A girl I really care for has Herpes. Is this a dating dealbreaker?
June 8, 2005 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Should I consider Herpes a deal-breaker before getting into a relationship?

I’m a 25-year-old guy who has been close friends with a girl for close to a year. We just confirmed tonight we had feelings for each other, and I think she’s pretty special. Anyway, she let me know that between her last boyfriend and me, she had a one-night stand with a guy who gave her Herpes. I don’t know any more than that (type, how serious she gets it, oral or genital, etc). All I know is that it places things in a different light. I really do like her, but this seems to change things. It’s hard enough going from the ‘friend zone’ to a relationship, and I’d be lying if I didn’t have some pessimistic feelings before this piece of information - we probably all have those second guessing feelings before a relationship starts, but anyway. The real question is should I knowingly go into a relationship with a girl who has Herpes, and will, in all likelihood, give it to me? I’m looking both for advice on what to do, as well as anecdotes on life with, or dating someone with Herpes. If you want to share, but it’s too private, email johnnycontrarian@hotmail.com. Looking forward to your advice…
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you've been good friends with her for awhile, and you both have feelings for each other, there's absolutely no reason why you shouldn't get into a relationship with her.

By telling you, she was being responsible. There are ways that you can protect yourself, and just because she has it doesn't mean that you're definitely going to get it (although, I'm not gonna lie, there is a definite possibility). If she was comfortable can cared enough to tell you, I'm sure she won't have any problems answering any questions you have (what type, etc). I'm sure she told you so if you guys do get into a sexual relationship, you can protect yourself.

She obviously cares about you enough to let you know, please, please, please don't consider it a dealbreaker.
posted by AlisonM at 11:14 AM on June 8, 2005

Will love last longer than the length of time you can enjoy good health? (a lifetime). Not likely. If you have your health you have everything.
posted by uni verse at 11:15 AM on June 8, 2005

About 25% of American adults carry the Herpes virus. Those are numbers from some pretty big studies. Many carry the virus and never have outbreaks. Some people have infrequent outbreaks, some have them all the time. One need not be having an outbreak to pass it on to someone else.

What does this mean for you? Well, you may already be carrying the virus and not know it. If she has oral herpes (if she gets sores on her lips), and you've kissed her, even in passing, she may have already passed it on to you. If she has genital herpes, it is true that condoms do not prevent the spread of the virus.

It's impossible to say how it would be for you to have it without actually having it. Unless you already have it and have not had any outbreaks, you could fall into any of the three groups of people in terms of outbreak prevalence.

The anti-virals that are prescribed for herpes do not cure the disease, but there is good data suggesting that they help to control outbreaks in people who get outbreaks. More importantly, they cut down on viral shedding whether there is an outbreak present or not, which means (presumably, this kind of thing is very hard to study) that they help to curtail the spread of the virus from one person to another.

If you've got other questions you can email me from my profile. I work in an STD clinic.
posted by OmieWise at 11:19 AM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Well, you feel how you feel, so don't beat yourself up over feelings of disappointment or fear.

But she told you, up front, knowing that it could affect the outcome, and before anything physical happened. Try to recognize how hard it was for her to do that, realize that she didn't have to, and at the very least, respect her for that.

Also, you aren't necessarily doomed to get herpes from her. With proper care and management, in fact, you shouldn't get it at all. I had a boyfriend disclose this to me, we were intimate, I don't have herpes.

But before going any further with the advice, you really need to talk to her first, to get all those particulars you don't have - whether it's oral or genital, whether she has it under control, etc. You may also want to talk to a medical professional to get the facts, or head over to WebMD.

Lots and lots and lots of people have some form of the herpes virus, some estimates are surprisingly high. It's not unsusual, and honestly, not all that big a deal if monitored.

I will say this - this is a GREAT girl. Many people would never have told you, she risked a lot to do it. It means she has integrity and honesty, two very important things in terms of a long relationship.

On preview: what AlisonM and OmieWise said.
posted by jennaratrix at 11:22 AM on June 8, 2005

Will love last longer than the length of time you can enjoy good health? (a lifetime). Not likely. If you have your health you have everything.

Uni verse is right.

