Telling Someone That You Have Herpes: The Talk
- Telling someone that you have genital herpes may seem scary at first. You might want to practice a bit with someone you trust or with a friend from your herpes support or social group. Everyone who is sexually active *should* be talking to their partners about their sexual histories, and STD status, BEFORE they become sexually intimate. There are many other STDs out there, and most are a more serious health risk than herpes, if undiagnosed. Having *The Talk* is about mutual disclosure and having an open and honest discussion about how to proceed in your relationship, while protecting both you and your partner, and reducing the risk of spreading anything to each other. If you are not ready to have an open and honest discussion about STDs with someone, or if you don’t think that you can trust them with your private, personal information, then you are NOT ready to have any kind of sex with them.
- Always tell your partner(s) about herpes BEFORE you have any sexual contact with them. Give them enough time to read up on herpes and become better informed before deciding whether or not to have intimate contact with you. Do NOT wait until you are about to jump on each other and throw caution to the wind. And do not wait until AFTER you sleep with them! Honesty is always the best policy. Even if you are only interested in a casual relationship, your partner deserves to know the facts before making the decision to become intimate with you. If you do not feel comfortable enough to talk to a potential partner about herpes and other STDs, then you are NOT ready to have sexual contact with them. Wait until you feel ready to have “the talk.”
- When Should I Tell Someone That I Have Herpes? For most people, this is an individual decision based on getting to know the other person first, and figuring out if they are someone you can trust and are really interested in. If you go out on one or two dates with someone, and find out that you really don’t have the same interests or values – and you are not interested in sleeping with them, then why should they know your personal health information? Also, if you decide that you really DO like someone and you develop a strong friendship and bond with them first, they are likely to respond more favorably you when you decide to have The Talk.
- Stay calm when discussing genital herpes. If you appear to be ashamed and traumatized by your diagnosis, don’t expect them to want to risk feeling the same way themselves. They will take their cues from YOU. If you have learned the facts about herpes and accepted yourself and are taking good care of yourself and know how to reduce your risk of spreading herpes to your partners, you can confidently present the situation as it is to your potential partner(s). They can make a decision to proceed or not, based on learning the facts and not seeing you become emotional and upset. Remember that herpes can be caused by a very common virus that most adults in the US already have in their system (especially HSV-1). For most people who have genital herpes, symptoms are absent, infrequent or mild or mistaken for something else. Even doctors, who try to diagnose via visual inspection rather than a lab culture or blood test, often misdiagnose genital herpes as vaginal infections, jock itch, and ingrown hairs. Therefore, 80-90% of the people who have it, don’t even know it. You’re a normal person who just happens to have herpes. Your friend will take their cues from you. If you make herpes sound like a bigger deal than it is, they’ll be more concerned.
- Instead of telling someone that “I have herpes” – you might say “I carry the virus for herpes.” Think about it. If you say “I have herpes,” it may sound like you are currently or always having an outbreak and that you are always contagious. But if you say “I carry the virus for herpes,” and something about how often you do or do not get symptoms, it sounds like a very manageable virus, which it is for most people. For instance, up to 80% of people carry the virus HSV-1, which can cause occasional cold sores around the mouth, and can also be transmitted to the genitals via oral sex. But you don’t hear most people saying that they “have herpes” just because they carry the virus HSV-1 and occasionally get cold sores. The symptoms are the same, just in a different location.
- Use the term “STI” or “sexually transmitted infection” instead of “STD” or “sexually transmitted disease.” They mean the same thing, except that “disease” sounds like you are currently or always having symptoms or outbreaks, whereas “infection” sounds like something that can be managed. It’s interesting how choosing certain words may make a big difference in how something is perceived.
- Explain that there are many types of herpes, and that one of the most common is HSV-1, which often causes “cold sores” around the mouth but can also cause genital herpes. Up to 80% of the US population already has HSV-1 and got it sometime during their childhood from being kissed by a parent, friend or relative. HSV-1 can also be spread to the genitals during oral sex. “Shingles” are caused by yet another strain of herpes – herpes zoster – same virus that causes Chicken Pox. Epstein-Barr and Mononucleosis are also different strains of the herpes virus. HSV-2 is just a different strain of this same common virus.
