One in six people in the United States live with genital herpes and I’m one of them. I’ve had it for four years and while it hasn’t always been easy, I refuse to be told by society that having an STD means the end of my sex life. Over time I’ve worked out my own personal system for telling potential partners about my status in a way that’s educational, mature, and keeps me in control.
I practice what I want to say ahead of time. I may just be a notorious over-planner, but I firmly believe that when it comes to important conversations, it’s best to already have an idea in my head of what I want to say. I don’t want to be fumbling over my words or sound unsure while I’m trying to explain something I take seriously.
I wait for the right moment. I try to gauge the right moment to bring up my status based on the situation and the person I’m telling. If we’re already making out and I’m on top of them, obviously I would bring it up before things went any further. If we happen to be chatting about sex and I sense that we’ll probably become intimate later then I’ll just tell them.
I stay calm. I think this is the most important step in telling someone you have an STD. I do my best to stay calm and collected so the other person can see I’m not freaking out and realize they don’t need to either. I understand herpes isn’t this disastrous, life-ruining disease movies and television make it out to be so I want to reflect that in my behavior.
I make eye contact. I don’t mean a creepy amount of eye contact, but still enough to show the other person I mean what I say and I want them to hear me. It shows respect, confidence, and that I’m sure of myself going forward. If I were to keep nervously looking away or staring at something else then it would look like I wasn’t actively participating.
I open up about how I got it. I contracted herpes during my second year of college. It was my first time ever having sex. My partner and I didn’t know most STD screenings don’t test for herpes, so when his came back negative, we thought we were safe. Turns out he’d had it for years and never showed symptoms. When I contracted it from him, I started to show symptoms within two weeks. I share this information with my sex partners because I want to clear up common misunderstandings that come with herpes that many people don’t know.
I go through all the ways I keep myself healthy. I explain that while herpes isn’t curable, it’s highly treatable because it’s so common. I take a generic form of an antiviral drug called Acyclovir that suppresses symptoms and shortens the life of breakouts. I point out how certain things like high stress, too much friction, or a weakened immune system can cause a herpes flare-up. Over time, I’ve learned my triggers and what I need to do to manage them.
I explain how to have sex safely. Genital herpes is transmitted by having sexual contact with someone who has it. This means condoms are ALWAYS required when I have sex, even when I’m not having an active breakout or showing signs. No “just the tip” nonsense. I also don’t have sex if I feel a recurrence coming. I’d rather eat pizza on the couch and watch Love Island than risk anything.
I prepare to be told no and accept it gracefully. I’ve yet to be turned down by a potential partner after telling them my STD status. I consider myself very fortunate to have met such understanding people, but I also know that not everyone will feel as comfortable. I make sure that everyone I tell knows that if me having herpes changes their mind about wanting to be intimate, that’s totally OK and I won’t be upset.
I remember my self-worth. I know eventually the day will come when someone turns me down because of my herpes and it’s going to suck. But I have to remember I offer so much more as a person than just sex and I deserve a partner who appreciates me for everything I am. In my humble opinion, I’d much rather sleep with someone who’s been upfront with me than risk sleeping with someone who may not know their STD status at all.
I proceed to have awesome sex. Learning how to talk about my STD has been nerve-wracking but it does come with benefits. It’s given me more confidence to speak up and have frank conversations with my sex partners about what we both want. Because of the open communication, there’s less confusion to deal with later. This means more time to put towards fun and honest pleasure.
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