Reader Question: How Do You Maintain a Good Sex Life with Herpes?

Reader Question of the Week

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and give my thoughts on how to deal with it. Today I’m answering a really tough one: What do you do if your husband has herpes (or another contractible STD)?

A reader writes:

Can I ask your advice on how to minister to a friend of mine and her husband? They have been married for a few years now. Just a week before their wedding she found out her husband has herpes – and apparently has severe outbreaks from them. My friend has a health condition that could severely be impacted by contracting HSV.

Can you give me some guidance to help them, specifically her… there are so many facets from the original betrayal of not knowing in enough time to think clearly before the wedding, the actual breakouts being SO severe, they cover him from thighs to mid stomach including genitals, and the loss of physical intimacy is damaging her self esteem.

Thanks for any prayers and words you could share.

This is probably one of the hardest Reader Questions I’ve ever had. My heart just breaks. This is one of the reasons God wants us to wait for marriage to have sex! Sex before marriage seems so enticing, but it can wreak such havoc with the rest of your life.

I don’t have an easy answer to this question, and so I’m just going to put up a few thoughts.

Husband Has Herpes

1. If Your Husband Has Herpes, Get Medical Help–and Keep Asking

For those of you who don’t understand what the issue is, the herpes virus, HSV (and there are two kinds of the virus), doesn’t ever go away. It stays in your system. Often you have no symptoms whatsoever, but every now and then you’ll have an outbreak with blisters, often accompanied by pain and fatigue in your muscles. The blisters may be just on your genitals or they may spread further.

There is medication to suppress the virus, which helps. But the problem is that you can contract the virus even if you’re not symptomatic–though it’s not as common. So making love poses a risk to the non-infected spouse. And when you do want children, there are added complications, because a woman with the virus risks passing it on to her kids. At one point they automatically did C-sections for women with the virus; now most deliver vaginally.

The outbreaks also often diminish over time. Couples often find that while the outbreaks were bad initially, after a decade or two they really are almost unnoticeable. And some people aren’t even symptomatic.

The key thing is to talk to your doctor. Find out what medications you can take. Talk frankly about sexual options–what is safe to do? What is not safe to do? Will a condom fully protect me? What do we do when we want to get pregnant? If my husband’s herpes isn’t symptomatic and there are no outbreaks, is sex safe?

I don’t want to answer those questions because I’m not a doctor, but things change really quickly, and they’re always developing new medicines, so keep asking. And even look for trials for new medications, because you never know!

2. You Simply Must Forgive Him

Here’s the really hard part. At some point you have to let it go.

This ironically can be even harder to let go of than an affair that happened during marriage, because as time goes on, the reality of what you’re dealing with sets in. With an affair, it gets further and further into the background. This is always there.

And there’s a danger that you’ll start saying to yourself:

My life would be easier if I didn’t have him. If I hadn’t have married him I wouldn’t be dealing with all of these problems.

It’s understandable. And in this woman’s case, it sounds like she has other health issues which would be severely compromised if she contracted the herpes virus from her husband. So every day that you live with it often gets more and more difficult.

You have to fight. Take every thought captive! When you start feeling resentment, take that resentment and give it back to God. Say to God, “Thank you for my husband. Thank you for what we do share. Thank you that you will carry us through this.”

Yes, you have a lot to deal with, but many couples have things to deal with. Life isn’t smooth for everybody else, either. You have a problem which is really obvious, but if you both rely on God, you can get through it. It will be a challenge. Sex will be harder for you than it will be for most people. But if you can remember that you are on the same team, you will be so much further ahead.

And here’s where I’m going to say something that is going to sound mean.

You married him as he is.

In this case, he should have told his wife earlier. The pressure to go on with the wedding must have been intense! But I get so many emails from women detailing all sorts of things that are wrong with their husbands, and yet in most of these emails, the roots of the problem were visible before the marriage.

If you knew your husband had herpes before you were married, and you married him anyway, you don’t really have the right to be mad at him for it now.

I know that sounds harsh. I know I don’t fully understand what you’re going through. But it’s still true. The marriage vow matters, and you made a vow to that man, as he is. You can’t second guess that vow now.

