How to tell my boyfriend that he gave me herpes
June 10, 2010 1:17 PM   Subscribe

I got genital herpes from my boyfriend. How should I tell him about this without making him feel guilty? And what should I do now?

Of course I am concerned about this virus, but not enough to let it affect our relationship. He was a little late about telling me that he had HSV, and he was humiliated and mortified. He felt extremely guilty. And also he told me that if he ever gave me the virus, he would have to apologize for the rest of his life and he'll never let that happen. Not only that, he recently just got over with feeling guilty about even dating me. (He is a lot older than me, and he used to think that he was taking my youth away.) But I decided to take the risk. He doesn't know that the virus can still be transmitted even when it's not active. But I already knew it, and I knew I was probably going to get it some time. Just hoped that I would be the asymptomatic one. But turns not that's not the case. I want to let him know about this without making him feel bad!... It's been about a week since the first breakout, and it's not so bad. I don't know when it's going to completely heal, but I'm thinking probably another week. A little bit annoying but hardly noticeable. But of course I notice it during intercourse and that's why I really need to tell him. How should I tell him?

And do I need to go get tested and confirmed for HSV? I'm not sure if it's type 1 or 2, but I'm pretty sure it's the type 2. I'm going to see how often and how severe my breakouts are going to be, and if it's pretty bad then I'm definitely going to go see a doctor and get some anti-viral drugs prescribed. But if it isn't that bad, should I still go see a doctor? And can I give my boyfriend oral herpes?
posted by dustoff to Human Relations (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would just rip that band aid off and tell him. I don't think you can make this a completely guiltless / painless experience for him. The way you described it above is about as soft pedaled & understanding a talk as is possible.
posted by xammerboy at 1:27 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not cool. You guys should have had the talk about who's got what, if anything, before bumpin' uglies.

This whole, "He was afraid" thing is bullshit. He's gotta live with it and be a grownup. There's no excuse to giving you herpes. Tests are available and it's not like it's this unoticeable thing when you're a dude.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

"Hey, you gave me Herpes. Now I have Herpes."
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:30 PM on June 10, 2010 [17 favorites]

I think you should go to a Planned Parenthood center and talk to a counselor there, and get some literature.
posted by anniecat at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: People feel guilty when they've done something wrong. It's not your job to shield him from the consequences of his actions, though it seems you were complicit. You don't even seem that angry, so there's no need for him to "apologize for the rest of his life." Tell him straight up in as few words as possible, accept his apology (or not), and let him feel however he feels.
posted by desjardins at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's been quite a while since he told me, and of course it DOES matter, but not enough for it to affect our relationship as I stated. And I don't consider it as a horrible terminal disease. It's just a virus and of course it'll stay with me, but not unmanageable. That's how I see it.
posted by dustoff at 1:37 PM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: I think you're saying that you continued your sexual relationship after knowing of his infection, and fully accepted any and all risk that was involved with it, even if he was unaware of the full risk. Because you love him. I find that (creepily) romantic, and he might too. So tell him, and don't worry too much about his guilt (seriously, I see no moral reason for you to spare his feelings in this case even though you are still seeking to protect him); focus on the positive spin on this, and he might too.

As for getting tested, yeah, you should.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:37 PM on June 10, 2010

He doesn't know that the virus can still be transmitted even when it's not active.
Unbelievable. In fact, I don't believe it.

Yes, you should see a doctor. Yes, herpes (of any type) is transmittable oral-to-genital and genital to oral, with or without noticeable symptoms.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:38 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Obviously you need to talk to him about this, but I'm a little confused--have you not seen a doctor yet? The first step would be to make sure this outbreak you're having is in fact from HSV and not something else. I'm just some stranger on the internet, but I'm also concerned that you're having intercourse (protected?) while you have open sores. That doesn't exactly sound fun. I encourage you to have a very open and honest conversation with your bf about all of this.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I realized that what's been bothering me was herpes during the intercourse. That was yesterday and I don't have health insurance during summer when school's out, so I have to wait til late August!
posted by dustoff at 1:55 PM on June 10, 2010

first: does he have genital or oral herpes? if he has oral and now you have genital, you still probably shouldn't fuck when you have an outbreak.

secondly: you're in the middle of an outbreak, and fucked him, and he didn't notice? this man needs some sex ed in a serious sort of way.

thirdly: go to the doctor! if this is your first outbreak, just getting checked out is a good idea. you might even have a doctor that would prescribe the medicine over the phone for any subsequent breakouts. also: back to point number one - genital herpes don't have to stay genital herpes.

i'm like you - i don't think it's a big deal, i think enough of the population has it that even if you thought you were herpes free before him and he has herpes it's still possible that he didn't give it to you.

you really just have to tell him, make sure he knows you don't blame him and that you would have wanted to be with him even if you knew the risks from the very first day (if that's true). tell him that once you found out, you made the decision to keep seeing him and that to respect you, he has to respect your free will in that.
posted by nadawi at 1:57 PM on June 10, 2010

Depending on the center, Planned Parenthood can give you a screening and some much needed information for a fee based on your income.

