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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 h