3. You are not Being Punished by God

My mother said something interesting to me recently. She was reflecting on some of the things that she doesn’t particularly like about her life, and she realized that a decade or two ago she would have assumed that God was punishing her. Those things that she doesn’t like were God’s punishment.

Now she has a different perspective. God isn’t punishing her, but what she’s going through is a natural consequence of choices that she made. You reap what you sow.

When you go through something like this it’s easy to think, “God is punishing my husband, and now my husband is punishing me, too!” And then we think God is angry, and it all gets into a huge mess in our minds.

But God isn’t necessarily punishing anybody. STDs are natural consequences of sleeping around before you’re married. Don’t think of it as God being angry; think of it as just you are now living with consequences.

If you see it that way, it’s easier to throw yourself at the throne of God and say something like this:

God, we are going through something that is so hard. We don’t know how to do this. We want to love each other but we can’t even make love the way we want to. We’re worried about the future. We feel distant. God, we need you to fight for us. You promised that you would heal our infirmities and carry our sorrows, and we need you to do that. We need hope. Give us a glimpse of your grace, and help us to see that we are on the same team, together, and that you are there to carry us.

I believe that it is often in these really hard challenges that God shows up the most. But it takes us first being honest and humble. It takes us first realizing, “I did vow. I did commit. I did marry him just as he is, and I have to accept that.” And it takes him saying, “I did do something that has hurt us both, and I’m sorry.” We need to be honest about our past choices and we need to own those past choices. When we are honest ourselves, we are laid bare. And when we are laid bare, God can work. When we carry anger and bitterness and blame then God doesn’t do very much. But when we’re broken, He often transforms.

So, please, keep banging on the door of your doctor and getting good advice and following up with treatment options.

But then, also, you simply must let it go.

You must forgive your husband, and you must come to terms with the fact that you made the commitment to him AS HE IS. Then both of you, together, throw yourself on God’s mercy and ask Him to build something beautiful out of your marriage. I do believe that God can do that, and it is often in the things that seem the most broken that God does His most beautiful work.


  1. Butterflywings says:

    What about those who pick up an STD after marriage? Obviously you need to forgive your cheating husband, but where does that leave your sex life? Some STDs are fatal, condoms don’t protect against all potentially fatal STDs (HPV for example), and sometimes condoms fail. Are women supposed to carry on a sex life when their husband has a sexual disease that could kill them? If not, what then? It’s not like these women had a choice to not marry these men – these things happened after marriage, and it’s not always obvious before marriage that a man could cheat.

    I mean, I didn’t find out my exhusband had given me a potentially fatal STD until after we separated. But I feel for the woman who do find out and want to try and work through things. I mean, I wanted to work through things but he never gave me the opportunity. Thankfully for me, HPV isn’t always a permanent condition and I was tested to see if I had passed it out of my system before remarrying, but I feel so sorry for the women who aren’t so lucky.

  2. Thank you for this post! While my husband and I have no STD issues, we are experiencing turbulence & strain in other areas. What you said, “You have to fight. Take every thought captive! When you start feeling resentment, take that resentment and give it back to God. Say to God, “Thank you for my husband. Thank you for what we do share. Thank you that you will carry us through this.”

    Yes, you have a lot to deal with, but many couples have things to deal with. Life isn’t smooth for everybody else, either. You have a problem which is really obvious, but if you both rely on God, you can get through it. It will be a challenge. Sex will be harder for you than it will be for most people. But if you can remember that you are on the same team, you will be so much further ahead.”

    You have no idea how much those words impacted me!!! I’ve been crying & upset all morning & complaining to God. Thank you for speaking truth!!!!

  3. Mom in KY says:

    I acquired herpes at 19. Didn’t marry my husband til age 24, and he was well aware of it. He had his own past, just not with such long lasting results. I’m blessed enough that my outbreaks are few & far between without suppression therapy. Typically they occur immediately following illnesses that require antibiotics, as my system is already puny, so it just jumps right in & takes its turn. The key is finding out what triggers them. It’s different for every person. Stress, certain foods, & low immune system are all factors that can contribute. We’ve been married for 12 years & I’ve had 3 children, all without passing it on to anyone else. After awhile, one knows their “starting” symptoms & can refrain from sex til the outbreak is clear. It’s a juggling game, but it’s possible.

