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Hi Yana,

I’ve recently begun a relationship with a man who has herpes. It’s unclear if it’s HSV-1 or -2 or both. He has scheduled an appointment with his doctor. I’ve been tested and am negative for that, hepatitis, and all other STDs.

It’s important for me to know all the types of physical and sexual contact that do and don’t have a high herpes transmission possibility. His hands, feet, chest? Interested in ideas and where they fall on a scale from very safe, to very risky.

— Risky Business

Dear Risky –

Ella Dawson has herpes so good that she’s been dubbed the “Queen of Herpes” by the internet. Eight out of 10 people have oral herpes and 1 out of 6 have genital herpes, according to Planned Parenthood. So, to be the queen of all of those people is pretty damn impressive.

Dawson was crowned herpes royalty in May 2016 when she gave an incredible TEDxTalk about living as a millennial with this highly stigmatized sexual health status. One article she’s written since is, “Why Should I Date Someone with Herpes.”

In it she writes, “To me [this question] feels like you’re asking me to justify my value. The facts on herpes are actually quite clear when you do research online: herpes transmission is not that easy, particularly when both parties make an effort to use condoms, antivirals, dental dams, and so forth.“ I know couples who have gone years without transmitting by being honest with each other about when they are having outbreaks. The person most likely to give you herpes is the person who doesn’t know they have it in the first place. On the other hand, herpes itself honestly isn’t that big of a deal for most of us.”

In your question, Risky, I hear a lot of fear, which may be more harmful than helpful — to you and to your partner. If I had to worry, for example, about when and how my body grazes against my lover’s chest when we have sex, the Delightful Dirty would become a long, perilous experience of paranoia and micromanagement.

Meaning, your first step to becoming sexually active with this man is to reduce the fear and stigma you may be holding about herpes. Digging into Dawson’s work is a great place to start…continue reading…