Yes, it also means disclosing oral herpes. Sometimes, « people don’t care about oral infections as much because… the stigma minimizes one and makes the other sensational, » Jenelle PierceAASECT Certified Sex Educator and Executive Director of IST projectsays SELF.
But it’s important to disclose if you have cold sores at the start of sex, Susan Milstein, CPH, a certified MCHE health educator who specializes in STIs, says SELF. « The mouth can come into sexual play much earlier than the genitals, » she says. And many people default to unprotected oral sex because they assume it’s safer than other forms of sex in terms of preventing STIs, or because they think « it doesn’t count as real sex. » Which is not the case! And, again, unprotected oral sex is an increasingly common cause of genital herpes infections.
All of this said: how do you literally tell someone you have herpes? Emily Depasse, MSW, MEdwho specializes in STI-focused sex education, says that the speech can be intimidating due to stigma, and few of us receive guidance on how to discuss STIs with partners. It’s understandable to worry that revelations will suck all the passion out of a room or scare off a partner. In reality, disclosures don’t have to be a heartbreaking and depressing ordeal. Most SELF experts suggested simply stating your status as a neutral fact, rather than apologizing for it or treating it as a defect.
Choosing the time and place for this depends on what feels most comfortable for you and your partner. Whenever this happens, « make it a conversation rather than a monologue », Melissa King, LMHC, a therapist who has worked with people with herpes for more than 20 years, says SELF. « Start with one or two sentences, like, ‘I have herpes. That’s how it affects me. End by inviting the other person to have a chat. (If improvising sounds daunting, Depasse created basic scripts help.)
When answering questions about herpes, you don’t have to memorize every data point. If something escapes you, you can search for it together. (Just use credible sources like the CDC Or Planned parenthood herpes fact sheets — not, like, a TikTok account called @STIbadboy.)
Although sharing your status can sometimes feel awkward or uncomfortable, it can lead to better sex and relationships. « Even with casual partners, » notes Depasse, « communication is imperative for the more arousing aspects of sex, like arousals and the use of toys. » If it seems like things are going well and the mood is good, you can even use the disclosure as a springboard to discussing sex more broadly, like your likes and dislikes, for example.
Yet, it’s always possible that the other person in your sexual equation won’t let go of their internalized stigma. « Some potential partners won’t be able to negotiate, » King acknowledges. « But many will. » People with herpes interviewed for this story say they have experienced one or two rejections following a disclosure, but the majority of people they spoke with were open to learning more.
How to have safer sex if you have herpes
The most common adjustments people with herpes make to their sex lives are to reduce the risk of transmission, Kristen Lilla, LSACAASECT-certified sex therapist and educator, says SELF.