What To Do If You Get Diagnosed With Herpes

Dear Heather,

So today I just went to the doctor to get checked up, and it turns out I have herpes. I’ve been with my boyfriend for two years, I’ve never fooled with anyone else but him. He obviously cheated on me because it’s not like it’s the first time we had sex. I’m shocked but mostly scared. All I’m thinking is who will possibly want to be with me now? I don’t know if I’m stupid if I stay with him, I don’t know what to do. I just feel stupid, I don’t know what to do.

Okay, before you freak out, let’s talk. First, I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis. Even though herpes is more common than people realize (the CDC estimates one in sex people have it), it’s still upsetting to get that news at the doctor, especially if you weren’t expecting to hear it. Second: before you assume your boyfriend was cheating, know that it’s possible he wasn’t. How is that possible? It’s time for a little lesson on herpes.

Herpes is a weird little virus that is wrapped in a social stigma that makes it hard for people to understand the truth behind all of the myths. Everyone thinks that you contract herpes by hooking up with someone who has a visible cold sore. This isn’t true – although it would certainly make things easier if it were. The truth is that herpes can lay dormant in someone’s body for a long time before physical side effects appear. This means that someone can have the herpes virus in their body, even if they never have a visible cold sore – and that means they can still pass herpes on to someone else. Because of the lack of physical evidence, this means thousands of people are walking around with no idea they even have herpes.

To make things even more complicated, there are a lot of different types of herpes, and sometimes they don’t even show up when you get tested for them! Making out with someone with a cold sore, or bumping uglies with someone who has genital herpes isn’t the only way you can get it. Herpes type 1 can be passed around by sharing drinks, lipstick, razors, eating utensils, and cigarettes – basically anything that touches your mouth.

All of this is to say that, just because you were just diagnosed with herpes doesn’t mean your boyfriend cheated. You could have had the virus in your body for a long time, and it was just discovered. Or HE could have had it for a long time and it was just discovered. You might have gotten it from sharing something with someone who has it. Of course, the cheating possibility is there, and all of that depends on which type of herpes you were diagnosed with, but getting it doesn’t mean he was 100 percent fooling around with someone else.

So, what should you do about him? You have to come clean about the diagnosis because it’s only fair. Let him know you went to the doctor and tested positive for herpes. Tell him you need to know if he fooled around with anyone else, and see what he says. Then go with your gut reaction here. I don’t know what type of herpes you were diagnosed with or the kind of person he is – but you do, so it’s your call.

But enough about your boyfriend for a minute. It’s sad for me to read that you think no one will want anything to do with you now that you have herpes. That isn’t true! There are some things you can do. Talk to your doctor about options – there is no way to cure herpes, but there are medications that will help diminish outbreaks and slow down the growth of the virus. Herpes is honestly so common. Studies have shown that 80 percent of people with herpes don’t know they have it – and since more than half of the population does have it, this means that, uh, almost everyone has herpes.

Don’t think about the social stigma surrounding herpes. There is nothing weird or gross or dirty about you. Talk to your boyfriend, talk to your doctor, and try to move past the mourning stage and onto the moving on stage. Good luck!

What’s on your mind? Heather can help! Send her your question at heather@gurl.com

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