You should instead marry a deceptive, dishonest harpy who will spend all your money, cheat on you, beat your kids, and molest uyour grandkids. Just as long as she doesn't have herpes, because that is the very worst thing in the world.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:06 PM on June 8, 2005 [4 favorites]

jennaratrix writes "I will say this - this is a GREAT girl."

Yeah, that's a big deal. I'm not going to tell you that you _have_ to go out with her, just because she did the right thing, but the circumstances have forced her into a real test of character, and she pretty clearly passed. She put your well-being ahead of her own interests...who wouldn't want proof of how much the other person cared for them _before_ they really started dating?

If anything, that may make it even harder to decide--I really have no idea what I would do in your position--but no matter what you decide, you should _not_ undervalue the importance of what she's done.
posted by LairBob at 12:08 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I would consider this a deal-breaker.

Although it sounds like you're looking for an excuse to go out with her, so by all means do. She told you before anything happened - big props for that.
posted by bshort at 12:28 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

You should instead marry a deceptive, dishonest harpy who will spend all your money, cheat on you, beat your kids, and molest uyour grandkids. Just as long as she doesn't have herpes, because that is the very worst thing in the world.

How about just finding a similarly nice girl who doesn't have herpes? Like OmieWise said, some people with herpes get outbreaks all the time. I seem to be under the impression that a large percentage of people with herpes have like one outbreak. Of those who have more than one outbreak, a large percentage only have a few outbreaks. And then the small percentage that's left gets them regularly. (I do not work in an STD clinic.)

Knowing these actual stats may help you weigh the risks in your particular situation.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:38 PM on June 8, 2005

I'm guessing that it's genital she has. If it were oral would you worry so much?

An ex- of mine used to get a few days warning before she had outbreak of oral herpes and so it was pretty easy to avoid making contact at an infectious time. She'd had it since she was a teenager and didn't get outbreaks that often - usually when she was really run down. IIRC genital herpes 'works' in a similar way.

Two things to remember...a condom will not protect you if she has an outbreak. If she does have an outbreak then the chances of you getting oral sex go by 1000% at least ;-)

Read up on the virus. Years ago a friend asked me to help him do some web research and I was surprised at some of the things we found out. He was distraught but finding out more helped him get it in perspective. He's now happily married to an uninfected woman so don't assume the worst.

IMHO this woman gets extra double points for being upfront and open with you and she's done so because she cares about you and is a good person. Couples deal with far, far worse things than herpes so if everything else checks out OK you shouldn't worry.

And don't forget about the blow job bonus...
posted by i_cola at 12:40 PM on June 8, 2005

Three things: 1) she'll (and I'll) think your a total dick if this is a deal breaker. 2) she'll be really hurt that her good friend doesn't want to go there with her because she's "damaged" (permenantly "damaged" I might add); if it is a deal breaker for you then don't tell her that is why. 3) you may end up getting herpes yourself the next time you hook up with a girl, it sure would be a shame to nip this in the bud now and get herpes anyway next week.
posted by pwb503 at 12:56 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

You should instead marry a deceptive, dishonest harpy who will spend all your money, cheat on you, beat your kids, and molest uyour grandkids.

If that's not a false dichotomy, I don't know what is.

I don't know what I'd do in your situation. But I don't think anyone else has any cause to judge you on who you choose to have a romantic relationship (ahem, pwb503). Hope this helps.
posted by grouse at 1:32 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I would consider this a deal-breaker.

Me too.
posted by Kwantsar at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2005

she'll (and I'll) think your a total dick if this is a deal breaker.

What? She has herpes, not a cold. Herpes. As in "that shit does not go away" herpes. As in "can be transmitted even when no symptoms are apparent" herpes.

What's the difference between herpes and love? Herpes is forever.

she'll be really hurt that her good friend doesn't want to go there with her because she's "damaged" (permenantly "damaged" I might add)

Hate to break it to you, but she IS damaged, and yes, it is permanent. INCURABLE ILLNESS. Very definition.

you may end up getting herpes yourself the next time you hook up with a girl, it sure would be a shame to nip this in the bud now and get herpes anyway next week

That's the dumbest fucking thing I've ever heard in my entire life. Get herpes now, because you might get it next week? Good lord.

