Why Your Herpes May Not Be Your Partner's Fault

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Two common beliefs stem from the same misconception about getting herpes. The first is believing that your partner lied to you about having herpes because you've had your first outbreak, so you must have gotten it from them. The second is that your partner must have cheated on you since you have just been diagnosed with genital herpes.

Young romantic couple in bed
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Clearing Up the Misconception

In some cases, these beliefs may be true. People do lie about their infection status and cheat on their partners. However, your partner may not have cheated or realized they had herpes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), herpes is often asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms), or the symptoms are so minor that most people don't know that they're even infected.

A person may never find out unless they get screened or one of their partners has a first herpes outbreak and sends them to get tested. In other words, when someone says, "I didn't know I had herpes," they may be telling you the truth.

As for the assumption that your partner cheated on you, there are problems with that too. People who are infected with herpes are more infectious at certain times than others.

Asymptomatic shedding does occur, but not at the same levels all the time. That means that transmission of the virus could occur one night or one year (or more) into a sexual relationship.​

Talk to Your Partner

If you've just had your first herpes outbreak, you are understandably upset. You're probably in significant discomfort. You may feel "ruined" or otherwise shamed by the social stigma surrounding the diagnosis.

However, when you talk to your partner about your diagnosis, try to do so calmly and without accusations. It's possible that your partner did not know that they were already infected.

It's also possible that you came into the relationship infected and only now had your first herpes outbreak. In the United States, almost one in six adults has herpes, so it's somewhat common.

This is one of the reasons pre-relationship discussions about safe sex and sexual history are a good idea. Screening isn't something you do to weed out potential partners. It's something you do so that you can make informed decisions about your sexual risk. Informed decisions are less likely to be ones that you'll regret.

See Your Healthcare Provider Right Away

Because your first outbreak can cause prolonged symptoms, even if it doesn't seem that bad, the CDC recommends that everyone who has their first herpes outbreak receive an antiviral regimen to help manage the symptoms. Call your healthcare provider as soon as you notice symptoms to get started.

It Will Be OK

If you're having your first herpes outbreak, take a breath. Being diagnosed with herpes is not the end of the world, though it may feel like it now.

Living with herpes can be difficult, both physically and emotionally, but it is possible to live a full and happy life with the virus. No matter how hard it seems right now, a herpes diagnosis is not the end of your life. It's also not the end of your love life, and don't let anyone tell you differently.

A Word From Verywell

A genital herpes diagnosis is not a reason to stay in a bad or unhealthy relationship. If your partner is pressuring you to stay in a relationship by telling you that no one will want you now that you are infected with herpes, it isn't true.

Furthermore, such implied threats may be a sign that your relationship is or is becoming abusive. Discuss your situation with a local counseling professional who you trust, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the incubation period for genital herpes?

    The average incubation period for genital herpes is four days, but it can range from two to 12 days from the date of exposure.

  • How can you prevent giving herpes to your partner?

    There are several ways to help prevent transmission of herpes to a partner, such as consistently using condoms during sexual activity. But remember that this does not completely eliminate the risk. Abstaining from sexual activity during outbreaks and taking a daily antiviral medication will also reduce the risk of transmitting herpes to your partner.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Genital Herpes: How Can You Prevent the Spread of Herpes in Sexual Relationships? Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2018.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD Facts - Genital herpes (detailed version). Reviewed July 22, 2021.

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