How do I prevent Genital Herpes?

Updated on:
August 11, 2021

The risk of transmitting genital herpes is highest during an outbreak. However, genital herpes can still be transmitted even when there is no outbreak or symptoms present.

How do I prevent myself from contracting genital herpes?

Avoid sexual contact with partners that have genital herpes when they are experiencing an outbreak, or they begin having symptoms that signal an outbreak (such as burning or tingling in the infected area). Risk of transmission of genital herpes is highest during an outbreak.  

Sexual partners who have genital herpes may want to discuss taking antiviral medications with their healthcare provider, which can reduce their number of outbreaks and lower their risk of transmitting HSV to others.

Other methods that can help reduce the risk of contracting genital herpes include:

  • Use condoms when having penetrative and oral sex (or dental dams)

With both condoms and dental dams:

  • Confirm the expiration date hasn't passed before use.
  • Inspect for tears and breakage - don't use them if any are detected.
  • Using water-based or silicone lubricant can help prevent breakage.
  • Don't use oil-based lubricants (i.e. petroleum jelly, baby oil, coconut oil) as they can cause breakage.

Proper hygiene:

  • It's important to thoroughly clean sex toys before and after use.
  • Wash before and after sexual activity
  • Avoid sharing towels and clothing (especially that have come into contact with bodily fluids)

Active testing:

  • Ensure sexual partners who've had genital herpes have been thoroughly screened and treated. Refrain from engaging in sexual activity with them until their healthcare provider recommends it’s ok to do so. 
  • Get tested regularly and speak to sexual partners about their STI and screening history.

How do I protect my partner from genital herpes?

First, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with HSV or not, make sure to:

  • Use condoms
  • Use dental dams
  • Exercise proper hygiene

If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes or had sexual contact with someone that had it, get tested and treated with antivirals during outbreaks.

Remember, regular STI testing is an essential foundation of sexual health and a way to protect yourself and your sexual partners from contracting and passing transmittable infections.

Can you prevent genital herpes 100% of the time?

The best way to prevent the transmission of genital herpes is by utilizing consistent, safe sex practices and abstaining from sex during outbreaks.

While practicing ideal hygiene, such as gently washing genitals and thoroughly cleaning sex toys before/after sex, along with using condoms and dental dams, are effective ways to protect your sexual health and decrease your risk of sexually transmitted infections, they are not 100% effective.

Condoms can sometimes break or slip off during sexual activity. That's why it's essential to get tested regularly and have open conversations with your sexual partners about their sexual health and testing practices.

Genital herpes and HIV:

Genital herpes can increase the risk of HIV transmission and acquisition. HSV can cause sores and breaks in the skin, making it easier for HIV to enter the body.

People with a herpes infection have an increased risk of contracting HIV if exposed to it during sex. The herpes virus increases the number of CD4 cells found in the lining of the genitals, which are the cells that HIV targets for entry into the body. 

HSV infection may double the risk of HIV infection. 

HSV also increases HIV in the genital area of people living with HIV, thereby increasing their risk of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner. 

Sources:

Reviewed by:
Dr. Caley Shukalek

Caley is passionate about evidence-based, patient-centred care, including telemedicine that can provide high quality care from wherever a patient may choose.

He helped create Alberta's PrEP guidelines and works as a specialist in General Internal Medicine with additional training in sexual health, including HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

He holds an Masters of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University, an MD from the University of Calgary and an MSc from the University of Alberta.