Herpes: do you need to tell your partner?
What should you tell you partner about your diagnosis?
Updated: Tuesday 24 November 2020
Genital herpes is often stigmatised in our society. It is misunderstood, and getting the basics right is the first step to a better understanding of the condition. It can help to inform a new partner you have herpes and for them to understand what that involves.
Herpes is Common
Herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus, which can lie dormant in the body and not show any symptoms. In fact, most of those who have the virus are not aware of it and it does not mean your sex life has to end and there is a range of medications you can easily use to overcome it. Around one in five people are infected with the virus so just remember, you’re not alone.
Diagnosis of the virus helps in the prevention of transmission from one person to another as measures can be taken beforehand. The most effective precaution would be avoiding sex as soon as you notice symptoms of an outbreak and up until they have completely disappeared.
Condoms are the next best preventative measure, since the herpes simplex virus cannot pass through a condom. They significantly reduce the chance of the virus being passed to your partner. However, we strongly recommend that you practice safe sex at all times, even when not exhibiting symptoms.
The virus is generally passed from one person to another through direct contact with an affected area during an outbreak. Transmitting it without an outbreak (when the virus is dormant in your nerve cells) is unlikely but it is best to be safe.
If you and your partner have the same type of virus, you cannot catch it again on another part of the body.
Talking with your Partner
You must inform your partner you have genital herpes. It can be a stressful and difficult time when you have been diagnosed with herpes and it’s a difficult conversation to have with your partner. To help you overcome the nerves, make sure you have all the facts straight about herpes and it might help to practice what you’re going to say beforehand. By being open and honest about your sexual history and diagnoses is for both your protection and your partners.
One of the hardest parts of telling your partner is choosing the right moment to tell them. Finding a moment where you both are alone, so you are able to have a one to one conversation with them is generally the best time. Make sure you tell your partner or potential partner before you engage in any sexual activity, because even if you aren’t suffering from an outbreak, the virus can still be easily transmitted.
Telling your partner confidently and directly will be more effective than starting the conversation off with an apology. You haven’t done anything wrong so there is no reason to apologise for having genital herpes. Remember that the virus is easy to treat and going in with an open and direct approach, you are able to judge your partners reaction better and hopefully reduce any anxiety you both may have.
It will be common for your partner to have questions. Most people are not well informed about genital herpes, so if they are curious then share the information with them about the virus itself, how often you experience it and any treatments you are taking.
Just remember that everybody is going to react differently and sometimes they won’t react the way you had thought. Being confident and calm during the conversation will make your partner feel more comfortable.
It is extremely important to practice safe and responsible sex techniques, even if your partner is fine with you having genital herpes. This means using a condom during sex and avoid having sex during an outbreak. It also means taking medications to help treat your genital herpes such as taking valaciclovir to supress the virus.
If in doubt, you can visit a sexual health clinic for further support and advice on how to discuss any sexual health concerns with your partner.
Authored by Iris Barbier
Born in France, Iris moved to the UK to study Biological Sciences at London Metropolitan University. Upon graduating, Iris moved up north, where she completed an MA in Science Journalism at the University of Lincoln.
As a qualified science journalist, Iris uses her expertise to write content for Pharmica’s online Health Centre. She ensures our patients get specialist knowledge on medical conditions and how to treat them.