Cincinnati HELP

Ask us: Telling a partner that you have herpes


How do I tell a prospective partner?

Should you tell others that you have herpes? We strongly believe that you should tell prospective sex partners. If you are like most of us at Cincinnati HELP, you got herpes from someone who had not told you. Perhaps that person didn't know; many people with herpes have such mild symptoms that they (and their doctors) do not recognize them as herpes. Others may have been misdiagnosed. And there are people who do know, who choose not to tell. Many of them are afraid that telling means rejection. But the truth is that rejection happens a lot less often than you might think.

In any case, if the person who gave you herpes didn't tell you in advance, you were denied the opportunity to choose. And that hurt. You probably felt betrayed; you felt that your partner didn't care enough about you to be honest. If you tell, you will never do that to someone else. The members of our group agree, and most of us have had generally positive experiences with telling.

True, it's not easy, but if you tell at the right time and in the right way, a person who truly cares about you is unlikely to reject you. In fact, as several of our members like to point out at our meetings, telling often works to your advantage! When you tell, you are proving to your partner that you are honest and that you respect him or her. That's a big plus. Of course, if you wait too long, you lose the honesty factor. Instead, your partner may feel that you should have said something sooner.

So when is the right time?

Definitely before you and your partner have sex. (That doesn't mean moments before having sex- we've heard stories over the years of people who did that, and none of those stories had a happy ending.) That said, our members have various theories about how soon to tell. One woman who was in our group several years ago always told men on the first date. Others prefer to wait until they are sure that the relationship will become sexually intimate. This is a personal choice; each of us must find the answer for ourselves. But knowing others' ideas can help us make that choice.

    Those who prefer to tell early say
  • Telling before you get too emotionally involved means you don't get hurt if the person does reject you
  • It maximizes the honesty factor
  • Until you tell, you feel an additional burden and stress when you are with your dating partner
  • Until you tell, you have to carefully manage the course of the relationship

    Those who prefer to wait say
  • Until sex is an issue, the partner has no need to know
  • Let your dating partner get to know you first; don't lead off with the bad news
  • If you get to know the person first, you have a better idea of whether you can trust this person to keep your secret

What is the right way to tell?

This is an easier question.

  • First, you need to be informed yourself, so that you can give accurate answers to your partner's questions.
  • Next, consider your own attitude about having herpes. If you recognize herpes as a manageable skin condition, you will project a reassuring attitude to your partner. If you are still feeling that herpes is a horrible disease that has ruined your life, you'll project that too, and probably scare your partner away.
  • Be honest.
  • Tell in neutral and yet private surroundings. That will help reassure your partner
  • And offer information. Don't overwhelm your partner with a flood of facts, but answer his (her) questions as best you can, and let him (her) know where to find accurate information. Be aware that he (she) might trust a disinterested party (ASHA, for example) more than you. But nonetheless, you are his (her) first and best source of information.