I’ve been back on the dating scene for a while now, and I’ve finally met someone that I really like. We have great chemistry and have long, awesome conversations. She’s honestly great, but there’s one thing that really makes me nervous. She told me recently that she has herpes.
We haven’t had sex yet, and she was totally understanding that I may not be into her anymore. I don’t really know what to do. She’s on Valtrex and hasn’t had an outbreak in a really long time, but I’m so nervous about catching it. I read online that the chance is low if she’s not having an outbreak, but there’s still a chance. If I wear a condom will I be okay? Should I just trim my pubes instead of shaving them? Should I just call it quits? Should we just be friends and not have sex at all? I really like her, but I don’t know how to approach this.
First of all, this girl is seriously awesome. It is so cool of her to be upfront about her status before you have sex. It’s understandable that you would have some reservations—you don’t want an STI! I will be the first to point out that there are a lot of negative messages surrounding people with STIs that are unfounded. There’s also a lot of misinformation out there on safety, so let me throw some cold, hard, facts at you before I jump into the emotional stuff.
There are two types of herpes, oral (HSV-1) and genital (HSV-2). About half of adults have HSV-1, whereas an estimated 15-16% have HSV-2. So, it’s common af. Culturally, HSV-2 becomes far more stigmatized because sex is involved. Most people are a lot more understanding if a person has a cold sore, which is caused by HSV-1.
The most common symptom of most STIs is no symptoms. With herpes, there are some qualifiers to this. Namely, a person cannot pass the virus without having an outbreak. An outbreak of HSV-2 is basically a cold sore, but on or around the genitals. It sucks and is uncomfortable, but is not life-threatening.
It’s only recently that having herpes became such a big deal. Historically speaking, it was understood to be a fairly common skin condition that caused people to be a little uncomfortable up in their undercarriage once in a while. A couple things happened at once: a wave of conservativism grew in response to the sexual revolution and a suppressive drug for HSV was developed.
HSV-1 & 2 were indistinguishable until the 1960s, but in creating that distinction it was easy to place moral judgement on the carrier of the one that clearly resulted from sex. Essentially, this made slut-shaming lucrative and people with herpes, specifically HSV-2, became an easy target. With this shift in the conversation, a skin condition with no long-lasting side effects now carries intense social ramifications. Just ask any carrier.
While I emphasize that HSV is completely overhyped and stigmatized by our society, it does not mean that you should throw caution to the wind and not use any protection. HSV is uncomfortable! You can certainly protect yourself from transmission by using safer sex practices, particularly barrier methods. If you’re concerned that a traditional condom may not cover all the affected areas, you can certainly give the internal condom, or FC2, a whirl. The FC2 has the added bonus of providing additional clitoral stimulation, making sex more pleasurable. It’s also a good latex-free option, and great for people who have difficulty getting or maintaining an erection long enough to use a traditional condom. Recent studies have also shown that trimming over shaving can help halt the spread of STIs in general.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having open dialogues with your sexual partner(s). It’s important to talk about the warning signs of an outbreak and what the game plan is to avoid spreading or catching anything. While your boo seems to be versed in having this conversation, there’s still some emotional work to be done on your part. Namely, getting real with yourself about what her STI status means for you.
Dan Savage’s idea of the “price of admission” really applies here, in that there will be deal-breakers out there when looking for a partner. That’s okay, to a point, but if you’re unable to look past the flaws and quirks in other people, it will be impossible to ever form a long-lasting relationship. If her STI status will always gnaw at you and you just cannot accept it, then don’t pursue a relationship with her. After all, a positive diagnosis, a child, a divorce, they all signify that the person had a life full and complicated before you. Her STI status shapes her experience, but she is far more than her diagnosis and deserves to be treated as such.
If you have so much chemistry and care for one another, it would be a shame to throw it away out of fear. That being said, don’t stick it out and try to work through things with someone if you’re simply not ready to. You both deserve a better dynamic than that.