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10 ways to reduce your genital herpes risk

Genital herpes is a common sexually transmitted infection causing painful blisters on and around the genitals. It accounts for around 7% of all new cases of STIs in England.

There is no cure for genital herpes, so it is important to try to avoid infection in the first place. Here are 10 ways to reduce the risk of getting genital herpes.

1. Use a condom every time you have sex.

A condom may protect you from the herpes virus if it covers the infected area.

2. Ask your partner if he or she has ever had a sexually transmitted infection.

Most people who have genital herpes do not know they are infected, so ask whether he or she has had any other sexually transmitted infection. People with a history of STIs are more likely to have genital herpes.

It may be awkward, but it is important to be honest with each other. Your partner may be afraid to tell you the truth if he or she fears a negative reaction. If your partner feels comfortable talking with you, you will be more likely to get straight answers.

3. Ask your partner about his or her sexual history.

Someone who has had many sexual partners is more likely to be infected with the herpes virus.

4. Limit the number of sexual partners you have.

The fewer sexual partners you have in your lifetime, the less likely you are to be exposed to the herpes virus.

5. Do not have sex with a partner who has sores on his or her genitals.

If you know your partner has genital herpes, always abstain from sex when symptoms are present. Or, if you see a sore on someone's genitals, do not have sex with that person until you are sure he or she does not have genital herpes. Remember, not everyone with genital herpes has symptoms, and herpes sores can be very hard to spot.

6. Do not receive oral sex from somebody with a cold sore.

Oral herpes, which causes sores on the mouth (known as cold sores), can be passed to the genitals through oral sex.

7. Ask your partner to be checked.

If you think your partner is at high risk of genital herpes, you may consider asking him or her to be checked out. In that case, you should be checked out, too.

8. Do not have sex while intoxicated.

Alcohol and illicit drugs lower inhibitions and impair judgement. People tend to be less careful about practising safer sex while intoxicated and they often regret it later.

9. Abstain from sex until you have a life-long monogamous partner.

The only way to be 100% certain you won't get a sexually transmitted infection is to have just one sex partner who has no STIs -- and only if both of you stay monogamous for life.

10. Try alternative forms of sexual intimacy.

If you do not want to be monogamous or totally celibate until you find a life partner, you could greatly reduce your risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection by doing things that do not involve genital-genital contact or oral-genital contact, such as mutual masturbation.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 25, 2014

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