Joke: If you google random symptoms, all roads will lead to cancer. If you have sex, all roads will lead to herpes; it’s almost inevitable.
5-Lastly, PEOPLE LOVE SEX! And the general public’s unwillingness to change their sexual habits is the leading reason people continue to get STD/Is.
Take HIV for example; HIV, unlike herpes (HSV), is a fluid transmissible virus (passed via blood, semen, vaginal fluids, breast milk, and in rare specific* cases saliva). The virus has to enter the person’s blood stream in order to replicate. The most common and effective way to minimize their chances of getting HIV, are to simply use condoms/barriers and test your partners before having sex (before Prep and Pep, etc). Seems simple enough right… WRONG!!!!
The truth of the matter is; many people don’t use condoms. For whatever reasons people give: they’re too tight, they feel uncomfortable, allergic, or they lose sensations, etc. It all balls (pun intended) down to people don’t want to use them. I’ve had plenty of partners throughout the years (before and after herpes) that will get annoyed with me when I stop and tell them to get a condom. When it comes to the topic of getting tested; I remember asking men and they’re response was “Why? You think I got something?” or “Don’t worry, I’m clean”; without even being able to tell me when was the last time they actually went to the doctor. So, when you consider the reality that the use of condoms can minimize the spread of HIV; and people still don’t want to use them; that’s proof that people would much rather live in the moment and worry about the possible consequences later. And, for what it’s worth- there is nothing wrong with that. If you want to live a sexually empowered life, then do it. But, in this era of sex positivity, the conversation of sexual health is often not had.
The above (5) examples play a major role in the spread of herpes. I find it highly imbalanced to only focus on people not disclosing as the main reason this virus spreads.
Truth Serum: I can tell a man that I have herpes and educate him on all the possible ways of contraction; and that man may decline to be with me (which is totally fine). That same man, will still go out the following night and sleep with the next woman (who may not know she’s positive), and still end up with herpes.
This little story, is just another one of the many reasons why I can’t get behind the attack of a single individual for not disclosing. Everyone that had consensual sex (myself included) could’ve taken extra steps; but we(I) didn’t. Even if I had taken the extra steps (as I lined out in Part 1), I still may have contracted herpes. But in my case, I looked at my partner, allowed my trust in him and my feelings for him to be all the proof that I needed. The use of my feelings, that allowed me to assume his words and actions, as proof of his sexual health, was in-fact a choice, MY CHOICE. This acceptance of choice is what allowed me to get rid of the anger and find peace with my diagnosis; and that allowed me to heal.
Many of the toxic people I describe, and often debate with, hold onto that anger; and when someone even hints at not disclosing they go into attack mode; because (I believe) they’re still very angry. Some people choose to sit in the anger and dish it out rather than do the self-reflection and acknowledge the choices they made that landed them where they are. In the end it’s not about blame, it’s about choice. A choice that we had and made; a choice that, had we not contracted herpes as a result of it, we’d be proud to have made. Just because the end result was one that was not desired, that does not make the entire act any less of a choice. When we agreed to have sex, we all signed an invisible contract, without acknowledging the fine print.
So, getting on an invisible pedestal to degrade another person, just because their choices don’t align with yours, does not make you any better. At the end of the day; it takes two to tango, and each individual should be responsible for their own sexual health. We all should want to know our partner’s status; not just think and or assume it; but many people don’t ask. We all should get tested regularly, and be able to happily exchange results with our partners before we have sex; but many people don’t.
The reality is, many people would rather not spoil the mood or miss the opportunity. Most people won’t even talk about sexual health before they have sex. And, many people would be very happy not knowing the truth. People want to continue living and loving as if nothing has changed; hoping for the best.
It’s ok to encourage people to disclose by sharing your experiences. But to attack them, only puts people on defense and often times, they’ve already checked out of the conversation. Navigating this virus isn’t easy; we don’t have to make it any more difficult than it already is.
It’s time to change the conversation on herpes and start being proactive about our sexual health.
Now that you have this horrible thing plaguing you, how can you ever live a normal life again? That was a question I asked myself once I was, finally, ready to get back into the dating world. Part of the answer is, having herpes is only as horrible as you make it. Another thing to consider is… What is normal?
We all have traveled different roads and have different stories to tell; and since people living with this virus are often secretive about it; this road is rarely ever paved, for the next person’s journey. There is a lot of trial and error in dealing with this virus; and I’ve tried quite a few things and here were my results.
