WHEN WE LOOKED UP the statistics on how common herpes is, the math don’t add up: If one in six people had genital herpes, how did you end up being one of them? If you do some Google searches it will help open your eyes to the powerful and invisible stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases.
This cultural stigma is what keeps people from chatting about herpes the way they discuss allergies—we associate herpes with liars, cheaters, and the rampantly promiscuous. You wondered if this was some karmic punishment on your values and the way you have lived your life.
On a logical level we all knew that getting herpes had nothing to do with our actions and don't say anything about our character; it was simply luck of the draw. But I know this is easier to know than to actually believe.
Herpes is not a BIG Deal, but it’s a small BIG Deal..
I want to make this one point very clear. Just because you have herpes does not mean you are "dirty" or "damaged goods." There are many other STDs out there, and most are a more serious health risk than herpes, if undiagnosed.
Genital herpes is a contagious viral infection that remains permanently in the nerve cells. Herpes can be caused by a very common virus that most adults in the US already have in their system (especially HSV-1).
Many people are unaware they have it, because they don't experience symptoms or because they attribute the symptoms to something else.
During an outbreak, blisters or sores appear on or around the genital area. Some people never experience a second outbreak.
When and how to reveal the "herpes secret" is a top of the mind question for anyone who has contracted the virus. I wish I had the space to cover this topic on this blog post, but I don’t. Here’s some real advice on how to handle this super sensitive topic.
Having the "Talk"
Everyone who is sexually active should be talking to their partners about their sexual histories, and STD status, BEFORE they become sexually intimate.
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.
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?
If you go out on two to three 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? If you are interesting in them, let’s them know about your status.
Speak confidently about it: It’s not the end of the world.
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 to your potential partner(s).
But when you tell them on your terms, with confidence and cleverness instead of shaking hands and shame. You are immediately positioned to get a better response.
They can make a decision to proceed or not, based on learning the facts and not seeing you become emotional and upset. 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.
Use the word “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.
Tell them that sleeping with someone who has genital herpes does NOT mean that you are automatically going to get it, too.
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.
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!
If they are truly interested in you, this is one way to find out:
Tell him/her to 30 minutes 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 online. Ask him 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.
They can take immune-boosting supplements (even though research on supplements to prevent herpes is inconclusive) and made sure you are taking his herpes medication, which decreases chances of transmission as well as frequency of outbreaks — and then you both go about your sex live without fretting too much. Condoms are going to be key. You both need to decide to be mostly monogamous, agreeing that you would only see each other.
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. I’ve seen it happen.
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.