There's no girl on this earth worth getting herpes for, and don't let anyone lie to you otherwise. Move on. There are plenty of non-infected girls out there who are just as funny, bright, and attractive. It's herpes, man, and she's just a girl. Get a grip.
posted by sun-el at 1:40 PM on June 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

Three things: 1) she'll (and I'll) think your a total dick if this is a deal breaker. 2) she'll be really hurt that her good friend doesn't want to go there with her because she's "damaged" (permenantly "damaged" I might add); if it is a deal breaker for you then don't tell her that is why. 3) you may end up getting herpes yourself the next time you hook up with a girl, it sure would be a shame to nip this in the bud now and get herpes anyway next week.

Those are about the most useless reasons for doing anything I've ever read, but sun-el already disected them.

Look, if you decide it's worth it, go for it. But don't let anyone shame you into it because she told you. That was the right thing to do, but it's like giving an award to a "good parent". You SHOULD be a good parent and she SHOULD tell you.

But it's your life and your body. You owe her nothing more than honesty, exactly what she gave you.
posted by justgary at 1:52 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't call him a "total dick" if this is a dealbreaker, but I would definitely advise him to stick with it. She will be hurt if you turn her down, but I would not let that guide your decision.

As others have said, this girl not only demonstrated her great character but also the strength of her feelings for you. If you really do like her, by all means go for it — at the same time, don't get into a relationship you will regret or a situation in which you will (even unconciously) resent her.

But I think that it's workable.
posted by rafter at 1:53 PM on June 8, 2005

so, let me get this straight ... 25% of american adults have the herpes virus ... and are therefore "damaged goods" ...

let's see ... there's 5 of you guys who so far say "no way, don't go with her" ... according to the odds here, at least one of you is "damaged goods"

any of you 5 have sex with more than 3 people ... guess what? ... odds are you've had "damaged goods"

but "if you have health you have everything" ... it's really going to suck for you when you get sick, old and die, then, isn't it?

yes, i'd go with a girl who had herpes and was honest about it ... (and if she wasn't, i may have already, right?) ... i sure wouldn't get within 20 feet of anyone as shallow as some of the people here
posted by pyramid termite at 1:56 PM on June 8, 2005 [3 favorites]

Your attitude is a little cruel, sun-el.

She sounds like a nice girl who takes responsibility for her health. Obviously without all the information, it's impossible for us or him to make a decision about this.

These are viruses, remember. We don't live in a movie or a magazine, people do get sick. It's not her fault, exactly, that she got it. You sound like you want to condemn her to a loveless existence.

Lighten up, a little.

There's no girl on this earth worth getting herpes for

That's just sad. I see the fear-mongers have gotten to you. Here's hoping you find your perfectly hygienic dream girl.
posted by jon_kill at 2:02 PM on June 8, 2005 [3 favorites]

Your attitude is a little cruel, sun-el.

Perhaps, but life is very cruel. I just try to keep my eyes open to that fact.

It's not her fault, exactly, that she got it. You sound like you want to condemn her to a loveless existence.

You're absolutely right. It might not be her fault that she got it. Maybe she got it from a hot tub. Maybe she got it from a wrestling mat. I don't know.

Doesn't matter, though. How she got it is irrelevant. Point is, she has it.

That's just sad. I see the fear-mongers have gotten to you. Here's hoping you find your perfectly hygienic dream girl.

Like I said, it's not about fear, it's about keeping my eyes open. The truth of the matter is in today's society, having herpes marks you in a very derogatory way. This relationship can go one of two ways in the long run: they can either get married or break up. The odds are heavily weighted towards breaking up, and in that case, now he's got an incurable disease that, quite honestly, will repel the vast majority of girls that he's interested in once he discloses this fact to them. It's simply a question of not placing all of your eggs in one basket.

Also, my dream girl doesn't need to be perfectly hygenic. She sure as hell can't have herpes, though.
posted by sun-el at 2:29 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Dear god, herpes is not the end of the world. No, I don't have it.

