HSV IgG and IgM. They will let you know if you have been exposed and if the exposure is recent ( with in 2 months) or older. Its done routinely here as part of an STI panel. You can get tested for types 1 and 2 separately

EhricLovesTeamQhuay Tue 30-Jul-13 08:52:02

It's not a big deal. Type two herpes is very painful and definitely to be avoided if possible but type one, which is usually caught on the face, is the most insignificant, piddling little sti and is really not worth anxsting over. The good thing is also that if you have type one genitally you can't catch type two at the same site so I'm actually quite pleased I have type one smile
I would never let it put me off dating or having sex, just as someone who gets cold sores wouldn't give it a second thought either.

Yogii Tue 30-Jul-13 09:29:15

The only practical measure you can take is to not have sex with somebody when you observe visible sores in the genital area. That happens to be when you would be most at risk from catching it. And this applies whether using a condom or not.

If he's been randomly sticking his cock into women he doesn't know very well, get him tested for all the usual things a GUM clinic checks for and ask to see the results.

If you do those two things, you're taking all reasonable measures to protect yourself.

whatshallwedo Tue 30-Jul-13 09:50:04

Herpes is a big deal if you have an active outbreak on your genitals and you are in labour. If passed to your newborn baby it can be fatal to them.

Obviously not sonething many people would be thinking about right now but you might do in the future.

NightScentedStock Tue 30-Jul-13 11:56:27

I was told by my gynae dr and midwives whatshallwedo that it is only a potential problem for your baby if your first attack of genital herpes appears/is present at the same time as you give birth.

EhricLovesTeamQhuay Tue 30-Jul-13 12:33:17

That's what I was told too.
I also got aciclovir to take in the last couple of weeks just in case.

bestsonever Tue 30-Jul-13 12:53:50

Perhaps not the best idea to focus on herpes too intensely at expense of other things. At least with herpes when active the presence of sores can give an indication to avoid sex - much like not kissing someone with active cold sores. Genital lice and scabies would also be harder to spot on someone else.
HPV virus causing cervical cancer is invisible and other more common infections such as chlamidia may not produce symptoms in men or women until PID occurs affecting fertility (obviously, condom use helps avoid this). Gonhorrea can also live in the throat so is a consideration if oral sex occurs without condoms or dental damns.

bestsonever Tue 30-Jul-13 12:59:51

I once had a relationship with a traveler-type, however was reassured by his fastidious use of condoms and insistence on STI testing for both of us showing a mature and healthier attitude to it all. I would, however, avoid anyone who appeared to have condom aversion - as some still do surprisingly - and who seemed to know nothing of the risks and take responsibility for themselves.

veryconfusedandabitangrytoo Tue 30-Jul-13 13:09:48

I had a Herpes scare last year and learned pretty much everything there is to know about Herpes! SlumberingDormouse sums it up very nicely.

I think the main thing I learned from the scare is that it is not the terrifying disease that people think it is. The reason that there is OD specifically for people with Herpes is because of the stigma. As others have said, there is no shame in having a colesaw on your face, why is there shame about having the same on your genitals?

Oh and for the record, something like 80% of us already have the HSV1 or the HSV2 virus, you just may not know it.

This is a good site:

CockyFox Tue 30-Jul-13 13:31:10

Does anyone really use condoms for oral sex? I have to be honest and say I never have, I have only ever done it to DH though so maybe if I had had more partners I would feel different.

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