Coping With a Genital Herpes Diagnosis

You have been told you're infected with a virus for which there is no cure, and one that affects a very sensitive area. That's crummy news, but don't get too down about it.

Above all, realize that genital herpes is very common. Chances are one of your friends, family members, or co-workers has it, too. If you have read about genital herpes, you know the statistic: About one in five people in the U.S. is infected. But you may not realize that some diseases we consider quite common are less so than genital herpes -- asthma and diabetes, for instance.

If you've done your herpes homework, you also know it won't kill you, and it probably will not cause serious health problems later. Still, no one should underestimate the havoc the diagnosis can play with emotions. You may feel "dirty" or sexually undesirable. You may get depressed thinking about a lifetime of symptoms and taking drugs to control them. You may be angry with the person who infected you. These are valid feelings, but you must learn to overcome them and get back to normal, or else risk "becoming" the condition. You are not herpes: You have herpes.

Challenge Your Feelings About Genital Herpes

The way to get over these feelings is to challenge the assumptions on which they are based. Does genital herpes make you less attractive? No, not really. Sores may appear on your genitals from time to time but the rest of you is not affected. People are attracted to many things about you besides sex appeal. You're just as cute and funny as you always were; your eyes are still as alluring, or whatever is special about you.

When you have symptoms, you shouldn't have sex, and probably won't want to. But then you don't feel sexy when you have a cold, either. After a few days, you get over your cold and feel better. Think back to a time when you were sick with a cold. Your partner may have leaned in to kiss you, and you said something like, "No, I don't want to give you this bug I have." But did he or she kiss you anyway? If someone wants you, your infection won't necessarily deter desire.


Coping With Genital Herpes Day to Day

If you've just been diagnosed with genital herpes, you may have to make some changes in your daily life, which will feel strange at first. But will life change dramatically? Probably not. You can keep moving ahead in your career, have children, and have fun.

You may need to take medication, but pills are a reality of modern life. Millions of people take pills every day to treat health problems, and many more take vitamins and supplements every day because they want to. As much as you value a carefree lifestyle, you have always done some necessary chores every day, like brushing your teeth. Taking your medicine will become as routine as that.

You may not even have to take daily medication. You may need it only when you have a flare-up, and that's like taking antibiotics for a bout of bronchitis. Also, remember that symptoms tend to calm down in time. Your first outbreak may be the worst you'll ever have.

Dealing With Anger About Having Herpes

Then, ask yourself: Did the person from whom I got genital herpes want to infect me? Again, probably not. Most people with genital herpes don't know they're infected. Unless that person knew, and neglected to tell you, there's no reason for anger. In any case, having sex means you accept the risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease. Don't beat yourself up, or anyone else, because you didn't fully understand the risk.

These are only a few of the personal issues you may face in dealing with your diagnosis. There's also the hard task of telling your partner, the thorny issues involved in dating, and the things you should and shouldn't do when you have sex.

You don't have to deal with all this on your own. If you feel uncomfortable talking about your feelings with people you know, you can hash things over with others who have herpes, in either an online or in-person support group. Be assured that you're not the only person in this situation. A counselor or therapist can also help you resolve some issues.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on November 06, 2018


Fleming, et al. "Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 in the United States, 1976 to 1994," New England Journal of Medicine, Oct. 16, 1997. Terri Warren, RN, Westover Heights Clinic, Portland, Ore. Warren, Terri, RN, and Warren, Ricks, PhD, The Updated Herpes Handbook. Portland Press, 2002.

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