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Finding out you have herpes can be tough, but it’s not the end of the world. Millions of people living with herpes have great lives and relationships.

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What do I do if I find out I have herpes?

Finding out that you have herpes is a serious bummer. You might feel mad, embarrassed, ashamed, or upset at first. But you’ll probably feel a lot better as time goes by, and you see that having herpes doesn’t have to be a big deal. People with herpes have relationships and live totally normal lives. There are treatments for herpes, and there’s a lot you can do to make sure you don’t give herpes to anyone you have sex with.

Millions and millions of people have herpes — you’re definitely not alone. Most people get at least one STD in their lifetime, and having herpes or another STD is nothing to feel ashamed of or embarrassed about.  It doesn’t mean you’re “dirty” or a bad person — it means you’re a normal human who got a really common infection. The reality is that herpes can happen to anybody who has ever been kissed on the lips or had sex — that’s a LOT of people.

Herpes isn’t deadly and it usually doesn’t cause any serious health problems. While herpes outbreaks can be annoying and painful, the first flare-up is usually the worst. For many people, outbreaks happen less over time and may eventually stop completely. Even though the virus hangs around in your body for life, it doesn’t mean you’ll be getting sores all the time.

The best thing to do when you find out you have herpes is follow your doctor’s directions for treating it. If you’re having a hard time dealing with the news, talking with a close friend or a support group for people living with herpes may make you feel better.

And tell anyone you have sex with that you have herpes. It’s not the easiest conversation, but it’s an important one. Here are some tips:

How do I talk with people about having herpes?

It might feel scary to admit you have herpes, but talking about things can really ease your mind. You could lean on a close, non-judgmental friend that you trust to keep the conversation private. Parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and other family members can also be a source of comfort. Remember, herpes is really common, so it’s possible the person you’re talking to has herpes, too.

There are a lot of online support groups for people who have herpes, and the American Sexual Health Association has a list of support groups that meet in person. 

What do I need to know about dating with herpes?

Some people feel like their love lives are over when they find out they have herpes, but it’s just not true. People with herpes have romantic and sexual relationships with each other, or with partners who don’t have herpes.

Talking about STDs isn’t the most fun conversation you’ll ever have. But it’s super important to always tell partners if you have herpes, so you can help prevent it from spreading.

There’s no one way to talk about having an STD, but here are some tips that may help:

  1. Keep calm and carry on. Millions of people have herpes, and plenty of them are in relationships. For most couples, herpes isn’t a huge deal. Try to go into the conversation with a calm, positive attitude. Having herpes is simply a health issue — it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.

  2. Make it a two-way conversation. Remember that STDs are super common, so who knows? Your partner might have herpes too. So start by asking if they’ve ever been tested or had an STD before.

  3. Know your facts. There’s a lot of misinformation about herpes out there, so read up on the facts and be prepared to set the record straight. Let your partner know there are ways to treat herpes and avoid passing it on during sex.

  4. Think about timing. Pick a time when you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and a place that’s private and relaxed. If you’re nervous, you can talk it through with a friend first, or practice by talking to yourself. It sounds silly, but saying the words out loud can help you know what you want to say and feel more confident when you talk to your partner.

  5. Safety first. If you’re afraid that a partner might hurt you, telling them in person might not be safe. You’re probably better off with an e-mail, text, or phone call — or in extreme cases, not telling them at all. Call 1-800-799-SAFE or visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website for help if you think you may be in danger.

So … when do you tell your new crush about your herpes status? You might not need to tell them the very first time you hang out, but you should let them know before you have sex. So when the relationship starts heading down that path and you feel like you can trust the person, that’s probably a good time.

It’s normal to be worried about how your partner’s going to react. And there’s no way around it: Some people might freak out. If that happens, try to stay calm and talk about all the ways there are to prevent spreading herpes. You might just need to give your partner a little time and space to process the news, which is normal. And most people know that herpes is super common and not a big deal.

Try not to play the blame game when you talk to your partner. If one of you has a herpes outbreak for the first time during the relationship, it doesn’t automatically mean that somebody cheated. Herpes symptoms can take days, weeks, months, or even years to show up after you get the infection. So it’s usually really hard to tell when and where someone got herpes. The most important thing is that you both get tested. If it turns out only one of you has herpes, talk about how you can prevent passing it on.

Tell your past partners too, so they can get tested.

Will having herpes affect my pregnancy?

If you’ve had genital herpes for a while and you get pregnant, you probably don’t need to worry — it’s unlikely that you’ll give herpes to your baby during birth. But you should still let your doctor know you have genital herpes if you’re pregnant, no matter what.

If you get herpes while you’re pregnant, it’s a lot more dangerous — especially late in the pregnancy. It can cause a miscarriage or cause you to deliver too early. If you give herpes to your baby during birth, it can cause brain damage or eye problems. If you have herpes sores when you go into labor, your doctor might suggest that you to have a C-section so you don’t pass the virus to your baby during delivery.

If your partner has herpes and you don’t, don’t have unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex when you’re pregnant, since that’s the most common way to get herpes. The doctor might tell your partner to take herpes medication during your pregnancy so they’re less likely to pass on the virus. Check out “How to prevent herpes” to learn more about how to avoid getting herpes. 

Oral herpes isn’t dangerous during pregnancy or birth. But if you have a cold sore after you give birth, don’t kiss your baby until the sore is totally healed.

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