How To Tell Someone That You Have Herpes or “Having The Talk”
- Always tell your partner(s) about herpes BEFORE you have sexual contact with them, and give them enough time to read up on it 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.”
- Stay calm when discussing “H.” Remember, it’s a very common virus that about 25% of US adults already have. For most people who have it, symptoms are infrequent or mild or mistaken for something else – so much so that up to 90% of the people who have it, don’t even know it. You’re a normal person who just happens to have “H”. Your friend will take their cues from you. If you make “H” sound like a bigger deal than it is, they’ll be more concerned.
- Instead of saying “I have herpes,” say “I carry the virus for herpes.” Think about it. If you say “I have herpes,” it makes it sound like you are currently having an outbreak and that you are always contagious. If you say “I carry the virus for herpes,” and something about how often you do or do not get outbreaks, it sounds like a manageable issue. For instance, up to 80% of people carry the virus HSV1, which causes cold sores around the mouth, and can also be transmitted to the genitals during oral sex. But you don’t hear most people saying that they “have herpes” just because they carry the virus HSV1 and occasionally get cold sores.
- Explain to him/her that there are many types of herpes, and that one of the most common is HSV1 – which is usually the cause of “cold sores” around the mouth. Up to 80% of the US population already has HSV1 and got it sometime during their childhood from kissing, etc. HSV1 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. HSV2 is just a different strain of this same common virus.
- Because HSV2 is so common – yet so few people who have it have been properly diagnosed – it is possible that your friend might already have the virus and not know it. And even if he/she doesn’t have it, odds are that 1 in every 4 of his/her previous sexual partners had 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 blood tests for HSV2 (and/or HSV1). Click here for information on herpes blood tests.
- Sleeping with someone who has HSV2 does NOT mean that you are automatically going to get it, too. There are many couples in which one partner has HSV2 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 1 in 4 people with herpes who don’t KNOW that they have it and are taking NO precautions.
- Herpes is just a virus. It does not define who you are. 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, you are doing your friend a favor by educating him/her about herpes. Even if he/she decides not to move forward in the relationship, he/she is only deciding to reject the herpes – not you personally. But you also might be pleasantly surprised at his/her 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: If you tell someone that you have genital herpes – and they don’t seem to care or want to know more about it – and they want to sleep with you anyway without using protection – this is a bad sign. Many people have other STDs but show no symptoms, don’t get tested for STDs between partners, and think they are “clean” when in fact, they are not. 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, your friend will think more highly of you for being so honest with him/her and showing that you care about his/her health. 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 InSpot that can send them an anonymous email (if you have their email address). For more info, go to http://www.inspot.org/