Many couples in which one partner has genital herpes (HSV-2) have a healthy sex life and still never transmit it to the uninfected partner. Taking precautions like avoiding sex during and around the time of an outbreak, using condoms, and taking antiviral medication like Valocyclovir (Valtrex) or Acyclovir drastically reduces the likelihood of transmission. The statistics indicate that it’s possible to get your chances of transmitting HSV-2 down very low. This post will break down herpes transmission rates with the use of varying precautions and other factors.
Suppressive Therapy with Valtrex
Suppressive therapy is the use of prescription Valtrex on a daily basis whether an outbreak is present or not. Whereas Valtrex is commonly used to stop an outbreak, it can also be used daily to prevent outbreaks from occurring to begin with. This daily use of Valtrex also reduces the proclivity of the virus to “shed”, i.e. be contagious as often. Its use appears in studies to reduce the viral shedding periods by 50%.
Men vs. Women’s Contagiousness
Because of the nature of male and female genitalia, it is easier for herpes to be transmitted to a woman by a man than vice-versa. This is because female genitals have more exposed soft tissue. This also accounts for why 1 out of 4 American women have herpes, whereas 1 out of 5 American men does.
Herpes Transmission Rates
- The likelihood of passing genital herpes to a partner is highest during an outbreak (times when a sore is present).
- When a person is not experiencing an outbreak, there is a 4-10% chance of transmitting it. (Depending on gender)
According to studies done by Valtrex, these are the rates of transmission per year of regular sex:
- If partners avoid sex during outbreaks: 4% chance transmission from female to male; 8% male to female
- If partners also use condoms or antiviral medication: 2% female to male; 4% per year male to female
- If partners also use condoms and antiviral medications: 1% female to male; 2% male to female
Limitations of the Data
Keep in mind that more research is needed. For one, the above study focus on couples who have been together a while. The data for brand new couples could differ. Plus, the Valtrex study above look at HSV-2 specifically. Of course, many cases of genital herpes these days are tied to HSV-1. And finally, there is no data available about same-sex couples. Keep these limitations in mind when looking at the data.
These herpes transmission rates should be encouraging for couples who wish to have a healthy sex life without passing the virus from one partner to the uninfected partner. When staying informed and weighing the risks and precautions, genital herpes does not have to be a barrier to intimacy. There are many couples who have been together for years, yet the partner with genital herpes never passed it to their partner.