Should I tell my partner I think I may have herpes before I get tested?
May 23, 2015 10:05 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday after masturbating my penis was unusually irritated. When I looked at it under a good light, I saw several small bumps on the head that look sort of like the pictures of herpes one finds through a Google image search (if smaller and milder). I have an appointment to get tested on Tuesday. In the meantime, do I just keep my lips and pants zipped with my partner, or should I bring it up? (Bonus question: is there some other thing that this might be, given that it only became apparent after the masturbation?)

I have only been with this partner for about a month, but it's been very intense and we've been spending several nights a week together. It will be noticeable if I continually decline sex, though I did excuse myself from hanging out with her and her friends yesterday by saying I was sick, so I could just keep up that mild lie. We are both in our mid-twenties. She's a couple years younger and seems less sexually experienced (or at least sexually relaxed) than I am. I doubt that it will be a dealbreaker if I turn out to have herpes so long as I take appropriate protective measures, but I also don't see her as someone who would choose to date a person with herpes if she knew that from the outset and it will probably upset her. Everything has been very starry-eyed so far so I don't know quite how that upsetness might manifest itself.

I sort of doubt that I got it from her, even though the incubation time would fit, because we've only had sex with condoms on. I guess there's possible exposure from frottage. I'm not sure I totally understand how oral transmission of HSV-2 works (question three) so maybe I could've gotten it by going down on her? She hasn't gone down on me, so there's no risk of exposure to her there.

For some reason I feel like telling her but I also feel like there's likely no great benefit except that I won't have concealing my concern weighing me down. Are there reasons that I should tell her before I know more? The other thing that occurs to me is that I'm unlikely to have a conclusive answer for a little while since they'll need to do a lab test. I am a pretty emotive person and I'm concerned that it'll be apparent to her that I'm hiding something important, especially paired with the sexual withdrawal, and I don't have enough experience with her to know if she'd ask about it if it bothered her.

On to the bonus question. I vaguely recall having similar things happen in the past. After masturbating, particularly when I'd done so a couple times in a day or something, my penis would become unusually irritated for a day or two. And maybe there were the bumps? I'm having difficulty remembering, and I don't recall whether or not it had happened before the last time I was tested two-ish years ago. Since then I've had unsafe sex with a few partners, including one who told me while we were breaking things off that she thought her other partner had herpes. She didn't have any substantial reason for thinking so, and she was saying every abusive thing she could think of, so I took it as her gloating about exposing me to an STD even though it probably wasn't true - horrifying, but in character for her - rather than a serious possibility, but who knows? My life was a mess around that time and by the time I got back to normal I had pretty much forgotten about that, but this definitely brings it back. Don't fret, I haven't had unsafe sex with anyone else since that time.

The other herpes symptom I have is swollen lymph nodes, and I certainly don't recollect ever associating the lymph nodes with any sort of dick irritation in the past. For whatever reason this time I feel 99% certain that it's herpes even though it doesn't look quite like any of the pictures I've looked at and I've never thought I might have herpes in the past. But my impression is that one would tend to notice if they had a herpes outbreak even without roughing it up a bit.

To cover the details that armchair doctors might want to know, I am uncircumcised and I typically (and in these cases) use spit as lube when I masturbate. When I masturbate, I mostly focus on the bottom of the head, so the area that's most irritated now is also the area that gets the bulk of the friction. I masturbated on Tuesday, showered and cleaned myself off, then had extended sex later that night, including a short but way too rough hand job, so I had more irritation than usual. I masturbated Wednesday afternoon, cleaned a little bit but not thoroughly, then masturbated again on Thursday before showering. I noticed the bumps when I was cleaning myself in the shower and found that I was very sore. They are small and pretty much dick-colored (though the whole head is a few shades redder than usual) and distributed all around the head of my penis, but seemingly not on the foreskin. I'm still mildly irritated today, enough that I definitely wouldn't even think of masturbating, and it seems a little moister under my foreskin than usual. It might be worth saying that this is a pretty unusual masturbation schedule for me. I've been masturbating maybe once a week because I don't like to masturbate during the day before I have sex and it's been a possibility almost every day, though in practice we've probably been getting it on three-ish times a week.

I first noticed the swollen lymph nodes on Sunday after a night and a day of being around cats that were making my allergies act up a lot. I haven't been around any notable allergy-inducers since then, though, and I think that yesterday was their worst day, though they seem a bit better now.

