How realistic is it to expect that an infected partner will tell you that they have something like herpes simplex if they know about it? In the early stages of a sexual relationship it can be very hard to broach the subject. It is embarrassing to reveal it to another person and there is the very real risk that a prospective partner will be scared off unless they have all the information, but it is absolutely essential for them to be aware so that they can make the decision for themselves. It is a form of sexual abuse to knowingly expose another person to an infection like herpes. Although herpes simplex is not curable, outbreaks can be controlled with lifestyle changes and if necessary a tablet called Acyclovir, but it is one of those STDs with a bad reputation and the psychological effects can be worse than the physical symptoms.
One woman in her thirties talked about the effect it had on her life. ‘I got my first attack of herpes about five years ago from a boyfriend who didn’t tell me he had it. When the doctor told me I was in shock. I mean, this couldn’t be me; I didn’t sleep around. I had only had a few longterm relationships and I thought I knew Rob really well. When I confronted him with it he said he was going to tell me ages ago but he was too embarrassed, and he thought I would have given him the flick. I broke off the relationship then and there. I was furious. At least if I’d known I could have protected myself. Since then I haven’t been able to trust anyone completely. A few times I have met men that I have been attracted to but I don’t have the same sort of confidence as I used to have sexually. On the odd occasion when I have had sex it just isn’t the same. It can be really depressing.’
Lyn tells a different story. ‘After my marriage broke up I started dating again. I had been seeing this one man for a couple of months and there was definitely a chemistry between us, but every time we got into an intimate situation he would make some excuse and back off. It was really confusing; I thought maybe he didn’t find me attractive but my instincts told me otherwise. This went on for weeks and weeks until he finally told me that just before we met he had suffered his first attack of herpes and he was terrified of giving it to me. Well, I didn’t know enough about it to know what to do, so we went along to the Sexual Health Clinic and spoke to the counsellor there. She answered all our questions about the risks to me, and I decided that if we used a condom every time then I would feel safe.’