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Herpes and Relationships

Discussing Genital Herpes with your Partner

Many people do not feel comfortable talking about sexuality and sexual health issues. This article will explore ways of feeling more confident in discussing herpes in the context of a sexual relationship.

Cold sores on the mouth and genital herpes are medically the same condition. The significant difference arises from the stigma that tends to accompany a herpes infection that is sexually transmitted.

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Most people find that their partners are both supportive and understanding. It is a common assumption to initially think that a person may base their judgement of you on the fact you have genital herpes. However, for most this is a minor skin infection. People fear the possibility of rejection but the reality of this is that it rarely happens.

Because fear of rejection is a concern, it leads some to question why they should risk talking about herpes. Accordingly, some people choose not to tell. Instead they abstain during herpes outbreaks, practice safe sex at other times, and hope for the best.

This strategy may have more disadvantages than advantages. First of all, you spend a lot of time and energy worrying that your partner is going to get herpes. It’s much harder to tell someone if they just found out they’re infected with herpes. For most people, the anxiety over not telling your partner you have herpes is worse than the telling itself.

On the other hand, by telling your partner you have herpes and allowing them to enter into the relationship with full knowledge of your infection, you reduce the likelihood of them becoming infected with herpes. This is because, when you have an outbreak, you can discuss it with your partner instead of making excuses for why you can’t have sex. Excuses create distance between partners and often lead to misunderstanding and guesswork.

Your partner might interpret your excuses in ways more detrimental to the relationship than an honest discussion of genital herpes would be.

If you are able to discuss the situation openly and honestly, you can find imaginative ways to be ‘safely’ sexually intimate.

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Genital herpes is extremely common, with up to one in four adults who are sexually active having genital herpes, although approximately 80% remain unaware that they are infected.

Inaccurate and stigmatising articles and advertising have contributed to many of us having a lot of negative beliefs related to herpes that make it difficult to convince ourselves that others would want to be with us. It’s important to recognise these beliefs and consciously change them. Accepting the fact that you have herpes and are still the same person you were before will make it easier to have a fulfilling relationship.

Getting the facts?
The more emotionally charged an issue, the more important it is to find out the facts. Most people know little or no facts about herpes. Frequently, what knowledge they have is coloured by myth and misconception. Having the correct information about herpes not only makes it easier for your partner, it makes it easier for you.

Following are some of the basic facts about herpes that might be important points to tell a partner.

There is a lot of information about herpes. Have educational materials on hand for your partner to read. Be prepared to answer their questions.

Herpes simplex causes a viral skin condition is known as cold sores (on face), whitlows (on fingers) or 'herpes' on genitals or other skin areas
Most people who have genital herpes do not know they’ve got it. The absence of symptoms does not mean a person has not got genital herpes.
Herpes simplex virus (HSV) most often shows up as small blisters or sores on either the mouth (cold sore or fever blisters) or the genitals.
HSV can be passed on when one person has the herpes virus present on the skin and another person makes direct skin-to-skin contact with live herpes virus.

The herpes virus is likely to be present on the skin from the first sign of prodrome (tingling or itching where the outbreak usually occurs) until the sores have completely healed and new skin is present.

There are likely to be certain days when active herpes virus might be on the skin even though there are no obvious signs or symptoms. Always using latex condoms can reduce the risk of transmitting the herpes virus by approximately 50%.

Herpes is very frequently transmitted by infected persons who don’t know they are infected with herpes. Since they have not been diagnosed, they are unaware that they may be contagious from time to time. There is effective oral antiviral treatment for people with problematic genital herpes.

Preparing to tell your Partner
What you say and how you say it is going to depend on your own personal style.

Your attitude will influence how this news is received. Psychologists have observed that people tend to behave the way you expect them to behave, and expecting rejection increases the chances of an unhappy outcome.

“When I finally told my partner I had genital herpes, he was relieved, he thought it was something much worse...”

A straightforward and positive conversation about herpes issues is the best approach and may be helped by forward planning.

How long should you know someone before you tell them? If it appears the two of you could end up in bed on the first date, that’s probably a good time.

Ideally, though, it’s best to give it a few dates before telling. Allow the relationship to develop a little. It’s going to be easier if the two of you enjoy a degree of comfort and trust in each other’s company. It’s probably better to wait until you know and trust each other.

There are good and bad times to bring up the topic of herpes. Some of the less appropriate moments include the crowded bar or party scene, travel en route to a romantic weekend, or a talk when you’ve just finished having sex. Talking just prior to love-making is not a good idea either.

