"I Just Had My First Herpes Outbreak..."

"And My Partner Swears He Didn't Give It To Me"

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If you read the page of herpes stories submitted by users of this site, you will see two common complaints that stem from the same misconception. The first: "My partner lied to me about having herpes, but I've just had my first herpes outbreak and I know he gave it to me." The second: "I was just diagnosed with genital herpes, so my partner must have cheated on me."

In some cases, these statements are probably true.

People do lie about their infection status and cheat on their partners. However, they aren't always true.

  • Herpes is so often asymptomatic that many people may never know that they are infected. They may never find out unless they get screened or one of their partners has a first herpes outbreak and sends them to get tested. In other words, when someone says, "I didn't know I had herpes," they may be telling you the truth.
  • As for the assumption of cheating, there are problems with that too. People who are infected with herpes are not always equally infectious. Asymptomatic shedding does occur, but not at the same levels all the time. That means that transmission of the virus could occur one night or 1 year into a relationship. A sudden transmission doesn't mean a new infection. 

If you've just had your first herpes outbreak, you are understandably upset. You are probably in significant discomfort.

You may feel "ruined" or otherwise shamed by the social stigma surrounding the diagnosis. However, when you talk to your partner about your diagnosis, try to do so calmly and without accusations. It's possible that they did not know they were already infected. It's also possible that you came into the relationship infected and only now had your first herpes outbreak.

This is one of the reasons I often suggest pre-relationship screening and discussions about safe sex and sexual history. I want to help people avoid just this sort of misunderstanding during a relationship. Screening isn't something you do to weed out potential partners. It's something you do so that you can make informed decisions about your sexual risk. Informed decisions are less likely to be ones that you'll regret.

Finally, if you're having your first herpes outbreak, take a breath. I want to reassure you that being diagnosed with herpes is not the end of the world. Living with herpes can be difficult, both physically and emotionally. However, it is possible to live a full and happy life with the virus. No matter how hard it seems right now, a herpes diagnosis is not the end of your life. It's also not the end of your love life. Please don't let anyone tell you differently.

NOTE: A genital herpes diagnosis is not a reason to stay in a bad or unhealthy relationship. If your partner is pressuring you to stay in a relationship by telling you that no one will want you now that you are infected with herpes, it isn't true. Furthermore, such implied threats may be a sign that your relationship is or is becoming abusive. Please consider contacting a domestic abuse hotline. or discussing your situation with a local counseling professional whom you trust.

Sources:
Koutsky LA, Ashley RL, Holmes KK, Stevens CE, Critchlow CW, Kiviat N, Lipinski CM, Wølner-Hanssen P, Corey L. The frequency of unrecognized type 2 herpes simplex virus infection among women. Implications for the control of genital herpes. Sex Transm Dis. 1990 Apr-Jun;17(2):90-4.

Tronstein E, Johnston C, Huang ML, Selke S, Magaret A, Warren T, Corey L, Wald A. Genital shedding of herpes simplex virus among symptomatic and asymptomatic persons with HSV-2 infection. JAMA. 2011 Apr 13;305(14):1441-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.2011.420.

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