Dating With Herpes

You Are Not Your STD

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Learning you have genital herpes can be devastating. That's particularly true when your love life is in flux. When someone is first diagnosed, the thought of dating with herpes can fill them with horrible anxiety. They may wonder if they will ever find love again.

Why is dating with herpes so stressful? After herpes diagnosis, people may be worried about being judged. They may be scared they could spread herpes to their future partners. They may simply be terrified about how they are going to face the world. Fortunately, it turns out that most of the time dating with herpes isn't nearly as scary as worrying about it. Here's why:

Herpes is Extremely Common. People May Not Be So Quick To Judge

People often worry that friends and future partners will judge them if they find out they have herpes. Truthfully, sometimes that happens. People can be quite cruel to someone after herpes diagnosis. However, they're just as, if not more, likely to be kind.

The truth is that herpes is extremely common. Genital herpes affects at least 20 percent of the population at some point during their lives. That's one in five. Because of how common it is, most people already know one or more people with herpes. They may even have it themselves. By and large, no matter how "icky" you may think a disease is, it's hard to be judgmental towards someone you love if you find out they have it.

As for potential partners, if they start getting mean, you might want to ask them if they've been tested. If they haven't, they may have the virus and not know about it. When people realize how common herpes is, how often people don't have symptoms, and that they could be infected without knowing it... It makes them much less likely to throw shade.

You Are Not Your Disease

The next trick is not judging yourself. After you've been diagnosed with herpes, it may be difficult to think about anything other than the fact that you have a disease. But that's all it is - a disease. It isn't who you are. One of the toughest things to remember when dating with herpes is that mostly it's just dating. Dating is an activity fraught with the potential for drama, pain, and heartbreak for pretty much everyone. Herpes is just one factor in the equation.

With few exceptions, people don't date solely because they want to have sex. They date because they like each other and find each other interesting and attractive. When those other things are true, a herpes diagnosis often doesn't seem like that big a deal. If you like someone enough, herpes can be just something you have to work with. Just like you have to work with a partner's snoring or their affection for mornings.

It Helps To Be Upfront About Your Diagnosis Well Before You Have Sex

One of hardest things about dating with herpes is deciding when to disclose your diagnosis to your partner. Although I generally try not to speak in absolutes, it is always a better idea to do so before you have sex. That way, your partner can make an active choice about what risks they are and are not comfortable taking.

If you wait to tell your partner that you have herpes until after you've had sex, the revelation may feel like a betrayal. You will have denied them the opportunity to make an informed decision about risk. You may also have implied that your herpes diagnosis is more important than the other things they find attractive about you.

If someone is really interested in you before you tell them you have herpes, they probably will be afterward as well. It just helps to tell them early. That makes it less likely that they'll feel exposed and/or betrayed.

How early? You don't have to do it on the first date. The timing really depends on the people involved. If you're worried about how your partner might react, talk to them about it in a safe place. You could bring it up over dinner, when you're getting near the going home together phase. Or you could have the talk while you're out for a walk, and perhaps a make-out session.

When you do have the talk, it's best to be straightforward about it. You have nothing to be ashamed of. It can be as simple as, "I like how things are going in our relationship, and I'm hoping we'll end up in bed sometime soon. Before we do, I wanted to let you know that I have genital herpes. I take suppressive therapy, and haven't had an outbreak in a while, so the risk of passing it to you is low. Still, it's not zero, so I wanted you to have a chance to think about it before we get intimate. You don't need to respond right now. When, and if, you're ready, I'm happy to talk with you more or to just send you some information."

There Are Ways To Reduce The Risk Sex Will Spread Herpes

One of the things that scares people when they're thinking about dating with herpes is the risk for potential partners. They're concerned about the possibility that they might spread herpes to someone they care about. This is a legitimate concern. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the likelihood you will spread herpes during sex. Suppressive therapy, for example, can lower the risk of transmission significantly. It's not just good for reducing the number and severity of outbreaks.

Using condoms consistently, even for oral sex, can also make a big difference in your partner's risk. Condoms and dental dams don't just make intercourse safer. They also make it less likely for you to spread herpes from your genitals to their mouth, and vice versa. Practicing safe sex is always a good choice.

When Your Partner Has Herpes

What do you do if it's not you with herpes but your partner? Hearing the news may throw you for a bit of a loop. If you're worried or upset, that's understandable. However, try not to take it out on the person who told you. Being open and honest about a herpes diagnosis isn't an easy thing to do.

It's your choice whether you want to keep dating someone after learning of their herpes diagnosis. Still, there's something to keep in mind. It's quite possible you've already dated people who had the virus. You may already have it yourself. The majority of people with herpes have no idea they are infected. Dating someone who knows they're infected, at least gives you the option of intentionally managing your risk.

Some People May Reject You.The Right Person Won't

The truth is, some people will reject you when they find out you have herpes. To quote a herpes support forum poster, "dating with herpes can be stressful." However, if you:

  1. talk about your diagnosis early,
  2. have information handy so that you can talk honestly about the actual risks and concerns of the disease,
  3. are willing to do what you can to reduce the chance you will spread herpes to your partner,

... then being diagnosed with herpes is not the end of the world.

I know numerous people with genital and oral herpes who are open about disclosing their condition. Most of them have active, happy dating and sexual lives. The truth is, it's so hard to meet the right person that dating with herpes makes it only the tiniest bit harder. Life after herpes doesn't mean life without love.

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