When Gisele Bundchen let it slip that her husband Tom Brady has been hiding his history of concussions from the NFL, the football world collectively freaked the fuck out—likely making this the second offseason in a row the Patriots quarterback will dominate the sports wire.
"He had a concussion last year," Bundchen confessed on CBS This Morning last week. "I mean, he has concussions pretty much—I mean, we don't talk about them, but he does have concussions—I don't really think it's a healthy thing for your body to go through."
The possibility that Brady withheld his record of head injuries from the league is as frightening as it is potentially reckless, given how common the knowledge of the risks associated with concussions are these days. (Brady's agent has said the quarterback was not diagnosed with a concussion last year.) However, the fact that he would at least share this information with his wife is commendable.
Not everyone is forthright with their partners about their health issues—especially before they're married. Certain health issues such as STDs and mental illness are stigmatized, while others (like chronic snoring or an inexplicable rash) are just flat-out embarrassing. Knowing when to share these things with people you hope will love, respect, and tolerate you is tricky—which is why some people simply opt out. We spoke to a few of them (using pseudonyms to protect their identities) about how and why they navigate their relationships without telling the whole truth.
Joe, 31, Rochester, NY
Health Issue: HPV
HPV has over 100 strains. Certain strains cause different warts on different parts of your body. [Some] of those strains are sexually transmitted, and they result in warts on or near your genitals. I had one of those strains.
I had a breakout and I was freaking out because I didn't know what was what. I looked it up and, at first, it sounded like the same thing as herpes. I called up my girlfriend at the time and she profusely denied this, which didn't make any sense to me. So I wasn't sure if she was cheating on me, which she also denied.
Fast forward to when I began dating my current girlfriend; I was at a moral crossroads. I didn't know whether or not I should tell her. So I went to the CDC [website], and from what I understand, there's no point in telling your partners you have HPV because A: 80 percent of people will have it at some point and B: 90 percent of people who do have it won't show symptoms. All telling someone would do is ruin your sex life.
I had to decide how I was going to approach my sex life from that point. The decision I came to is that there's really no sense in telling anybody. It's not going to help you. It's not going to help them. All it's going to do is initiate an awkward conversation that won't solve anything. They're probably not going to understand. There's a horrible culture around STDs.
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Jasmine, 28, Newark, NJ
Health Issue: Lupus
Basically, lupus is an autoimmune disease. Your organs kind of turn against your body. It can cause strokes, heart problems—it's a very serious condition. Not many people know I have it.
Hiding it really isn't that hard if you're not living with the person or with them 24/7. And everybody's lupus is different. Some people have lupus and nothing happens. Toni Braxton has lupus, and you don't hear too much about her. It just depends on the severity and how often you see whoever you're dating. Mine isn't that severe.
But when I was dating this person, I noticed he was sort of judgmental, so I still didn't feel comfortable telling him. Lupus is a genetic thing. It's not something you catch. And typically, people don't find out until they're older, so it's not like they have their whole lives to process it. You can be 26 and think you're fine, but then out of nowhere, you have to take a bunch of pills every day. So I internalized it.
But like I said, this person is super judgmental. I'd notice he'd make little comments about certain people deserving things. So I was afraid of telling him, depending on where things could go.
Long story short, things eventually ended with that person and we wound up just being friends, but we'd still talk all the time. I eventually disclosed that I had lupus through a facebook status, saying everything I've been struggling with—and I never heard from him again.
Robert, 24, Philadelphia, PA
Health Issue: IBS
In the past, I haven't told girls about my digestive issues because I thought they'd be grossed out. It's a little embarrassing. I actually just broke up with my girlfriend. We were together for a little over four years—I've also had IBS for about four years. My health definitely had something to do with it.
My IBS negatively impacted me—a lot of stress and depression—and I kind of took it out on her. I was in pain every single day and I would never tell her, so she would wonder why I would be so grumpy or have an attitude. It was a lot of burning pain. It starts with the stomach, and then sometimes I feel like I'm going to throw up. And I'd have some pain in my esophagus—it's not pleasant. We had a long distance relationship, so that really didn't help either. We'd get into arguments really quickly on the phone. That definitely impacted our relationship.
The stress actually made my IBS worse. I definitely learned that I should tell people what's going on with me in the future, because that was a big issue with my former girlfriend—not opening up.
Christina, 21, Long Island, NY
Health Issue: Depression
I was diagnosed with clinical depression in high school. I was on antidepressants for a little bit, and I used to cut myself. I'm not ashamed about it, but I'm not trying to be the girl who's waving that flag, whose identity is defined by depression.
I have intimate relationships with people where we don't talk about our lives. That's kind of nice. I don't know too much about them and they don't know too much about me. But we do have in-depth conversations about what we think about, just not about our personal lives. I like them not knowing. It's just really heavy, and it starts to create this identity.
Without all that, you can just be yourself and not have to define how you got to that self.
Trish, 32, Washington, DC
Health Issue: Endometriosis
I have endometriosis which is a reproductive disorder that's often confused with regular menstrual cramps. Most people—both men and women—don't really understand the severity of the condition, and I've had experiences where people think I'm being dramatic. As a result, I tend not to disclose the condition unless I'm really close to a person. Even then, I usually have to explain several times that I don't have a "belly ache" or "PMS." It's an ongoing struggle to find out how best to articulate my condition.
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