First Herpes Outbreak: Why It May Not Be Your Partner's Fault

Most people don't even know they have herpes

young couple with flashlights
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There seem to be two common beliefs that 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 him or her. The second is that your partner must have cheated on you since you have just been diagnosed with genital herpes.

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 he or she had herpes and here's why:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), herpes is so often asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms) or the symptoms are so minor that most people don't know that they're even infected. They 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 he or she was 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 screening and 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 Doctor 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 doctor as soon as you notice symptoms to get started.

It Will Be Okay

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. Please consider contacting a domestic abuse hotline or discussing your situation with a local counseling professional whom you trust.

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