Ask Dr. H: Week 1

Dr. Jill Hoxmeir, Public Health Professor

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Dr. Jill Hoxmeir is a public health professor at CWU. Every week, she’ll answer sexual health questions submitted by readers. You can reach her anonymously at [email protected]

Dear Dr. H,

I’ve been dating someone for the last couple of weeks, and things are going really well. We haven’t had sex yet, but I like this person a lot and am ready for the next step. The problem is, last year, I was diagnosed with genital herpes, and I haven’t been in a sexual relationship since. I’m on medication, but this would be the first person I would tell where there’s a potential for sex… and a potential for heartache if they reject me. I know I need to talk about this before things get serious, but I’m afraid they won’t want to continue the relationship. What do I do?

–  Diagnosed and Confused

Dear D&C,

First, I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis. Dealing with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is challenging. It can be even more challenging when we think we’re the only ones affected, but STIs are very common – about one out of six people aged 14-49 years have genital herpes. So, knowing your status and how to have safe sex is very important, and I’m glad to hear that you’re ready to have that conversation with your special someone. There are many misconceptions about STIs, especially genital herpes, or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Although you can get herpes through vaginal, anal, or oral sex, outbreaks can occur outside of those areas so condoms (male, female, finger, dental dams) may not completely prevent transmission. Most people who have genital herpes have no or very mild symptoms; people often mistake symptoms for something else, like a pimple or ingrown hair. Although there is no cure for genital herpes, there are medications that shorten and even prevent outbreaks. People with genital herpes can certainly go on to lead healthy and happy lives. Knowing your status, taking medication, and being able to communicate openly with sexual partners are all a part of that. It sounds like you are taking care of yourself in all of the important ways.

So, how can you disclose your status to someone you would like to have sex with? The short answer: Just tell them. Not on the phone or in a text. Don’t wait until you’re about to have sex, and don’t beat around the bush by asking them if they have been tested or have ever had an STI. Just tell them in a quiet, private space when you have enough time to devote to the conversation—not when they’re about to rush out to class. Let them know it’s a hard conversation for you, but that you care about them and that it is important to talk about it. Once you’ve told them, if they need some time to think about it, by all means give it to them. Your partner may also have some questions about herpes and the risk for transmission. It would be great to educate yourself as much as you can to be prepared for their questions.

Remember, you are taking responsibility for your health and the role you play in your partner’s health, and disclosing this information is the healthy thing to do. Although we would hope that this person would recognize that and be grateful for your honesty, this isn’t always the case. Fear and ignorance breed stigma, and sadly, there is still much fear and ignorance about STIs. So, if this person rejects you, take it as a sign that they aren’t worthy of your companionship. But, also remember, that this person does have the right to decide not to have a sexual relationship with you, and although this may feel like rejection, perhaps you may have also made the same decision had the person who infected you afforded you the choice.  This would be your opportunity to be respectful of their decision.

However, if this person gets angry with you or verbally abusive, end the conversation then and there and leave. You are under no obligation to defend yourself and are in no way deserving of someone’s ignorant rant against you. Best of luck!

– Dr. H

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1 Comment

One Response to “Ask Dr. H: Week 1”

  1. Elina on May 15th, 2016 9:30 pm

    Even though 90 percent of people have some form of herpes, the virus is heavily stigmatized. But the transition from “itchy annoyance” to shameful secret may not have been coincidental.

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Ask Dr. H: Week 1