A MASSIVE SWEETIE:
I've recently come out of a relationship (approx. 6 months ago) and now feel ready to start dating again. My issue is I'm one of those lucky, lucky people who happens to have genital herpes. I've always told any sexual partner before it gets to sexy time and have generally found most people to be very understanding and accepting of the whole thing.
I ended up giving it to my previous girlfriend, due to a combination of bad management and luck. So I'm quite worried that I will give it to someone else.
I suppose what I'm asking is, if I'm honest and open about it and the risks involved and they still decide to have sex with me, is that okay?
OF COURSE THAT IS OK!!! THAT IS MORE THAN OK, THAT IS WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO WITH YOUR LIFE. (I mean, not like as the main thing; you’ll still have a job and a meaningful hobby and crushing debt like the rest of us BUT:)
You are going to have sex with people when you guys both want to have sex. And, like you’ve had to do in the past, you will have to have a hard, vulnerable conversation beforehand.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t learn a small lesson in herpes management from your last experience; I think—and hope—that that experience will make you more careful and aware of flare ups and how you and your partner choose to deal with them in the future.
Take stock of what was and wasn’t your fault with your ex. Even with really really diligent management people can transmit STIs. It happens. You are not a bad person for that. Take responsibility for any mismanagement that was on you. I don’t know the extent of what happened, but YOU do; be a fair judge of what you need to learn and try to set down all the other negative feelings. You may still feel some mixture of fear, guilt, uncertainty around your past of passing herpes to your ex for a little while. I hope that you have forgiven yourself (if that is work that needs to be done). When those feelings arise, you can acknowledge them and send them on their way. You do not need to invite them into your home. “Hello feelings of guilt. I recognize you, but I am busy today trying to kiss this hottie I am dating. I do not have time for you. I am not a bad person, but thank you for stopping by.”
Per the World Health Organization, 3.7 billion people under age 50 have herpes simplex virus type 1 and 417 million people (11 percent) between ages 15 and 49 worldwide have herpes simplex virus type 2. You are SO FUCKING NOT ALONE IN THIS. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the world has massive amounts of work to when it comes to the treatment of people who have STIs. It’s hard to think of something that is more prevalent and yet more stigmatized. We’ve tried to humiliate people into silence. I’m sorry. That must fucking suck. That must be painful and embarrassing and lonely at times. It should not be; that’s fucked. It’s like having poison ivy or a cold. My wish for you is that you feel as little shame as possible, although from your letter—despite the content of the question itself—you seem to have a fairly healthy attitude and outlook, so you might not need that advice. Just in case anyone else reading this needs to hear it: you should not be made to feel shame for having an STI ever!!!
Like you said, I think a lot of people are going to be understanding. I think a lot of people are also going to be cautious, especially if they’ve never had a partner with an STI (that they know about) before. Be with people who are impeccably kind and understanding about it. Be with people who do not make you feel even an ounce worse about the situation at hand. Be with people who will understand if/when you cannot have sex or that you need to use condoms or if you’re simply not feeling up for anything sexual. (That is true for everyone, not just you!!!!)
You will have sex again. You will have partners whom you will have to disclose this to. It is not unfair or bad of you to have sex. You are not “dirty,” risky or dangerous. (Fucked that we ever used dirty or clean to describe anyone). You’re a person who is going to have sex again with an understanding, fun partner. You will have to tell them your health status. (Just like everyone should be doing!!!!) That is required when all of us have sex. REQUIRED, FOLKS!!!
Like you said above, be honest and be open. Like I said above, learn from what happened last time and don’t repeat any unnecessary risks. Talk to your partners. Keep communicating with them. If they have questions that you don’t know the answers to, get the info together. If you have a medium/long-term partner or a partner whom you can have deeper conversations with, you can also ask them for reassurance when you have moments of uncertainty. “I know you’ve told me before, but I’m feeling insecure about X. Can we talk about it again? I don’t want you to feel Y.” All sex has risks, being with someone who is open to communicating about them is a blessing. You are not tricking anyone into anything. You should not feel guilty. Try your hardest to let go of that. Try your hardest to let yourself enjoy sex outside of your STI. I wish you the best!!!!!!!!!
Sophia Benoit writes this very newsletter; she also writes about sex & relationships for GQ, tries to write about Fleetwood Mac for GQ, avoids writing by tweeting at @1followernodad, works full-time as a researcher for Lights Out With David Spade, and has had bylines in The Guardian, Reductress, Refinery29, Allure, and The Cut. You can reach her or yell at her at email@example.com.