Is there a safe time for oral sex with Type II herpes?

Dear Dr. Amy:

I was diagnosed with Type II genital herpes about 2 months ago. Since I was not aware that I had contracted herpes, I did not see a physician for several days and the initial outbreak was prolonged and painful. Since then, I have had 2 minor outbreaks (only 1 or 2 sores) and was prescribed Valtrex. I understand that stress is a major contributor, but presently I have several areas of my life that are causing stress such as career, finances, and relationships.

I have met someone and have informed him of my condition. We want to know what precautions are necessary to help prevent him from contracting herpes also. I know condoms are generally considered the safest way to have sex, but naturally he doesn’t enjoy using them. I’ve read that herpes can be spread even when the sores aren’t present by shedding. Also, is there any safe method or time that you can still have oral sex? Basically, we want to have as normal of an active sex life as possible without increasing his chances of getting the virus. Any answers or suggestions are greatly appreciated. 

Dr. Amy’s Response:

Dear Newly Diagnosed with Type II:

First of all, it sounds like you have been very responsible and have taken action in terms of getting yourself some treatment for the genital herpes you were diagnosed with a couple of months ago. Your awareness in recognizing that stress is a major contributor, is again, working in your favor. Of course, a suggestion is to look at some ways to help you distress. Numerous people, such as yourself, are having troubles with career, finances, and relationships. It is important when we live these busy and very involved types of lifestyles, to take that much needed time to recharge yourself. It would be beneficial to simply take quiet time. Many find taking baths, soft music, lighting some candles, just relaxing, and unwinding can be very helpful to reduce stress. You don’t have to plan a huge amount of time, because it is the time factor that is often causing the stress. If you can take 10 or 15 minutes a day, and just give yourself that time, the results can be tremendous in terms of reducing stress.

Another thing that is going to reduce your stress is the fact that, right from the beginning, you did inform your partner about your condition. You don’t have to carry that around with you; it’s a terrible stress factor when you are not being open and honest with a partner. You also ask about the use of condoms, and that your partner does not enjoy using them. First of all, condoms are never guaranteed to be 100% foolproof, but certainly, the use of condoms will dramatically reduce the risks of acquiring STD’s. Some people also find that by eroticizing the use of a condom on them, by placing it on your partner in a seductive, playful, or sexual manner, that it can add to the foreplay part of your lovemaking. What your partner may want to do, if he is not used to wearing a condom or the sensation with that, is for him to masturbate with a condom, so that he can start to get himself more familiar with how it feels and how his body responds, and become, kind of. better friends with condoms, then it won’t seem to be such a foreign material.

Another trick you might want to do, is to put the condom on with your mouth. The way you will do that is, first, open up the condom and just unroll it a little ways. Now open your lips and form a letter “O” with them. You can put the condom between your upper and lower lip in front of your teeth. Of course, make sure that it is facing in the right direction. Then, when you are holding on to the penis, you put your mouth on the penis, tighten your lips, and push down on the rim of the condom. Now push from the neck to unroll the condom, so you make sure that it goes all the way down the penis. So, that can take some practice, but that can also add a new twist to the use of condoms! You might be surprised at your partner’s response to that.

The other questions you had about herpes, being spread even when sores aren’t present due to shedding, that can occur, but the most contagious times are going to be when you are having an actual outbreak. But again, there is never going to be a time that you can say, “OK. This is going to be a time when there is no chance of me spreading the virus to my partner.” There is always going to be some risk, and you want to minimize it as much as possible.

In terms of you still having oral sex, you definitely can. Dental damns are available, which are used to cover your genitals in order to prevent your partner from coming in direct contact with your infected area. These are pieces of latex that you can purchase from a medical supply store or sex shop. There is a better variety in sex shops; some options include flavored dental damns, and even panties can be ordered. Squares of plastic wrap, specifically Saran Wrap, can be readily made right at home. See more detailed instructions for making dental damns from condoms and latex gloves in the answer to “ Dear recently diagnosed lesbian with genital herpes”. As warned in that question/answer, carefully dispose of these damns after each use.

I also really like your attitude about having an active sex life without increasing his chances of getting the virus, because what you are looking to do is have fun in a healthy, responsible fashion. That is wonderful. If you have that attitude and he has that attitude, there are so many other ways of exploring being sexual with one another and dispelling the idea that sex is so focused on genitals. When one has genital herpes, sometimes, it’s seems like you are almost more focused on the fact that it has got to be “genitals”, “contact with genitals” and that’s the only way to have sex, but certainly, there are so many other ways of pleasing one another. This could really be an opportunity for the two of you to expand your sexual repertoire and to open up your horizons. When you are looking for different kinds of suggestions, find out other various erogenous zones you have in your bodies when doing massage, kissing, playing, and luxuriating together. I would look at all the things you can do. Definitely try not to focus on the times that you are having outbreaks and that you would not want to be risking infecting your partner. That shouldn’t stop you from pleasing him in many ways, as well as him being able to find ways of pleasing you.


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