First things first: I want to stress the importance of taking time to actually heal after being diagnosed. I’m talking about emotional, spiritual, and mental healing. The first thing we often struggle with, post positive, is – Who will want me? I’ll tell you now, the answer is “Somebody!” Maybe not the person you thought, but there are enough people in the world that will see you and see beyond the virus. But, I deeply stress self-healing because; there are just as many people that will see your desire for acceptance and use that to have control over you. And what was once a great romance; soon becomes an abusive, manipulative, unfaithful, and sad situation. You’ll find yourself staying in that bad situation because you fear that no one else will want to be with you.
You have to want yourself more than you want them. No person (herpes or not) that comes into your life should complete you. You have to be complete with yourself; that way, anyone that you allow to occupy time in your life, only adds a bonus. Think of how good it felt to see that 110% on a test because you answered the bonus question- that’s the feeling you want.
ALL ON FRONT STREET (Immediate & Early Disclosure): “I’d rather not waste my time, so I just tell them to get it out of the way.”
I only encourage this approach in hook-up scenarios (online or in person). I’ve online dated for a very long time, and most often than not, conversations turn to sex. So, as a tactic to get to the point I state the following:
“So, just so you’re aware, before we go any further (before I come over); 10 years (X time) ago, I was diagnosed with genital herpes. None of my partners have tested positive, and I’ll do what I can to keep you negative; but you need to be aware of the risks.”
The above, script gets the fact out there, with details in relation to my diagnosis and the partners that I’ve had that have not been affected by the virus. I allow the person to think about it, I honestly answer any questions they have and I allow them to make a choice.
If you have not had this virus and you don’t have a record to reflect on; I used to say this:
“Before we go any further (before I come over); I need to let you know that, I was diagnosed with genital herpes (however long ago). I’m not having any symptoms right now, so the risk is minimal; but you should be aware of the risks.”
It should be stated, that you will have the most recurrent outbreaks and episodes of shedding, within the first year. Antivirals (valtrex or acyclovir) and an overall healthier way of living will minimize the frequency of these episodes. But just because you’re not showing symptoms, that does not mean the virus isn’t present. This year period is a good time to self-reflect. Take the year to learn your body and what your triggers are. Adapt a healthier and stress-free life and move forward.
I don’t like the AOFS approach when it’s a person you want to pursue in a more romantic way. When you blurt out herpes; you’re not allowing them to get to know you. Every person’s experience with this virus is different, but the image of what herpes is (magnified by the STIGMA) is always bad. Telling a person too soon, may cause them to only see the virus and not you. I realize that; nothing hurts more than dating a person, really falling for them, then when you finally disclose, they run for the hills. This rejection can send you into a downward spiral and make you never want to try again. But consider this fact; that people will reject you for a plethora of reasons: your education, past, finances, sexual past, the list goes on. Sure, you probably envisioned that they would be “The One” and now your hopes and dreams are shattered. But I promise you, they were not “The One”, they were simply the one you wanted.
IN DUE TIME (Tactical Disclosure): “I like to wait a few dates in or before we become intimate”
I advocate for this option for many reasons.
1. I’ve encountered many men that seem to be nice, that turn out to be ass-hats. Not to mention, you’ll be grateful that you didn’t tell them if the ending turns disrespectful. In cases where I was called a bitch, I was happy the words “dirty” or “diseased” weren’t placed in front of it.
2. There’s no need in disclosing something about yourself if you never make it to date one. With the dating culture filled with ghosts; the last thing you need, is to think someone didn’t show up because of you having herpes. I run out of hair follicles if I try to count how many times I’ve been ghosted, without them ever knowing I have herpes.
3. The phone (or text) conversations seemed to flow like water; but the in-person date was so dry, you swear they hired a ghost-writer. If you never make it to date two, was all the stress to disclose really worth it?
4. What’s wrong with just enjoying a date for the sake of a date? Again, the pressure and realization of this virus forces us to act with haste to find a partner, settle down, and be done with it all. So, we get all jazzed up to put our best foot forward to be chosen. But the truth is; there is nothing wrong with dating. Go on a date, share a kiss or two; it’s totally fine. Take your time and think to yourself; Would I want to be with this person, if I didn’t have herpes?” If the answer is yes then; set up a time to get ready to have the conversation. But if the answer is no; just enjoy the date.
