How to Enjoy Oral Sex When You Have Herpes
Contrary to popular belief, having herpes doesn’t mean that getting dome is out of the question. The herpes virus is just much more complex than most people think.
First off, there are two strains: HSV-1 and HSV-2. Most people with herpes have oral HSV-1 (aka cold sores) that they acquired during childhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 out of every 6 people between the ages of 14 and 49 have HSV-2, while HSV-1 affects an estimated 50 to 80 percent of the global population.
Either type of herpes can affect both your mouth or your genitals; cases of genital HSV-1 are becoming more common each year. While most herpes cases are spread from mouth to mouth (often during childhood), transmitting oral herpes to a partner’s genitals while going down on them is also very common. The inverse (genital-to-oral) route currently makes up less than 1 percent of new cases each year. Scientists believe this rate will likely remain low, while the other modes of transmission are steadily increasing.
Herpes doesn’t have to put a damper on your sex life. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself and others safe during oral sex without sacrificing your sex life.
If you think you do have symptoms of herpes, don’t panic. Consider seeing a doctor if you develop itchy, painful sores around your genitals or anus; the sores typically appear as tight clusters of small, fluid-filled vesicles (like a blister) that cause pain when you pee or as they rub against clothing. Initial outbreaks may be accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as chills, headache or fever.
So how do you protect yourself and others from herpes while staying sexually active? The answer is as simple as it was in your middle school health class: safety first.
Can using protection during oral sex prevent herpes?
If the scent of rubber alone makes you gag, there are a number of latex-free condom brands that don’t taste like a balloon in your mouth. There are also plenty of non-lubricated condoms you can use to avoid that chemical flavor in your mouth. If condoms feel too tight, lose lubrication too quickly, or cause irritation, try a different brand or size. Safe sex is good sex, and using protection shouldn’t ruin the mood.
While they’re not as common as condoms, dental dams are another important way you can prevent transmitting HSV (1 or 2) to your partners. Dental dams are sheets of latex (or an allergen-free material) that you can place between your mouth and the genitals or anus.
If you don’t want to carry dental dams around with you, you can easily transform a condom into one with a pair of scissors. Just cut off the tip and the bottom and snip along one side to create an effective rectangular barrier. Grabbing plastic wrap from the kitchen when action starts to heat up is another solution for a quickie. Using lube underneath the dam can increase sensation and reduce any friction.
Should I avoid oral sex during a herpes breakout?
If you have symptomatic oral or genital herpes, avoid having sex—orally or otherwise—until the outbreak resolves. While the virus is at its most contagious during an active outbreak, you can still spread herpes when you don’t have symptoms through asymptomatic shedding. But you can help reduce your levels of asymptomatic shedding, prevent future outbreaks and shorten occurring outbreaks by taking antiviral medications such as valacyclovir or acyclovir.
It’s important to remember that most cases of herpes, about 70 to 80 percent, are asymptomatic, meaning you might never have an outbreak in your life but you still actively carry the virus and you're still able to spread it through oral sex. Herpes tests aren’t included in a typical screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and many doctors actually advise against getting tested for herpes if you don’t have any symptoms due to high rates of false positives, the tendency for the virus not to show up on tests, and the serious emotional stress that an unexpected herpes diagnosis or a false positive can cause.
Testing is simple, and your doctor can prescribe an antiviral to clear up the herpes outbreak as quickly as possible so you can get back to business. Herpes doesn’t have to put a damper on your sex life. There are plenty of ways to keep yourself and others safe during oral sex without sacrificing your sex life.