Your health is worth not waiting two and a half months.
posted by munchingzombie at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Find a free clinic near you.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

STD/STI testing works on a sliding scale at planned parenthood. even though school's out for you, i assume they do summer classes? go to the school health center, they might do the testing for free.

do not wait until august!
posted by nadawi at 2:01 PM on June 10, 2010

First, of all, please, even without insurance, get yourself to a clinic and get screened for everything (just to make sure that this is what you and not other STDs, too). Some STDs carry implications for your reproductive health (for the rest of your life and are treatable with anbtbiotics – not herpes but others are) or likelihood of acquiring other STDs. Many STDS are also asymptomatic, so just to be on the safe side. Have you called a local Planned Parenthood? Some do provide you with free screenings (and if you are symptomatic, I can’t see that they would decide not to test you for this and other STDs).

IF you want to give your BF rationale reasons as to why you are not as concerned, a few things that you could say to make him feel okay:
• ~20% of the population has it
• With the use of antivirals plus protection, the chance of spreading it are very low (you may want to give your BF this info for the future…if he ever moves on to other partners).
• The fact that you knew the risks and did this by choice …

Also vs other STDs…the consequences of this are not as bad as other STDs.

IANAD (and confirm this with your physician or whoever you see), but my understanding is that you can get oral herpes. Although one type is predominantly found in one region of the body whereas the other is primary found in the oral area (too tired to use my googlefu right now, but check out pubmed for this), they can be spread to other areas. If your BF is already horrified that he has this now, you do need to tell him and if you have sores right now…well there are things he should avoid using his mouth during times when you have sores/shedding virus.

On preview (I type too slow) - contact planned parenthood ask on campus, get screened. This is really important.
posted by Wolfster at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2010

1) Don't be so damned cavalier about herpes. Your boyfriend gave you an incurable virus that he knew he had. You sound young, and even if you aren't, you sound like you think you're going to spend the rest of your life with this guy. You won't. And now, you'll have to deal with telling prospective partners about herpes.

2) He needs to grow the fuck up. "He doesn't know that the virus can still be transmitted even when it's not active." <>
3) Don't be so damned cavalier about herpes.

And you should definitely see a doctor, likely they'll proscribe a medication that will help immensely with the outbreaks.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2010 [15 favorites]

Damn, that got messed up.

2) He needs to grow the fuck up. "He doesn't know that the virus can still be transmitted even when it's not active." This is a horseshit line he's feeding you. You mean to tell us that he's never seen a single commercial on TV for a herpes medication? Because every single one of them points this out. If he's enough of an adult to be having sex, he's enough of an adult to be educated on the types of STIs he's carrying around.
posted by InsanePenguin at 2:28 PM on June 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: @InsanePenguin, Well I guess he kinda knew he still could but didn't want to admit it... I agree he needs to grow up. I guess I already knew all that but didn't want to admit it myself! ...well now I'm getting a reality check that I didn't really want, but I'm glad. I don't feel *bad* for him any more, I guess. I'll just tell him when I come home. Thanks everyone.
posted by dustoff at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your boyfriend gave you an incurable virus that he knew he had.

and that she knew he had. yeah, he didn't tell her in the beginning (which sucks and would have been a deal breaker for me - not the herpes but the not telling, but it wasn't for her)- but she's already said that the telling happened quite some time ago. her deciding to continue to sleep with him after she found out makes all this "blame the bastard!" meaningless.
posted by nadawi at 2:41 PM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: @nadawi, that was what exactly I wanted to say. And also, it would have been a dealbreaker for the same reason if our relationship developed gradually and normally.. But neither of us knew it coming and we both thought it would be kinda like a one time only of some sort. Plus, it was both my and his responsibility to be always aware of the risk of sex, and so on. Anyhow, given the circumstances, he didn't really have a chance to talk about it regarding all the drama that was involved in our relationship...
posted by dustoff at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: And I'm going to health center at the University in 5 minutes, thanks to everyone's advice.
posted by dustoff at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2010

