Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You shouldn’t rely on this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.
So you just got diagnosed with genital herpes. That means you’re completely out of the dating game—right? Not necessarily. Although there is a societal stigma around genital herpes, it’s much more manageable in a romantic situation than you might think. Ahead, we’re digging into that stigma, as well as guiding you through the do’s and don’t of dating with genital herpes.
What is herpes and how is it spread?
Genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It’s caused by either Herpes Simplex Virus type one (HSV-1) or Herpes Simplex Virus type two (HSV-2). HSV-2 is the most frequent cause of genital herpes, but HSV-1 can also be a cause if the infection was transmitted orally. It’s spread by skin-to-skin contact, and, despite common belief, it can be spread even when you aren’t having an active breakout. (1) Herpes, though, is incredibly common. In fact, the CDC estimates that there are 776,000 new cases of genital herpes each year, making it one of the most common STIs out there. (2)
Why is there a stigma against genital herpes?
There is no cure for genital herpes, which is why it tends to be one of the scarier sexually transmitted infections out there. But since it’s spread by skin-to-skin contact, there tends to be a judgement about promiscuity connected to those who have herpes, according to Dr. Michael Reitano, MD, physician in residence at Ro. And even though cold sores and genital herpes are caused by different strains of the same virus, there isn’t as much of a stigma around cold sores. “That’s because cold sores tend to clear up without much scarring, and it’s no big deal,” he says. “But when it happens on the genitals, there’s a fear there that people can’t shake.”
That stigma exists regardless of whether or not you’re in a long-term relationship. “If you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship, you can see why it can be upsetting,” Dr. Reitano says. “You have a virus that you can transmit to a partner.” Reducing the stigma starts with education, according to Reitano. But he’s also quick to point out that stigma reduction does not equal minimizing what those dealing with herpes are going through.
Dating with genital herpes
All that said, it’s not impossible to date or be romantic with genital herpes. If you’re looking for people who share in your diagnosis, there are dating sites for that. Positive Singles is the web’s biggest dating site for HSV-1 and HSV-2 positive singles. Other sites are catering to the virus, too. OkCupid, another popular dating site, asks users if they’d be comfortable dating someone with HSV-1 or HSV-2. In fact, some herpes-positive folks find traditional sites to be more welcoming, as people aren’t solely focused on the virus. (3)
It’s important to talk to your partner about your status before you have sex, or before you even find yourself in a sexual situation. “You should, from an ethical perspective, inform them of a risk they might have in engaging in sex with you, because there’s a risk of transmitting the virus to them,” says Dr. Reitano. It’s best to be as upfront as possible, and go into the conversation informed. Showing them articles about HSV-1 or HSV-2, like the ones we publish here, are a great way to help your partner become educated.
There are also many blogs and articles that talk about dating with HSV-1 and HSV-2. Ella Dawson, a sex and culture critic, writes a blog and gave an inspiring Ted Talk about dating with HSV-1. The Instagram account My Boyfriend Has Herpes is another inspiring resource. It even breaks down how the creator’s boyfriend told her about her diagnosis, giving pointers about how to have your own conversation with your partner.
When it does come time for you to have sex, barrier methods like dental dams and condoms can help to reduce the spread of the infection, as herpes can be spread even when you aren’t in the midst of a outbreak. (1)
The most important thing to remember in all of this is that dating with herpes is something people do every day. You may experience rejection—but you could experience rejection for anything when it comes to dating. Herpes may just be your thing for some people. But, as the blogs and Instagram accounts will show you, the right partner will accept you for you, regardless of your diagnosis.
Current Concepts for Genital Herpes Simple Diagnostics and Pathogenesis of Genital Tract Shedding. American Society of Microbiology. Accessed September 20, 2019. View resource.
Genital Herpes Detailed Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed September 20, 2019. View resource.
Dating Sites For People With Herpes Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be. Vice. Accessed September 20, 2019. View resource.