Should I be concerned about a casual fling with someone with herpes? (NSFW-ish)
June 7, 2009 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Should I be concerned about a casual fling with someone with herpes? (NSFW-ish)

I'm exploring casual sex relationships, and the polyamorous / open relationship lifestyle. I met someone who seems like a good fit for a fling (sane, safe, tests for STDs frequently etc.), and we get along well. However they disclosed that they have herpes (oral and genital), although has not trnasmitted to their partner over the past 7+ years due to prophylactic Valtrex use daily.

I'm new to this, and I am negative for both HSV types. I've read arguement that fear over HSV is more a puritanical issue -- so this makes me question if I should not be so worried about casual encounters with HSV+ partners, too. I didn't plan on using condoms for oral sex, just of anal/vaginal.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Many, many women and men have herpes- both oral and genital. You've probably had sex with someone infected with it before without realizing it. It's extremely common. The main damage besides the sores is the stigma. If you can live with occasional sores and stigma, then don't worry about it. The chances of transmission are fairly low anyway if you avoid contact while your partner is having an outbreak.
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:52 PM on June 7, 2009


Suppression with Valtrex is pretty promising as far as lowering the risk, but unless you could say for certain that it will still keeping the virus entirely suppressed (which you can't really know), I use barrier methods for all contact, to be safe. If the risk is small but you can massively reduce it further, why go with higher risk when you don't have to?
posted by davidnc at 6:54 PM on June 7, 2009


I guess anonymous won't post follow ups, but are you sure you're negative for both HSV types? Have you had blood work, and are you positive that this bloodwork included an HSV test (often standard STD/STI tests do not check for HSV)? Many people are asymptomatic carriers of HSV, making this entire discussion pretty much moot.
posted by telegraph at 7:14 PM on June 7, 2009


The chances of transmission are fairly low anyway if you avoid contact while your partner is having an outbreak.

Actually, most cases of HSV are thought to be transmitted without symptoms

Please also see ASHA for great herpes info
posted by tristeza at 7:16 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


HSV-I and HSV-II viruses most certainly CAN still be transmitted even through oral-to-genital contact, and even with condom use, and even with antiviral use, but the antivirals will help lower that chance, and the condoms will help lower that chance.

There certainly are facts here outside of 'puritanical' arguments (I'm not exactly sure what this is meant to mean, but viruses are viruses, and facts are facts)--you are still at risk of contracting it, even with all of these precautions--but only you can make the decision about how comfortable you are taking that risk.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:22 PM on June 7, 2009


No, many people do not have genital herpes. That's what people with STDs like to tell themselves. Google images of genital herpes and see whether or not risking getting genital herpes is for you.
posted by anniecat at 7:34 PM on June 7, 2009




Two data points
1. I contracted oral herpes (HSV-1) in one night of making out with someone who was asymptomatic at the time. I don't know if this is typical, but is certainly possible.
2. I got tested at a Planned Parenthood and asked to be tested for "everything" (insurance covers it, whee!) and they still didn't check for HSV-1. So you might have HSV-1 and not know it even if you did get tested (they just called HSV-2 "herpes" without any qualification).
posted by 1VF5 at 7:41 PM on June 7, 2009


follow-up from the OP
yes, I had the bloodwork done since I got an HIV test, too. HSV 1 and 2 IgM EIA and HSV antibody tests were also done.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 PM on June 7, 2009


Please also be aware that the stigma of being infected includes having to disclose to all your partners and potential partners. An additional correlate is that if you plan on sleeping with this guy contemporaneously with any other partners, you must inform those partners of your possible exposure. Preferably, you would avoid fooling around with other partners until you receive a clean test at least a week after exposure.
posted by The White Hat at 8:17 PM on June 7, 2009


"Many, many women and men have herpes- both oral and genital. You've probably had sex with someone infected with it before without realizing it. It's extremely common. The main damage besides the sores is the stigma. If you can live with occasional sores and stigma, then don't worry about it. The chances of transmission are fairly low anyway if you avoid contact while your partner is having an outbreak."

Quoted as being wretched advice. Yes, many people have herpes. No, you don't want to have to deal with living with it. Yes, the stigma is awful and yes, the outbreaks really suck.

