You may not be as lucky as a client of mine. There she sat over dinner, on a date with an interesting man she had just met through a matchmaking service. He had a cold and sinus headache. She pulled out her trusty but tiny pill holder that held one Advil, one aspirin, and one blue pill. She handed him the Advil -- not knowing that she had just had "the conversation."
It seems her date had recognized the distinctive blue pill -- because he took Zovirax for his own herpes. A few dates later, when the topic of sexually transmitted disease (STD) was formally broached, ironing out the details of safe sex was relatively easy.
Not everyone is this fortunate. Opening up about an STD (particularly the ones that you cannot "cure," like HPV, HIV, and herpes) can be intimidating, whether you're 20-something or 50-something. You might wonder: Why risk rejection? I'm safe if I always use a condom or avoid sex whenever I have an outbreak, right?
In a word: no. It's not always possible to know with complete certainty when an STD like herpes is transmissible. That's because herpes can "shed" the virus and spread even when there is no sign of an active herpes outbreak. And such "asymptomatic shedding" does occur, explaining how herpes is transmitted to so many unsuspecting people.
Timing is everything. Gather information on your STD, since your intended sexual partner may have questions. Your attitude and mood will influence how your disclosure is received, so broach the topic when you are relaxed and can devote your full attention to the conversation. Do it in a private place, but not en route to a romantic weekend. Nor should such a discussion happen in the midst of a passionate embrace. That's a mood killer and can lead to an angry response by your partner.
Plan ahead. If you feel really nervous about this, write down a "script" and practice it. Begin by pointing to the strengths of the relationship. For example: "I really like you and think that I can trust you. I'd like to tell you something that is quite personal. I have genital herpes."
Listen. Be straightforward, calm, and sincere. Once you've delivered the information, stop talking. Allow the other person to speak. Let it be a dialogue, not a lecture. Your partner may need time to mull this over, get more information, and just experience his or her feelings.
When you talk with someone about this, no matter how it turns out, pat yourself on the back for doing a difficult thing that takes courage and integrity -- and be sure to do it every time you have sex with someone new.