Telling Your Partner, Gender and Acceptance
Maybe I’m picky or maybe I’m hard to be in a relationship with, but for whatever reason lately I seem to change partners about as often as I change my Facebook status. Due to the moderately high turnover, and my resolution to always inform my partners about having herpes before any sexual contact, I’ve been able to really develop the art of telling a partner. One thing I’ve noticed is that it gets easier with time. I remember the first few times it felt like such a big deal. Now it’s just standard procedure - like which side of the bed I prefer to sleep on - it’s a simple detail about myself they ought to know if they want to be intimate with me.
One of my best friends, I’ll call her Julie*, is also a single woman with herpes and an active sex life. She has always been clear about telling her partners she has herpes before having sex with them and, like me, she has rarely been rejected because of it. Whenever one of us meets a new man, we always ask what his reaction was to the disclosure of our most personal secret. Although all slightly different, the general response seems to be "I don’t know much about it"but I’m okay with it." I can’t blame them for being ignorant. I mean, I can’t say I know much about Chlamydia, Hepatitis or other STDs I’ve never experienced personally. But I’m always just a little surprised about their willingness to expose themselves to a disease they aren’t informed about, or sometimes their reluctance to ask me questions. Maybe ignorance really is bliss? This phenomenon makes me even more willing to tell new partners about herpes. If we all expose how prevalent it is and how life with herpes goes on, then the general population may become better informed and less afraid of it. Believe me, I used to never tell partners until we got to a more serious place. But now that I always tell, I realize how easy it is and how accepting other people usually are. So for the sake of all of us with herpes, I urge you to discuss herpes with your partners. Spread the word that this is a common disease that affects all types of people, not just those in the underbelly of society, as often thought.
(* You didn’t think I’d use her real name, did you?)
When discussing herpes with other female friends, both Julie and I have found that they were much less accepting than the men we’ve encountered. I’m not one to make generalizations about large groups of people, but a few girl friends I know have expressed their reluctance to continue seeing a hypothetical partner if he had herpes. While several men I’ve told responded that they liked me even more because, according to them, telling them showed my maturity, women don’t seem to be as understanding. Is it because women are more susceptible to catching STDs, and therefore are more cautious with taking risks? Are women generally more health-conscious due to the many health and beauty magazines around us? Do women see herpes as a sign of promiscuity and/or infidelity? Or is this just a mere coincidence in my experience and circle of friends?
What do you think? Is there a gender difference in how people react to herpes?
Are you someone with herpes who has experienced what it’s like to tell a female partner about your disease? If so, please tell me about it
Penelope wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Sexual Health.