By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Jun 30, 2023
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Cite this Response

Alice! Health Promotion. "Herpes info for women who have sex with women." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 30 Jun. 2023, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/herpes-info-women-who-have-sex-women. Accessed 18, Jun. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2023, June 30). Herpes info for women who have sex with women. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/herpes-info-women-who-have-sex-women.

Dear Alice,

All the information I have found about herpes is written for heterosexual couples. Are there studies about herpes in lesbians? How can I prevent transmission of the virus to my partner? I'm totally asymptomatic.

Lesbian

Dear Alice,

I'm female, in a relationship with another female. She is okay with the fact that I have herpes. I JUST NEED TO KNOW HOW TO PROTECT HER from contracting the virus. Please help me out here.

Dear Lesbian and Reader 2, 

It’s great that you both reached out to learn how to minimize the risk of herpes transmission. 

Although neither of you mentioned which strain you're discussing, most folks are either referring to herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 when talking about sexual activity and risk. No matter your partner’s sex assigned at birth, the best strategy for herpes transmission prevention often requires effective communication between partners and the use of barrier contraceptive methods such as condoms and dental dams. 

One of the most critical steps you can take to protect your partner(s) from contracting herpes is to tell them that you have the virus. By being open and honest, you can communicate about what risks you are and aren’t willing to take together. This conversation may also help your partner(s) better understand herpes—both from the perspective of protecting themselves, as well as discovering what your experiences with the virus have been. Not only can this help you reduce the risk of transmission to your partner, but it may also help you develop a stronger and more open relationship. 

The herpes virus often spreads via direct skin-to-skin contact both when the virus is active (often means sores are present and visible) and less often, but still possible, when an infected person has no visible sores (a process known as viral shedding). Depending on the strain of herpes and the type of sex a person is having, the risk of transmission may vary. However, strategies for preventing herpes transmission often boil down to preventing contact with infected areas of skin; this holds true for any intimate partners, regardless of gender or sex assigned at birth. 

Prior to an outbreak of herpes, most people notice an itching or tingling sensation on or around the genitals, the inner thigh near the genitals, the mouth, and the rectum. In order to reduce the risk of transmission, you’ll want to avoid contact with infected areas of skin when sores are present. This is because sores contain high quantities of the virus and increase the chance of transmission. Unfortunately, the herpes virus can also spread even when you don't have sores or other symptoms. For this reason, many partners choose to practice safer sex every time they’re intimate. 

To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus, it’s wise to cover the area where sores typically appear. People often use a dental dam (or a non-lubricated condom that you cut down the middle and spread open) to cover the vagina, clitoris, anus, or other areas. If penetration is occurring (with fingers, sex toys, etc.), consider covering the object with a condom, medical glove, or other barrier that fits the object. If you do choose to use a non-condom option, consider incorporating lube to reduce the friction and minimize the potential for tearing. For those who are unable to or dislike latex, many of these barrier methods are also available latex-free. People who have herpes may consider talking with a health care provider about medications that can help control outbreaks. Viral suppressive medications are believed to help reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks. 

It may also be helpful for you to keep track of where most of your herpes episodes occur. On your mouth in the form of cold sores? On your inner thighs? On some part of your genitals? Covering the most frequently affected parts of your body may help prevent the spreading of the herpes virus. for more information on genital herpes, you choose to check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

You and your partner(s) may decide to use barriers, avoid intimate contact when you believe the herpes virus is present on the surface of your skin, take viral suppressive medication, or a combination of these approaches in order to keep each other safe from transmitting the virus. Whatever the decision, it's good to make it together so all those involved can understand the risks involved and also share in the pleasure of potentially strengthening your bond. 

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