I’m glad to hear that your previous girlfriend was straightforward with you. I’m not sure what practices you used to be safe, but most of the time precautions do work to prevent transmission of the virus. However, this is not always the case.
Avoiding unprotected sexual contact during outbreaks is generally an effective (though not foolproof) way to avoid transmitting herpes to a partner. However, newer research indicates that during a small percentage of days in a month the person with herpes can have “asymptomatic shedding” of the virus. This means that at times the virus may be present in the genital tract in the absence of visible outbreaks making it possible to unintentionally transmit the virus to your partner in the absence of any obvious symptoms.
This creates a tricky situation for potential partners trying to protect uninfected partners. In fact, a new partner who doesn’t believe they have herpes and has never had an outbreak may already be carrying the virus due to prior asymptomatic transmission of the virus from a previous partner. Without proper testing you may not know the other person also has the virus since many people never manifest the virus in obvious outbreaks. Thus, protection is a two-way street.
Herpes virus antibodies have been determined to be present in about 22% of the US adult population. Herpes has been described by one expert as “a life adversity, nothing more and nothing less.” It is not a life-threatening illness. Fortunately, lots of research has been done that indicates that asymptomatic viral shedding as well as outbreaks can be significantly reduced by taking anti-viral medications on a regular basis. Protected sex using condoms is also an effective method for greatly reducing the risk of infecting an uninfected partner.
The best thing to do is to inform yourself of the facts of your condition and communicate clearly and honestly the risk factors to any new potential sexual partner. Most people find that their partner is willing to work with them on this issue even if they are uninfected. A great resource for education is the website www.herpes.org. It has the most recent high quality information on herpes prevention and treatments.
Having herpes need not be a barrier to having a satisfying sexual-romantic relationship. It just requires a bit of preparation and caution to minimize the chances of becoming infected or infecting a new partner. Ultimately, you are the person and that can and will make the best decisions about when and how to disclose to potential partners. The important thing is to share this information with your potential partner before you have sex and to be honest and informed.