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My boyfriend just told me that he has genital herpes. Now what?
April 23, 2010 12:03 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend of four months just told me that he has genital herpes. Now what?

Last night my boyfriend told me that he has genital herpes. We’ve been sexually active for four months, often without using condoms. He is on medication for it, and hasn’t had an outbreak in years. This morning I went to be tested for STDs.

I realize that herpes is very, very common. I have oral herpes, and get a cold sore about once every few years. I feel very hypocritical being angry at him for not telling me, because I never told him that I have HSV-1. I also know that most (all?) blood tests cannot distinguish between HSV-1 or HSV-2, or determine whether the mouth or genitals are affected. So my STD test is probably going to be useless in determining if he transmitted HSV-2 to me, and I’ll have to wait for symptoms. But some people never show signs of the virus—will I have to tell all of my future partners that I have been exposed to herpes and may or may not be carrying the virus?

I am incredibly angry. He needed to tell me before we ever started having sex, and the fact that he hasn’t told me until now makes me believe that he does not care about my health and well-being. I’ve read past threads about this subject from the opposite perspective, and I realize that this is a difficult thing to tell someone. However, he is well-educated (he volunteers at Planned Parenthood) and we discussed STDs and forms of birth control before we began having sex. He had a chance to tell me then, and every day since then for four months.

My trust has been decimated by this news, but I’ve had issues trusting him in the past. He has cheated on me once before when he was very drunk. He told me, but a day later—after we had sex and potentially exposed me to STDs. Red flags, right?

I realize this is a deal breaker for most people. I realize that herpes isn’t life-threatening, but it is a incurable infection that will affect my sexual activity in the future. And having this bomb dropped so far into the relationship leaves me feeling utterly betrayed. It seems clear that I need to DTMF, but I need your advice on how to either move on from or move forward in this relationship (positive test results or not) especially when I feel like I have no one I can talk to about all of this. Also please suggest any resources or information on dealing with herpes.

Throw away email account: throwaway9977@yahoo.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
If there really is no one you feel as though you can talk to about this, I would recommend counseling, especially if you test positive. Maybe your doctor/the clinic can refer you to someone. You don't mention your age, but if you're a college student, check out the counseling center at your school.

This is definitely a tough issue to deal with and I wish you luck.
posted by too bad you're not me at 12:07 PM on April 23, 2010


As you probably know, studies have shown that nearly 1 in 6 people are infected with HSV-2 and of those, most don't know it, so on one hand, he's an ass for not telling you, on the other, engaging in risky behavior, exposure to this is quite possible and I feel you need to accept some of the responsibility. But certainly not all of it.

As for telling your future partners, I feel you should -- if only based on your own reaction to him not telling you. There's a reason "do unto others..." is called the golden rule.

If you're angry at him, you have to talk it out immediately or end your relationship if you don't feel talking will work. You deserve to deal with this soon, and even if he's an ass, so does he. Please don't let something like this stew. You're having an emotional reaction, understandably, so if you feel that you're too wrapped up in that to make any sort of relationship decisions, then give yourself the space you need, and if he won't give it to you with little to no complaint, then I don't think he's worth it.

Try to cool down, but don't cool down too much.It seems to me, based on the information you provided, that your relationship may have some other trust/communication issues beyond just this one, fairly common STD. Don't minimize this as an issue, but also don't use this as an excuse -- for either one of you.

Good luck. I'll be sending positive thoughts your anonymous direction.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:17 PM on April 23, 2010


I came here to say what BobbyDigital already said. You both sinned as far as STD disclosure goes, but the fact that he cheated on you during your scant four months together speaks volumes aside from that.

Talk to the doc about whether they can distinguish oral and genital herpes, get some counseling, and the next time you have the STD discussion, don't omit all of your own.
posted by asciident at 12:21 PM on April 23, 2010


Wow. Trust is such a huge thing to me that I wouldn't be able to deal with a person who wasn't able to discuss their full sexual history with me. It's OK to tell someone that you don't want to know certain things about their past (my current girl does not want to know how many people I have with, but did want to know that I've been tested and am clean and we use protection) -- it's not OK to have them withhold things from you because they don't know or they don't want to admit to them.

I think, personally, that my trust would be permanently and irrevocably broken in this case. I'm sorry, but once something's broke that bad...
posted by SpecialK at 12:30 PM on April 23, 2010


Did you tell him about your STD history after he came clean? To me, that's step one.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:32 PM on April 23, 2010


Well, it already sounds like you know this relationship can't work.

He's well educated about safe sex, had unprotected sex, did not disclose, and also decided to have other partners. Basically, knowingly left you exposed.

Break up, move on. Next person you decide to be with, disclose and be real, if they can't handle it, then at least you know before it got too deep and not say, them feeling betrayed months or years after the fact.