I dated someone with genital herpes for a while. She was completely upfront about it with me, and I appreciate that (obviously). We always used condoms and refrained from activity when she had an outbreak. We experimented with dental dams, didn't like them, and so I never performed oral sex on her (which definitely put a crimp in things).

I can't speak for her, obviously, but herpes irrevocably changed her life for the worse. It will complicate every relationship or potential marriage she has from now on.

And no, this isn't Puritanical advice. It's simply a fact. Herpes is a huge pain and it's far from "no big deal" to live with. It's very much a big deal, and you should do what you can to avoid it. In my case, it meant breaking off a potential long-term relationship because the stress involved was too much.
posted by bardic at 8:54 PM on June 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


bardic - Have you considered that the hardest thing about the disease for her was not the disease itself, but people's attitude towards it? It will only complicate her relationships or "potential marriages" if she's involved with someone who chooses to stigmatize her. [Virtually] No one wants to get herpes, and [virtually] no one wants other people to get herpes -- what I want is for people to adjust their Herpes Threat Level and decrease the stigma.

When using condoms, "the rate of infection per 10,000 sex acts was 8.9 and 1.5 for susceptible women and men, respectively," and Valtrex therapy used in concert reduces the likelihood of transmission for both sexes by half. Can we all take a moment to appreciate how unlikely this is?
posted by telegraph at 9:37 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


VioletHour: If more than 75% of the sexually active population has it, then call it common. One out of five isn't "many" or common. I hate these genital herpes questions because inevitably somebody wants to pretend that everybody has it and that somehow you'll be infected anyway, like it's as common as a cold. No, it's not and the poster should do everything he/ she can to not put him/herself at risk.
posted by anniecat at 9:40 PM on June 7, 2009


Interesting that herpes is in this thead on the one hand argued to be very unlikely to be transmitted and on the other hand so common as to be not at all rare. I suppose this shows a lack of safe sex practice "in the real world".
posted by BaxterG4 at 9:51 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yes, herpes is pretty common (webmd says 50 million americans), but I think you have to take it more seriously than someone with herpes who is in mutually exclusive relationship.

Because you are exploring "a casual sex relationships, and the polyamorous / open relationship lifestyle", you have more of a responsibility to ensure that you aren't the epicenter of giant spread. Sure you might be ok with having it...but your partners in the future NEED full disclosure before you become intimate with them.

Spreading herpes while you aren't showing symptoms isn't just an "uh-oh" kind of thing when you know its a possiblity...its a total dick move.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:51 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mod note: comments removed - please respond to the OP and don't get fighty with other commenters or go straight to metatalk, thanks.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:54 PM on June 7, 2009


"Have you considered that the hardest thing about the disease for her was not the disease itself, but people's attitude towards it?"

I know it was really hard for her emotionally, no doubt. I also know that in her own words, to paraphrase, it sucks having to scratch your crotch like crazy whenever you have an outbreak.

Not trying to make light of this by any means, I just don't think it's fair to anyone to say that the physical symptoms are "no big deal."
posted by bardic at 10:45 PM on June 7, 2009


Since people are getting fighty, it's worthwhile to distinguish between people who are carriers of herpes and people who have experience symptoms of herpes. It's hard to argue with the statistics of the former (1 in 5ish). But the majority of carriers are asymptomatic - less than 1 in 10 people show symptoms of genital herpes, which puts it out of the "many" range by most definitions. Educating yourself about the rates of transmission and symptomaticity is critical.
posted by 1VF5 at 11:37 PM on June 7, 2009


Well for what it's worth I have more than a few friends who have herpes and nary a one of them has claimed that it ruined their life or was all that big of an issue really. They all currently married but did their fair share of dating when were in our 20's and I never once remember anyone getting rejected for having herpes. I have also dated someone with herpes, for many years actually and again, never an issue. Of course no one wants to get it but then again in my experience no one freaks out over it for the most part either. Maybe it's regional or something but the people being all judgmental in this thread are not at all typical of the people I have known.
posted by yodelingisfun at 11:47 PM on June 7, 2009


I've read arguement that fear over HSV is more a puritanical issue

Not really. It's (at best) an inconvenience (because if you have it and are responsible, it'll constrain your sex life) and at worse unpleasant (painful).
posted by rodgerd at 1:08 AM on June 8, 2009


Ok, first of all the two types of herpes virus people are arguing over here are Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2. Back in the olden days, ye olde HSV1 was pretty much associated with oral transmission. Y'know, cold sores around your mouth (outside, not inside). It's estimated that 95% percent of the adult US population would test positive for the antibodies. It's just that common.

