Safe Sex with Herpes

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Good news: "You don't have to give up sex. But you do need to make some changes in how and when you have it. Unlike other sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, herpes is incurable. So it's your responsibility to take precautions, so you don't transmit the virus to a partner.

Here's how to keep the sex smart:

Take time to understand your diagnosis Herpes can cause painful, blisterlike sores on the lips of and inside the vagina, on areas covered by pubic hair, and around the anus. Learn all you can about how it's spread and ways to prevent transmitting it. Talk to your health care provider, or contact the National Herpes Hotline at (919) 361-8488 to speak with someone who's trained to answer your questions.

Talk first, love later Explain to your partner what herpes is and the steps you're willing to take to avoid passing the virus to him.

Avoid skin-to-skin contact, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, during an outbreak It's during the "active" phase that herpes is most contagious.

Decide with your partner what's off-limits between outbreaks You can still transmit the virus between outbreaks through "viral shedding," when small amounts of the virus come to the surface of the skin.

While some couples engage in the full range of sexual activities at this time, others use a latex condom to reduce the chances of infection. (Condoms don't provide 100% protection.) Laura Berman, PhD, clinical professor of OB/GYN and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, suggests what she calls VENIS: very erotic noninsertive sex (including manual genital stimulation, kissing, and hugging).

Consider an oral antiviral medication such as Famvir (famciclovir), Zovirax (acyclovir), and Valtrex (valacyclovir). They can either be taken at the first sign of an outbreak to reduce the severity and duration or be taken every day to suppress outbreaks (which may also reduce viral shedding).

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Talking over the problem could lead to new sensual moves

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By Mary Jane Minkin, MD,

with Toby Hanlon, EdD

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