How do I cope with my potential partner having Herpes type 2?

Dear Dr. Amy:

I met a terrific man 10 weeks ago. I’m in my mid 30s and he’s in his early 40s. We are both divorced. Although we’ve only known each other 10 weeks, we’ve talked about a lot of important topics, are very attracted to each other, and both agree that our relationship has the potential for a very good long term relationship. We haven’t gone much farther than first base–mostly due to him keeping the pace slow–although we’ve discussed the mutual desire to go further. Last weekend, he told me that he has genital herpes (got it from his ex-wife). He’s had it for 20 years, has approximately 2 outbreaks per year, and believes it to be Type 2, although it was never officially diagnosed. I am scared, panicy, and unsure if I should stay in this relationship. I care for him very much and love him dearly (I know 10 weeks is a very short time, but I do love him and I don’t normally give my heart away that easily). Since everything was going so well, this came as a great shock! to me. I’m very scared of catching it, plus don’t want to be stuck with it if we should break up (or divorce or be widowed). I also worry about how my anxiety would affect any intimate relations we might have. I have been sick at heart these last few days because I love him and don’t want to lose him. I’ve done some internet research and have read that condoms are recommended at all times to prevent catching the virus through asymptomatic shedding. Also, I’m unclear on the risks involved in performing oral sex on him. A full, satisfying sex life is very important to him and I know he doesn’t look forward to a lifetime of condoms (I don’t blame him.) I feel like I’m faced with the choice of breaking up or eventually contracting the virus, and I don’t want either choice. I know that there must be other couples with this dilemma. How do they manage? What are their solutions? A fulfilling sex life is important to both him and me, and I’m afraid we’d always feel restricted. Please! help!

Signed, Heartsick

Dr. Amy’s Response:

Dear Heartsick,

You are very lucky to be in a relationship such as yours–there’s attraction, potential for longevity, honesty, and communication. If you decide to continue in this relationship, your ability to work things out together, in a mutually satisfying manner, will be challenged over and over again. The way you handle this situation could set the stage for managing future dilemmas. 

The emotions you express – “shock, scared, panicky, unsure” – often accompany unexpected news. These feelings can make it difficult to think with a clear head. Give yourself some time to adjust and stabilize your thoughts before making major decisions. As in any type of intimacy, sexual intimacy has risks involved. The use of condoms is always recommended to prevent the spread of STDs – but there are no guarantees. The fact remains that you can contract herpes through oral sex and that currently, the virus is incurable (but managable). Gather reliable information about herpes and continue to educated yourself.

In regards to your anxiety about having sexual restrictions; try to expand your thinking beyond SEX=GENITALS. It sounds like you are already doing this by keeping a slow pace. You may have even discovered some unexplored erogenous zones!

Let me know the outcome. You may be able to help other couples, and there are many, in your same situation.


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