I'm upset about the possibility of having herpes but reading about it, herpes sounds like less of a big deal than I would have imagined (and so much more common - 20% of men and 25% of women in America have HSV-2). It will probably be more upsetting for me when I have to disclose it to partners who aren't already swept up with me, but for now I'll live.

Sorry if this is a bit long and rambly. Throwaway e-mail is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are way way way overthinking this. Script: "Hey, I noticed some bumps on my dick - I'm not sure if it's anything and I'm gonna get it checked out soon, but in the meantime, let's be careful about protection [including for oral]?" Worry about everything else after the test results.
posted by Conspire at 10:17 PM on May 23, 2015 [24 favorites]

On the one hand, herpes is very common. On the other hand, people mis-armchair-diagnosing themselves with herpes because so damn many things can cause "little bumps" is also very common. Try not to spend too much time envisioning your Possible Future Life with Herpes until you actually see the doctor. They should be able to give you some more perspective, not to mention that the doctor may just take one look at your dick and say "lol no."

I wouldn't mention it to her right this second because, apart from everything else, it sounds like your current state of stress would lead you into having a long talk about your Possible Future Life with Herpes, and that's the last thing you need right now (not that it would be much fun for her either). Could you tell her you're busy over the weekend but you want to get together Tuesday evening, and tell her about your test when you see her then?
posted by ostro at 11:03 PM on May 23, 2015

How long will it take to get results? I wouldn't say anything, just tell her you're sore - that's not even a lie.

FWIW, when I was at uni there was a guy in my social circle who thought he had an STD and went to get checked out at the clinic - turned out it was just a friction burn from masturbating too much. This all happened years before I even started uni but everyone knew about it and recounted the tale to embarrass him on several occasions, so my vote is say nothing until there's something to tell unless you want to be that guy.
posted by missmagenta at 2:42 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

but I also don't see her as someone who would choose to date a person with herpes if she knew that from the outset and it will probably upset her

This is a whole lot of projecting. If it were me, I'd be way more mad/upset that you based your decision-making on patronising & infantilising assumptions like this than about the maybe-herpes itself. She may be younger than you and you may have all kinds of ideas about how you think she's going to react, but you won't know - as in actually have an understanding of how she thinks and feels about this - until you talk to her.

You're missing information about two things: how your partner might react, and whether or not you have herpes. The solution to #2 is get tested. The solution to #1 is talk to her.

So talk to her. Sure, pick a good time, make it work with the flow that the two of you have going, but actually talk to her and see what she thinks and how she feels, and then you'll have something other than your own anxiety and the big pile of spun-sugar assumptions that your anxiety is whipping up for you about this.

Again, if it were me, something along the lines of "I noticed [symptom] the other day and want to get it checked out. Until then, we should probably [do/continue doing] [safe sex protocol]." and then figure out from there what, if any, the potential issues in terms of her feelings and your relationship are. This doesn't have to be a big talk about whether or not you have herpes, as the other commenters have mentioned, but it's good to check in on how you both feel about junk-related stuff and getting tested.

It's also worth thinking about worst-case scenarios. Worst-case would be you definitely do have herpes and she's definitely not cool with that and wants to break up, right? Again, that's good information - if you do have it and she's not cool, this isn't a relationship that's going to work out, and though that's a really painful thing to know, it's better to know it sooner rather than later. And anything less worse than that outcome is something you'll be able to work through.
posted by terretu at 3:20 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re the bonus question - could they be pearly penile papules (just google for images) that have maybe got a bit inflamed and more noticeable because of the general irritation?
posted by crocomancer at 4:22 AM on May 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

If so, totally normal and harmless btw
posted by crocomancer at 4:23 AM on May 24, 2015

Do the lumps look like pearly penile papules, by any chance? (NSFW Wikipedia)

If so, that's a normal variant. Maybe they're more prominent due to the irritation. If you had herpes, you would have little ulcers not lumps, and it would be painful.

and on preview, crocomancer has beaten me to it.
posted by tinkletown at 4:25 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

In case it's helpful, the bumps from herpes are not just bumps. They are blisters, filled with clear fluid. They should look different from flesh colored bumps if you look very closely. Please go get tested regardless, of course.