I say not a deal-breaker, but that's me. For another sensible opinion, here's an old Dan Savage column on the subject.
posted by O9scar at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2005 [3 favorites]

Look, it's a mistake asking us what you should do. Except for rigid, moralistic blowhards (see above), nobody's going to tell you what you should do — it's your own decision, and it depends on your own priorities. How much risk can you live with? How much are you willing to change your own sexual routine to accomodate the virus? How long can you see the relationship lasting? You need to answer those questions yourself.

That said, I've got a few thoughts:
  1. You can have a good healthy relationship without penis-in-vagina sexual intercourse. I've done it, and while it's not ideal, it's definitely an option. If you think this could turn into a serious, lasting relationship, what about waiting for a while to have sex? If things don't work out, no harm done; if you stay together, ask yourselves again in a few months or a year if sex is worth the risk.
  2. From what I've read, if she takes her antivirals and you use a condom, your odds of getting herpes from her will be around 5–10% per year. Only you can decide what constitutes an acceptable risk, but sleeping with her might be safer than you realize
  3. From what little you've told us, it sounds like she's got her head screwed on straight. I agree with AllisonM et al — the fact that she told you up front is a really good sign. A few posters have suggested she'll hate you forever if you turn her down, but I'm not sure that's true. If you act mature, let her down easy and don't hold a grudge, she might well respect you more for it.
I hope this works out for you one way or another.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:42 PM on June 8, 2005

The real question is just how willing are you live with Herpes? It's very highly communicable, consider it a foregone conclusion that you'll contract it. Reading up on the experiences of the already afflicted will help you decide what it means to you. Everyone has different tolerance for personal risk, ultimately this isn't a question the opinions of others can help you make.
posted by dong_resin at 2:44 PM on June 8, 2005

Nebulawindphone sorta said the same thing while I was typing.
posted by dong_resin at 2:45 PM on June 8, 2005

Gee-zus. This is the most vitriolic Ask Metafilter thread I've ever seen. My guess is that most of the run-away-sayers don't have herpes or have such mild cases they don't realize they have it. Hence the knee-jerk fear reaction - "oh my god, an STD."

Herpes is not that bad on the scale of things. As we human get older, we end up with myriad physical imperfections and quirks. If you let them scare you off, you're sure to be single by the time you're 60... my advice is, minimize the risk, and if you get it, it's not the end of the world. If this relationship doesn't last forever, there are plenty of tolerant, reasonable people who aren't going to run screaming upon finding out you have herpes.
posted by louigi at 2:55 PM on June 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

Here's some advice for you: don't listen to advice given out by anonymous contributors to a weblog who are basing their advice on fear, misinformation, and facile moralizing.

Instead, educate yourself. Find out which form of HSV (herpes simplex virus) she has, and what the characteristics, symptoms, and long-term health consequences of having the virus are. HSV isn't HIV and it isn't cooties. In general, the symptoms are uncomfortable but not especially life-threatening; the most serious consequences are that it can increase susceptibility to acquiring HIV, and that it can present serious problems when trasmitted from mother to child while pregnant.

But don't listen to me, go find out more for yourself. Start with the NAIAD fact sheet and move on from there.

As many have said, your friend has displayed considerable (and rare) responsibility and honesty by telling you about this. You owe it to yourself and to her by reciprocating in kind - that is, doing your homework and basing your decision on an educated assessment of the facts, not the uneducated opinions of a bunch of strangers.

Good luck.
posted by googly at 3:02 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

You obviously have a problem with it. You can't tell me you don't - because you found the resource to find a collective answer that will suit you. Why not flip a coin, since the many two cents suggested you educate yourself on the subject before making the decision.

Wait; guess your not proposing yet this relationship seems doomed by making sex the “deal breaker.”
She deserves a better lover who will show true love, humility, than a sex partner.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:09 PM on June 8, 2005

I would not have been so harsh if you just met.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:14 PM on June 8, 2005

what googly said. Make your decision based on actual information. You need the specifics from her, and then you need to understand the medical facts relevant to the type she has. Then you can weigh the costs and benefits and work out what you really want.

It's not bad to freak out at seemingly scary information, but it's bad to make important choices on the basis of a freak-out, instead of the basis of real data.
posted by mdn at 3:22 PM on June 8, 2005

She sounds like a nice girl who takes responsibility for her health.

