table of contents
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Hooking up with someone or starting a new relationship should be an exciting time, but for some people, the first time they have sex with a new partner can also come with a fair amount of anxiety. If you have been diagnosed with genital herpes, you may be wondering what the best way is to share that information with your new partner.
While there are no hard and fast rules, read on for some tips on how to tell someone you have herpes.
Do you have to tell someone you have herpes?
If you are going to be intimate with that person, then yes. You have a responsibility to tell your partner you have been diagnosed with genital herpes.
Even if you don’t have active symptoms at the moment, there is still a risk that you can pass the virus to your partner. Data suggests that people with an asymptomatic HSV-2 infection, the virus that commonly causes genital herpes, continue to shed the virus about 10% of the time (Tronstein, 2011).
This is why being transparent and communicative with your sexual partners is necessary. Just because you can’t see the virus, that doesn’t mean it’s not there and that they can’t contract it.
You don’t need to tell friends or family about it unless it’s relevant and you feel comfortable sharing that information. But anyone that you anticipate getting physically intimate with should be warned so that they can take appropriate precautions.
Let’s go over some tactics to help you feel more comfortable telling a sexual partner you have herpes.
5 tips for telling someone you have herpes
Conversations about herpes with a potential new sexual partner may make you feel anxious and uncomfortable. But if you care about them, you want to do what’s best for them, right? And you would want the same treatment in return. We’ve compiled a few tips to help make this potentially awkward conversation easier.
1. Practice what you’ll say
Some people find that they are less nervous when they’ve had the chance to organize their thoughts and practice what they will say ahead of time. Think of key points you want to address, and then practice saying them aloud a few times.
How long does it take for herpes to show up?
2. Find the right time
The right time to tell a partner that you have herpes happens well before any sexual activity. It’s important to discuss safety right up front rather than waiting until you’re caught up in the heat of the moment. Some people choose to have “the talk” super early in their relationships, while others prefer to wait until the connection has escalated past the casual, get-to-know-you stage. But regardless of when the information comes out, it’s important to raise the issue before sexual contact.
Find a time when the two of you can be alone and in a safe place to have a discussion and address any concerns about your herpes status.
3. Don’t apologize
Be direct and inform your potential partner, but remember that you do not need to apologize—you have done nothing wrong. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are very common, and having a herpes diagnosis says nothing about you as a person.
On the contrary, you are showing your partner how much you care by being honest, open, and direct about having herpes, and you also help reduce the stigma associated with STIs.
4. Educate your partner
Information is a wonderful tool to help deal with stressful situations. Often, ignorance about herpes can be a source of negativity and anxiety.
Herpes is a common infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two different versions of that virus: HSV-2 infections typically cause genital herpes, while HSV-1 infections typically cause oral herpes, also known as cold sores. However, either virus can cause either type of herpes. Almost half of American adults between the ages of 14–49 have HSV-1 (oral herpes), and around 1 in 10 have HSV-2 (genital herpes) (McQuillan, 2018).
These infections are lifelong (there is no cure for herpes), but the symptoms come and go. Some people have regular flare-ups, while others may only have a few over their lifetime. Treatments are available, and you can let your partner know if you are taking medications for herpes.
Herpes symptoms: know what to look for
5. Give them time
For some, this conversation may be a lot to process. Give your partner time to take in what you’ve told them, research on their own, or do whatever they need to feel comfortable. Taking time to think does not mean they don’t care or don’t want to continue the relationship—they may just need time.
Having safe sex with herpes
Having genital herpes does not mean that you cannot have sex. In addition to communication and honesty, knowing how to prevent spreading the infection to your sexual partners can help all involved have a safe and healthy sex life.
Some tips to follow when having sex with herpes include:
- Don’t have genital or oral sex during a herpes outbreak.
- Practice safe sex by using condoms or dental dams.
- Take herpes medications, like valacyclovir (Valtrex; see Important Safety Information), as prescribed by your provider.
Can you get an STD from oral sex?
Communication is important in any relationship, but especially when it comes to health risks for your partner. Be honest and open. Give your partner information and time—you’ll find they’ll respect you more.
- McQuillan G., Kruszon-Moran D., Flagg E. W., et al. (2018). Prevalence of herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in persons aged 14–49: United States, 2015–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 304. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db304.htm
- Tronstein E., Johnston C., Huang M., et al. (2011). Genital shedding of herpes simplex virus among symptomatic and asymptomatic persons with HSV-2 infection. JAMA, 305(14), 1441–1449. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.420. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/896698
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.