Can You Get Genital Herpes Even After Having Protected Sex?
Red, non-painful, blister-like lesions at the base of the penis
It was just another Tuesday morning, or so he thought, as he stretched and prepared for the day ahead. But a slight discomfort, an unfamiliar sensation at the base of his penis, caught his attention. On closer inspection, he found what looked like small, red blisters – not painful, but definitely out of the ordinary.
Recently, he had engaged in protected sex with a partner, who was later diagnosed with herpes. But now, these marks, appearing three to four days later, were a silent alarm bell.
The marks had appeared about three to four days after the encounter, a timing that seemed more than just coincidental. The blisters, though not fluid-filled, were persistent and slow to fade, lingering uncomfortably and serving as a constant reminder of his recent sexual activity.
He decided to seek medical advice and shared his situation with a dermatologist, including images of the affected area.
From a dermatological standpoint, the appearance of clustered, crusty, blistering lesions in the genital area following sexual intercourse can be indicative of genital herpes. The initial infection can manifest a few days post-exposure and typically presents as small blisters surrounded by red, inflamed skin. Fever might accompany the first outbreak, signifying the body’s response to the viral infection.
Dr. Raquel Molina-Martinez’s Perspective
Adding her expert insight, dermatologist Dr. Raquel Molina-Martinez from First Derm, highlighted a crucial point: “Don’t have sex with anyone during a herpes outbreak, because that’s when it spreads most easily.”
She further explains that while condoms significantly reduce the risk of STD transmission, they do not offer complete protection against viruses like HSV, which can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by condoms.
Additionally, Dr. Molina-Martinez highlights the importance of recognizing that the absence of pain does not rule out the possibility of infection. Asymptomatic transmission, where the virus is shed without symptoms, is a common occurrence with herpes. She stresses, “It’s a misconception that herpes can only be transmitted during visible outbreaks. Asymptomatic shedding of the virus can occur, facilitating transmission without symptoms.”
Understanding Asymptomatic Shedding:
- Herpes can be transmitted even when there are no visible symptoms, a process known as asymptomatic shedding.
- Individuals with herpes can shed the virus from their skin without knowing it, potentially transmitting it to partners.
How can I make sure I don’t give anyone herpes?
- Dental Dams and Oral Sex: Using dental dams can help prevent transmission during oral sex.
- Engaging in Medical Management: Consult with your healthcare provider about taking daily antiviral medication. This can lower your chances of spreading herpes.
- Regular STD Screenings: Periodic screenings are crucial for early detection and management of STDs, including herpes.
- Abstinence During Outbreaks: Refrain from sexual activity during a herpes outbreak, even with a condom, as sores may be present in areas not covered by the condom.
- Identifying Pre-Outbreak Symptoms: Learn to recognize the early signs of an outbreak, such as a burning, itching, or tingling sensation, and cease sexual activities at the first hint of these symptoms.
- Avoiding Spread to Other Body Parts: Be cautious not to touch your herpes sores, as this can lead to spreading the infection to other parts of your body or to other people. If you do touch a sore, immediately wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Being Cautious with Physical Affection: If you have a cold sore on your mouth, avoid kissing anyone, particularly vulnerable groups like babies, children, or pregnant women.
InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Genital herpes: How can you prevent the spread of herpes in sexual relationships? 2018 Jul 12. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK525787/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Genital Herpes – CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). [Internet]. [cited 2023 Dec 1]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/std/herpes/the-facts/genital_herpes_508.pdf
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The Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence and others.