Cold sore confessions
When’s the right time to tell your partner you have herpes?
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 12/01/2011
I was devastated and ashamed to recently learn from my gynecologist that I have genital herpes. I’m 24, single and have had only three sexual partners in my life. I’m smart, educated, careful and never believed that getting any kind of sexually transmitted disease could ever happen to me.
Having visited an infectious disease specialist and received the medical knowledge and medication I need, I’m gradually becoming more adjusted to my situation. The problem, though, is that I want to start dating again and being sexual, but I can’t bear the thought of telling future partners.
My doctor said the surest way to reduce the risk of transmitting it is to avoid sexual contact during an active outbreak, use condoms for sexual contact between outbreaks and take Valacyclovir daily. I’m willing to do all of this to keep my sexual partners safe and, therefore, I don’t see why I have to admit its existence, especially in the beginning of the relationship.
For many, the social and emotional impact of herpes is greater than the physical suffering. The diagnosis of genital herpes can raise intense feelings, such as embarrassment, shame, anger and sadness, especially in the first few weeks or months. If these feelings aren’t dealt with properly, depression or anxiety can occur. I’m glad to know that your negative feelings are slowly lessening as a result of receiving accurate information, care and support from medical professionals, and that you’re beginning to start living a normal emotional and social life again.
Herpes simplex is a common virus that, fortunately, is manageable most of the time. In the US, about 50 to 80 percent of adults have oral herpes (cold sores) and 1 in 5 has genital herpes. If this number sounds surprising, it’s because many people aren’t aware they’re infected if their symptoms are too mild or if the virus is mistaken for another skin condition.
Herpes can be uncomfortable but generally doesn’t cause dangerous infections in healthy adults. Having genital herpes, however, makes it easier to acquire and/or transmit HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and may present risks to pregnant women and infants if proper precautions aren’t taken.
There are several days throughout the year when herpes can be spread even when no symptoms are present. This is called asymptomatic shedding. Therefore, while one doesn’t need to be socially or emotionally crippled by the virus, it needs to be taken seriously. In a sexual relationship, your partner’s risk of contracting the infection from you will never be nonexistent, even if medication is taken, condoms are used and sexual contact is avoided during outbreaks.
While it’s best to let friendships develop in advance of romance, waiting to divulge a condition such as genital herpes until after you’ve become sexually intimate can cause the medical issue to become mixed up in feelings of anger and mistrust. The result of not divulging your medical status may result in the loss of a potential relationship that might otherwise have survived. Telling a partner that you have a sexually transmitted disease is only a small part of the beginning of the relationship and, thus, being open and honest is essential to the relationship’s future.
In addition to showing respect and concern for his well-being, telling your partner allows him to make an informed choice and to be part of the decision about how the two of you can reduce risk. When you tell your partner, be prepared to answer questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, contact the National Herpes Hotline at (919) 361-8488 or call your doctor.
Although societal attitudes are important, the attitude of a chosen partner matters much more. Some men are going to react negatively and their rejection/condemnation can be devastating. If your partner decides not to pursue a relationship with you just because you have herpes, it’s best to find this out as soon as possible. Others may reveal that they have herpes, too. Some may accept your news and want to continue a long-term relationship. What’s important for you to remember is that it’s your overall values, morals and ego-strengths which are the cornerstone of attracting friends and lovers who will want to have you in their lives. In a great majority of cases, herpes does not stand in the way of successful, enduring relationships.