Q&A: I Gave My Partner Herpes, Now What Do I Do?

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QUESTION: I made a huge ethical mistake and didn't tell my partner that I have genital herpes. Now he has herpes. What should I do? I've always told my previous partners without any problem.

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Thanks for your question. Many women and men find it challenging or embarrassing to talk about sexually transmissible infections – also called STIs – even if they themselves have never had an STI. It can be a more difficult conversation to have, but a necessary one, if one happens to have a STI.

STIs Stigmatized

Unfortunately, STIs have been stigmatized in ways in many cultures – including here in the United States – that have made some people worry about approaching a potential partner with STI information. In this instance, you chose not to provide your partner with important information about your health, and now he has herpes.

We consider Kinsey Confidential to be an information service, rather than an advice service, so we can’t and won’t tell you what to do.

Open and Honest Communication

However, we would absolutely encourage you to develop open and honest communication with your partner, and to support him in ways that encourage his health. Even though you may be afraid to be honest with your partner, telling him that you have herpes too may help him to feel less alone, even though he may initially be angry with you or feel resentful.

It is possible that your relationship will be enormously strained. You two may even break up or decide to stop seeing each other. Then again, being able to make yourself vulnerable to and honest with each other may end up strengthening your relationship over time.

There is no way to predict his reaction or what course your relationship may take, however part of being responsible about sexual health involves being open and honest with your partners.

Herpes Treatment

Scientists have made enormous progress related to herpes in recent years. Treatment is now available that can greatly reduce the risk of outbreaks as well as transmission.

You and your partner may both want to check in with a healthcare provider for more information. That said, as far as we have come with treatment, it’s up to women and men to learn to live with herpes, and to manage it in responsible ways with their sexual partners.

Learn More

You can learn more about herpes in our sexual health, disease, and STIs resource pages, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or from the American Social Health Association.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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