Herpes help!
September 30, 2009 2:10 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend was just diagnosed with genital herpes. What can I do to make this easier on her?

We've been in a commited relationship for about 6 months now, and I'm absolutely crazy about her. I'm getting tested today, and while I'm obviously a little bit nervous/scared, she's pretty shaken up about it. She was worried I was going to break up with her when she told me, and is just pretty upset about it in general. What can I do to ease the stress of this situation? If anyone's been in a similar situation, how did you cope with it?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't have the problem, but a girlfriend of mine had a very readable book about sex in general called "Our bodies, Ourselves" that dealt with issues like these in a sensible and positive manner. The number of people with similar issues is supposedly very high. I would look up that statistic, it may be of some comfort.
posted by xammerboy at 2:16 PM on September 30, 2009

I've never been in that particular situation, but I imagine that she could use lots of reassurance that you still want to be with her, on more than one occasion over time, and not just when prompted. It would be really easy to start thinking, "he just said that to be nice" or "he just said that because he hadn't had a chance to think about it yet" or "he's going to change his mind," no matter how reassuring you were when she first told you.

It doesn't have to be like "I still want to be your boyfriend even though you have herpes" every day. You don't want to rub it in. Just tell her she's beautiful. That you're crazy about her. That you love spending time with her. Do sweet things like cook dinner or give her a back rub or rent her favorite movie. Anything that would count under normal circumstances as expressing that you're crazy about her is doubly appropriate in this situation.

Of course all of that is assuming that you aren't going to change your mind because of this. Educate yourself about the condition so that you can honestly tell her you're making an informed decision. Neither of you wants to find out, after all your super-sweet reassurance, that you actually can't deal with the situation.

And, educate yourself about how you two can make sex safer, so she doesn't have to bear the entire burden of learning about and implementing those practices.
posted by vytae at 2:36 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to set aside all of the relationship related issues here (how she got it, do you have it, etc etc) and just talk about how you can support her through this. Obviously genital herpes takes both an emotional and physical toll on a person, especially during the first outbreak. Physically she may be in extreme pain -- if this is the case, encourage her to go back to the doctor and demand painkillers. Furthermore, she's likely to experience flu-like symptoms like fever and fatigue. Society suggests that we should trivialize or stigmatize an outbreak of genital herpes but in terms of sheer physical unpleasantness it can be up there with a very severe case of the flu combined with the pain of an acute injury.

Mentally, people take the news in a variety of ways. For a lot of people there is a huge amount of shame to contend with. If it seems like this is something that's bothering her, just remind her that it is incredibly prevalent but people just don't talk about it; that many people who have it just don't know it; that there is nothing to be ashamed of.

Good luck to both of you. Valtrex is going generic by the end of the year, so in the grand scheme of things this is a great (better than usual) time to be herpetic.
posted by telegraph at 2:40 PM on September 30, 2009

I can't recommend this book strongly enough:

Managing Herpes: How to Live and Love with a Chronic STD by Charles Ebel.

Informative, easy to read and extraordinarily comforting. Feel free to MeMail or e-mail (in profile) if she (or you) need any extra support or recommendations.
posted by caveat at 2:46 PM on September 30, 2009

Stand by her. Let her know you still love her and won't run away. Your acceptance and understanding will set the tone for the relationship.

She will hopefully get meds that will help prevent outbreaks. Depending on the severity of her outbreaks, she might be in a LOT of pain in a VERY sensitive area. (It's like being set on fire in the crotch for DAYS!)

When she isn't having an outbreak, everything will be normal, but PLEASE PLEASE use a condom every time unless you want some too! You can't tell if you're shedding active cells, and you can shed cells even when you don't have any blisters!

I was diagnosed over 20 years ago. My hubby always uses a condom, we aren't active when I feel an outbreak coming on (I get very few now, thanks to the daily meds!). He can do oral on me without a problem, and he's still 'clean' after a decade together!

There are dating sites for herpes positive people, but I hope she won't need one!

She shouldn't wear nylon undies all day, and should REALLY avoid pantyhose as well. Good ventilation really helps!

