Breaking the News
Have you just met someone who you’d like to be (or have already been) intimate with and want to tell him/her you have herpes? Once you’ve educated yourself about herpes and picked the ideal location/situation to discuss your disease, then it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. Although everyone reacts differently to this type of news, there may be some things you can do to have a successful discussion.
Most importantly, while talking to your partner, is to stay calm. Your partner will probably take his/her emotional cues from you, so you should be careful about the way you comport yourself. If you are upset and assuming he/she will reject you, then you are just increasing the odds that that will happen. Try to refrain from crying or acting like it’s the end of the world…even if that’s how you feel.
Speak confidently (being knowledgeable about herpes will help with that), and be honest and factual, not sensational or emotional. Remind him/her that you’re discussing this because you want to be fair and are concerned with his/her health. Also let your partner know how common herpes is; that there is nothing extraordinary about you having the disease. Additionally, you should be honest about the risk involved with becoming intimate with your new partner, and discuss whatever precautions you are willing to take (i.e. suppressive therapy, condoms, etc.). Finally, definitely give your partner enough time to ask his/her own questions.
Don’t know how to start? Here’s what I usually do:
In a comfortable place, far from the ears of others, I start out by telling my partner that I have something that I feel is important to tell him. Once I have his attention and he knows I’m not joking around I say, “I have herpes.” (Wow, those three words can be excruciating to get out But once they’re out it’s such a relief.) Then I ask how much he knows about herpes. Usually the answer is “not much.” I then proceed, with my arsenal of information, to describe the prevalence of herpes, the fact that people with herpes get married and have kids without transmitting it, and the fact that I, personally, have had successful relationships without passing it on. (I start out this way to calm them down a bit…no need to give the worst news first.) I then discuss the symptoms of the virus, the frequency of my outbreaks, and the methods I use to combat/prevent outbreaks. I also confirm to him that herpes has no cure. In response to the usual, “Am I at risk of getting the disease?” I respond that, “Yes, there is always a risk of getting the disease. But the risk is higher when I’m having an outbreak, and, if we are careful, we can reduce the risk.” I find that it is possible to be completely honest with someone about the implications of the disease and still have a happy ending.
After disclosing this information to your partner, it may be a good idea to find out about your partner’s current state of health. Just because you have one disease, doesn’t mean you are immune to others. To your comfort, you might find that after breaking the news about your herpes, your partner could respond with, “I have herpes too!” For me, most partners confess that they haven’t actually been tested recently. This may be a good time to ask him/her to get tested, or have both of you get tested again. Your dedication to health will show that you’re a mature individual, and will probably garner more respect from your partner. In fact, two men that I told about my herpes actually told me they liked me more after I told them because it showed what an honest and thoughtful person I was. I would advise against asking your partners about their health before discussing yours. If they feel cornered and decide to lie to you, and then you are honest with them, they may feel ashamed and run from the whole situation.
Telling a new partner that you have herpes is certainly a daunting and difficult task. Unfortunately it’s one issue that herpes carriers will have to deal with for the rest of our lives. The good news is it gets easier the more you discuss it with others…so hurry up and deal with it already! Plus, what’s really at stake here? A relationship with one person? Well if that person really likes you, he/she will come to terms with your having herpes. And if your partner can’t do that, then - at the risk of sounding clichÃ© - it’s not worth your time anyway. There are plenty of people out there who will accept your condition. Don’t be afraid to do some weeding out and find the right ones.
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.