Living With Herpes

Living with herpes in Philadelphia: you likely have many questions and concerns about your recent herpes diagnosis, such as those listed below.  You will work it through, but not without talking it through — an essential first step.  So talk with your healthcare provider, a trusted friend, a sex therapist, or join a support group.  Remember, millions of Americans with herpes live enjoyable lives.  You will, too.

Should I tell my partner that I am living with herpes? This is a personal decision.  Some people tell all of their potential partners, while others keep their herpes a secret.  Though keeping it a secret will spare you from having an uncomfortable conversation and might diminish the risk of rejection, the disadvantages of keeping such a secret often outweigh the advantages.  If you don’t tell, the burden of protecting your partner is solely on you.  This may include avoiding sex during breakouts, then lying about your reasons.  Should your partner later find out about your living with herpes, issues of trust will likely arise.  Your partner may feel betrayed that you lied, insulted that you didn’t give him/her the opportunity to have a mature discussion about sexually transmitted infections before becoming sexual, angry that you knowingly put them at risk without their knowledge, etc.  Ask yourself what you’d like to happen if the positions were switched.  Would you want your partner to disclose his/her herpes to you?  Would you be angry of someone knowingly put you at risk, and didn’t respect you enough to tell you?

When should I tell my date, that I am living with herpes? This is a judgment call.  Ideally you’ll tell a potential partner about your herpes AFTER the relationship has developed a bit, but BEFORE you enter into a sexual relationship.  Once you’ve determined that you like this partner, want to pursue a sexual relationship, and find them trustworthy, the time to tell is upon you.  Try to be matter-of-fact and relaxed about it.  Don’t present it as an apology or confession, but merely as a fact.  You might say “I really want to get closer to you, but before we become sexual, let’s talk about safer sex.  I learned I have genital herpes.”  Keep in mind that people’s reactions are often influenced by the presentation.  If you make it a big deal, they’re more likely to.  If you talk about it rationally and calmly, partners are more likely to take it in stride.

Will I be rejected because I am living with herpes? Some people may overreact to the disclosure, while others may not blink an eye.  Others still may say “wow…what a relief because I have herpes, too!”  Whatever their reaction, you can be proud that you’ve behaved responsibly, respectfully, and appropriately.  By disclosing your herpes, you are communicating that you respect yourself, you respect your partners, and you’re not afraid to talk about difficult issues.  My guess is you’d want a partner with those very same qualities.  Keep in mind that you’ve likely had a long time to process your feelings about herpes, while this may be the first time your partner is thinking about it.  Be prepared to educate your partners about herpes, offer them educational materials or resources, and most importantly, give them time and space to process their own feelings and make their own decisions.

This tip was developed for Sex Therapy in Philadelphia / the Center for Growth, Inc.