It doesn't matter if you have Type I or Type long as you've confirmed that you have the virus, knowing what type you have doesn't mean much. You can get either type on either place (or apparently in any mucous membrane, ew) and Type I can be just as bad as Type II.
posted by radioamy at 2:56 PM on June 10, 2010

But neither of us knew it coming and we both thought it would be kinda like a one time only of some sort.

this is not an acceptable approach to sex. if you guys ever break up, you need to realize that EVERY SINGLE partner, no matter if it's a one night stand or not, has the absolute RIGHT to know if you have any sort of STI.

i'm glad you're going to the doctor. i'm glad you aren't demonizing him. i'm worried that you still don't fully grasp the weight of the matter.
posted by nadawi at 3:01 PM on June 10, 2010 [23 favorites]

and that she knew he had. yeah, he didn't tell her in the beginning (which sucks and would have been a deal breaker for me - not the herpes but the not telling, but it wasn't for her)- but she's already said that the telling happened quite some time ago. her deciding to continue to sleep with him after she found out makes all this "blame the bastard!" meaningless.

For all she knows, transmission happened before he told her and it only presented itself now. Herpes is fun like that. What I meant for OP to take from my post was that she doesn't seem to grasp the gravity of this situation and I was pushing the onus on him, the older partner, to have explained this in depth before they engaged in sexual contact. Clearly, he is not capable of handling it like an adult. I would DTMFA. I was blaming him because it is his fault and she should be angry with him, not coddling.
posted by InsanePenguin at 3:17 PM on June 10, 2010

Have you ever thought about revenge and suicide? You need to talk to a doctor. You need to talk to your boyfriend, he took advantage of you so badly. You just lost a part of your body. It will never heal. Nothing will really make it better. Why this relationship wasn't built upon good communication is mind boggling, especially since one person has a STD like herpes. Your boyfriend is a liar and he knows it. Don't let him weasel out of this one.

You read about news stories how people secretly infecting sexually partners with AIDS and they get arrested for it. Now this time a person willingly accepts herpes from their boyfriend, what is wrong with you? Have you seen Google image searches of Herpes. Why in the world would you ever want something like that? Is your life worth so little?

Please get some help, talk to as many people as you can, you clearly have been living in some sheltered fantasy world and have lost touch with reality. Just know that you cannot fix the problem now since herpes will be a part of you. And people that tell you things are OK are lying, they don't have herpes.

(typo corrected)
posted by abbat at 3:23 PM on June 10, 2010

I'm going to disagree with radioamy. It's important to know which type you have for several reasons. Future partners might already have HSV, such as HSV-1 orally (cold sores). They already produce the antibodies for Type 1, so the risk of transmitting a genital HSV-1 infection to them is even lower. In addition to this, many people who already have HSV-1 orally and are infected with HSV-2 genitally don't have any symptoms or very mild symptoms. And HSV-1 genital infections are generally milder than HSV-2, although this varies from person to person. Even if both you and your partner tested positive for herpes, you could still infect one another if one of you has HSV-1 and the other has HSV-2. I recommend either having the sore swabbed or getting an IgG blood test done to confirm which type you have.

Also, there is a ton of misinformation floating around about HSV, as well as negative stigma. this website has a lot of great information in the Free Herpes Handbook as well as nice, knowledgeable people to answer questions in the forums.
posted by gumtree at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

um 20% of the population has herpes. he sounds uneducated and so does she - but, abbat, are you seriously suggesting that 1/5 of the population should never fuck or only fuck each other?

revenge? suicide? over herpes?? that is a gigantic leap.

insanepenguin - for all we know, she got herpes from some totally different dude. if the question was "my exboyfriend didn't tell me he had herpes and when he did i broke up with him and now i'm having an outbreak - what now?" then blaming him would seem a little more valid. but, once she found out she continued to have sex with him, knowing the risks. where does her personal accountability come into play? if she doesn't understand the gravity of her new condition - using the boyfriend as the scapegoat isn't helpful to her.

YES - he should have told her before sex. YES - i would have DTMFA right then and there because of him not telling me. BUT - she didn't, she accepted she would probably end up with herpes and made peace with that, and now she wants to continue her relationship and is wondering about the best way to share her infection status.
posted by nadawi at 3:30 PM on June 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

abbat - she's going to a doctor. she knows it will be with her forever. as she's said "It's just a virus and of course it'll stay with me, but not unmanageable. That's how I see it." use all the pictures you want (i mean, she has an outbreak right now -so she knows what it looks like) - but just because you're all fired up is no reason to make completely unfounded claims of revenge and suicide. also - doing your part to continue to negative stigma of a disease that 20% of the population has, making it sound like they don't deserve sexual relationships because now they're tainted, is just shitty.

if he told her before they fucked, and she still fucked him - would your reaction be the same? we have to respect her free will to stay with him after she knew - pointing out that not telling her was inexcusable and shitty is something that's already been well covered here. do you have any actual help to offer or are you going to keep suggesting she DTMFA and look at google images?
posted by nadawi at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

Herpes is not something you don't know about when you have it.

