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November 30, 2023

Never apologise for having herpes

In this week’s column, our resident sexologist, Jamie, answers one of the most common questions asked by people who are sexually active: positive herpes statuses and sex negative messaging.

on the cusp sex in Adelaide column
  • Words: Jamie Bucirde
  • Picture: Morgan Sette


Hey Jamie,

I’m a straight 29-year-old male who was diagnosed with herpes a few years ago. I recently broke up with my long-term girlfriend, and have been struggling to talk about my status with new partners. I feel really embarrassed and ashamed to bring it up, and because of the anxiety around the conversation, I have stopped having sex altogether. I want a fulfilling dating and sex life again. How can I bring up my status without it being awkward?


Hey there! This is a fantastic question to receive and a question I answer very frequently. Firstly, shout out to you as a straight, young male taking control of your sex life by asking questions (let’s see way more of this!).

Navigating sex, dating and relationships with a positive herpes status is extremely common, and I want to acknowledge how difficult it can be. There is, unfortunately, still a lot of stigma around STIs and herpes specifically, which comes from a lack of comprehensive sexuality education, misinformation on STIs and sex negative coverage in media as well as in pop culture and society.

It makes me sad to think that most people only have information about herpes if it came from sex negative and shameful education in school or movies that create and reinforce sex negative messages.


Have you got sexual health, sex, love or relationship questions? Send them to to have them answered!

For those reading who need a refresher, here is a quick sexuality education session on herpes:

Herpes, short for Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) is an extremely common infection. It primarily spreads by skin-to-skin contact and is treatable, but not curable. There are two types:

Type 1 (HSV-1) mostly spreads by oral contact and causes infections in or around the mouth (oral herpes or cold sores). It can also cause genital herpes (most adults are infected with HSV-1).

Type 2 (HSV-2) spreads by sexual contact and causes genital herpes. Most people have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. The infection can cause painful blisters or ulcers that can recur over time. Medicines and antivirals can reduce symptoms and are very effective but can’t cure the infection.

To shed some light on just how common herpes is, here are the current stats: (World Health Organisation, 2023)

  • Approximately 80-85% of Australians have HSV-1 and more than half of primary genital infections are caused by HSV-1 in young people.
  • Approximately 1 in 8 Australians have HSV-2 

Read the entire back catalogue of On the Cusp here.

As someone with a positive HSV status, it is important to learn the skills on how to communicate your status with any sexual partner before engaging in sexual activities with them. It is actually illegal to not tell a partner if you know you have a positive STI status, and if proven guilty, can be charged accordingly. 

The only TRUE way to avoid herpes with a 100% success rate is to not have sex at all. Using protection, having discussions on your sexual health status and getting tested regularly are great protective habits to ensure you don’t transmit your STI to a partner. 

Luckily for you, research shows that it is actually safer to sleep with someone who knows their herpes status! This is because they are aware of their status, their triggers and know when their outbreaks may appear. Triggers will be different for everyone, but an outbreak will usually occur due to higher stress levels, lack of sleep, poor diet and exercise or excessive alcohol or drug consumption.

A lot of people don’t know that herpes doesn’t come up on your normal STI panel screening test either. Chances are, most people reading this have either got herpes, or have dated/slept with someone who does. Herpes can appear as asymptomatic, and a lot of people don’t even realise they’re positive because they’ve never had symptoms. 

I want to reiterate that just because you have herpes, it doesn’t make you a bad person, dirty or undesirable. Taking control of your status, and starting conversations with partners on sexual health is very powerful, and shows your sexual intelligence. I’ve had sexual partners disclose their positive status before, and I immediately gained more respect for them, as they respected my sexual safety, as well as theirs.

I would approach your herpes status not as a disclosure, but as an open conversation to sexual health with your potential partner. It can be an uncomfortable conversation, yes, but I promise you it gets easier over time. This is a conversation we should all be having! (It’s only uncomfortable because we were never given the skills to engage in sexual health conversations properly growing up). By taking control of the situation, you can start to gain confidence in yourself and your dating life too.

When you’re disclosing your status to a potential partner, try not to preface the conversation with “I’m sorry”, “You won’t want me after this” or “I’ve got something bad to tell you” – start the conversation confidently and be ready to point them in the right direction of health based resources if they want to learn more. There are so many methods to engage in safe sex practices and by bringing up options of safety, it’ll show you are aware and informed. 

If someone reacts negatively to your status disclosure, that is a reflection on them, not you, and you shouldn’t take it personally. It may mean they aren’t educated well in this space, and they need to go and do some further research. If they say something like “they’ve never been tested before ” or they “can’t remember the last time they got tested”, that’s a red flag, and you should consider asking yourself if you want to be sleeping with someone who doesn’t prioritise their own sexual health. 

Just as you wouldn’t apologise for having another skin condition such as acne or eczema, you shouldn’t have to apologise for having herpes. It’s so common that you’d be surprised to hear that by disclosing your status, others will feel comfortable disclosing theirs too!

Having a positive herpes status can force you to become a better communicator, set boundaries to protect yourself and others and to speak up for yourself. When people see you’re confident in yourself and your sexual health, they are more likely to feel more confident as well. Set the standard you want to see around you.

REPEAT THIS MANTRA: Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me.

Don’t forget, you deserve a fun and fulfilling sex life, just the way you are. 

Jamie Bucirde has a post graduate degree in sexology from Curtin University. Her advice is of a general nature and should be taken in the spirit of the column.

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