Just like to point out that a one-night stand is not a responsible thing to do, precisely because of things like getting herpes. But as many others have said, it's not the end of the world.

If you're in love with her, herpes should not be a deal breaker. If you're in "like" with her, I can see how it would be. But remember: even if you "dodge the bullet" this time, you might someday meet a girl who has herpes and doesn't know it and ends up giving it to you (or someone who just flat-out lies to you).

Those striving for biological purity have an uphill battle ahead of them. That's no reason to plunge head-first into the STD pool, but don't castigate the guy just because he doesn't want to get an incurable infectious disease.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:30 PM on June 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

Maybe you could take her out to dinner first and then hold hands and then kiss a little before you accept or deny this nice girl on the basis of the quality of her feminine equipment? Whatever you decide, I hope your decision isn't immediate, knee-jerk, or based largely on sex. If you get to know her as a partner in more than just humping, you can have a reasoned and fair discussion about the issue that involves her and includes the research you're doing. It seems like she should get to share her own research and ideas for making a relationship work with herpes before you dismiss her.
posted by hamster at 4:22 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

And all I can do is get super sad for the female friend of mine that's traditionally gorgeous and ever-single because she's honest about the fact she has herpes. I knew she had a hard time dating, but... yeah. I had no idea.

We all have our own personal yeses and nos in relationships. Some of them are unfair and mean and horrible and nonsensical. But that's ok because it's our lives, our bodies and our choices to make and we don't have to justify them to anyone. Going out with someone because it makes us "the good guy" is stupid.

Read up on it. Ask yourself how much you really like her. And how freaked out you truly are about herpes once you know all about it. What everyone else would do, or not do, shouldn't make a damn bit of difference when it comes to what you want romantically.

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 4:28 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

i will second the notion that you shouldn't go out with her just to be "a good guy" or to avoid "being a dick"

but if you want to for the right reasons, why not?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2005

You can't have sex with someone who has herpes, unless you want to catch it yourself eventually, and you don't, because then you can never have sex again except with someone who already has it. So, if you date this woman, you will of necessity not be having intercourse with her, ever, unless you decide to marry her and decide to roll the dice on living with herpes. You may well be able to safely engage in other sexual play with her, I don't know (go look it up), but most people will not find a supposedly romantic relationship very satisfying if it lacks actual sex, no matter how great the woman is in other respects. It looks like a pretty solid "no" to me, sad to say. It's not her fault, and it's not fair, but it's the only sensible thing to do.
posted by kindall at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2005

Kindall - I don't know how many partners you've had, but you've probably already slept with somebody who had it. You were just lucky enough not to know about it (and they probably didn't know about it either), so you didn't have to think about it.

As has been said up thread, in the US, 1 in 4 women has it. Also, 1 in 5 men has it (maybe because male to female transition is easier than female to male, but who knows). Something like 1 in 2 black women has it. Most (like 90%) don't know that they have it.

Given that, I just assume that everybody that I'm with has it. Now, having pointers to the virus present in your blood is kind of different that having outbreaks. Some people get outbreaks and some don't.

I don't know why, so I don't know if whether she has frequent outbreaks will mean you'll get a version of the disease that would lead to you getting frequent outbreaks. Most other people in this thread probably don't know either, so don't listen to any of us. Talk to her, talk to a doctor. Maybe if she's open to it talk to both of them at the same time. Then, decide how you feel about it.
posted by willnot at 6:00 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty offended by what I'm reading here. I have a feeling most of the people posting haven't done their research on Herpes. I have. I have a very close friend with Herpes, and I'm amazed by some of the responses from men that she's told me about. I understand their initial freakout, but they should educate themselves first before running for the hills. She tested positive for Herpes, but she hasn't had an outbreak for years, and she is on suppressive therapy. If you avoid sex during an outbreak, and if you use a condom every time, then you are pretty damn protected. There are people who are married and sexually active for years who don't spread Herpes to one another. Having sex with a person who is infected does not guarantee that you will become infected yourself, and given the statistic that one in five sexually-active adult Americans have it, and that most people don't even know, you should thank anyone who does have it and who informs you. I really think education is important here, not just running because of one's initial fear.
posted by abbyladybug at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Kindall that's simply not true. It is absolutely possible to have a sexual relationship with someone who has HSV.

abbyladybug is right, avoid sex during an outbreak, use protection, and admit to yourself that as a sexually active adult you have probably been exposed already.