That isn't true. Please stop with the FUD, abbat.
posted by thisjax at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2010 [9 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - let's dial it back some. Feel free to comment but address comments to the OP and quit wiht the google image photos of herpes please
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2010

genital herpes don't have to stay genital herpes.

not true as far as I know. If you've been infected in one area you can't be infected elsewhere (unless you get hsv1 in one area and hsv2 in another)
posted by ish__ at 4:21 PM on June 10, 2010

Hmm gumtree you definitely do have a point. However if she has limited funds right now, knowing which strain she has is not necessarily a priority.
posted by radioamy at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2010

ish__ - it is true.

Auto-inoculation: An infected individual can spread the virus to other parts of his or her body by touching an area shedding virus and then touching, scratching, or rubbing another susceptible part of the body. Towels are especially conducive to this.
posted by nadawi at 4:34 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - abbat, take the night off, you're not helping here and missing some obvious "cool it down" requests
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:16 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm going to jump way out on a limb here and suggest that you have a much bigger problem than worrying about hurting the feelings of someone who gave you an STD.

There are two people in this relationship and neither one of them seems to be looking out for your best interests. Your efforts might be better spent exploring that equation rather than dancing around his "guilt".
posted by space_cookie at 5:33 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Piping in to say, I have herpes and it isn't that big of a deal.

I got in in my teens year and my first outbreak was horrific, I was traumatized. I got it from a boyfriend who I was monogamous with for over a year, who still wouldn't cop to the fact that he must have given it to me. It was really hurtful.

I kept dating, kept (responsibly) sleeping with other people and am now a happily married lady. My husband and I have been having sex without a barrier for over 2 years and if he has gotten it, he's been completely asymptomatic.

I almost never have outbreaks, my last one was 4 months ago and the last before that was over a year before. Everyone is different but I just want to make clear not EVERYONE with herpes has constant painful outbreaks. When I do, if it's bad I run for a prescription for lidocaine gel (from my doctor). I don't take suppressive drugs on the advice of a trusted gynecologist who suggested letting your body learn to suppress on its own if you can handle it. I find now most outbreaks are no more painful than a mild sunburn. The outbreaks are also good indicators that I am overstressed, eating poorly or otherwise not taking care of myself.

You and your boyfriend have a chance now to learn together and make informed decisions as a couple, which is great! Do go to Planned Parenthood if you can, just to make sure everything's okay. Feel free to message me if you wanna talk home treatment to ease discomfort or ask questions. Apparently I now talk about my genitals with the internet.
posted by Saminal at 5:33 PM on June 10, 2010 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: My response was removed due to my lack is understanding of the forum policy, so I apologize!

My boyfriend and I both have known that it is a possibility. He told me a little late, but not too late. I had a choice, and I chose to stay with him. He and I both knew about it. He told me before it was too late, and from then on it is my responsibility.
Also, I have not mentioned what kind of precautions I am taking to prevent the transmission. AND, you don't know anything about our relationship. This is not kind of a thing where I can go like, "Oh, you have
herpes? Bye." I know what risk I am taking and I decided that it is not enough to affect our relationship, as I said several times. Please don't assume what you don't know.
All I asked was what would be the best way for me to tell him the news without making him feel bad. Is it that wrong to care about my significant other?

The stigma attached to herpes is VERY problematic and make the patients hard to. cope with the disease when it's not all that devastating. Not only herpes, but with all STDs. Just because the diseases are sexually transmitted, does that
make those diseases more *evil* than other
diseases? I don't think so.
posted by dustoff at 8:47 PM on June 10, 2010

Response by poster: I meant, lack "of." My phone auto corrected it.
posted by dustoff at 8:48 PM on June 10, 2010

I'm glad you have a good attitude about catching this disease. However, I do not feel good about your idiot boyfriend sleeping with you first and THEN telling you about it. This does not strike me as a good personality trait in a guy, and I suspect he's not gonna be the guy you end up marrying if he's ... dubious like that. I wonder what else he keeps from you or drops on you later on after the fact.

When you want to sleep with other people from now on, please tell them before you let them anywhere near your groin. Be fair and give them the chance you didn't get to decide if they were willing to take on a disease for you or not.

