Coupled With D&S

Real, nonjudgmental advice about dating, sex, love, and life from a thirty-something couple that has seen it all over thirteen years.

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To Disclose or Not to Disclose? Genital Herpes and the Dating Profile

The Question

Genital herpes baby

A lot of people are big babies when it comes to genital herpes. Too easily grossed out, and a lot of whining and crying.

A woman in her early 30’s wrote to us saying that, “I disclose my HSV2 (genital herpes) status in my dating profile. I was getting many messages before putting HSV2 on there, and I’m still getting many messages, only now at least I have a sense of freedom and honesty. I hope it will help me filter the boys from the men, though I’m not entirely sure it’s helping. Do you think it is wise to be as honest as I am?”

Sally Says

No woman has time to actually date every man who messages her on a dating site, so why not narrow the dating pool to people you might actually have sex with?

Good for you being for honest and avoiding the stress of when to bring up the subject. The truth is that a huge percentage of sexually active adults have herpes, but most people aren’t so up front about it, so there isn’t a great awareness of how common it is. (WebMD says 50 million Americans have genital herpes, and Planned Parenthood says 1 in 4 sexually active adults has it. The thing is that many infected with genital herpes experience mild to no symptoms and may never realize it.)

If you were getting no messages, you might want to reassess how you do this and maybe hold off until you’ve gotten to know each other together or until you’re ready to be intimate (but before you get in bed). Since you’re still getting plenty of messages regardless of your admission, this sounds like it’s a win-win situation. It’s great that you’re feeling a sense of freedom already. Go out there, have fun, and don’t forget to use protection anyway.

David Says

I see the potential benefit of waiting until you know you like someone to disclose your HSV2 status. If they’re attached to you too, they may be willing to work around it. That said, it wouldn’t be fun to make a connection only to find the person is no longer interested just because of herpes. That person was never for you anyway, but you could have preempted the conflict and the wasted time.

I concur with Sally. Anyone who is on a dating site should be using that site to its full potential: it can be a tool to weed out people who absolutely won’t work for you and to attract people who just might. Immediate disclosure can help you do that with little worry and less work.

Your words about “separating the men from the boys” probably hint at some things I’ve heard from people with genital herpes: they suffer insults and outbursts of danger, disgust, and judgment upon disclosing their status. I can imagine how it would make someone want to avoid dating and the topic of HSV2 at all. You shouldn’t do either. Ignorance breeds fear. You might want to educate a partner who cares about you, but you also need to protect yourself emotionally.

Here’s another reason to disclose in your profile:  HSV1 and HSV2 are so common and, the researchers say, not really that big a deal, so disclosure might tap you into the large pool of infected people who will understand you or enlightened folks willing to take the low risk of dating someone with HSV2 and practicing safe sex. (Transmission rates from an infected woman to an uninfected man may be as low as 4% per year—not per hookup—even without protection.)

Although being upfront now is your best bet,don’t assume that putting your status in your profile is enough to cover the subject entirely. Many men, in particular, don’t read profiles carefully or at all, and you should still have conversations about safe sex to protect yourself and your partners from any complications that could arise, herpes-related or not.

The Consensus

It might seem paradoxical: You don’t want HSV2 to become the only thing people see when they look at you, and a good bet for avoiding that is putting your status in your profile; the filter that profile provides might just hep you attract people who can appreciate your personality and your sexuality. And men and women who come across the profile of an attractive woman with HSV2 just might become a little more educated and a little less fearful of the virus.

Although we don’t judge or hate on people with herpes, we certainly think it’s your obligation to disclose your status to sexual partners prior to intercourse. Whether you keep HSV2 on your profile or cut it, think of this possibility too: Most adults who are dating are going to have slept with more than four people—often many times more than that. That virtually guarantees that any sexually active adult is going to sleep with someone who has genital herpes. Most of those sexual partners, however, won’t know that they are infected and therefore might not be taking the right precautions to minimize transmission, such as using condoms, abstaining from sex during outbreaks, and perhaps even taking antiviral drugs. One therefore might consider it less risky to sleep with someone who knows she has HSV2 and takes the right steps to protect her partners rather than the other women out there who don’t know they’re infected and are spreading the virus around. (If you want proof of this, check out the study “Knowledge of Partners’ Genital Herpes Protects against Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Acquisition“).

Keep on disclosing, and let your dating life become about more about you rather than your virus.

More Information

There is a lot of good information out there about the risks, myths, and realities of genital herpes. One of the most accessible is Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Anna Kaminski, who does a great job talking about this with Dan Savage on two podcast episodes: 195 and 327. Also check out Planned Parenthood’s basic facts about herpes and this detailed page from Up To Date. We specialize in advice about the ethics, strategies, and practicalities of dating rather than medical knowledge, so if you know of really great resources out there, please share too. (In fact, we once read an amazing pamphlet of facts about living with herpes and partnering with someone with herpes, but we don’t know how to find it anymore.)