Herpes and Telling Your Family
As we all know, talking about having herpes is often harder than actually living with the virus. One of the most common questions that come up on this site is how to effectively tell one’s partners that he/she has herpes. However, we rarely discuss the issue of telling one’s family, which, for some, can be just as stressful.
How (or whether) to tell your family about herpes really depends on each family and your relationships within it. If you are close to your family, I would definitely recommend telling them. Assuming they are normally helpful and supportive, they will probably be exactly that when you tell them about your condition. When I found out I had herpes, I didn’t have much choice about telling my family. I had gone to my mom’s gynecologist, completely unsuspecting that the mild skin rash on my butt was herpes. When my mom got the bill, she (understandably) relentlessly inquired about the lab test and resulting large balance. My sister knew my situation and offered to tell my parents that she had HPV, which she hadn’t told them yet, so that I wouldn’t be alone. Sisters are great, aren’t they? Soon enough my whole immediate family knew.
The advantage of telling my family is that they can listen to me and help me when I’m upset or feeling ill with symptoms. In addition, they keep their eyes out for news about herpes and always pass along articles they see that pertain to the disease. If I ever have a child, I will definitely tell him/her so that he/she could learn from my mistakes. I won’t deny that it’s an awkward topic to discuss with one’s family (daddy’s little girl has herpes), but I will say it gets easier with time.
If you are not close to your family you may find it’s better not to tell them about your herpes, or at least to be cautious about how much information you give. For example, years after I got herpes I told my mom that I had met a guy I liked who, although coming from a totally different social class, had a lot in common with me. She replied by asking: "What could you possibly have in common? STDs?!" Gee, thanks, Mom. Another time, one of my sisters was angry with me so she said I was a "slut who deserved to get diseases". These are harsh and powerful words coming from people who are supposed to love and support you. How do I deal with it? I guess I can only stay realistic and remind myself that people aren’t perfect and don’t always make the best choices nor say the nicest things. In other words, they were just being bitches and whatever was ailing them so much that they felt the need to say such nasty things to me is really a deeper problem inside them. I don’t need to waste my energy on it. If you have people in your life who might use personal information to try and hurt you, I advise you to think twice before telling them you have herpes. Otherwise, you may have to develop some tough skin.
If you choose to tell your family about herpes, there are a few general guidelines about how and when to tell. Just as with telling a partner, I think it’s a good idea to tell your family when you are in a safe, private location and when you all have plenty of time to talk about it. For example, you might not want to tell your brother while you’re at the hardware store looking for light bulbs. Also, try to avoid situations in which people already may feel tense or there may be other expectations. You wouldn’t want to be at the Thanksgiving dinner table and say: "Hey Dad, could ya pass the gravy? Oh, and I have herpes". Unless they have a really good sense of humor, it would probably ruin the spirit of the event. Also like telling your partner, it is a good idea to be well informed about herpes before discussing it with others. Do some research so that if they have any questions, you will be able to answer them.
Unlike telling your partner, the great thing about telling your family (and friends, for that matter), is that this is your chance to cry and be upset. Not that you should lose your head about it, but if you are feeling down, these are the people who will help you and make you feel better. Crying and being upset in front of a potential lover, however, will most likely scare him/her away. But if your family is part of your support network, let the emotions flow.
Have you told your family you have herpes? Has someone in your family told you that he/she has herpes? What were the reactions?
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.