Casual Sex with Herpes

        Whether the diagnosis is recent or old, some people with HSV (herpes simplex virus) may see herpes and casual sex as mutually exclusive.  Because they have HSV-1 or 2, there can be the idea that the person will never have casual sex again.  Even though it may feel intense or like a death sentence for your sex life, it doesn’t have to be. You can still have the type of sex that you want, even if it’s casual.  Here’s how to have better, more open casual sex with herpes.

What Is Casual Sex?

        Before going forward, it is important to have a shared definition of “casual sex.”  What makes this somewhat difficult is how subjective and personal sexual relationships can be.  For instance, two people can have starkly different definitions of commitment. For this article, we define casual sex as sexual activity free from specific relationship obligations.  Depending on the person, these obligations could involve romance, commitment, or time (e.g., having to see the person again). Additionally, casual sex may focus more on the physical aspect of sex, rather than the emotional.  Here are some ways in which casual sex may appear.

  • Friends with benefits
  • Sex with an ex
  • “No strings attached”
  • Sex with casual dating
  • No expectation for a committed, romantic relationship

Once again, defining casual sex is subjective.  Your definition may vary, which isn’t a problem as long as everyone shares the same expectations.  It’s also important to know that there isn’t anything wrong with wanting this type of sex. Sex does not always need to have love and commitment. Consensual sex is always valid, even with herpes.

Why Casual Sex with Herpes Is Still Possible

There are certain factors that make casual sex still possible for those with an HSV diagnosis.  For instance, barrier contraceptives (e.g., condoms, dental dams) and medication significantly reduce HSV’s transmission rates.  With only using a condom, there is a 95% success rate of preventing the virus’s transmission. This success rate increases when coupled with medication, specifically valacyclovir (i.e., Valtrex).  Essentially, with barrier contraceptives and medication, transmitting HSV is extremely low. It’s also important to remind yourself of the other person’s agency: their ability to make decisions for themselves.  You don’t have to convince someone to have sex with you. Some may choose not to, and there will be some who will. Before talking more about the latter, it’s crucial to first reflect on what you want.

Reflect on What You Want

As mentioned earlier, casual sex is not one specific, universal experience.  There are multiple ways to have casual sex; therefore, it’s important to know what you specifically want.  Here are some factors to consider.

  • When do I want to disclose?
  • How well do I need to know the person?
  • Do I see myself only wanting to have sex with them once?
  • Do I want to see them again?
    • For an ongoing sexual relationship?
    • To leave a window open to potential dating?
    • For a friendship?
  • Do I want the person completely separate from my social network?
  • What makes it more comfortable to disclose my diagnosis?

Depending on what you want, you can choose the type of casual sex that works best for you.  Here are some examples.

  •         Sex with a friend (i.e., friends with benefits)
  •         One-night stands
  •         Casual relationships (i.e., just dating for sex)
  •         Using dating apps for folks with chronic STIs

For instance, imagine someone who is uncomfortable with disclosing, they don’t want to know the sexual partner well, and they want the person completely outside of their social network.  Using Positive Singles, or a similar dating app, can satisfy the above person’s needs. After all, the person doesn’t need to disclose their diagnosis during the date if they already did so on their profile.  There are several ways to disclose and there are multiple ways to experience casual sex.  However, they all require clear communication.

Clear Communication

        It is extremely important that you know exactly what you want.  This includes your expectations, discomforts, and desires concerning casual sex.  Having this insight will allow you to effectively express your wants to others. After all, clear, sexual consent can only occur once everyone is on the same page.  This involves your diagnosis, too. Though the transmission of HSV can be very low with medication and barriers, disclosing to your sexual partner is essential. This gives them the power to fully consent to the sexual activity.  Despite it feeling daunting, here are some ways to help with the communication.

  • Focus on the message that you want to convey.
    • Regarding your diagnosis, what do you want the other person to know?  Some people want to focus on the low transmission rate, or how inconsequential HSV is on a biological level.  Meanwhile, other people may want to express how they received HSV, and how having the virus has very little to do with morals.  It may seem as though you have to explain everything regarding HSV. However, as long as you disclose your diagnosis, you can simply focus on what you find important.
  • Focus on what you would want to hear.
    • Though focusing on what you would want to express is important, it can also be useful to reflect on how to alleviate the other person’s concerns.  One way in which to do this is to simply place yourself in their shoes. If you were about to have sex with someone with HSV, what would you want to hear?  Some examples could be information on transmission rates, preventative measures, or even more about the person with the diagnosis.  It can be useful to care about the other person’s concerns; just be careful with over-explaining HSV due to anxiety.  After all, there are people who aren’t particularly bothered with HSV.  Additionally, they also have a responsibility to advocate for their sexual health.  


Regarding clear communication, some people with HSV can feel as though they are a pariah, and thus, have to convince people to have sex with them.  To be extremely clear, there is nothing wrong with you, and there are several people who are fine with HSV.  Concerning casual sex with herpes, your only responsibility is to give clear, honest information.

Acknowledging the Hardships

        This article has explained that casual sex with herpes can still occur.  However, it is important to acknowledge the difficulties. There is still a strong stigma regarding herpes, which makes disclosing difficult, among other things.  Casual sex with herpes can be a difficult, daunting experience. At the same time, it’s still possible. HSV can hamper a person’s sex life, but it doesn’t destroy it.  If you still struggle to have casual sex after reading this article, that’s okay. There are therapists at the Center for Growth that can give you the extra help that you may need.  You can book an appointment online at