The Helper

  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Herpes and Relationships
Herpes and Relationships

The Direct Approach: Jenelle Marie on talking to a partner about herpes and other STIs

Print PDF

One of the most common question posed to ASHA’s Herpes Resource Center over the years is “How do I tell someone?” That “the talk” is intimidating is natural: you don’t know how to start, worry about rejection, and just don’t know what to expect. We can tell you that most potential partners don’t leave over herpes but still, it’s not easy.

We are fortunate that Jenelle Marie, founder of The STD Project, has allowed us to reprint her article on talking with partners about sexual health and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Her step-by-step approach is especially relevant to genital herpes and revolves around a key message: the most important person for you to connect with is yourself.

So, you have an STD.

You might even being learning to live with yourself by now (you certainly should be, but I know this takes oodles and oodles of time)and you might have finally resolved to regard the experience as a phenomenal learning opportunity – one you wish you wouldn’t have had to learn first hand, sure, but a learning opportunity nonetheless.

Consequently, you’ve started to date! Cheers!

Or maybe someone came on to you while you were dutifully trying to swear off relationships for the rest of your life?!?!

Either way, the time has come to have ‘the talk’. NO ONE wants to have the talk with anyone EVER, but you must have it if you’re ever to develop a loving, healthy relationship with someone again – at least enough to get in the sack with them that is!

It may shock you, but sex is still fantastic with an STD. Do your best not to worry too much about that right now, I’ll get you there.

Anyhow, now what? What in the world are you going to say to the potential love of your life to get them to not run for the hills?!!?!

Well, I’m sure there are many ways to go about telling someone you have an STD, however, not all of them will help you keep the other individual.

Albeit, what I’m about to share is certainly not a guaranteed method, by any means; it’s just what I think works best. I’ve had quite a bit of luck in this approach; I’ve been married, I’ve had great long-term relationships, and I’ve never lost a partner simply because of my STD. So, in some ways, I’m proof there’s a good way to do this kind of thing.

In the end, only you will know what works best for you, but in the meantime, you can try this approach on for size until you do.


Narrowing the Search for Love Online

Print PDF

Ever logged on to look for love? You’re not alone—more than 16 million adults in the U.S. have used online dating services, according to a recent survey from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Once the domain of only a few major websites, online dating has exploded into a major marketplace with hundreds of sites to choose from. Alongside the larger, more generic options are a range of niche sites that cater to select audiences—pet lovers, farmers, alumni of select colleges—you name it. Among these specialized sites are dating services geared toward people with a range of health conditions, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While sites such as these can help “break the ice,” are they also necessarily isolating? Charles Ebel, co-author of Managing Herpes: Living & Loving with HSV, offers his take on this growing trend in the online world.Dr. Charles Ebel

In general, I’d have to say my attitude towards dating services for people with STIs has softened to some extent. Originally, I had been opposed to the idea. As part of the ASHA staff running a national Herpes Resource Center, we began to run into this notion way back in the 1980s in our network of local herpes support groups. Some folks would come to the groups for support or a place to vent, others for medical information, but some got involved because they thought they could find a partner there. Most of the groups around the country—there were almost 100 at the time—put some limits on this. For one thing, the groups needed to be a place where someone could go without feeling that someone would “hit on” them. For another, our philosophy organizationally was that HSV infection was incredibly common and unnecessarily stigmatized. We felt that suggesting to people newly diagnosed with herpes that they needed to start thinking about dating other people with herpes was completely wrong. We tried to buck the idea that herpes is a sort of master status trait.

Our point: It’s not who you are. It’s something that happened along the way—like getting mono, for example (another herpesvirus). So the major point was that someone getting an HSV diagnosis should not let it redefine them. It should not restrict them in terms of who they can fall in love with. I still believe that.

But I say my view has softened because it’s clear from working as an educator in this field for a long time that people with HSV often do have a hard time telling others about it. (Surveys show 30 to 40 percent of people have not told a current partner.) I wish we could change that—remove the angst, remove the stigma. But for some people there is a major barrier to disclosure. So something that helps to remove that barrier—like an online dating service that pre-screens people—obviously can be helpful. Secondly, we have always advised people with genital HSV to make efforts to reduce the risk of spreading it to a partner—and part of that risk reduction involves being honest about it, and ideally making decisions about risk with partners. Again, you are dealing with a discussion that some people find difficult to have, and a dating site can make talking about prevention a lot easier.

And of course, two people who have HSV-2 already not only can talk about it but they will have natural immunity against that particular virus. So they probably will not be needing to take any precautions. So in all honesty I have to say that I think there are dating sites that do help people with herpes. Maybe it helps someone who is going through a tough adjustment—helps them start dating again. And maybe after dating some people who have herpes they are ready to open themselves back up to dating people who don’t. Or maybe they find their perfect match—I’m sure it happens. The sites that I’ve seen that address dating and STIs vary widely in sophistication.

I do worry sometimes about the health and medical information that’s posted on them. Much of it is put together hastily and not kept up to date. I’ve seen this time and again. Many of these are mom-and-pop businesses, and they don’t have resources to support medical writers or true medical advisors. So the content can be wrong. It can also be quite superficial and stigmatizing, because the writers just don’t get the subtleties.

I can understand why HPV and hepatitis and other viral STIs also generate some interest on these sites, though I think the case for each has its own subtleties. HPV, for example, is even more common that HSV and also can be a transient virus, so the message there is different. There’s no consensus on a person who has HPV needing to tell every partner forever it does surprise me to see dating sites for that.


Get Managing Herpes on Kindle today! ASHA's award winning book Managing Herpes: Living & Loving with HSV, by Charles Ebel and Anna Wald, M.D., M.P.H., is an essential resource for anyone looking for more information on herpes.

Only $7.95 for the Kindle edition.