You can get either HSV 1 or HSV 2 orally or in the genital area, but it's by being directly exposed in that area. So oral sex from someone with HSV1 could give you HSV1 genital infection. Kissing someone with HSV1 could give you HSV1 oral infection.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:35 AM on May 24, 2015

It's kind of a weird date request but you should ask her to go get tested with you. Let her know that you have a weird rash and it's made you nervous. Be honest and open. If you don't tell her know and wait, and then find out you do have it, she will never forgive you from keeping your worries to yourself. And if you stop sleeping with her all of a sudden, with no explanation, she will be hurt and confused. Honesty is always the best policy.
posted by myselfasme at 6:07 AM on May 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

I wouldn't announce that it could be herpes, just because every time I'm 100% positive I have X it's nothing, or it's Y. But I think the scripts above for saying "Hey, I have a rash / some weird bumps and am getting it checked out."

If I was all starry-eyed with some guy and then he started making excuses not to sleep with me, I'd think he wanted to break up. I might do it for him.
posted by bunderful at 6:50 AM on May 24, 2015

To cover the details that armchair doctors might want to know, I am uncircumcised and I typically (and in these cases) use spit as lube when I masturbate.

These factors make me think there's a decent chance this is actually a yeast infection, which, yes, happens to men too. Condom use can exacerbate that as well.
posted by dis_integration at 7:26 AM on May 24, 2015

"...I'm gonna get it checked out soon, but in the meantime, let's be careful about protection [including for oral]?"

If someone thought they might have an STD, and suggested having sex anyway, thus exposing me to a small but present and unnecessary level of risk, it would make me think he cares more about his pleasure than my health. That's a far bigger deal breaker than any STD.
posted by unannihilated at 8:34 AM on May 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

It might also be an allergic reaction to the cats, transferred, um, manually, as the skin there can be really sensitive.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:10 AM on May 24, 2015

I'm with those who suggest you tell her something, but not go so far as to mention herpes or a particular STD yet. Just say that you've noticed some unusual irritation on your penis & you're getting it checked out, but until you have an answer, it's probably best for you to refrain from most sexual activities. Then, keep her posted, & you can proceed from there. Also, she may have some helpful information that will help you figure it out, especially if it's not immediately obvious what the deal is to your doctor. For example, she could also be using a body wash, laundry detergent, lotion, or something else you're allergic to, which is even more likely if she's trying something new. It's also possible she has something that she doesn't know about or, worst case scenario, didn't mention. I know it's hard not to get ahead of yourself, but I would be low-key & as transparent as necessary until you have real answers. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 9:26 AM on May 24, 2015

seconding all of this, but I'd also add that you seem to be under the misapprehension that condoms will always prevent herpes transmission and that's not strictly true. They'll reduce the risk by a lot (not to mention prevent transmission of a lot of other possible nasties, and babies), but herpes is, to my understanding, one of the ones that can be transmitted by the skin that isn't covered by a condom. Definitely don't have sex -- even safer sex -- until this is figured out.
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:25 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

tl;dr Tell her you have some kind of irritation, no idea what it is, want to get it checked out before resuming sex. Keep it simple and truthful.
posted by JimN2TAW at 11:58 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to third - look for pearly penile papules on Dr. Google.
posted by tristeza at 12:33 PM on May 24, 2015

I think that condoms reduce herpes exposure by something like 70%, but not completely. But from from what you've written here, I don't think that it actually sounds that likely that you have herpes. I've read that initial herpes outbreaks are usually (not always. But most of the time) very painful. I don't think that it's something that you'd only notice after jerking off.

I think that you should just tell her that you have a rash on your penis (possibly from irritation, or thrush, or who knows?) and you want to get it checked out before you keep having sex. I wouldn't say "herpes" during any part of this, because that can be a scary word to a lot of people and she might be freaked out even if it turns out that you don't have herpes.

What stood out to me the most was you mentioning that you've had "unsafe" sex with a few people. Do you just mean that you've had uncovered sex, or do you actually mean that you're unsure of the STI-status of the people you have slept with? If it's the latter and you haven't been tested since, it would be a good idea to get a full battery of tests while you're at the doctor this week. Condoms can break or slip off, so it's good to know your status in case that happens. N-thing the idea for your partner to get tested too.

Invest in some lube! Spit obviously isn't doing the best job as a replacement for you. ;)
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:59 PM on May 24, 2015

Tell her you have a weird rash and you're getting it checked, but you wanted to be conscientious. Go get tested and tell her your results. NBD.
posted by corb at 5:06 AM on May 25, 2015

Get tested asap and talk to her after. No need to scare her beforehand.
posted by quickfyi at 9:19 PM on November 7, 2015

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