After you handle that, before you get into another relationship/fling/etc., maybe take some time and consider what boundaries and risks you're willing to take for yourself and your health - when/where/if unprotected sex makes sense in your relationships.

The only person you can count on to protect you is you, so think about what boundaries will work and the levels of safety you want to choose to live with.
posted by yeloson at 12:34 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your feelings are natural and understandable, and you are not wrong for having them.

However.
I have oral herpes, and get a cold sore about once every few years.

Assuming you have given him blow jobs without a barrier, you have exposed him to the potential for herpes infection as well. Yes, I know you don't get them very often, but herpes is transmissible in the prodromal phase, before you get the actual sore.

the fact that he hasn’t told me until now makes me believe that he does not care about my health and well-being

Is this the reason why you didn't tell him about your cold sores? If not, then maybe you shouldn't assume it's true for him either.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:41 PM on April 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


Take a deep breath. You have three separate issues to deal with.

One: he has genital herpes, and now you may as well. Definitely keep doing the things you're doing, to find out if you now have it, and get it treated as much as such treatment exists.

Two: he didn't take the simplest precautions against passing this to you, or (if you are female) getting you pregnant, and while telling you of his condition may be difficult, there is no excuse for not taking those precautions while working up the nerve to tell you. This tells you a great deal about his character, and frankly, were I in your shoes (and in a relationship so short) I would absolutely move on -- after all, what other risks might he knowingly expose you to in the future? However...

Three: you didn't take the simplest precautions against him having some kind of disease, or (if you are female) getting pregnant. In this day and age, not knowing he has a disease isn't much of an excuse. If you cannot forgive him for his poor judgement, you must also accept that you have also exercised poor judgement, and going forward you should change your sexual habits accordingly (that is, use protection from the get-go) whether it's with this person as your partner or not.

Good luck, I hope this turns into a false alarm for you (genital-wise) so that you can chalk it up as a life lesson and protect yourself in the future.
posted by davejay at 12:46 PM on April 23, 2010


1. I am so, so sorry.

2. There are a LOT of resources for genital herpes. And even before those, gGet tested first -- maybe you were fortunate and he wasn't shedding when you were exposed. If you are positive for the strain, you'll live, you'll just need to make some adjustments to your life. (Including, obviously, warning future sexual partners.)

3. Um, you know you should dump him, like immediately, right? Knowingly transmitting an STD is actually criminal behavior in some states. It is also not a breach of trust that I think you should overlook.
posted by bearwife at 12:50 PM on April 23, 2010


He is on medication for it, and hasn’t had an outbreak in years.

You need to talk to a counselor. I wish you could sue him for damages. I don't know if you can, but I would do that if I were you.
posted by anniecat at 12:52 PM on April 23, 2010


Um, you know you should dump him, like immediately, right? Knowingly transmitting an STD is actually criminal behavior in some states.

Um, she did the same thing. Do you suggest her boyfriend turn her in? *confused*
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:53 PM on April 23, 2010


Oops, missed that part about you having oral herpes as well. Apply my concerns about him not protecting his partner to yourself as well, and act accordingly going forward.
posted by davejay at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2010


Also, you need to end your relationship with him immediately. He is incredibly selfish and stupid. Make no excuses for him. You need to get rid of this guy.
posted by anniecat at 1:00 PM on April 23, 2010


Red flags!!! Red Flags!!!

Entirely regardless of the serious issue that he willingly exposed you to a potentially dangerous disease without your knowledge, he has still shown he is totally untrustworthy.

(a) He did not disclose the herpes situation, and (b) he cheated on you!

You cannot be expected to build a serious and long-term committed relationship with a person you cannot trust, and with a person who is unwilling to communicate important and vital information truthfully. Good relationships are built on trust, honesty, and effective communication. He seems to lack all of these qualities.

You're only four months into this situation, so your investment is not huge. Situations like this one will be a lot more painful once you've already committed years of time and energy into a relationship. You deserve someone who is willing to engage you on a level playing field, and he does not seem capable of providing this.

DTMFA.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 1:02 PM on April 23, 2010


You don't say how old you are, but the last time I got tested I was told that the risk of infection for women goes way WAY down after your late 20s. Something about sensitive cervical cells sloughing off as you get older. Not to excuse your BF, whom you should dump, but it may put your mind at ease a bit until you get your results.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on April 23, 2010


There certainly are typed blood tests and they are not difficult to get, you just have to ask for one specifically and be firm about it. That said, it would be more or less useless to you, because a) you already have oral herpes (and don't know what type it is), and b) your boyfriend's genital herpes is statistically almost as likely to be Type 1 as it is to be Type 2 (that's what comes of kids these days and their craaaazy oral sexin').

