I have recently started seeing someone, and they opened up to me that they have genital herpes/HSV. I’ve done some research, and know a some about the ways to protect myself from contracting it, but I wanted to get some first hand experience from those who either have herpes, or have been in long term relationships with partners with herpes, and get some insight on how to stay safe while still engaging in a healthy and active sex life.
If you have an active and non-monogamous sex life, then it’s almost certain that you already have genital herpes. It’s both far more common than most people think, and far less serious.
I believe the situation is that the majority of people are seropositive for anti-HSV-1 from early oral infection (colloquially “cold sores”). HSV-1 rarely causes genital infection, although it can occur. I’m not sure about the causal relationship, but it may be that early oral infection actually increases resistance to genital infection with HSV-1.
OP’s partner is almost certainly referring to HSV-2, which is usually sexually transmitted. Most genital infections are HSV-2. The overall prevalence is of the order of 20% in the U.S., mostly subclinical. I’m not sure if that quite translates to “almost certain” that you’re infected if you are non-monogamous, it would depend on your practices, but obviously that 20% includes the entire population, so children and people who are not sexually promiscuous.
Since the OP is asking for personal experiences, let’s move this to IMHO. I also edited the title to make the subject clearer.
General Questions Moderator
It looks like I’m way out of date - from that Wiki article and other sources, there are now studies showing that 40-50% of genital herpes infections are HSV-1, transmitted through oral sex.
I’ve had genital herpes for decades, since my very first sexual partner neglected to mention that she was infected. Until recently, every one of my partners already had it when we met, so it was not an issue. Recently for the first time I briefly dated a woman who didn’t have herpes, and we simply used condoms (ugh). If the relationship had lasted longer I’m not sure what we would have done. The only useful thing I can add is, if your partner is willing, she can reduce (but not eliminate) the chances of transmission by taking a daily antiviral, which may also reduce the number of outbreaks she gets. I’ll also agree with Chronos that while it can be occasionally annoying, in my experience it’s not very serious.