I became intimate before telling him I have herpes — Now what?

Originally Published: February 11, 2005 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 8, 2013
Share this
Dear Alice,

I recently started dating a man. On the first date, we became intimate (which I did not plan on happening). The day after, I told him that things moved too fast and that maybe we should get to know each other before becoming intimate again. My big concern is that I have genital herpes, and have been faced with the problem of becoming intimate before sharing that I have herpes. I came up with a plan on how to share this info, but it didn't happen in this particular relationship. Now, I don't know what to do because I am worried that I have shattered the trust in this relationship. Should I just walk away from it and use it as a lesson on how to approach a relationship next time or tell him?

Thank you for your help,
Indecisive one

Dear Indecisive one,

Plans don't always go according to schedule. Things go farther than we think, faster than we imagined, or in ways we didn't predict. We make mistakes and sometimes don't do things we wished we had done, or wished we had done them differently.

You mentioned two options above, but perhaps there are others, too:

  1. Walk away and don't disclose your herpes status
  2. Walk away, but before you do, disclose your herpes status
  3. Stay and disclose your herpes status
  4. Stay and don't disclose your herpes status

Now, no one said these were all ethical options. Most would agree that it is not respectful or honest to withhold information when someone might have been infected with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or could become infected through sex. Taking responsibility for such a mishap would include admitting the mistake, forgiving ourselves, and trying anew as best we can.

You get to decide whether or not you want to try and include this man in your future. Do you think this guy is worth working through this slightly awkward beginning? If you think the relationship could have some potential for goodness, fun, and fulfillment (or whatever you are looking to get out of it), then consider trying your plan of sharing your herpes status now.

Even if you were planning to end it, it might be worth telling this man for two reasons: (1) so he knows he might have been exposed, and (2) so that you have the experience of  telling someone something difficult to disclose. If you are looking for a lead in, consider saying something like, "I know last time things got hot pretty quickly. Neither of us got a chance to talk about what happened, how we felt, or what we might have been exposed to. I have genital herpes and I want you to know if we plan to be intimate again."

It is great that you've already got a plan to talk about your herpes status because your own style and words will be the most authentic. The more comfortable you are discussing it, the more likely you are to put him at ease, although you have no control over his response or reaction. For some tips on setting the stage for the STI talk, check out the Go Ask Alice! related Q&A's below.

You didn't mention if this man used condoms with you; he has a responsibility for protecting his health, as well. Some people don't consider this, but there is a chance he may have an STI disclosure of his own to share. Think about what was helpful to you when you first learned about your herpes diagnosis. Sharing information and resources with him may be a valuable way to educate him and reduce his anxiety (should he have any), but he may need time to deal with his anxiety or fear in his own way first. The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) publishes resources on herpes and has an online Herpes Resource Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website is also a good resource for more information on genital herpes.

If you're Columbia students, you can also talk with a health care provider on the Morningside campus by making an appointment with Medical Services using Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284. Columbia students at the Medical Center can make an appointment with Student Health or by calling 212-305-3400. Columbia students can also learn more about where to get safer sex supplies by using the interactive safer sex supplies map.

And, if you decide that this guy isn't a match for you, it is okay to leave with some lessons learned. Those lessons will help inform and prepare you for the next time.

Alice