You can take a cold comfort in the fact that you are much less likely to display symptoms of genital herpes (of either type) if you have already been infected orally.
posted by telegraph at 1:08 PM on April 23, 2010


rhizome you're thinking of HPV, not HSV.
posted by telegraph at 1:08 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I’ve never explicitly told a partner that I very infrequently get cold sores for two reasons:
1)I honestly never knew that oral herpes can be transmitted to a partner’s genitals during oral sex.
2)Both medically and socially, genital herpes carries a lot more weight in my book. Oral infections are generally less severe, more common, and don’t carry the stigma of being an STD.

I am going to tell him that I have herpes.

Also, I’ve been on the pill for several years now. We used condoms in the beginning of our relationship, and then started using them again about a month ago because I was on antibiotics (they reduce the effectiveness of hormone contraceptive). I realize that I was risking exposure to STDs by not insisting on consistent condom usage, but I was NOT risking pregnancy.
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on April 23, 2010


For those who want to know, some info about oral herpes and genital herpes.

And I'm not willing to treat the OP as just like her BF unless she exposed him to genital infection through, for example, oral sex. By contast, he put her at risk every time they had intercourse.
posted by bearwife at 1:29 PM on April 23, 2010


And I'm not willing to treat the OP as just like her BF unless she exposed him to genital infection through, for example, oral sex.

Jessamyn's follow-up (as well as common sense) tells us that this is the case.
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on April 23, 2010


I don't think I could stay with someone who didn't disclose this to me. How can you be expected to trust him ever again? He doesn't care about you. He only cares about his needs. He should have told you before you started having sex.

I know the oral and genital herpes are related, but to me they are in entirely different leagues.

Also, as far as I know, they can test for herpes antibodies, but this doesn't necessarily mean you have herpes. You may have been exposed, but your immune system may have fought it off.

I would run far, far away from this guy. I'm so sorry this happened to you.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:42 PM on April 23, 2010


Oral infections are generally less severe, more common, and don’t carry the stigma of being an STD.

OP, just a data point to think about: I got dumped by a partner of 6 months when I got a cold sore. I didn't tell him I had oral herpes (based on the same reasoning as you), and he reacted in the exact same way to this news as you (and other people in this thread) are reacting to your boyfriend's genital herpes [non-]disclosure. You don't get to decide if oral herpes a big deal the same way that your boyfriend doesn't get to decide if you think genital herpes is a big deal.
posted by 1VF5 at 1:49 PM on April 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Where are you guys getting that he cheated on her? He knew he had it, he's had it for awhile. As far as I can tell from the question, they are in a monogamous relationship.

Go to your gyno and explain the situation. Get tested. Get their advice. Assess your personal situation. Ask about your cold sores. I really don't know about cold sores/ oral herpes. Are they really the same thing as an STD?

Once you get some info from your doc which includes whether you are infected and how you can have a safe sexual relationship either a) with someone who has herpes or b) with someone in the future when you have herpes then you'll have more info to work from.

I think that you can have a relationship with someone under these circumstances but that there are precautions you can and should take. However, not telling you is a terrible breach of trust and also indicates that he is either in denial or has some magical thinking. At worst, he knew it would be a dealbreaker and didn't bring it up on purpose. It's a very difficult conversation to have.

Also, if he isn't currently being seen by a doctor for this you should require him be seen and get an education about what the risks are and how he can have this conversation in the future. If he doesn't have a regular doc get a recommendation from your gyno for who he should see.

How did you find out? Did he have an outbreak and was forced to tell you? I think this is a factor in your question that you haven't answered.

Good luck.
posted by amanda at 1:50 PM on April 23, 2010


Where are you guys getting that he cheated on her? He knew he had it, he's had it for awhile. As far as I can tell from the question, they are in a monogamous relationship.

"My trust has been decimated by this news, but I’ve had issues trusting him in the past. He has cheated on me once before when he was very drunk."
posted by Justinian at 1:56 PM on April 23, 2010


Ah, thanks Justinian -- I swear I read it carefully! Clearly not.
posted by amanda at 2:44 PM on April 23, 2010


And I agree, Justinian, that probably OP exposed her BF to genitally transmitted herpes via oral sex. Though apparently unknowingly in the sense she didn't realize she was doing that, per what jessamyn tells us.

But, I still think the big problem here is BF, who apparently did know he was exposing OP to risk of getting his existing genital herpes.
posted by bearwife at 3:19 PM on April 23, 2010


"My trust has been decimated by this news, but I’ve had issues trusting him in the past. He has cheated on me once before when he was very drunk."

It sounds to me like you have good reason to not trust him. If I were you, I'd be wondering what else he isn't telling you. I believe that trust is a big deal in a relationship.

