Is Your Sex Life Over if You Have Hep C?
Last Reviewed November 6, 2019
For many people, getting diagnosed with Hepatitis C is shocking – sending the mind swirling with a slew of possible implications. Topping the list of questions include “How did I get this virus?”, “Can I recover from this illness?” and “Have I passed it on to anyone else?” At some point or another, one of the looming fears about living with Hepatitis C is that having sex could infect your sexual partner.
About Hepatitis C
A blood-borne viral infection that targets the liver, the World Health Organization estimates that 71 million people are chronically infected with Hepatitis C worldwide. While Hepatitis C can be both acute or chronic, the majority of infections become chronic, a problem that can lead to advanced liver disease (such as cirrhosis or liver cancer) in those who are unable to rid themselves of the virus. Although the medications used to battle Hepatitis C have recently undergone drastic improvements, some individuals are either:
- ineligible for treatment
- not able to tolerate treatment
- unable to afford treatment
- non-responsive to the treatment
- susceptible to a relapse after treatment
Hepatitis C Transmission
Although intravenous drug use is recognized as the most common mode of transmission, others have acquired Hepatitis C by:
- receiving a tainted blood transfusion or organ transplant before effective screening began in July 1992
- being on long-term kidney dialysis
- receiving treatment with a clotting factor concentrate manufactured before 1987
- being exposed to blood from someone with Hepatitis C – like from an accidental needle stick
Even with all of these modes of transmission, there are still many individuals who do not know the source of their infection. As such, the possibility of transmitting Hepatitis C sexually has come under the microscope.
Sexual Transmission of Hepatitis C
It is possible to spread the Hepatitis C virus during sexual activity, but not probable. Experts estimate that for individuals in long-term monogamous relationships, there is less than a 3 percent chance of both partners having Hepatitis C. Other studies indicate that the risk of transmitting Hepatitis C in a long-term monogamous relationship is less than .1 percent each year. Based on this understanding, practitioners typically advise their Hepatitis C patients in long-term monogamous relationships that there is no need to change their sexual practices.
However, not everyone with Hepatitis C is in a long-term monogamous relationship. There are no reliable statistics describing the likelihood of transmitting this virus during casual sex, but there are several factors known to increase the risk. Thankfully, the odds of spreading Hepatitis C during sexual activity can be minimized by:
- Completely abstaining from rough sex. Rough play is highly likely to create cuts, tears or abrasions that could pass the virus on.
- Refraining from sexual activity if either partner is bleeding. This includes menstruation, bleeding gums, cuts, blisters or skin lesions on the genitals.
- Always using condoms during sex if not in a long-term monogamous relationship. Those with multiple sex partners are at a slightly greater risk of Hepatitis C transmission than those in an exclusive relationship.
- Being especially cautious if partaking in anal sex. Because the anal tissue is more vulnerable to injury than other areas, a condom should always be used for this type of activity. In addition, great care must be taken to be gentle and be sure there is plenty of lubrication.
Those in a long-term monogamous relationship may choose to use condoms and avoid the risky sexual activities described above for an even greater peace of mind.
There is no definitive answer on whether or not Hepatitis C can be transmitted sexually – but the risk is undoubtedly very low. So those with Hepatitis C can take a deep breath and relax, because this diagnosis does not have to mean the end of your sex life.
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