Herpes. For some, just the word alone can result in a rollercoaster of emotions. So to find out you have herpes, can feel really scary. But it shouldn’t be. While herpes may not be cured with an antibiotic, like other STIs, it is treatable. People don’t “suffer” from herpes; people live with it and continue to have great lives — and sex lives too.
But, as is the case with any STI you have, it is something that you need to tell your partner. If you’re going to be a responsible sexually active person in this world, you owe to yourself and everyone you sleep with, to be honest about anything you have that could possibly be transmitted to them.
“Any diagnosis of an STI can be frightening/upsetting/insert-other-not-good-feeling, but it is not the end of the world. I feel like I say that so often, but it really is the case,” Dr. Megan Stubbs, Ed.D, a sex and relationship expert, tells Bustle. When telling your partner, either potential or existing, “honesty and upfront communication is key. Try to find a neutral location for this conversation to happen. Right before bed or when you’re about to be sexual isn’t the ideal setting,” Stubbs says.
According to the Center for Disease Control, “more than one out of every six people aged 14 to 49 years have genital herpes,” also known as HSV-2, in the United States. As for oral herpes, HSV-1, that number is much higher, with the World Health Organization estimating that 3.7 billion people under 50 have it. Because oral herpes, aka cold sores, are so common, many people may not think they need to have a conversation about it with their partner — but because oral herpes can be transferred to the genitals, it’s still a conversation that needs to happen.
“It just takes that skin on skin contact to transmit the virus, so when we think about oral sex, we need to think about our oral herpes,” Dr. Stubbs says. “Again, this may take some time for them to process. Herpes is so common, but some people may still be unaware of the finer details of the virus… it’s something that you should disclose to your partner so that they can make informed decisions regarding their own sexual wellbeing.”
It should also be noted that if you have herpes, genital or otherwise, it’s not as though you will be walking around with sores for the rest of your life, but there is no cure. According to the Mayo Clinic, herpes treatment comes in the forms of prescription antiviral medications like Acyclovir (Zovirax) and Valacyclovir (Valtrex). These medications not only help to heal sores faster than they would without them but also help to prevent future outbreaks, as well as the severity of those outbreaks. While medications also minimize the chance of transmitting the virus to others, there is still no guarantee, and wearing condoms, even if there isn’t a current outbreak, is always necessary.
With that in mind, find a cozy place, get your facts straight, and tell your partner you need to have a chat, start with:
- I just had a checkup.
- I have a diagnosis of herpes.
- This means we need to have to talk bout it.
After that, here’s exactly what to say to a partner if you find out you have herpes.
1. Tell Them Before You Have Sex
Although telling your current partner you have herpes before you have sex the next time is likely to be a little more difficult than telling a new partner, it still has to be done.
“It’s great to have this conversation before you engage in any sexual activity,” Dr. Stubbs says. “For an existing partner, this can be trickier. Assuming you both were tested before you became sexual partners, this may be a larger conversation than just revealing your status. Was there cheating involved? Was there an exposure during group play? Have you been sexual with your partner since then?”
Let them know as soon as you find out and definitely before you are sexual again. You just need to put it out there and tell them you have herpes — and do it before you get into bed with each other. As Dr. Stubbs points out, a neutral spot is really the best option. The bedroom should be free of all serious talks anyway — that’s a place for dirty talk and sexual fun.
2. Tell Them About The Virus
If you’ve been diagnosed with herpes, not only were you probably sent home with a pamphlet, but you probably got on your computer and did your own research for hours. Dr. Stubbs suggests telling your partner about the virus and giving them the facts. A good place to start is with statistics, so your partner realizes just how common herpes is.
There are two types of herpes: HSV-1 and HSV-2. The World Health Organization estimates that, globally, 3.7 billion people under 50 have HSV-1, while 417 million people between 15 and 49 have HSV-2. The difference between the two strains of herpes is that HSV-1 is contracted and transmitted orally, and the outbreak is a cold sore. HSV-2, on the other hand, is sexually transmitted and shows up as sores around the genitals. However, HSV-1 can cause genital herpes if there’s contact during an oral outbreak, say, if you give your partner head while you have an active cold sore.
3. Give Them Space
When you tell your partner, either current or new, that you have herpes, there’s no way to know how they’ll react. For a current partner, this could open up a whole conversation about fidelity or past partners, while in both cases there might be a bit of a shock. Because of the stigma surrounding herpes, it’s important to give your partner space after you have the talk.
“Let them think about it,” Stubbs. “Don’t pressure them for an answer right away. They may want to do their own research on it.”
Some people buy into the stigma and, even after telling them all the facts, may choose to keep their distance. If that’s the case, let them do that. It’s their loss; not yours.
4. Talk About STI Screening
Let this conversation open the door to STI screening. Anyone who’s sexually active should consider regular STI screening because condoms aren’t foolproof and, honestly, you just never know.
“Often times you can be asymptomatic and not know you have the virus,” Dr. Stubbs says. “So even if your partner isn’t exhibiting any symptoms, it’s best to be tested.”
STI screenings are quick and easy. They’re also something we should all do for ourselves and our partners, no matter if they’re casual, short-term, or long-term.
5. Allow Yourself And Your Partner To Be Emotional
“Herpes can bring up a lot of emotions, especially when it comes to our sexual partners,” Dr. Stubbs says. Since that’s the case, let yourself be emotional! It’s OK! We have emotions for a reason and that reason is to feel them, then express them. But it’s also important to keep things in perspective.
“Being informed, upfront, and honest with your diagnosis is the best thing you can do for yourself and your partnership,” Dr. Stubbs says.
6. Tell Them This Really Isn’t The End Of The World
More than anything, make sure your partner truly realizes this isn’t the end of the world — not for you, not for them, and certainly not for your sex life together. It’s simply an STI that you have, something that you take medication for, and something you both need to be aware of when having sex.
“Genital herpes will not ruin your sex life,” Dr. Sheila Loanzon, a board-certified OB-GYN and author of Yes, I Have Herpes, tells us. “This diagnosis has the opportunity to cause isolation and destroy the possibility of future relationships if you let it. While the virus may seem catastrophic to some, in terms of disclosure to future partners, outbreak management, and cultural stigmatization of the virus, there are numerous HSV positive men and women (who are publicly sharing their virus status on social media), who are in fulfilling and loving sexual relationships.” And Dr. Loanzon says this as both a doctor and a woman with herpes.
“As a single woman dating, I have actually found that after disclosure it has not made a difference to my partners what my positive status was,” Dr. Loanzon says. “They would like to get to know me as a person.”
Definitely not the end of the world at all.
Finding out you have herpes isn’t easy. Nor is telling your partner. But it still has to be done. So take a deep breath, find a neutral place, and just tell them with clarity and honesty. It’s likely to go smoother than you imagined.