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My Man’s Got Herpes; Now What?

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…

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How Do I Tell My Partners I’ve Got Herpes?

Hi Yana,

I’m 21 years young, genderqueer, very sexual, and polyamorous! I have a penis; I also have genital herpes. Is there a best time to tell a partner?

If I have symptoms or have had them recently it’s not much of a conundrum because there’s no choice to be made [besides abstaining]. If I’m totally symptom-free for a period of time, I’ve been told having P-in-V [penis in vagina] while wearing a condom puts the risk of transmission at less than 1 percent. I tell partners this and let them decide what to do. There have been times when I’ve felt I dropped this too early and it was a mood-killer, but I’ve also dropped it when we’re already naked and it felt like maybe the partner could be too deeply aroused to make a well-thought-out decision. Your thoughts?

— On a  No-Transmission Mission

Dear ONTM,

Kill “The Mood” dead! This idea that there’s a sexual mood that must be protected at all costs gets in the way of sexual realness. Fear of killing The Mood is cited as the reason why people don’t want to practice consent; why people don’t want to speak up when they’re feeling uncomfortable; and why many avoid safer-sex talks. We’ve been spoon-fed The Mood myth by movies, music, and media — and we’ve swallowed it down along with our humanness, authenticity, and safer-sex practices!

Once The Mood is kissed goodbye, we’ve got a lot more freedom to negotiate your sexual interactions with genital herpes. Herpes is an incurable STI/STD that is spread via contact between the contagious area — mouth or genitals — or broken skin of someone with the virus and someone’s mucous membrane tissue — mouth/genitals. Herpes is always present and transferrable even if the person with the virus isn’t showing any signs of an outbreak. Most people with herpes don’t show symptoms and/or don’t know they have the virus.

It sounds like you already know that herpes is most contagious during an active outbreak. But let’s go over the three main ways to prevent spreading genital herpes anyway:

1.) During an outbreak, don’t have vaginal, anal, or oral sex — even with a condom/barrier. Wait until seven days after sores heals.

2.) Risk of transmission can be greatly reduced by taking prescription anti-herpes medication.

3.) Use condoms/dental dams/gloves between outbreaks to reduce the risk of transmission.

I couldn’t find a source citing the 1 percent factoid you mention, but condoms can cut the risk of transmitting herpes in half. Eight out of 10 people have oral herpes and 4 out of 10 have genital herpes. Herpes is common, incurable, manageable, and, most importantly, part of many people’s sex lives…continue reading…