Look: if you're just dating him, make sure you pay attention to clues he may be giving about other reasons not to trust him. Usually, the signs are there. Date him as long as you feel happy and safe to do so. On the other hand, if you are hoping to build a future with this man, I say think again.

He had sex with you for FOUR MONTHS while knowing he had an STD but chose not to tell you? Yikes! And he cheated on you at least once. Did he wear a condom when he cheated on you? Can you trust him if he says he did?


"I realize that herpes isn’t life-threatening, but..."

Herpes isn't life threatening, but a lack of trustworthiness is threatening in many, many ways. It threatens your future. It threatens your happiness. It's already threatening your relationship.

If it were me, I'd end the relationship.

Best of luck to you.
posted by 2oh1 at 3:31 PM on April 23, 2010


[few comments removed - please leave the judgeme tone someplace else, thanks]
posted by jessamyn at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2010


There is a difference because:
1) OP didn't know she could transmit it orally. Not that ignorance is necessarily okay, but it's not horribly unreasonable for her not to have known this, especially given the state of sex ed in the US (ugh).
2) BF did know he could transmit genital herpes by sexual contact. He volunteers at PP, for goodness sake!
3) Oral herpes is carried by, as someone mentioned, 80% of the population.
4) Oral herpes doesn't present itself in a nearly as cumbersome way as genital herpes, even on the genitals, in most cases.

It was wrong of OP to not tell the boyfriend that she could give him oral cold sores, bad of her not to think about the possibility of sexual transmission, but not quite as bad as person who had all the knowledge but chose not to tell her that he had an incurable STD that can also effect her childbirth (he probably knew this, since he volunteers at PP).

That knowing non-disclosure, plus the cheating thing, shows that he is careless toward OP and/or is selfish and doesn't worry about the effect of his behavior on others, and/or likes to indulge in his sexual desires without concern for others, and/or doesn't respect OP enough to have taken the necessary steps to prevent her infection.

I think the relationship is probably pretty tainted now, because of OP's non-disclosure, certainly, but mostly because of the behavior of BF. I would end the relationship. Going forward, you would need to inform your partners of your oral herpes and your exposure to genital herpes, even while you wait for tests.
posted by ishotjr at 3:37 PM on April 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


And to be clear, when I say "oral herpes" and "genital herpes," I refer to the HSV strains that most commonly effect each area.
posted by ishotjr at 3:38 PM on April 23, 2010


You know who else probably didn't know they were exposed to herpes? The woman he cheated on you with.

Why would you stay with this guy?
posted by Houstonian at 5:37 PM on April 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


So DTMFA for the cheating. Not for the herpes, which you are 100% equal with him regarding.

Despite what some people think, HSV-1 and HSV-2 are essentially interchangeable. Neither one is "genital herpes." (or "oral herpes") What makes herpes "genital herpes" or "oral herpes" is the location of the infection, not which type it is.
posted by wierdo at 6:55 PM on April 23, 2010


I am sincerely sorry you are going through this. But some points to think about...

1)I honestly never knew that oral herpes can be transmitted to a partner’s genitals during oral sex.

Maybe study the STDs you have as well as the ones you don't ever want to have before you engage in sex?


2)Both medically and socially, genital herpes carries a lot more weight in my book. Oral infections are generally less severe, more common, and don’t carry the stigma of being an STD.

Is carrying the *stigma* the reason for feeling so strongly about this? If so, it shouldn't be difficult to understand why this wasn't disclosed sooner.

If you are engaging in sex with someone you care about, and you want to be cared about as well, maybe thinking seriously about how you want to build trust in your relationships needs some thought? This may feel like a terrible time, but its an opportunity to reflect about yourself and how you want your life to be, and not be. For all you know, you may not have the STD at all! Finally, be kind to yourself and get counseling if this is really getting difficult to get past.

1) OP didn't know she could transmit it orally. Not that ignorance is necessarily okay, but it's not horribly unreasonable for her not to have known this, especially given the state of sex ed in the US (ugh).
2) BF did know he could transmit genital herpes by sexual contact. He volunteers at PP, for goodness sake!
3) Oral herpes is carried by, as someone mentioned, 80% of the population.
4) Oral herpes doesn't present itself in a nearly as cumbersome way as genital herpes, even on the genitals, in most cases.


Excellent ways to justify OP's actions and blame the guy. No one is supposed to know anything!! No one is supposed to be taught by schools either. If you are old enough to use the internet, you can google STDs. When YOU decide to engage in sex, it is YOUR responsibility. And its the lack of this very responsibility that accounts for 80% of the population to be infected.
posted by xm at 7:27 PM on April 23, 2010


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