Bring up the issue when you are not already ‘in the mood’ for sexual intimacy, when you’re feeling good about yourself, and when you both have an opportunity to have a discussion.

The discussion could take place anywhere you feel safe and comfortable. Some people turn off the TV, take the phone off the hook, and broach the subject over a quiet dinner at home. Others prefer a more open place, like walking in the park, so that their partner will feel free to go home afterwards to mull things over. This allows both people to work off a little nervous energy at the same time.

No matter where you choose to have the discussion, it’s important to allow for the fact that one or both of you might get emotional.

Try to be natural and spontaneous. If you find yourself whispering, mumbling, or looking at the floor, stop for a moment and try to speak calmly and clearly. Look your partner in the face. Your delivery affects your message. If you are obviously upset, the person you’re speaking with might perceive the situation as being much worse than it is.

“The first time I told someone I had genital herpes in the early stages of a relationship, he said: ‘ You want to know something... I have too.’ ...I couldn’t believe it... all that worry... we had to laugh.”

Conversation starters
The following opening statements represent a variety of nonthreatening ways to prompt discussion about herpes. They are not intended to be regarded as scripts.

“I have something I’d like to discuss with you. Have you ever had a cold sore? The reason I ask is that cold sores are caused by a type of virus. Herpes simplex virus. I have the virus. Only instead of getting a cold sore on my mouth, I get one in my genital area.”

“When two people get along as well as we do, I think we owe it to each other to be totally honest. I’d like to talk about our sexual histories.”

“I really enjoy being with you, and I’m glad that we’re becoming more intimate. I think it’s important that we talk about sex. Can we talk now?”

“We’re both responsible adults who want to do what’s best for each other and ourselves. Let’s talk about safe sex.”

“I feel that I can trust you and I’d like to tell you something personal. Last year, I found out that I had contracted genital herpes.”

Try not to be melodramatic. This is not a confession or a lecture, simply the sharing of information between two people. Avoid negative words and keep the dialogue simple and factual: “I found out two years ago that I have herpes. Luckily it’s both treatable and manageable. Could we talk about what this means for us?”

Look for logical opportunities to bring up the subject. This way it seems more natural, there’s no time to get nervous, and you’re not making it into a bigger deal than it is. With more and more singles talking about ‘safe sex’ and HIV/AIDS, these opportunities come up fairly frequently. You might even be surprised to learn that your partner has been equally concerned about telling you that they have genital herpes or another sexual infection. In fact, the probability of this is reasonably high, given the statistics on HSV.

Realistic and unrealistic expectations
People may just need a little time to assimilate the information. This is where having good written information helps. Consider giving them reading material or referring them to a Sexual Health Center.

Whatever the reaction, try to be flexible. Remember that it took you time to adjust as well.

Negative reactions are often no more than the result of misinformation. In some cases they are brought on when a person fears that you’re asking them to commit to a relationship, instead of just informing them of the situation. If your partner decides not to pursue a relationship with you simply because you have herpes, it’s better to find out now. It takes a lot more than the occasional aggravation of herpes to destroy a sound relationship.

Some people react negatively no matter what you say or how you say it. Others might focus more energy on herpes than on the relationship. These people are the exception, not the rule. This is not a reflection on you. You are not responsible for their reaction. If your partner is unable to accept the facts about herpes, encourage him or her to speak with a medical expert or counsellor.

The majority of people will react well. They will respect the trust you demonstrate in sharing a personal confidence with them. With the proper approach and information, herpes can be put into perspective: an irritating, sometimes recurrent skin condition – no more, no less.

Regarding the relationship overall, know that you can have the same level of intimacy and sexual activity that any couple can. It is true that in an intimate sexual relationship with a person who has herpes (oral or genital), the risk of contracting herpes will not be zero, but while there is a possibility of contracting herpes this is a possibility for any sexually active person. And the person may unwittingly already have been exposed to the herpes virus in a previous relationship.

All relationships face challenges, most far tougher than herpes. Good relationships stand and fall on far more important issues – including communication, respect and trust.

Whether or not this relationship works out, you have enlightened someone with your education and experience about herpes, correcting some of the myths about herpes that cause so much harm. You have removed the shroud of silence that makes it so difficult for others to speak. And you have confronted a personal issue in your life with courage and consideration.

What it means for Partners
Your partner has genital herpes. Your support is very important in helping you and your partner to understand what this means. When your partner goes back to the doctor, you may wish to go too, so that you can find out more about the herpes infection. In the meantime, here are answers to some questions you may have.

 

 

 

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