- Tell them that 80-90% of people who have genital herpes have NOT been properly diagnosed – and it is possible that they might already have the virus and not know it. And even if they don’t have it, odds are very high that many of their previous sexual partners carried the virus for genital herpes, even if they didn’t know it and were not showing any symptoms. You might recommend that he/she get one of the new, very reliable type-specific herpes blood tests for both HSV-1 and HSV-2. Click here for information on herpes blood tests.
- Sleeping with someone who has genital herpes does NOT mean that you are automatically going to get it, too. Most people with genital herpes are shedding the virus only a small percent of the time. There are many couples in which one partner has genital herpes and the other partner does not. Although there are no absolute guarantees, there are many things you can do to greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Click here to learn how to reduce the risk of transmission. Also, since you already know that you have herpes and are taking precautions to reduce the risk of spreading it, he/she has a bigger risk of getting herpes from any of the other 30% people with herpes who don’t KNOW that they have it and are taking NO precautions.
- Herpes does not define who you are. You are so much more than your herpes diagnosis. Everyone has “stuff” to deal with in their lives, and this is just one of the cards that you were dealt. In the scheme of things, there are so many worse problems to have in a relationship – lying, cheating, poor communication, values differences, anger management problems, drug or alcohol abuse, lack of time, low self-esteem, or more serious health problems. If Herpes is your biggest issue, you’re a true catch!
- Give your friend time to do some research on herpes – but also tell him/her where to find that info. For instance, there are some links to great herpes info on this website. You might want to print out some pages on this website and give them to him/her as a starting point. Ask him/her to take whatever time they need to go over the information and to feel free ask you any questions if they want. If they care about you enough, they will take the time to learn the facts about herpes.
- Remember that you are doing a service by educating them about herpes. Even if they decide not to move forward in the relationship, they are only deciding to reject the herpes – not you personally. But you also might be pleasantly surprised at their reaction. They may so impressed by your honesty and ability to discuss a difficult topic – that they are more attracted to you than ever.
- Warning about unprotected sex: If you tell someone that you have genital herpes – and they don’t care or want to learn more about it – and they want to sleep with you anyway without using protection – – don’t sleep with them! Always use protection 100% of the time with new partners. Many people have other STDs but show no symptoms, and don’t bother to get tested for STDs between partners. They think they are “clean” when in fact, they are not. There are many other STDs besides herpes. If you sleep with someone without using protection, you may get another STD on top of herpes. Or if the other person later has a herpes outbreak, they may blame you – even though it was their decision not to use protection. Be responsible – always use protection!
- No matter what happens, by having the talk, you are displaying that you are an honest and open person who respects and cares about the health of your partners. They may think more highly of you for having the talk. It will also show that you are a responsible, ethical person who is willing and able to discuss “difficult” issues. These qualities will set you apart from the many people out there who might not disclose such things – just so that they can sleep with someone. You’re not like those people. So unless he or she is only looking for casual sex, they will recognize that you’re someone they should not discard simply because of a silly and very manageable virus.
- Should you tell your previous partners that you have genital herpes? The answer to this question depends on the individual. If you think you acquired HSV relatively recently – for instance, in the past year – then it may make sense to contact those more recent partners to let them know that it’s possible that they were *exposed* to herpes, and suggest that they get tested. Remember, even if they test positive, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they got herpes from you. They may have already had herpes and didn’t know it. And it’s possible that you got herpes from one of those previous partners. It doesn’t matter anymore who gave herpes to whom. What does matter is that anyone who is sexually active should get tested for herpes, and learn how to reduce their risk of getting or spreading herpes and other STD’s. If you would like to notify your previous partners anonymously, there is an online service called 5Ymail.com that will allow you to send an anonymous email for free. But this service is not for getting replies. There’s a sample letter or email message that you might use as a guideline to tell former lovers that you have herpes at Dear Former Lover – Herpes Letter or Email.
- Some people with herpes, especially those who have more frequent outbreaks, prefer to date other people who already know that they have herpes. To meet other people with herpes, you can join your local herpes social group or herpes support group. These herpes groups are in most major cities in the US and Canada and around the world. You can also find many herpes singles at herpes dating sites on the web. Click here for a list and reviews for the top Herpes Dating Sites.
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