Also, outbreaks can come or be made worse from stress. Ask her what you can do to help with that. Ask her at LEAST once a week, what we need changes as we cycle!

She'll feel sad and undesirable, and maybe guilty, so your mere presence will help her feel better!
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 3:04 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You asked, "My girlfriend was just diagnosed with genital herpes. What can I do to make this easier on her?"

Being the kind of person who would, when faced with this situation, think to ask a question like that? Being that kind of person is what will make this easier for her. Good luck to both of you!
posted by Neofelis at 3:10 PM on September 30, 2009 [13 favorites]

One more thing: try not to research it too much on the Internet. Get BOOKS. There is so much misinformation about HSV online that it is almost impossible to get good advice.

Having said that, check out this website: American Social Health Association.

There's really no good advice for a situation like this. Education leads to acceptance, and that takes time. Learn together and this can bring you two closer. Be there for her but not broach the subject unless she does. Lend a sympathetic ear and give lots of hugs. But really, it just takes time. This is a huge life change for her, and you too. But over time, it'll be much more manageable. It just seems scary now.
posted by caveat at 3:11 PM on September 30, 2009

I was diagnosed over 20 years ago. My hubby always uses a condom, we aren't active when I feel an outbreak coming on (I get very few now, thanks to the daily meds!). He can do oral on me without a problem

Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "without a problem" but I want to make sure everyone in the peanut gallery has the correct information: One can pretty easily transmit herpes via oral sex, in either direction. (Bonus info: using a condom doesn't prevent genital-genital transmission although it does lessen the chances somewhat).

OP: Others have given you good information so I'll just say you might want to get a battery of tests (including HIV), just to be safe.
posted by Justinian at 3:20 PM on September 30, 2009

Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by "without a problem" [...] One can pretty easily transmit herpes via oral sex, in either direction.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I imagine one scenario where "no problem" oral could arise if the partners had the same strain of Herpes simplex, just at different sites. E.g., Alice has oral HSV-1, and Bob has genital HSV-1. That would allow Alice to safely fellate Bob, and Bob could safely return the favor. In both cases you'd have either an HSV-1 to HSV-1 match, or a clean to clean match.

Or have I fundamentally misunderstood some aspect of this?
posted by SemiSophos at 4:29 PM on September 30, 2009

"The number of people with similar issues is supposedly very high."

Approximately 19% of the US population has HSV-2 [nytimes]. To put that in perspective, this is the same percentage of the US population that is either African American or Asian [wikipedia].
posted by falconred at 7:22 PM on September 30, 2009

You asked, "My girlfriend was just diagnosed with genital herpes. What can I do to make this easier on her?"

Yeah, like Neofelis mentioned: I'm in love with you for that response already.

To minimize how bad she feels: downplay it, downplay it, and downplay it some more. You don't really ever need to mention it in future, and if she ever brings it up or gets upset about it again months from now, plop her with one of those "yeah welcome to 60% of adult Americans" or whatever the number du jour is that makes her realize she's not unusual or a freak. As long as you keep it in the "no big deal" category, you (and she) will be fine.

Bonus suggestion: if you turn out to test positive yourself, play it as good news: "Hey, now we don't have to worry about me catching it all the time anymore. Cool, huh?"

I've always tested negative for everything, but I pre-decided a long time ago that if HSV ever comes up, I'm determined to just shrug and say "Meh, had to happen eventually I guess."

(And, of course, there are many things much, much, much worse, right?)
posted by rokusan at 2:22 AM on October 1, 2009

Maybe when shes not so under the weather you could go out to a romantic couply dinner...

I get this idea because when I was in college I went skiing (for the first time ever) right before Valentine's day. My body took a beating and the next day my mouth / lip area erupted in cold sores (also for the first time ever). I felt really gross and disgusting, an unatractive contagious leper. My boyfriend took my gross face out to dinner for valentines day and told me how lovely I was and all that and it made the temporary grossness a lot easier to bear.
posted by WeekendJen at 2:16 PM on October 1, 2009

Maybe this book would help?
posted by kimota at 4:29 PM on October 1, 2009

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