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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…

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Are Tasty Lubes Giving Me Tonsillitis?

Hi Yana,

I have been using flavored lube for mostly oral, but recently this has been causing tonsillitis for me. I forgot to read the fine print, “Use within 3 months,” so now I must chuck out a full bottle (I hate wastage!).

What brands of flavored lube would you recommend using to avoid wastage? What are the best brands to use? Also I live in Australia, so would it be okay to order it online if it’s not available in the shops?

— Lickety Sick

Hi LS,

Tonsillitis? From expired lube? I gotta say I’ve never heard that one before and my research isn’t coming up with any definitive answers. As tonsillitis is caused by bacterial infection I would say to get thee to a doctor to get that checked out. Bacteria and oral sex do not mix well and you certainly don’t want to be tossing something back and forth with your partner/s or be chronically contracting something that’s bad for your health.

Oral thrush — which can cause pain similar to tonsillitis like a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, and white pustules on the inner cheeks and back of the throat — can occur via performing oral sex on someone with a yeast infection, for example. (And yeast infections can find home in both the vagina as well as in the cozy folds of an uncircumcised penis, btw!)

I myself learned an itchy, unfortunate lesson about the joys of lube and lover-licking many years ago as a college freshman. For months on end I was coming down with yeast infections — itching, burning yeasties that would not quit. Finally I went to my campus’ health services and pleaded with the nurse to help me put an end to this vicious cycle. She asked me two questions: Is your boyfriend uncircumcised? Are you using KY Jelly? Answers: yes and yes.

Anyone who has attended my workshops or reads my column knows I hate glycerin-containing lubes (KY and Astroglide being the biggest offenders) with a fiery, yeasty passion. And that, well, memorable time during my freshman year in college is exactly why. The nurse enlightened me to the fact that my boyfriend could harbor a yeast infection and that the glycerin in the lube we were using (ahem, KY!) was off-setting the pH balance of my precious pussy, tripping up yeast infections which I was then passing to my boyfriend and he back to me again…continue reading…

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Gimme the Lowdown on Going Down

I’ve been exploring a bit and I’ve realized I’m realllly into oral sex with partners of whatever gender. This is exciting but I’m kind of afraid to do it as I’m new to this. I’m not sure if it’s safe without protection and I don’t know the right way to ask about a partner’s sexual history, especially if we’ve only recently met. This sort of makes me afraid to use things like Grindr though I’d like to. Your insight would be appreciated. P.S. I think your work on consent is rad!

It’s great to hear that you’re into my consent work, because my answer is intimately tied to practicing consent with your sexual partners — from your LTRs to your one-night Grindr dates — and for all sexual activities from making out to oral sex to hot-n-sweaty bangin’.

Whether you’re eating tacos or hot dogs, being aware of your pornolicious picnic partner’s condiment preferences and current health status is important. Talking about your current STI/STD status is crucial but can also be part of a larger discussion about sexual preferences, triggers, and enthusiastic “Yes”s — all components of practicing consent!

Mass media creates an image of sex as devoid of clear communication, showing us seamless sex scenes of take-me-now, instantly-orgasmic encounters occurring in some parallel universe where people can psychically perfect their partner’s pleasures, wordlessly get consent, and where everyone is magically immune to STIs/STDs.

Here in the off-screen real world, we know better. Or, at least we should, except we live in a society that would rather we get our sex education through these confusing mass media messages than from trained sex educators (but that’s another column). The first thing we need to do is let go of The Movie Sex Scene as the ideal because it’s neither attainable nor ideal…continue reading…

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I’ve Got a High Sex Drive & HPV – Now What?

I’m a 26-year-old female with HPV and a high sex drive. Ever since my diagnosis I haven’t been able to have a lasting romantic or sexual relationship because I’m too scared to open up about this.

I’ve told my closest friends because I want them to know that they should take care of themselves, but when it comes to opening up to someone that I like, I get too self conscious and don’t let anything physical happen because I don’t want to risk it.

I’m a very affectionate person and I feel like I’m holding back on so much. I don’t want to end up pushing away all the love that I truly deserve just because I’m too scared to be honest. Truth is I do feel ashamed. How do I make peace with this?

Sexual shame does damage. It prevents many from getting sexual health care, from talking openly with our partners about sexual health, and promotes STI/STD transmission because rarely does Shame go anywhere without her bestie, Silence.