HSV is a frighteningly common occurence. Does that mean you should be careless about it? No. But should it be a deal-breaker in potential relationships? I really hope not.

Give the girl a chance, see what develops. And as many upthread have said - get more information. I recommend talking to a doctor. The web can be a bit of a minefield when it comes to accurate health information, as this thread demonstrates.
posted by szechuan at 7:19 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Another note for "no" here. Look, herpes is forever. If you catch it, it could be an easy thing to live with, prescription drugs and so forth. Conversely, it could be hellish: *cups hands around mouth* FOREVERRRRRRR.

It's great that she's being honest here, but by disclosing this, she's offering you the chance to take things no further, with no hard feelings.

You need to be a cold-blooded pragmatist when it comes to your health, and your children's, should fatherhood be in your future plans. If you pass it on to the future mother of your children, they too will be at some risk.
posted by Scoo at 8:32 PM on June 8, 2005

I'm one of those one out of every four or five people who have this. So...

Am I appalled by some of the comments here? Yes. Am I surprised? No.

With precautions you can reduce the possibility of catching this.

HOWEVER, from my perspective, it's better to assume you may very well catch it, and AFTER you are reasonably sure that the relationship may last for awhile, I would suggest (yes, I know VERY controversially) that you abandon taking precautions like condoms just like you would in a relationship with any girl that believed didn't have herpes, and especially at that time, to stop getting up immediately after sex to scrub your privates. It's just disrespectful to someone you are in a longterm relationship with.

Of course she (and I) would recommend taking precautions in the beginning, but after awhile being treated like a sexual leper is just too much of a drag.
posted by marsha56 at 9:46 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

marsha56 - that seems like remarkably bad advice. You're recommending that he intentionally infect himself at some ill-defined point in the future.

Yes, as I'm sure you know, herpes is manageable, but acting like it doesn't exist is dangerous and stupid.
posted by bshort at 9:50 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

Having herpes is just not a big deal, only that you have to deal with people who are just too paranoid about it, and at the same time knowing that there is at least a possibility that they probably have it themselves and don't know it, or that after they pass on you for this reason only may very well get it from the next partner because either that next person doesn't know or doesn't have the integrity to be honest about it, or they used to be honest and they finally got tired of being rejected because of their honesty

If you can't see yourself eventually being a grown up about this, do her a favor and pass, but know it will be your loss as well as hers, and a loss you may regret, especially if you get it eventually from someone else you don't care half as much for, as you very well might.

bshort, notice I didn't recommend not taking precautions in the beginning, just that if you believe that you always have to treat someone you're in a relationship with as if they are carrying the plague, she may very well get tired of the paranoia and be the breaker upper.

I'm not saying that it doesn't exist, just that getting it isn't the end of the world. I know I'm repeating myself here, but virtually the ONLY serious consequence of herpes is dealing with everyone else's paranoia.
posted by marsha56 at 10:11 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

If you avoid sex during an outbreak, and if you use a condom every time, then you are pretty damn protected.

See, you think you're disagreeing with me but you are in fact saying exactly the same thing. Eventually you will want to have intercourse with your actual lover rather than with a piece of latex, and you never will be able to. Continual frustration is not the path to a satisfying sex life. Furthermore, condoms don't cover every part that might get infected (common infection sites for men include the scrotum and inner thighs -- where do you get a rubber that covers those?), and they can fall off. So yes, if you have sex with her enough times, there is a reasonable chance you will eventually catch what she has, even if you wear a condom every time. Okay, maybe it's not a certainty, but how much of a chance do you want to take?

Now of course most relationships don't end up being long-term and there's no reason to suppose this one would be any different, but I think it would be dishonorable to go in expecting it to end in a relatively short time, especially if your hope is to not catch herpes. If that's your attitude going in, and it would not necessarily be an unnatural one to have, then it'd be better not to start anything.

