How do I tell my girlfriend that I have herpes?
December 23, 2005 3:21 PM   Subscribe

I just started a new relationship.. It's phenomenal and we've both felt that we're in love. I care deeply for her, but I don't know how to tell her about the fact that I have Herpes. Does anyone have advice on how to break the news?

I have had the illness for 5 years now.. rarely get outbreaks and am not using supressive treatments. I suppose a minor outbreak every 6 months or something for a few days.

She's a virgin. BTW, I'm 28 and she's 24. We've been dating for about a month and have not had sex. However we've had some amazing times with one another and done everything but. Each time, while elated, I'm filled with pain and frustration. She's asking for sex..

God this is a crappy situation. She's a gal I could see marrying and she feels the same about me. Thanks so much for your help!
posted by bhenry to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honesty, honesty, honesty. Apply liberally and soon.
posted by bryanzera at 3:25 PM on December 23, 2005

yeah, bhenry - you haven't done anything wrong. You're in the ramping up stage of the relationship - it's unreasonable to expect that you should unload everything, absolutely everything, right away. However, now that you have taken some time to get to know each other, and now that you are both seriously considering taking the relationship to a further level - by all means, have that conversation but quick! As you know, it doesn't really need to be a deal-breaker.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:31 PM on December 23, 2005

Just emphasize that it's not going to get in the way of a normal, regular sexual relationship. Of course, the primary responsibility for protecting her during your outbreaks will be yours, but hopefully your 5 years of experience dealing with the condition will make that easy for you.

I'll bet once you get it out in the open, it won't have been as big a deal as you think.
posted by chudmonkey at 3:37 PM on December 23, 2005

Here's a link for a herpes vaccine trial study.
May be worth looking into.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:58 PM on December 23, 2005

Be careful...some of that "everything else" could possibly expose her, and as I suppose you already know the ramifications for a female having this are greater-at least if she plans to have children.
posted by konolia at 4:09 PM on December 23, 2005

Just to reassure you/her; my father has had herpes on his lips/face his entire life, and my mother has never had an outbreak or shown any signs of having it. They've been married for 20 years; they don't kiss if he has an outbreak, but still... I know the genital and facial types are different, btw, but maybe this still has some bearing. Many people, apparently, are exposed but never show the disease.
posted by MadamM at 4:16 PM on December 23, 2005

When you bring this to her, make sure you have the information readily at hand to combat any prejudices she may have gained in this overly prejudicial society.

There are some good links and advice down near the bottom of this page. My wife and I met through this site after each of us contracted herpes through lying/non-disclosing partners/scumbags. I am EXTREMELY happy to see that you've taken it upon yourself to be open and honest about this. The more openness about this virus the better, AFAIAC, though even now, after 4 years of having it (three of which being married) I am careful about who I tell because of their ridiculous assumptions.
posted by Kickstart70 at 4:30 PM on December 23, 2005

I recommend the anonymous STD e-card.

Yes, I'm joking. Honesty, right now, and not a moment wasted is the answer. Just talk to her about it...but be prepared with some details.
posted by griffey at 5:46 PM on December 23, 2005

Make it clear that you want to tell her and were just waiting until you knew each other well enough.

Tell her when you're both wearing all your clothes. Nobody thinks rationally about this stuff in the throes of passion.

Be prepared to do a lot of educating. Read up on symptoms and effects and treatments and so on, because if all goes well she's going to be curious. (And curiosity will be a good sign. It'll mean she still wants to sleep with you but wants to know how it might affect her.)

Let her decide what activities and precautions she's comfortable with. Don't push. Her comfort zone may expand naturally if you don't. (I'm not saying you should settle for a sexless relationship in the long run. I'm just saying that if her initial response is "no sex ever," you might wait a while for her to adjust before giving up.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:14 PM on December 23, 2005

I have herpes and have told new sex partners without herpes about it. It works out. I always have brouchures around if they have questions and I direct them to websites too.

Really, you should be using condoms for a long time anyway so it should have little effect on your relationship for quite a while.

But be heartened, no one has turned me away because of the herpes.
posted by Red58 at 6:24 PM on December 23, 2005

Just to clear up what was said above - while they do share about 50% exact genome sequence, cold sores (simple 1) & genital herpes (simplex 2) are different viruses. They can both infect the same tissues & both cause similar symptoms (HSV-1's are milder), though they tend to infect the areas that they are known for, i. e. HSV-1 infects the lips, mouth, and eyes in the lytic infection and HSV-2 infects the genitals. While it is true that just about everyone -- and by everyone I mean like ~50% by 30 I think and 90% of people by the time you are 70 -- has been exposed to HSV-1 (Roman Catholic nuns are the only group of people to be completely free, I shit you not -- I've read the papers that say this) the numbers are much lower for HSV-2, more like 10-15% (I think), depending on socioeconomic class.

One thing to help your argument about how this isn't that big a deal -- there are many related viruses that nobody really give a damn about having. Chicken pox/shingles, Mono, and Cytomegalovirus are all hepesviridae members that everyone is infected with. Would you not kiss someone because they had mono as a teenager?

However, if she does not reject you, make sure to wear protection ALL THE DAMN TIME -- and not just during intercourse, as, again HSV-2 can infect oral mucosa -- as even when you are not experiencing an outbreak, you still could be shedding virus.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 12:19 AM on December 24, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you for the useful comments..