HSV2 used to be associated with genital sores. But then this whole business with being immunocompromised came along and we were all oh hai, there is cross over. People can get HSV1 sores on their junk now! Or at least we detect it now. Anyway, something like 1/5 (20%) of the US adult population is estimated to test positive for HSV2.

Here's the thing that is like the bogeyman who will haunt you in your dreams--there is a lot of evidence that often transmission happens when the person with le herp has no idea they have the virus or isn't aware they are shedding the virus/having an outbreak. Most cases are totes undetectable because the stereotypical sores never show up. Or maybe it showed up once and never again. But at the same time, people with the herp can lead happy healthy sex lives without always spreading their thing because so many of us have already been exposed to hsv1 that we have some built in immunity. Or they just don't shed the virus anymore. Or they know when an outbreak is coming on. It's a very manageable condition for those with healthy immune systems, is all I'm saying.

Anyone who tells you that herpes (as we think of the std) isn't common doesn't know what they're talking about. 20% prevalence is common disease. Think about it, multiply the adult population of the US by .20--that is how many people in the country are estimated to have hsv2. And pretty much all US adults have hsv1. (Sorry if you're not USian, I only know US stats) It'd be better for everyone if we didn't stigmatize this shit so that everyone felt ok about communicating such info with potential partners.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 1:54 AM on June 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


People can get HSV1 sores on their junk now!
And pretty much all US adults have hsv1.

QFT. Most people don't really treat oral herpes (regardless of which variant of HSV it's caused by) with the same significance as they do genital herpes. If you've ever had unprotected oral sex with someone who's had a cold sore, though, you've effectively exposed yourself to herpes. Granted, it's HSV-I, which typically results in less severe outbreaks than HSV-II, but it's still genital herpes by any practical definition. The truth is that that 1/5 statistic really means very little because a majority of the sexually active population can indeed give you herpes.
posted by thisjax at 2:59 AM on June 8, 2009


Quoted as being wretched advice. Yes, many people have herpes. No, you don't want to have to deal with living with it. Yes, the stigma is awful and yes, the outbreaks really suck.

My point was not that the outbreaks and stigma are not bad or "no big deal," as you said, but they don't cause major health problems like many other STDs, and I think it's the OP's prerogrative to explore the consequences, as you did, and decide whether or not that's a risk he or she is willing to take.

No, many people do not have genital herpes. That's what people with STDs like to tell themselves. Google images of genital herpes and see whether or not risking getting genital herpes is for you.

I hope this is not implying something about my STD status. For the record, I included oral and genital in there. Oral is more common, but both genital and oral herpes are both common STDs.
posted by emilyd22222 at 5:37 AM on June 8, 2009


I would be concerned in your position....see the question to me is not how dangerous or contagious the disease is but since you are doing polyamory and are trying to have casual flings with various people...in the case that you do become herpes positive it will be a serious hit to your lifestyle and the number of partners that will want to sleep with you...so yes maybe it is not an issue for you but it is definitely for others...so think about that before proceeding.
posted by The1andonly at 12:13 PM on June 8, 2009


I dated my gf for 7 years and never got her herpes. The one guy she cheated on me with one time got it. haha!
posted by coolguymichael at 12:37 PM on June 8, 2009


Well, are you willing to get herpes, have That Conversation with every sexual partner for the rest of your life, and/or limit your polyamorous fun?

If you're fine with getting herpes, having the conversation, and stopping your polyamorous fun, that, then sure, boink this person. But if it were me, I wouldn't take that risk for casual sex. Especially if you want to have more casual sex.

Also, some folks have mild to no symptoms of herpes, and some have horrible times with it (like bardic's ex). You don't know which category you're gonna fall into if you get it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:12 PM on June 8, 2009


You can't run away fast enough. Why risk the rest of your life for someone?
posted by plexi at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2009


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