Before you react rashly to your partner’s confession, you have to take a breather, consider a few herpes facts that have gotten lost in the stigma, and analyze the situation without factoring in the initial anxiety.
Granted, learning that your loved one has herpes doesn’t make things simpler and you will have to be careful in the future. However, it’s nowhere near the relationship breaker people imagine it to be and, as you’ll see below, most fears and prejudices surrounding herpes stem from lack of information.
But first – what is herpes?
Let’s have a look at some facts about this common, but overly stigmatized condition. According to the CDC, genital herpes is incredibly common in the United States and it is estimated that approximately 40% of American adults have it, although not all cases show symptoms.
HSV-2, the virus that causes genital herpes, can be spread by direct sexual contact, but oral herpes caused by HSV-1 can also be spread from the mouth to the genitals. Contrary to common belief, however, the herpes virus isn’t that obvious. In fact, up to 80% of people don’t recognize the symptoms, which increases the chance of infection to future partners.
Statistically, if you’ve had three sexual partners, there’s a 50% chance that one of them had herpes.
Does this mean my partner cheated on me?
It’s one of the most common questions people want to ask when learning that their partner has herpes, and also one of the most unfair.
Unless your partner also confesses to cheating on you (or you have some serious reasons to believe so), there’s no reason to assume that they were disloyal. CDC data shows that most herpes transmissions happen when one of the partners is asymptomatic, so it’s more than likely that your partner got herpes from a previous partner, and had no idea until recently.
Keep in mind that once infected, a person with herpes can be asymptomatic for years, and then have a flareup when they’re going through a stressful period or their immune system is lowered. So, even if you’ve been together for a long time, it’s totally possible that your partner got herpes before they met you. You can even test negative for herpes if there isn’t a high enough concentration of the virus in your system at the time of the test!
You shouldn’t let the news shake the foundation of a happy relationship. Even if your first instinct is to doubt them, this doubt may not be caused by your own feelings or shared experiences, but by society’s twisted perception of herpes.
Can you have a fulfilling love life if your partner has herpes?
Yes. The fact that your partner has herpes will pose a few challenges, but you can definitely have a great love life. As long as you both know how to protect yourselves, having a partner with a herpes infection is no more dangerous than your partner having the flu.
Here are a few measures you should take to reduce the risk of transmission:
●Watch out for the signs of flare-ups because that’s when the infection is most contagious
●Taking antiviral medication such as valacyclovir can reduce the number of flare-ups. Your partner’s doctor will prescribe a treatment and instruct them when and how to take it
●Always use a latex condom. Unprotected sex is very risky, even when symptoms aren’t present, so you will need to use a condom all the time. Keep in mind that no protection is 100% effective, however.
How to be considerate and supportive
First of all, no matter how awkward and confused you may be feeling right now, your partner feels much worse. With the social stigma surrounding herpes being so widespread, your partner is likely afraid that you will judge them, laugh at them, and even leave them. Psychologists even warn that people who have herpes are in a vulnerable position where they feel insecure and are even at risk for low mental health.
Above all, remember that sharing a herpes diagnosis takes trust, courage, and responsibility. Your partner probably had a few sleepless nights thinking about this, but they know your relationship is serious and they told you because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s completely normal to think about your health in this situation and what it means for you, but you’ll get to that too. First, you’ll want to handle things maturely and show consideration for your partner. Don’t start by blaming them. They’re already afraid you’ll do that.
Let them explain how and when they think they contracted the infection, what symptoms they had, and what the doctor told them. It’s alright to ask questions. Like we said before, there are already too many misconceptions surrounding herpes and staying informed is the best way to fight the stigma and have a happy relationship moving forward. Yes, that’s possible.
You should also avoid pressuring your loved one from sharing their diagnosis with friends and family. Most couples actually decide to keep this between themselves because it only concerns their intimate life. Some people eventually manage to build up the confidence and talk to other people about it and if your partner will one day get there, your support will play a major part in this. However, it’s only up to them to decide if and when they want to do this. Unfortunately, society can be very close minded and it’s totally understandable if your partner isn’t ready to face the stigma full on just yet.
Herpes doesn’t sound pretty and, like any other diagnosis, it comes with its risks and responsibilities. However, herpes should in no way define your relationship and it’s not a personality trait. If you and your partner love each other and use the right protection, you can continue having a fulfilling love life.
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