I'm hearing that honesty is the way to go. What I'm looking for are ways to say it..


To romantic restaurant, and at the end drop the bomb? Eeeks. I hear you -- not during an intimate momment. And in person and not over the phone.

I'm truly terrified about this -- Is there anyone out there who's had to do this in the past with some concrete tips?
posted by bhenry at 5:57 AM on December 24, 2005

I feel for you. What your looking for is a really good way to say this. Unfortunately, the technique or delivery isn't that important. It's the content of what you're saying. Finding a slick way to present it, isn't really going to help. My advice:

Outside, a park, the pier someplace public/private.

Hold both her hands and look her directly in the eye. Don't smile too much, don't act coy. "There's something that I need to tell you. I've been putting it off because I'm scared."
"What is it?"
Deep breath. (this is the hard part - still looking directly in her eyes, no flinching, no cringing, no quickly darting eyes, no averting the eyes) "I've had herpes for about 5 years now. I wanted to tell you now before things went any farther. I would never put you at risk, but if we're going to continue, I need you to know this now".

The hard part is now done. The ball is in her court. Provide literature if you have it now, and do all of those other things that people above mentioned. Your script can vary, but there really is no easy, smooth way to do this. You have to do it with complete honesty and seriousness and let the chips fall. Get the information out there and you will feel an enormous load lifting off you. Do it soon, the sooner the better.
posted by Dag Maggot at 6:32 AM on December 24, 2005

It might be worth first letting her know that there is something you need to tell her, and letting that sink in, so to speak - like, telling her over the phone you have something important you need to talk about, and asking her to come over (or if you can come over) so you can tell her. That way she would sort of have a chance to digest the idea that there's some bad news on an abstract level before having to deal with the particular details.

Also, make it clear before you tell her that she doesn't need to respond right away - having the info materials there to give to her right after you say it is a good idea. And let her know that if she needs to leave to go read them and think about stuff that is cool with you (not that she will want to do that, but just make it clear that you are fine with her reacting that way).

I would personally not follow the above advice on two counts - I wouldn't hold her hands as you tell her & I wouldn't be in a public place. I think those could be read as pressuring her to respond either romantically (oh romeo, it doesn't matter, we're in love!) or overly dramatically - pulling her hands back or becoming emotional in public. This should just be a transfer of information. Let her know the deal and give her time to accept it and figure out what it means before she decides it's not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. But allow her to feel freaked out for a little while - give her space to not know what to think, just reassuring her you're still there. The above advice about revealing that you're scared to tell her and clarifying that you would never put her at risk are good thoughts though.
posted by mdn at 8:36 AM on December 24, 2005

It might be worth first letting her know that there is something you need to tell her, and letting that sink in, so to speak - like, telling her over the phone you have something important you need to talk about, and asking her to come over (or if you can come over) so you can tell her.

If someone new did that to me I'd assume they were about to dump me, tell me they're married or that they're headed to prison or something. If I was a woman, I might think they were going to confess a history of sexual abuse.

I suppose you could consider the subsequent relief that it's just herpes a good thing but I'd advise against it. Additionally, people who have never had to worry about having been exposed likely never did any research and have no idea what the real repercussions are; I don't think you want to build it up into something that sounds as bad as cancer or past child molestation, and making someone wonder for an hour or ten about what you're going to say is going to do just that.

I Nth the suggestion you go somewhere quiet and private and tell her without too much or too little build-up.
posted by phearlez at 11:46 AM on December 24, 2005

Don't leave it too long.
Maybe you'll get lucky with the "How come you're not taken?" question.
posted by johnny7 at 5:46 PM on December 24, 2005

Response by poster: All great suggestions for my first metafilter post!

Thank you so much guys.

You know, in my readings on the web I read something interesting: "some physicians have gone so far as to recommend that partners need not disclose herpes as the psychological trauma can far outweigh the actual illness."

There is a point in that, but seems a bit deceptive. I suppose I could take all precautions and leave it alone and hope to be lucky.

You see, I know she'll likely accept it -- she's a wonderful woman who loves me dearly. But she'll then have to live with it. The baggage I carry will now be thrust upon her. Is that fair?

posted by bhenry at 10:06 AM on December 25, 2005

it is fair and your duty now.. don't become one of those lying/non-disclosing partners/scumbags
posted by suni at 10:23 AM on December 25, 2005

Not telling her? No, that would make you an asshole. You will not be lucky. Once, she might not get it; more than once, she will get it. It is because of assholes that don't inform their [prospective] partners that these diseases continue to spread.

Trust me, having seen this happen, it is far more tramatic for a girl to find out she has something later on. And if she finds out by suprise wile you are together, she won't love you dearly anymore.
posted by The Bishop of Turkey at 8:21 PM on December 25, 2005

The baggage I carry will now be thrust upon her. Is that fair?

That's her choice to make, not yours. Like it or not, it's something about you that she has to accept if she wants to stay with you. All you can really ask for in a relationship is honesty. It's not really fair that someone she's become so interested in has the virus, and it's causing stress in your life.
posted by mikeh at 2:21 PM on December 27, 2005

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