  4. tammy bruce says:

    thank you so much!!!!!!! I think I finally understand something my friend has been telling me for a while. I totally could have written what Laurie above wrote….wont go into details as I promised my husband I wouldnt w/o his ok (a step for me). but yes, also to the thought of living w/consequences not that God is punishing me.

  5. Anonymous A says:

    My husband gets cold sores growing up. He had not had a real outbreak in years and years but like Sheila said you can pass the HSV without being symptomatic or having an outbreak. It’s passed through sluffing of skin cells. Well after being together a few years I one day developed herpes lesions in my genital area. I flipped out and didn’t know what it was or how I could even have such a thing. They went away after a painful few days and then a month later or so returned with a vengeance. Then I KNEW it was something terrible but had no idea what or how. I went to my gynecologist who told me is was genital herpes. I was in shock. My husband didn’t have genital herpes so how could I get genital herpes. I began to momentarily doubt his faithfulness to me which was even more deviatating. They did cultures and blood test. My hubby swore he had never cheated and was puzzled. At my follow up the dr went over the blood work. I had HSV type 1 which is typically ORAL HERPES not genital herpes. My blood work came back HSV 1. Basically we discovered that because my husband gets cold sores (aka herpes HSV 1) and had given me oral sex even without symptoms or a sore I had contracted HSV from that in a monogamous relationship. I’ve had to take Zovirax various times over the years and it is very painful sometimes. He feels bad and I hate that I got this because it’s so painful. It’s embarrassing to have to tell doctors or medical providers or anyone that I have genital herpes because it seems like I got an std from being careless with sex when in reality it was my husband that gave them to me and he didn’t contact them from sex at all! It is what it is…..

    • Thank you for sharing your story! I think that’s an aspect that most of us don’t know about, so it’s a very important warning!

    • I get cold sores and my hubby and I discussed how to prevent having similar problems. We don’t kiss when I have them so he is less likely to get them, and we decided oral sex wasn’t worth the risk. I also take lysine pills to prevent them and when they still come I take valacyclovir at the first sign, along with using abreva. I used to get 2-3 each month, now it’s closer to 1 every 2-3 months. I thought I’d share in case the solutions I’ve found can help anyone else.

    • I get cold sores, too- have been for years. I’ve become very careful about it- we go through a lot of toothbrushes at my house, I bleach cups and silverware, wash pillowcases daily during an outbreak, and NO sharing of straws or cups or anything. And no smoochin’- that’s the hardest part for me! It’s a total hassle, but I’ll do anything to keep my husband from getting it!
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    • Anon for this says:

      The same thing happened to me, although I haven’t had any other outbreaks since the initial one. I understand your pain (literal and emotional). It appears that a growing number of genital herpes outbreaks are due to HSV-1 instead of HSV-2, possibly because people don’t realize that it can cause genital outbreaks.

  6. Last year I found out that I had genital warts from a previous relationship. I had six months of treatment before my husband and I could have sex again. I feel horrible that I exposed my husband to HPV but God has blessed me with an amazing husband. My husband tells me all the time that he married me “as is” and that in the grand scheme of things, HPV is not that big of a deal. He has empathy for my situation and was so supportive during the six months of treatment. I too have to keep my immunity strong, get sleep, eat well and watch my stress so that I don’t have any more growths. My heart breaks for this couple because I know what they are dealing with. Thankfully, in my situation, it brought my husband and I even closer. My struggle is in forgiving myself and letting it go.

    • Thanks for sharing this. I dealt with HPV warts over 10 years ago in my 20’s (during my stupid freedom/I’m invincible years). Now entering my 30’s and I’m afraid of having to tell a Christian guy about them. I dating a non-Christian who I told and he was accepting and happy I was open with him (thought I’d marry that guy eventually).

      I became a Christian about 2 years ago and I’m absolutely terrified about ever telling a guy again about my old past. Thankful that God is taking good care of my health (no more HPV since). I’ll pray for your health too.

      Trust me you’ll forgive yourself. It took me years and years and years but I did.

