If you just found out you're living with herpes, it’s okay to feel anxious, sad, and disoriented.
But we’re here to tell you that one thing you don’t need to feel is shame.
The first thing you need to know about herpes is how common it is. Odds are, you already know someone else who’s dealing with herpes.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 491 million people between ages 15–49 have an HSV-2 infection — that’s 13% of all people on Earth in this age category! On top of that, an estimated 3.7 billion people under 50 (67%) have an HSV-1 infection.
Years of public health education have removed some of the stigma around herpes, but not all of it. This article will give you the knowledge and tools to move forward with your diagnosis — which, we promise, you can live with.
Keep reading to find out:
While this article is focused on how to live with herpes, you can learn more about the actual herpes virus here.
If you’re experiencing your first herpes outbreak, the first thing you’ll need to do is see a doctor about your sexual health and receive treatment.
While there is no cure for herpes, medication can shorten the length of an outbreak and manage any pain associated with lesions. Here are some oral (pill) medication options:
All three drugs work pretty much the same, and one study showed that all of them tend to speed up healing time by about one to two days. But the key is to start treatment as soon as you notice signs of an outbreak — herpes medication is most effective when it’s taken within 48 hours of first symptoms, which is a tingling, itching, or painful sensation on the site of the infection.
You can also use acyclovir topical ointment to treat lesions, which works for both oral herpes and genital herpes.
If you’re experiencing a lot of pain, you may want to ask your doctor to prescribe a painkiller or take some over-the-counter pain medication. Here are some other ways to manage pain during a herpes outbreak:
After you receive treatment for your first outbreak, the next thing to do is take care of your mental health and learn how to cope with your diagnosis.
You may want to find a support group in your area for people living with herpes. Meetup hosts the following herpes support groups in Toronto and Vancouver:
Joining a support group will accomplish two things:
If you need to speak to a counsellor about your herpes diagnosis, you can also call the Ontario Sexual Health Infoline at 1-800-668-2437.
Dating with herpes doesn’t need to be a big deal. Most people with genital herpes can still have satisfying sex lives.
Yes, there are some things you’ll need to do to date responsibly and take care of your sexual partners — like using protection, even when you’re not experiencing an outbreak — but that doesn’t mean your dating life will be nothing but awkward moments and heartbreak.
The most difficult part of having a conversation about herpes with a sexual partner is getting started. You may fear the other person’s initial reaction more than anything else, rather than the conversation that happens after they’ve had time to digest new information.
Here are some conversation prompts to help you get over that initial hump:
Option 1: “Before we have sex, I want to let you know that using condoms/barrier methods are important to me. I found out a little while ago that I carry the herpes virus, which means that using protection is a must for us to have sex. How do you feel about this?”
Option 2: “I like where our relationship is going, and I want that relationship to be based on open communication. I found out a while back that I carry the herpes virus, and I want you to know that I’m here to answer any questions about what that means for us.”
Option 1: “I have some news to share — I found out that I carry the herpes virus, and I think it’s important for you to get tested. I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming you for my diagnosis, because a lot of people have herpes without any symptoms. Let’s talk about how you feel after you’ve had some time to think.”
Option 2: “I need to have a chat about some news I got recently — I found out I have herpes. I’ve talked to a doctor and I’ve done some research, and it’s not a major problem — but you’ll need to get tested and we’ll need to start using protection. How do you feel about this?”
When you’re dating with herpes, the most important actions you can take are to:
Great news –– you can prevent herpes outbreaks with the right treatment.
The same medication used to treat outbreaks can also be taken as a preventative measure. But daily suppressive antivirals may not be right for everyone, so you’ll need to ask your doctor if this type of treatment is worth it for you.
According to one study, people who see six or more genital herpes outbreaks per year can see a 70%–80% reduction in outbreaks with daily antiviral treatment.
You may also be able to reduce herpes outbreaks by reducing stress. A meta-analysis of the relationship between psychosocial stress and symptomatic herpes simplex virus recurrence revealed “a robust relationship between psychosocial stress and symptomatic HSV recurrence.” You may want to take some deep breaths and develop some solid stress management strategies.
Remember, the herpes virus can cause genital herpes and cold sores. While treatment is similar for each, prevention methods and treatment decisions can vary a lot. Start an online visit with one of our doctors to find out what’s right for you.
The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.