Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Community and Family Health

Major Professor

Eric Buhi, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Stephanie Marhefka, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Ellen Daley, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Robert Dedrick, Ph.D.


disclosure, genital herpes, herpes simplex virus, interpersonal relationships, rejection, stigma


Background: Genital herpes is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the United States. As genital herpes is incurable and contagious, individuals with genital herpes face the decision to disclose their status to potential sexual partners with each new relationship formed. Such disclosure places individuals with genital herpes in a position to face rejection, which is commonly reported as one of the most concerning aspects of having genital herpes. The present study seeks to further understand the nature of genital herpes disclosure by addressing two core aims: 1) to understand determinants of and reasons for disclosure and non-disclosure and 2) to explore the relationship between past partner reactions to a disclosure and future intentions to disclose. Methods: Data on genital herpes disclosure experiences were collected via an online questionnaire, which was distributed through a variety of online channels including social media websites and email lists. Individuals who self-identified as having genital herpes and were 18 years and older were eligible for participation. Results: In examining Aim 1, the majority of participants (80.4%) disclosed to their last sexual partner. Age, relationship length, type of relationship, and expectations of a partner's response were significantly associated with the decision to disclose at the bivariate level. Expectations of a partner's reaction (AOR = .20, 95% CI .074-.539) and relationship type (AOR = 8.31, 95% CI 1.96-35.32) remained significant in multivariable modeling, explaining 45.2% of the variance in disclosure. Respondents who reported being in socially committed relationships and those who expected more positive partner reactions to a disclosure were more likely to disclose. Disclosure was also significantly associated with many romantic relationship building activities (e.g., establishing an exclusive relationship) but largely not associated with the sexual progression of a relationship. The decision to disclose was commonly multi-faceted, with the majority of participants reporting more than one reason that they did or did not disclose. Primary reasons for disclosure included "I wanted to be honest", "To protect my partner from getting herpes", and "It's my partner's right to know", while the most common reasons for non-disclosure were "I was concerned my partner would react badly", "I was ashamed", and "I was concerned that my partner would have rejected me". Regarding Aim 2, participants reported low levels of negative reactions and perceived rejection in response to their last disclosure experience. Intentions to disclose in the future were high among those who anticipated future sex partners. Discussion: The decision to disclose is often multi-faceted, and relationship characteristics play a key role in the decision to disclose. Among those who did disclose in this study, the majority did not report negative repercussions, including bad partner reactions and rejection. Future studies should examine if individuals are able to accurately assess potential partner reactions in order to better understand the differences between those who choose not to disclose and those who choose to disclose but experience a negative partner reaction or rejection.

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