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Ask Ang 12/7: How to Have a Sex Life after a Herpes Diagnosis

I was just recently diagnosed with Herpes. I am devastated and feel like my sex life is over forever. The thought of disclosing this fact before a hookup makes my skin crawl and I need some tips on how to bring this up in a way that isn’t totally awkward but also gives whoever I am with all the right facts.

First, know that there’s no one right way to have this conversation. Discussing your diagnosis is probably not going to be easy, but it’s really important to be open and honest with your partner.

One thing to keep in mind when you initiate this conversation: try not to assume how your partner will react. This means not using phrases like: “I have some awful news” or “Don’t freak out, but…” Assuming your partner will freak out or react poorly makes it more likely that they will. Being straightforward and unassuming is the best approach here.

This conversation may look different based on which type of herpes you’ve been diagnosed with. Type 1 causes cold sores around the mouth and lips, and in some cases, the genitals. Genital herpes are more commonly caused by Type 2. In both cases, you shouldn’t have sex with open sores to avoid spreading the infection. You should also know that both Type 1 and Type 2 can be spread even if you don’t have open sores, so using protection is important (more on that below). As always, be open about your specific diagnosis and what it means for your partner. Don’t assume they understand the difference; it can be complicated.

As far as timing goes, force yourself to bring it up before foreplay. It’s increasingly difficult to have this conversation the further along you are, so do yourself a favor and bring it up earlier rather than later. One good way to open up the conversation is first asking your partner if they have any STDs or if they’ve been tested. There’s always a chance that they have the same diagnosis you do, and regardless, this is a good way to break the ice.

When you share your diagnosis, try to be clear and straightforward. If you seem scared to talk about it, your partner is more likely to be scared. Be willing to answer any questions they have, and be open with them about what your diagnosis means for them. If you’re taking suppressive medicine to help prevent transmission, for example, let them know.

Some stats from the American Sexual Health Association that may be helpful when answering questions:

  1. Herpes is sexually transmitted, which means it can be transmitted through oral, anal or vaginal sex. Unlike other STDs, herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact.

  2. Using condoms reduces the risk of spreading genital herpes from men to women by 96% and from women to men by 65%.

  3. One in five U.S. women and one in nine U.S. men has genital herpes, but the majority don’t realize they have it.

  4. The symptoms of herpes look different for different people - some get sores on their lips or genitals occasionally, and others have symptoms so minor they don’t even notice them.

Here’s a quiz if you want to test your knowledge. The internet is a great resource to learn more about herpes - just make sure you’re looking at sites like the CDC that are medically accurate.

The best thing you can do here is remain informed and be open with your sexual partners. Above all, remember that your diagnosis doesn’t determine your worth, and frankly, anyone unwilling to work through this with you isn’t worthy of your time.

H*yas for Choice will be launching a comprehensive STI resource toolkit next month! Stay tuned for information 👀

We hope this week’s edition of Ask Ang was helpful! If you have a question, please submit it to!

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