I was just told I have genital herpes - How do I cope with this?

Q

I recently turned 24 and as an unexpected (and very welcomed) surprise, I was told I have genital herpes. 

Before I got this infection, I knew very little about it, except that it was "second worst after HIV/AIDS virus". When I was told the news I could not believe it and life plans, goals and aspirations flew right out the clinics window. 

I have put a lot of effort into researching this since and contrary to this social stigma, it is a benign infection that lays dormant until the immune system drops and it can reoccur. I think we all know that cold sores and genital herpes are the same thing, but socially, have completely stigma attached.

I like to think I am an attractive, healthy, kind-hearted and well-educated 24 year old male which are some qualities girls find attractive. I know this will make it difficult to meet women, to start new relationships and progress new relationships – the problem is you're always slightly infectious. 

My question(s) is (are): how do you think I should approach this with women whom i see a future with? I enjoy casual encounters, the risks are so low (2-4%) when wearing a condom (and with no outbreaks) that there maybe no reason to 'ruin' things – ethically, what is your stance? Lastly, how do you think I should cope with this?

A

You can cope with this absolutely fucking fine in the knowledge that it’s no big deal.

Of course it must have felt DEVASTATING to learn you had contracted an infection that you believed to be the SECOND WORST thing you could get from sex - which you’re wrong about by the way, the worst things you can catch from sex are:

1. Feelings
2. Babies 

Now that you’ve educated yourself on the facts and consequently understand that the social stigma wayyy outweighs the reality of the prognosis; I hope all your plans, goals and aspirations are back on track!

I’d still like to reiterate for readers, and also really drum into you, that the herpes virus is, in the majority of cases, nothing more than a bloody inconvenience. It’s brand new for you right now, and after this primary initial outbreak it could never affect you again in your life. Or it could come back and bug you from time to time for a long while – just like the common cold.

I once answered a question about my opinion on whether or not you have a moral obligation to disclose to new partners that you carry the herpes virus when the virus is inactive. The short answer to that was; if the virus is inactive/dormant and you are taking precautions, then you’re not “contagious” so no, you don’t HAVE to disclose.  

Morally, ethically, the truth is the best course of action. But so long as you’re not allowing yourself to put other people's health at risk, you’re okay to keep it to yourself if you want to. It all comes down to understanding how common the herpes virus is and the fact that most people who have it don’t know that they have it. You knowing that you carry the virus, and how to take necessary precautions, immediately puts you in the position of actually being a safer sex choice than someone who thinks they don’t have herpes.

During an outbreak you should avoid sexual contact altogether.  Even with a condom, the risks of transmission are high whilst the virus is active. It’s easier to just wait until you’re confident the outbreak is over and the virus is back to being dormant.   

When it comes to approaching the matter with women who you are interested in having a longer-term relationship with, my advice is to inform them of your diagnosis as early as possible. Although no big deal, if recurring, your herpes will have somewhat of an impact on a long-term relationship, and your partner should be aware ahead of time.

With education on the rise, and stigma gradually lessening as a result, I don’t think you will suffer too badly for being honest. And in fact you may benefit, because women greatly appreciate honesty, and may even be impressed that you’re at least aware of and on top of your sexual health. Given the stats, it’s also likely that the women’s response could be, “Cool, me too”.

The key is that when you disclose that you have herpes, you want to try and communicate it from a place of confidence, and demonstrate that you have done your research and understand the virus and how to mitigate any risks.  Don’t reflect the fears and attitudes that you held when you were first told you had the virus.  Frame it as what it is – no big deal. If the girl runs screaming, “Ewwwww herpes!” then guess what, you just dodged a bullet and avoided wasting your time.

Of course, this is easy for me to say, and much more difficult in practise but think about it. You want to get into a long-term relationship with a woman who can appreciate your honesty in disclosing something that is difficult to disclose. Who, if not already educated on the matter, is intelligent and open-minded enough to listen to what you tell her, and do her own research.

Please do check out some of these great resources that I've listed below, some of which I'm sure you've already found. And make sure you have a good doctor who you can properly discuss the matter with.  If you find you have a lot of recurrent outbreaks you may want to get your doctors advice about suppressive therapies.

Herpes.org.uk
International Herpes Resource Centre
Herpes.com
Herpes Online


The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace or substitute any professional medical advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. 

Posted on April 27, 2016 and filed under STI.