It is important to let someone you are dating know that you have herpes, and that there is some risk of transmission, as soon as there is the potential for intimacy. (Learn More)
You will need to navigate the conversation carefully. Knowing what you are going to say and how ahead of time can be helpful. (Learn More)
The herpes simplex virus (HSV) is extremely common. There are two main forms: HSV-1 and HSV-2.
HSV-1 typically involves sores around the mouth, while HSV-2 involves the genitals. Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the United States. One out of every six people between the ages of 14 and 49 has it.
Herpes is not curable, but it is typically easily managed through antiviral medications, and you can go long stretches without any symptoms or an outbreak. This does not mean that you are not contagious, however.
You can pass herpes on to a partner through skin-to-skin contact even when you are not showing any symptoms. Genital herpes can be transmitted through sexual contact, and oral herpes can be passed by kissing. Herpes can also be passed via oral sex.
Condoms and dental dams offer protection, but there is still some risk of transmitting herpes even with protective barriers. (Learn More)
Since herpes can easily be passed through sexual contact and has no cure, you must let a potential partner know about the risk. You can then both take steps to reduce transmission.
Navigating Herpes With a Partner
It can feel like having herpes comes with major stigma, but it can help to recognize just how common the virus is. It does not define you. There are many things you can do to manage the disease and keep outbreaks to a minimum. Antiviral medications can prevent and manage outbreaks, for example.
You will need to avoid sexual intercourse during an outbreak if sores are present. This includes anal, oral, and vaginal sex.
Using a latex condom when you are symptom-free can help to prevent transmission of herpes. However, the virus can passed through the skin and parts that are not covered by a condom, so this is not a completely risk-free method of protection. This is part of why it is important to ensure that your partner is aware of the risks and how you are managing the disease.
The Right Time to Talk About Herpes While Dating
Remember that having herpes is just one aspect of you, so it is not something you need to disclose right away. However, it is essential that you share this information with a potential sexual partner.
It may be best to give it a few dates to get to know each other before jumping into the conversation. If, however, you plan to have sex on the first date or very early on, you may need to have the talk sooner.
It is common to fear rejection over the idea of talking about your herpes. It can be tempting to not disclose it, just avoid sex during an outbreak, and always use protection. This can lead to more issues and stress and is likely to end badly. It is also unfair to your partner.
Give them factual information about herpes, and present it in an open and honest manner early on. Most of the time, people are going to respect your honesty and be receptive to the conversation.
How to Have a Discussion About Herpes
Since a conversation involving an STD is bound to be emotionally charged, there are some right and wrong ways to go about it. Below are some tips for having a conversation about herpes with someone you are dating.
- Educate yourself. It is important to go into the discussion with as much knowledge as possible, so you can accurately field any questions that may be asked.
- Have the conversation in a quiet and comfortable location away from prying ears. This way, you will feel more open and less worried about those around you who might eavesdrop.
- Talk about herpes before you are in a sexually charged situation. Don’t wait until sex is imminent. Have the conversation before you get to that point.
- Present the facts, and talk about how you are managing the virus. Let them know if you are taking medications that help to manage your outbreaks and that you are symptom-free most of the time, for instance.
- Be straightforward and transparent. Being direct and open can go a long way in a difficult and potentially emotional conversation.
- Watch your language. Avoid words like disease, scary, and other negative language. Instead, offer positive language that helps to show how manageable and generally mild the infection is.
- It can be helpful to script out what you are going to say ahead of time to make it easier when the time comes.
- Your expectations and attitude can temper the conversation. Try not to project what you think they might say or how they will act. If you go into it expecting rejection, that may make that outcome more likely.
- Let them come to their own conclusions. Don’t tell them what to say, think, or feel. Be upbeat and honest while allowing them to come around on their own.
- Try to be calm and keep your emotions in check as much as you can.
- Give the person space and time to think about and respond to you at a later time. They may need time to process the information you’ve given them. The right person will generally be accepting.
Having herpes does not mean that you can’t date or have sex. Most of the time, the people you choose to surround yourself with are going to be understanding. Go into the conversation about herpes with confidence knowing that you are a good person with real value and that herpes is merely something you live with.
If the person is unable to see your worth beyond the fact that you suffer from a very common STD, they are likely not worth your time anyway. Herpes does not have to be a deal-breaker in a relationship if you are honest and handle the conversation with respect.
Herpes Basics. (September 2015). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How to Tell Someone You Have Herpes. (August 2018). Women’s Health.
Herpes and Relationships. (2014). New Zealand Herpes Foundation.
To Tell or Not to Tell. (2014). New Zealand Herpes Foundation.
How to Tell Someone You Have Herpes. (October 2016). Self.