calming the fear

Reader A. M. F. writes:

I’m a recently single girl who has only ever been in long-term relationships (think five years or more, and only two of them in my whole life). I just met a guy I’d like to keep things casual with, but I’m interested in having sex with him. Here’s the kicker: I have herpes. I’ve never had to deal with talking about HSV outside of a committed, long-term setting, and I’m not sure about how to break the news to this guy, or even if I should. What’s your advice?

Dear A. M. F.:

I once read some advice column in a women’s magazine that said something about not telling a one-night-stand about having an STI because if you use a condom, they (probably) won’t get the disease, and you don’t want to kill the mood. My first response to that was, “Wow, how very irresponsible.” I have generally always thought that part of being an adult is owning up to things that could affect other people, like having herpes.


To tell or not to tell, that is the question. Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

However, I think there are more people out there who wouldn’t say anything than would. The fact is, once you reveal the fact that you have an infection to someone (regardless of what it is or how communicable it is), they’re quite likely not to want to sleep with you. Plus, many of the infections we get in our nether regions are 99% stoppable with condoms.

But there’s one kicker about HSV — even if you do use a condom, chances of spreading it are high because it’s about skin contact, not fluids. Even if the affected partner isn’t showing symptoms, it’s still possible to spread HSV.

And there’s the other thing about HSV — most of the population would test positive for the antibodies of type 1 or type 2, even if they’ve never had an outbreak. EVERYBODY has herpes. A Swiss guy I knew in college said to me that everyone in Europe has herpes and they just deal with it. Yes, I assume he was being hyperbolic, but as we know, the Europeans are far more advanced than us ‘Murkans (at least in the realm of being mature about sexual issues), so I like to take his words to heart. My doctor won’t even test me for it because she says if I’m not having bothersome symptoms there’s no reason to freak myself out with a positive test result.

So what’s an HSV positive girl to do?

I say you are definitely responsible for warning the guy that you have a possibly spreadable infection. He has to be able to choose whether or not that freaks him out too much to sleep with you.

Are you going to follow my advice on that? Probably not.

Kat’s Unscientific Survey of the Week revealed to me that most of my friends believe that if they had herpes, they would feel a responsibility to tell a sexual partner, whether or not it was a serious relationship. However, many of them also said that they wouldn’t sleep with someone who had herpes if they were told. So there’s that.

Some were more forgiving, however; as one said: “It’s herpes, not Ebola.” Most of my friends also said they would be a bit miffed if they found out after sleeping with someone that the partner had herpes, knew about it, and didn’t say anything. What this tells me is that you run the risk of ruining your future relationship with this guy if things go better than you seem to think they will in the long run.

The really interesting thing is how my friends who have herpes answered differently from my friends who don’t. The friends who have it said they often don’t tell casual partners, and simply refrain from having sex when they’re in the midst of a breakout. Furthermore, these friends have had trouble when they did reveal to a partner that they had herpes, even in a longer-term setting.

Thus, I have two strains of advice for you:

My “we live in a perfect world!” advice for you is to be responsible and tell your partners — every partner, every time — that you have a possibly communicable disease that they should probably know more about before they jump in the sack with you. You do this even if it will kill the mood; even if you’ll never see him again after you’re done; even if you’re not having an outbreak and haven’t had one in six months.

My “we live in the real world, dummy” advice for you is that if it’s a one-night stand, and you’re using protection, and you’re not having an outbreak, you’re probably not going to tell him anything about your little problem, and all will probably still be well with the universe. (I will tsk tsk you in the back of my mind, though.)

Of course, your situation is somewhat different, as this isn’t a one-night stand per se. You don’t want to be serious with him, but you want to have sex more than once (I’m assuming). I definitely think a friend with benefits deserves the whole story just as much as a long-term BF would.

The one thing you can do is try to educate him on the facts about HSV:

– It’s not life-threatening (in most cases. Someone is going to jump all over me about this, I’m sure, but the fact is: yes, it’s incurable; no, it’s probably not going to kill you).

– A lot of people have it but don’t show symptoms.

– It’s not a certainty that he’ll get it from you, even if you’re having an outbreak.

– It’s pretty damned widespread.

– While there’s no cure for it, there are suppressants that can help reduce your risk of passing it to a partner.

You can also send him to the CDC fact sheet on herpes. Or this ad-riddled site that took the herpes.com domain name (lucky!). It has quite a bit of good information, if you can just look past the crappy ads.

Do I think people who have herpes should only date other people who have herpes? No way. However, if you have a lot of trouble with telling new partners that you have HSV or are really embarrassed about it, I don’t see anything wrong with trying out those HSV-positive dating sites.

So there you have it. Survey says: tell him. If he declines sleeping with you, his loss.

And remember that you aren’t alone, and being HSV-positive does not make you a bad person. It might make you unlucky, but not bad, and not necessarily even someone who made a bad choice. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.


1 Response to “calming the fear”

  1. 1 Brian
    March 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    One of your best.

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