Let’s be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with having herpes. It’s incredibly common (1 in 6 US adults!). Still, the stigma around having herpes—which is, technically, a sexually-transmitted infection, or STI—is real. Many people don’t understand what exactly it is or how it can affect them (or their sex life). Preconceived notions about “cleanliness,” promiscuity, and more all contribute to the social misunderstanding of herpes. And the truth is that the stigma can really hurt—both your feelings and your chances at having a relationship.
So where does that leave you, as herpes-positive woman hoping to have a healthy sexual relationship? Well, it means you have to disclose your herpes status. It’s the responsible and respectful thing to do…although we know it feels awkward, intense, and downright terrifying.
We got you. Here, we share 3 ideas for disclosing you have herpes in ways that feel safe, comfortable, and true to you.
One: In Your Dating Profile
Rather than struggling to decide when exactly to disclose your herpes status (On the first date? On the third? Before things get sexual?) you can cut out the anxiety and disclose right away—in your online dating profile. That’s right, just have it right there in your Hinge or Bumble profile. It’s a bold move, sure, but it will absolutely weed out people who aren’t interested AND do that all-important work of disclosing up front. You may miss out on connections with those who are wary of potential infection—but honestly, that may be a risk worth taking.
You can phrase your dating profile disclosure in a way that feels true to you and your personality:
- “I have herpes—and you’ve definitely already slept with someone else who has it too!”
- “I take daily medication for HSV2 and haven’t had an outbreak in two years.”
- “Ask me about my HSV2 status.”
If you like, take the opportunity to do a little education in the disclosure, too.
Two: While Asking Their STI Status
When you have a new potential partner, the all-important STI status conversation should always happen. When exactly it happens is up to you, but it’s a non-negotiable if you’re planning on a sexual relationship. Not only so you can disclose your own status, but so you can learn about the status of your potential partner.
So, the STI conversation is a natural place for you to ask about the STI status of your partner... and disclose your own. It’s ideal to do it in person (or FaceTime, let’s be real), but however you do it, just be ready to have a clear and honest conversation. It can be as simple as “So, what's your STI status?”
If your partner doesn’t know their STI status, that’s ok. Together, you can find a local testing site before you have sex (Planned Parenthood is often a great option). If your partner doesn’t know their status and isn’t willing to get tested, that’s a red flag.
Three: In Writing
These days, relationships are built over messaging and text. People meet online and chat that way, too. It’s a digital world, so much of our communication is now written. So, it makes sense that you may want to disclose your herpes status in writing.
There are also some very real benefits to disclosing in writing. Doing so can be a great way to have full control of what you want to say and how you want to say it. You can plan out the words that feel right to you (and even spell check and grammar check it if that’s important!) If you’re nervous, anxious, or emotional about disclosing, doing it in writing can make the experience more “controlled” and less stressful overall.
Disclosing via text may be the easiest way to do it. But...we also want to say that the casual nature of text may not lend itself to the sensitivity or gravity that you may be hoping for in a vulnerable situation. Writing an email (or even a written note, card, or letter!) can be a powerful way to disclose with mindfulness and intention.
General Tips for Disclosing
- Bring honesty, compassion, and respect to your disclosure. You can’t control how other people feel about your herpes status, but you can control how you communicate and react.
- However you decide to disclose, it’s helpful to accompany your disclosure with some evidence-based information about herpes, including its prevalence, how it's passed from person to person, and how it’s treated (We like this one from the CDC). Send some quick stats or a favorite resource. Many people are happy to learn more and feel grateful to have a better understanding of herpes.
- Credible information can go a long way in combating those harmful cultural stereotypes about herpes—and can even pave the way for a healthy new relationship for you and your potential partner.