Choosing when to disclose is a personal decision. You don't want to be dishonest, but you also don't want to get to know someone only to have the person reject you for that. Rejection hurts. I think when to disclose is something that happens on a case-by-case basis. How and when to disclose will not only be different with each person, but the way you approach it will evolve. I was diagnosed with HIV over 20 years ago. Disclosing my status 20 years ago was more challenging than it is today.
I want to share an excerpt from The Herpes Handbook, a fantastic, well-written, and informative resource written by Terri Warren, R.N., M.S., M.Ed. Nurse Practitioner at the Westover Heights Clinic. It explores disclosing your status to potential sexual partners quite well.
"If you are not currently involved in a long-term relationship, the issue of telling new partners will come up. It is important to disclose your herpes status to new sexual partners before having sex. When deciding to disclose this information, it is useful to put yourself in their shoes - would you have wanted to know your infecting partner had herpes before you had sex with them? Telling all future partners works best for many reasons. First, they will be given the opportunity to make an informed decision about the future of their own health. Herpes means different things to different people. To some, it may be quite frightening; to others, it isn't a big deal. For example, a woman who is trying to become pregnant would see herpes in one way, while a woman who has her family already and has had her tubes tied (permanent birth control) would see it in another. A person you have just met that evening may not wish to take the same risk that someone you have known for a long time would be willing to take. Second, if you do not tell a partner until after you have had sex, the question of trust comes up. What else have you not told them about yourself? Also, it takes a great deal of energy away from a relationship to hide something that is important. Third, you may be denying your partner an opportunity to be supportive of you in a sensitive area. Fourth, you may have the typical belief that you will have a hard time finding a partner who will accept you with your herpes. Telling a prospective partner will test the validity of that belief. Our experience indicates that far more people accept sexual partners with herpes than reject them. This is clearly linked to the kind of relationship they have established prior to "getting the news."
So how do you actually tell someone that you have herpes? Find a time when the two of you can be alone. It is preferable to bring up the subject long before you are heavily into foreplay. Rather, choose a time when it looks like things could get sexual, but haven't gotten there yet. You may wish to begin by saying something like "It looks more and more like our relationship is developing into something sexual. Before that happens, I need to let you know something that may present us with a challenge. I have genital herpes." Don't expect that the first time you do this you will be calm, cool, and collected. You may even back out once or twice.
When you tell someone, choose your words carefully. Avoid words such as "terrible, incurable, and incredibly painful." Try to be as matter of fact as you can. If it helps, practice in front of a mirror, or try it out on a close friend first. Would you feel so awkward about telling someone you were diabetic or had a heart condition? Probably not, but this seems different because it involves your sexuality. Statistics do show that the more sex partners you have, the more likely it is that you will get a sexually transmitted disease. But remember, in this case, it only takes one sexual encounter to contract an infection that stays with you for your lifetime.
So now you have told them. What next? Let's say they sit there, looking stunned. You might say, "Do you know what herpes is, have you heard much about it?" I think it is very useful to have some suggestions for books that they might read, this one for example. Or perhaps the longer version of this one, "The Good News about the Bad News" Or they may want to view the patient counseling DVD on our website. Let's say they look at you with great passion, and say quickly," It doesn't matter. I'm ready to sleep with you no matter what you have." Sounds tempting – instant acceptance. But think about the reason you told them; a chance for them to make a well-thought-out choice. That's hard to do on the spur of the moment. The last thing you need is for them to wake up in the morning and regret their impulsiveness. One option would be to say," Actually, I'd like you to take some time to think about it. If you still want to be together, let's just sleep together, but hold off on sex until you've had time to digest this for a little while." Certainly, another possibility is that they will say, "Wow, I was worried about bringing that up, but I have herpes too." Well, SOMEBODY has to tell first, right? If you both have the same viral type of herpes, you need not worry anymore about passing the virus back and forth. That does not occur.
Let's say they look at you with shock and say, "I couldn't possibly take the risk of getting herpes. You're a nice person, but I think I'll say good night now." So the worst scenario has come to pass, and you feel hurt and defeated. Try to take a little time and get some perspective. They were rejecting herpes and not you as a total person. It is important to remember that rejection does not make you worth less as a person. You may be deprived of a relationship that you really want. However, there are people out there who will accept you and take the risk. The next time, or the time after that, it will go better. Let's say they want some time to think about it. They don't call for a few days, and when they do, they seem less passionate, more like a friend. The important thing is to give them time. Remember that you told them so they could make a choice. Some people can do that faster than others. If the relationship pleases you, it is probably worth the wait to see what will happen next. Let's say you decide to sleep together and the relationship falls apart a month later. Some people quickly say, "Well, it was herpes. He/she just couldn't handle it." Maybe it was, but herpes can become a dumping ground for the relationship not working out, when in fact it had nothing to do with things ending. It is a temptation to stop looking at the other aspects of how you function as a partner and focus only on the impact of herpes."
I hope you found this information helpful, and remember, it will get easier over time. I would suggest practicing in front of the mirror, or perhaps with a trusted friend or mental health professional. Good luck. You've got this.