How did I Get Herpes in a Monogamous Relationship?

You only have one partner and you’re thinking this protects you from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Come to find out, you contracted herpes in a monogamous relationship. You’re likely dumbfounded and angry at your partner. You’ll want to know how the hell did this happen!

Continue reading to learn more about herpes, transmission, symptoms, and how people get genital herpes in an exclusive relationship.

There is no cure for the disease but it is treatable. Some couples are also able to move past it. Regardless, you can still have a healthy sex life in your relationship or a new one if you decide to move on.

How did I Get Herpes in a Monogamous Relationship?
Photo credit: Timo Stern

What Is Herpes?

Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 (HSV-2), or genitals herpes, is a common STD that affects millions of sexually active males and females in the US. It typically affects the genitals and spreads through vaginal or anal sex or sexual contact with infected areas of the genitals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the disease is so common that more than one in every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 have it.

There is also oral herpes, a viral mouth infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus is highly contagious and can spread from person to person through touching a cold core, infected saliva, skin, or mucous membranes. Oral herpes causes painful sores (cold sores) to develop on your lips, tongue, gum, inner cheeks, or the roof of your mouth.

Genital Herpes Common Signs and Symptoms

Flu-like symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, or body aches usually occur when someone is first infected. Repeated outbreaks may occur after the initial infection. The following are symptoms of a herpes outbreak:

  • Itching or tingling around the genital areas or anus (onset of a breakout)
  • Painful fluid-filled blisters on or around the genitals or anus
  • Blisters that crust, flake, and disappear within a week
  • Cold sores or blisters on the lips or in the mouth

The number of outbreaks tends to decrease over time. Illness, stress, hormonal changes (such as menstruation), or sexual intercourse may trigger an outbreak or flare-up.

Can You Get Genital Herpes in a Monogamous Relationship?

One of the many myths about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and STDs, including herpes, is that you can’t get it in an exclusive relationship. The opposite is true and quite surprising for both the male and female partner. The first thing that often comes to mind is “cheating.” But before you jump to a quick conclusion, there are some other scenarios to consider. Here are four of them.

1. Your partner had herpes prior to your monogamous relationship

According to the CDC, most people who have oral herpes were infected during childhood or young adulthood through non-sexual contact with saliva. Here are some additional hard and frightening facts about HSV-2 that you should know:

  • Most people infected with herpes do not know it.
  • Most people who have genital herpes do not experience symptoms.
  • If symptoms are present, they may be very mild.

With this in mind, chances are your partner contracted the STD without knowing. That’s because the virus can enter the body and become latent (inactive) after the initial infection. Therefore, your partner can unknowingly pass the virus to you or other sexual partners. These facts may make anyone cringe as it causes you to realize how vulnerable or exposed you are even in a monogamous relationship.

2. You contracted herpes before your relationship

Piggy-backing on scenario number one, like your partner, you could have had HSV-2 before you entered the monogamous relationship and not know it. It’s possible even if you only had one partner in the past. Chances are you didn’t know the symptoms of herpes type 2 or didn’t notice them. But you are, understandably, upset after discovering you have the infection.

You can get tested for herpes if you have not done so yet. The tests can confirm or rule out herpes types 1 and 2. While there is no cure for herpes, treatments such as antiviral medications, are available to help manage the symptoms.

3. You got herpes through oral sex

Oral herpes typically passes from one person to another by oral-to-oral contact. The infection occurs when the uninfected individual comes into contact with infected saliva, sores, skin, or tissue in or around the mouth. Oral herpes can also cause herpes type 2 when transmitted to the genital area through oral-to-genital contact.

The risk of transmission is greater when there are active sores on or inside the mouth. However, the virus can pass to the genitals when there are no obvious symptoms such as cold sores. What’s more stunning is HSV-2 can pass from a person’s genitals to the mouth of another person during oral sex and cause oral herpes.

Someone with oral herpes is unlikely to get infected with the same virus in the genital area. This is according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

4. Your partner may have cheated

It’s possible your partner cheated, got herpes, and passed it to you. Wait. There is a flip side to this coin. A publication from Halifax Health Center noted that the myth that you cannot get HSV if you only have one partner has been responsible for a lot of anger, confusion, and heartache. The myth does not account for the fact that herpes can lay dormant in the body and also cause no symptoms for weeks, months, or years.

In other words, an asymptomatic person has no real way of knowing they have herpes unless they get tested. So it does not mean cheating happened in your relationship. One of you may have contracted the virus at some point in your life and not realized it. It’s also difficult for couples to trace back to previous relationships to pinpoint when they got infected.

Note that herpes type 2 can still be transmitted in a monogamous relationship even when using condoms. While condoms reduce the risk, the virus can still pass from skin-to-skin contact with infected areas of the genitals not covered by a condom. Aso remember, it is possible your partner only has oral herpes but passed it to your genitals during oral sex.

Can Your Relationship Survive Herpes?

People around the world are able to have normal, healthy relationships even after discovering HSV-1 or HSV-2 infection. This is not to say you should dismiss it as something that is okay, especially if it happened because of cheating. Talk with your partner and try to hash things out without accusing or blaming.

It’s important to take the no-blame approach since it can be difficult to accurately tell how you contracted HSV-2. You and your partner can get treatment and take steps, including having safe sex, to minimize the spread of the virus.

The Importance of Getting Herpes Treatment

Herpes is usually diagnosed from medical tests such as a blood test or a swab from an oral or genital sore.

Treatment can include medication for HSV-2 and also HSV-1 (oral herpes) if needed. FDA-approved antiviral drugs can effectively manage symptoms of an initial herpes infection as well as recurrent breakouts. Some medications also help accelerate healing at the onset of an outbreak.

Repeated HSV-2 breakouts tend to be shorter and less severe than the first outbreak. The number of outbreaks or flare-ups may decrease over time. Outbreaks also tend to become milder and less frequent as time goes by. This is because the body makes antibodies to defend itself against the virus.

Practicing safe sex is still important even with treatment as herpes can transmit when there are no signs of an outbreak and even if you only have one partner.

How to Have a Healthy Sex Life After Herpes

There is a myth that your sex life is over if you have herpes. Of course, it’s just a myth. While there’s no cure for herpes, you can get treatment and still have a love life. In the words of Planned Parenthood, “Keep calm and carry on.” Here are some things you can do to maintain a healthy sex life (with or without your current partner) and prevent the spread of the disease:

  • Continue taking herpes medication as prescribed
  • Practice safe sex using male or female condoms
  • Avoid vaginal, oral, or anal sex during an outbreak
  • Try mutual masturbation

Keep Calm and Carry On

A monogamous relationship exists only when both partners are keeping their end of the bargain. Since there is no real way to verify this, except with hard proof of cheating, the risk of contracting an STD or STI remains. As devastated as you may feel in this situation, know that it’s not the end of the world. Millions of people are dating with herpes.

Talk to someone confidential such as a trusted friend or therapist if you’re still trying to cope. Many people also join online support forums such as the one at PositiveSingles.com which has an active herpes chat room.

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