      Thx again for sharing. :)

  7. My jaw dropped when I read the following: “Just a week before their wedding she found out he has herpes…”

    I would be feeling some type of way if I found out a week before my wedding. Isn’t that something that should’ve been disclosed in the beginning of their relationship?

    • Absolutely! I think it’s horrible to wait to tell her until then. The problem is that she married him anyway, and now how does she deal with it? It’s just so tough. But I absolutely agree–things like this MUST be talked about before you become engaged–not just a week before you get married!

  8. Well, my situation is worst. My wife and i have been together for 4 yrs ( 2 years direct and 2 years long distance due to the military) and recently gotten married in April. So last week she told me had hsv2 (since she was 20). I was shocked and hurt. I’m still hurling from it. She said that she wanted to tell me at marriage counseling a few weeks before the wedding and she only told me because her cousin recently had a baby and she was having thoughts of it. We are already going through some issues already now but add this to the craziness and drama….I’m truly confused and resenting her right now..I got tested ….The results were negative but I suggested wearing condoms ( I know it doesn’t prevent transmission but i just feel better with it). Just the thought of blisters/sores on my private part is disturbing. She took offense of the idea and doesn’t want to use condoms. Isn’t that selfish? I know the vows” You married her as she is” but if i would have known earlier i would have never proceeded with relationship. I feel like she lied to me each day for 1725 days. We unprotected sex with no regards for my health and feelings. She had numerous times to tell me..Not a word. That what really makes me upset……..Now i’m torn

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  10. This post reminds me of my husband’s thought years ago. In our situation, it’s the other way around. I’ve got itchy herpes and I just can’t figured out how to tell my guy about this months before our wedding. Luckily, i’ve gathered the strength to tell him and good thing about it, he has still accepted me and suggested to continue the wedding after the treatment. We’ve consulted the doctor together and help me with my struggle. Thank God, gone all the pain and itchy night.
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  11. learnin2love says:

    I’m in trouble.

    I am the poster child for an ad on cautious living. I’ve always been careful about boyfriends- meaning I never had any- and I was a virgin when I got married.
    I met my husband on an online dating website. We were both in our thirties and had similar stories. He, like me, was a virgin too. He did confide in me that he suffers from bipolar disorder. I ran away from our relationship for a little while but after reading about bipolar disorder and knowing his compliant history with medication, it wasn’t a deal-breaker and we continued on with our relationship.

    I have been happily married for four months now. My husband is my best friend and my greatest supporter. I accept him for who he is and I don’t mind dealing with the constant questions or forgetfulness that comes with bipolar disorder. The one thing that has suffered that I’ve been having problems with is our sex life.

    The medications he has to take for bipolar disorder affects his ability to get an erection, so for the entirety of our marriage we have been trying to find ways to change his medication (or add a medication) that would allow us to enjoy sex.

    Last night, he changed my life, and maybe even our happy marriage, and this is why I’m in trouble.

    He confessed that it is not only the medications that he is worried about concerning our sex life. He had been raped once as a young child, and from this encounter he has contracted herpes.

    I have never slept with a man before and the only person I want is my husband. Should herpes be a deal-breaker for me? We were so happy but he has deceived me, and I love him still. I don’t know if love means being willing to contract an STD. I feel like life has laughed in my face. I have been cautious for years only to fall in love and marry the sweetest, kindest man who happens to be bipolar with herpes.

    What should I do?

    • I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this! That’s a lot to take in.

      Here’s what I’d say, though: you married him knowing about his mental illness. And he is trying to get help.

      To punish him because he didn’t tell you something that was so shameful to him (because it originated in a rape) is really hard. I know he lied to you. Yes, he should have told you. But it sounds like your husband has had so much to carry and deal with. What if God has put you in this place to be part of His hands and His feet in your husband’s healing?

      It’s going to take time to get over the lies. You are going to have to research what herpes means for your relationship. And you certainly should research bipolar medication. But those things ARE surmountable and you can get through this. You really can.

      You may find that now that the truth is out your husband relaxes around you, too. He was likely carrying a great weight and feeling in an impossible situation before you knew. Give it time. You vowed to stay true to him, and even if he lied, I certainly can understand his reasons. This isn’t a death knell for your sex life. It really isn’t. So talk it through and pray it through, and see how you can each lean on each other.

      I hope that helps!

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