Does sex change after someone is diagnosed with genital herpes?

According to this study, not so much – the researchers found that after being diagnosed with herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2, which most commonly causes genital herpes rather than oral herpes/cold sores), people didn’t really change their sexual behaviors. Granted, one wouldn’t necessarily expect people to have sex less often, particularly with a steady relationship partner (though that’s one behavior the researchers looked at) and condom use didn’t seem to differ much either… then again, considering that condoms cannot completely prevent herpes transmission, that may influence people’s condom use decisions too. Here’s the abstract from this web site:

Do Protective Behaviors Follow the Experience of Testing Positive for Herpes Simplex Type 2?
Note 
Sexually Transmitted Diseases. 35(9):787-790, September 2008.
Crosby, Richard A. PhD *; Head, Sara MPH +; DiClemente, Ralph J. PhD +; Meyerson, Beth PhD ++; Troutman, Adewale MD [S]

Abstract:
Objective: To test the hypothesis that individuals attending a sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic would adopt sexual protective behaviors after receiving a positive test for herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2). 

Methods: Recruitment (N = 360) occurred in a publicly funded STD clinic located in a metropolitan area of the southern United States. Participants were tested for HSV-2 using a rapid test manufactured by Biokit (Lexington, MA) and they completed a self-administered questionnaire before and 3 months after being tested for HSV-2. Follow-up questionnaires were completed by 256 participants (71.1%).

Results: Of those completing follow-up, 43.4% (n = 111) tested positive for HSV-2 at enrollment. Significant differences between participants testing positive and those testing negative (at baseline) for HSV-2 over the follow-up period were not observed for frequency of sex, frequency of condom use, avoiding sex, and number of sex partners. Controlling for statistically identified covariates did not alter the null findings for these between group analyses. When analyzing change (baseline to follow-up) among only those testing positive, significant differences were not found with the exception of reporting greater frequency of condom use with steady (P = 0.037) and nonsteady partners at follow-up (P = 0.017). However, repeated measures analyses yielded only 1 significant group x time interaction; this indicated a greater increase in condom use frequency with steady partners among persons testing negative compared with those testing positive. 

Conclusions: Among STD clinic attendees, diagnosis of HSV-2 was unrelated to the adoption of sexual behaviors protective against further acquisition and transmission of STDs. In the absence of education beyond posttest counseling, becoming aware of HSV-2 positive serostatus may not be sufficient to motivate the adoption of safer sex behaviors among this population.
(C) Copyright 2008 American Sexually Transmitted Diseases Association

 

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.