Oh, and can you give your boyfriend oral herpes? If his mouth goes there, yeah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:50 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @jenfullmoon

He got lucky in that he wasn't too late in telling me. And I don't want to, and I don't need to explain every bit of information about what kind of person he is and about our relationship. All I will say is that given the circumstances the choice I made was pretty reasonable. Although he could have been late, he wasn't. I don't know what would have happened if I didn't even have a choice, but that's not the case. And this was within few days... and blah blah blah.

Of course wjat you said is all true and valid! I appreciate your input and about with my future partners, definitely yes.
posted by dustoff at 9:02 PM on June 10, 2010

Best answer: For all the people crying foul at the boyfriend, it might be good to remember that we as individuals are responsible for our own sexual health. Disclosure is not an easy thing for a lot of people (be it HIV, HSV, genital warts, etc.) and there are many reasons why people might not offer up that information (fear, drunkenness, embarrassment, assuming the other person knows, etc.). That said, YOU as an individual are responsible for asking your sexual partners about their sexual health -- by not asking, you are pretty much just as complicit as someone who doesn't disclose their sexual health status. Assuming someone is disease-free just because they don't offer up their status is pretty much as asinine as someone not offering up their status or not knowing your/their sexual health status (cause ignorance is bliss, right?)

dustoff, he'll be upset to learn he transmitted it to you, but he'll get over it. People do. Don't shame him, be diplomatic and level, and he'll follow suit.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:18 PM on June 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

A lot of your communication on this has been based on NOT saying things, on an implicit agreement to continue sex despite the danger, on tip toeing around the issue of herpes, and letting it loom unresolved in the back ground. I suspect this makes it hard for you to find clear words now.

You sound very practical and ok about this. But since you haven't kept him in the loop about your thoughts on herpes, he is likely in a different place, one in which herpes Must Not Be Named. It sounds like you suspect he will react in some dramatic way and the whole scene will turn into Hollywood drama.

Drama can be cathartic. But if you don't want this, I suggest the following:
"Darling, there's something I need to tell you, and I need you to listen hard and not get freaked out at me because this is hard enough as it is. Remember when we talked about herpes last time? There is something I didn't tell you. I didn't tell you that I knew you could still give me that disease. I knew it but I still decided to have sex with you, fuck that herpes. It's just a virus. So now I've got herpes too. Listen, your freaking out with guilt is not helping me, it is making me feel worse. This was MY decision and I stand by it. What I need from you is..."
If he feels tempted to explode in an orgy of guilt, it may be because he feels that this is what he "owes" you. Give him clear words on what you really expect of him (a hug? Support and love?). If he doesn't act on what you say, tell him to snap out of it because this is about your herpes, not his feelings! Tell him you know he's traumatized by this whole herpes thing but he's giving it much more power than it actually has. It's a virus, not a bogeyman, and mayb. Now is a good time to learn to deal with it together.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:12 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Okay then, it sounded like in your original post he told you after it was too late, and that would be a dealbreaker or at least a strong bad character indicator for me. Good luck with this situation!
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2010

Anyhow, given the circumstances, he didn't really have a chance to talk about it

Yes he did. The time to talk about STIs is before your pants come off. There is always time for this conversation.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:26 AM on June 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: @dirtynumbangleboy

Well, maybe he did. But I didn't ask either. Actually it is more of my responsibility to watch out and stay out of that kind of stuff. Just like it's my responsibility to take my vitamins and watch out for flu. And my OP does sound like I am hesitating to tell him for fear of making him bad, but that's not the case. I need to tell him, so why not do it in a best possible way?
posted by dustoff at 9:33 PM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: *making him feel bad.
posted by dustoff at 9:34 PM on June 13, 2010

Yes, it's your responsibility to ask. It is also, and much more pressingly, his responsibility to tell you that he has an STI that you will then carry for the rest of your life.

The thing is... well, let's go to an analogy.

You need a ride, I'm your friend, and I appear sober. I offer you a lift. Is it your responsibility to ask me if I've been drinking, or is it my responsibility to proactively disclose that I've had a few gin & tonics, so that you can adequately assess your risk and provide informed consent?

The latter, of course. Failing to proactively disclose that one is infected with an STI is lying by omission and putting your partner at risk. Most people assume their sexual partners are uninfected--much as they assume people they get into a car with are sober. It is incumbent upon those who are infected--or not sober--to disabuse people of this notion. This is something you should remember if/when you, as someone who now has an STI, sleep with other people in the future.

Shorter version: stop apologising for him.

As for how to tell him? Clarity seems key here. "So, just wanted to let you know, it appears as though I have herpes now too."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:59 PM on June 13, 2010

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