So, once you’ve determined you like this person, what do you say? The answer is, there is no perfect answer. The truth is, some people will NEVER want to take that risk, and you’ll have to accept that. It doesn’t make them bad and it doesn’t make you dirty or whatever; it just makes them “UNWILLING TO TAKE THE RISK”. I strongly advise confiding in a family member or friend and practicing. It may also help telling people that you have no genuine desire to be with. I’ve found the best approach is confidence combined with a dose of education. The fact is; many people know nothing about herpes. They know: they know it’s called an STD, they don’t want to get it, it’s forever, and causes blisters. Arming your conversation with facts will only help when disclosing. Facts help to dismantle the stigma; and it also shows people they don’t know all they thought they did. Practice makes perfect!
I’ve disclosed; over the phone, via text message, and I’ve displayed my status on dating apps; but I’ve found that I prefer disclosing in person. I like the in-person approach, because I like to see their face as I tell them. I often realize that their face displays one of shock or surprise, because I don’t look like a person that has herpes. (Because people with herpes, have “A LOOK”). I can see their brain reprogramming itself as I go on and on with details and stats.
One of the last dates, when I disclosed in person; went something like this. (We met on OKCupid, after date #2, and after date one he was already talking about giving me a ‘body massage’. I suggested we walk to the park and talk for a bit)
Me: So, before we go back to your place, there is something you should know. 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with genital herpes. I’ve had boyfriends and partners since then, all of whom have never tested positive. I always do what I can to keep my partners negative, but as there is always a risk, that I have to make my partners aware of.
Him: Wow! I wasn’t expecting that. Sorry you’re dealing with that. You know I really care about my health; I get tested after every partner, so I don’t think this will work.
Me: Don’t be sorry. Many people have it and many people are unaware they may be carriers of the virus, so I just do what I can to inform my partners.
Him: Wait what? Don’t you get like blisters and stuff?
Me: Some people do, but majority of people that have the virus show no symptoms; and many tests don’t include it. So, a lot of people are walking around, assuming they are negative, and all the while- are carriers of the virus and can spread it.
Him: I didn’t know that.
Me: Many people don’t. I would suggest that you and your partner get tested and share results before, if you care that much; since after would be too late. I told you, because I know, but like I said; many people don’t know, some people don’t tell, and many doctors don’t enforce telling.
With the above, I was honest, direct, and was specific about my experience with the virus. The date didn’t continue, but there weren’t any hard feelings (I wasn’t head over heels for him), but even if I had been; I would still consider it a good disclosure story. There was no anger, disrespect, he asked questions and I answered.
The below is a great way to feel a person out, if you’re still afraid to put yourself out there. This will be easier if there is an easy segue to the conversation, but with practice you’ll get better.
Me: My friend’s boyfriend (girlfriend) just found out that they tested positive for herpes.
Him/Her: I’ll that’s disgusting! Was he/she cheating on him/her?
Me: Not that she knows of. But, you know a lot of people have herpes, and most don’t know it.
Him/Her: No! Only dirty people get herpes.
Me: Would you call a child that gets cold sores dirty? Cold sores are herpes too.
Him/Her: No it’s not!
Me: It’s actually the (almost) identical virus. There’s actually a rise on genital HSV1 from people contracting it from oral sex.
Him/Her: But, I get cold sores too. What does that mean for me?
Me: Welcome to the club. I have herpes too.
Me: So, when was the last time you went to the doctor?
Him/Her: (Enter date) hopefully! Why?
Me: Well, I just want to make sure we both get tested and know our status before we plan to have sex. I feel knowledge of sexual health status is very important.
Him/Her: Well, I’m good! I don’t have anything. What about you?
Me: How would you know?
Him/Her: Because I always use condoms and I don’t mess with dirty people.
Now, the following is pending on the conversations you two may have had; like how soon the topic of sex was brought up during your previous conversations
Me: So, you’ve seen the test results of every person you had sex with (including oral)? And you know condoms don’t protect you from everything; right?
Him/Her: No. But I know the people I sleep with, and they’re good, so I know I’m good!
With this response (and strong mental arrogance) you now have enough knowledge to either enforce testing before you continue, or simply walk away.
One mistake I made early on (and sometimes still do, on occasion); I would assume that I’m the worst option on the table. I have herpes; so, nothing can top that. I only cared that they knew my status, but I NEVER enforced confirming theirs; it was enough for me to know they wanted me. I simply assumed, like we all do/did that the other person was STD/I negative. We put all the responsibility on the positive person to have to disclose, but rarely do we ask or confirm. Assumption is not Confirmation.
So, before you lay down or engage with a person (especially if you don’t want to use condoms or other barriers) know their status. No one virus or infection is better than another, but I’d prefer to not add any additional ones to my list.