You’re not alone in your struggle with HPV (human papillomavirus). Half of all college-aged women contract HPV. HPV is so common, Free Me, that sexual healthcare providers have called it “a symptom of sexual activity itself” as 75 percent of sexually active people will experience an active HPV infection. You’re one of 20 million people with HPV right now, Free Me and, statistically speaking, your lovers may already be in the same boat with you…continue reading…

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Freaked about Fellatio

My friend seriously freaked me out when she told me that I should always use condoms for oral sex when I’m not in a longterm, monogamous relationship. Have I been sleeping on this or is she being dramatic? What are the transmission rates of STDs through oral sex?

We take risks every day. We take risks when we drive a car, we take risks when we fall in love — I took a risk today when I waded across a deep swimming river with my dog in one arm and my precious smartphone in the other.

We assess for and manage both minor and major physical and emotional risks everyday, in many ways that are unique to us. And sex is no different. Sex is a risky activity, both physically (pregnancy! STDs!) and emotionally (heartbreak! jealousy!). However, sex’s risks are often highlighted in a pleasure-negative, slut-shamey way with lots of focus on STDs/STIs as being “dirty,” “slutty,” and “unforgiveable.”

Some STDs/STIs are fatal and serious. Others are just as common and curable as other non-sex-induced illnesses. We wouldn’t call someone a whore because she caught a cold from a doorknob. We wouldn’t yell, “What were you doing touching doorknobs anyway!?”

Just as “wash your hands” is suggested risk management for colds, “use a condom during non-monogamous oral” is a suggested risk-management tool for safer sex…continue reading…

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Your College Sexual Orientation

Welcome back students!

As you organize your hipster-ironic Lisa Frank folders, and passively aggressively stake your dormroom territory, I’ve got just one more checklist for you to check off before you start checking out all your new, hot campusmates.

First lesson of the semester: being good at The Sex involves much more than practicing some Buzzfeed brand of Kama Sutra. College-aged students boast the highest rate of new STI/STD transmissions and are plagued by horrifying statistics when it comes to non-consensual sex and assault. Become a catalyst for change and follow this checklist to becoming an ethical sex partner.

∎ No shame in your game.

No one is a “slut” because she enjoys sex. No one is a loser because he chooses not to have sex. No one deserves your gossip trash because they’ve chosen non-monogamy or have come out with a different sexuality or gender identity than you’re used to. Don’t stir drama. Share about your awesome sexual adventures with the consent of your partners to do so and in a respectful manner.

∎ Get to know your sexual self and set and respect your boundaries. College is also a great place to find books and classes and workshops about sex! Explore what it is you want to explore, what you don’t want to explore, and what you’re curious about via self-education and masturbation. Then clearly set and communicate these boundaries and desires to your partners…continue reading…

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Hey baby, what’s your number?

Hi Yana,

  • What are your thoughts on how much/what of your sexual history you should divulge to your current partner(s)? I always ask about most recent STD/STI tests, but is your current partners’ number of present (and past) sex partners important to know?

    I recently watched Dan Savage’s “Savage U” (because I saw Tristan Taormino on your website and started listening to her podcast and he was on it) and the gender stereotypes and standards regarding this issue were nauseating — ie. women saying that if you’ve had less than 10 partners it’s fine to tell, but if you’ve had more than 10 you should keep it a secret.

    I’ve always told my partners my number, just because I’m not very sexually experienced and my number isn’t that important to me. But what do you do with this information once/if you have it? In addition, some people don’t keep a number and this also brings up the conversation of what constitutes “sex” — fingering? any/all of the “jobs?”

    Allow me to be blunt: Asking what somebody’s number is some outdated, slut-shaming, rigid boundary drawing, sexual claustrophobia-inducing bullshit.

    When you ask for someone’s number, you’re not just asking for a digit; you’re quantifying that person’s multifaceted, personal sexual experiences into an arbitrary numeral and applying all kinds of value-based judgments on that number…continue reading…

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When Can We Ditch the Rubbers?

After how many months of no symptoms can one safely assume he or she is free of sexually transmitted diseases?

I’m in a monogamous relationship right now with someone who’s just as healthy as I am, and we’re wondering how long until we can be reasonably sure we won’t pass each other anything. My partner is an excessively careful person. We’ve been in a committed relationship for about five months and my partner uses an IUD. We are safe to forgo condoms, correct?

I’m so happy that you and your partner are actively discussing your sexual health and negotiating your safer sex approach. But why be “reasonably sure” when you can just be “sure” about your sexual health status? Continued…