It's true that some people catch herpes and have no outbreaks at all, or have outbreaks that are fairly infrequent and mild. It would be nice if you could know whether you are one of those people or not before you catch it, because sometimes the outbreaks are not at all infrequent or mild. I knew one woman whose outbreaks required her to sit spread-eagle in a chair naked from the waist down for a few days every few months, as she was unable to tolerate clothing or walking during the outbreak. If you are lucky this won't happen to your penis. If you're not so lucky, you may be in for, well, a world of pain.

Additionally, herpes can have severe effects on the immunocompromised. So if you, say, ever get cancer (God forbid), and they put you on chemotherapy, it could cause you to go blind or contract hepatitis or even encephalitis. This would really suck if the form of cancer you got responded really well to chemo because they probably wouldn't want to use it.

As for prescription drugs, sure it's great that they can suppress outbreaks to some extent, but do you really want to have to pay for that constantly? Generic acyclovir looks pretty cheap, but Valtrex (if it's what you end up needing) definitely is not -- over $100 for a month's worth, looks like. Your insurance company may pay for it, or they may not, depending on whether they know you knowingly had intercourse with someone who had the disease.

Then there is the fact that if you catch it, you can pass it on to a different woman who will then probably need a Caesarian if she ever has children to avoid infecting the baby, and that's not minor surgery. There's even a possibility that it could seriously impair the baby if she happens to be infected at the right (wrong) time. So you will probably want to have sex only with people who are already infected, unless you have no conscience whatsoever.

So I'm sorry, but no, I can't recommend this.
posted by kindall at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2005

I would agree with kindall that condoms offer limited protection.

That's why you might want to eventually not use them, once you have both been tested for HIV, and you are using other birth control methods.

kindall says to avoid having any sex with this girl ever if you don't want to get herpes. Yes, that's true. What he left out, is you will have to avoid sex with anyone and everyone for the rest of your life to avoid getting herpes, since so many people have it and don't tell you, very possibly because they don't know it themselves. kindall doesn't think it's realistic to expect to have a relationship with this girl that won't eventually lead to intercourse. I agree. But I don't think that a lifetime of no sex with the rest of the human race doesn't sound very realistic either.

Of course you want to make wise and safe decisions regarding sexual relationships. That's why it's so important to get tested for HIV before having sex, but I'm guessing that most people don't do this, and that's MUCH more dangerous than having sex with someone who has herpes, whether you or they know it or not.
posted by marsha56 at 10:48 PM on June 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

so you're 25 now, and by the time you're 35, you'll have faced this scenario several times, most likely. most of us face this in our dating lives. sure, the notion that something is chronic and incurable sets off all the warning bells, but in the grand scheme of chronic and incurable things, this one is pretty minor.

many of my friends (oh, i dunno, about 25%, just like your friends and everyone else in sexually active communities in north america) have herpes. no one i know has had any "sitting naked in a chair" experiences like kindall describes above. read the literature. you don't see a lot of stories like that. it's the exception.

for most people, it's completely silent, which is why it's so widespread - as discussed above, people don't know they have it and then they spread it. and for people who have outbreaks, they describe them as the same level of irritation as annoying zits. or a cold sore on their mouth, which is also herpes, of course.

i'm guessing that losing someone who is, in your words, "pretty special" would suck a lot more than taking precautions to avoid catching a virus that doesn't actually do all that much damage even if you wind up with it.
posted by judith at 12:21 AM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

With precautions you can reduce the possibility of catching this.

I don't understand. It seems to me that not dating her would be taking precautions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:46 AM on June 9, 2005

Also, my dream girl doesn't need to be perfectly hygenic. She sure as hell can't have herpes, though.

I hope that when you meet her, she doesn't.
posted by jon_kill at 5:20 AM on June 9, 2005

Someone emailed me and asked for some informational clarification, so here it is:

HerpesSimplexVirus-1 is what is commonly referred to as oral herpes; HSV-2=genital herpes. You can get both in both places, so the popular names are a bit of a misnomer. You can also get rectal herpes, from rimming or anal sex.

Mucosal contact is where the risk of infection comes in. Which means kissing, oral sex, genital to genital sex, sucking on a finger that's been somewhere naughty (and nice!). All the ways you normally can catch other STDs (including HIV, I don't have to remind anyone here).

You can pass HSV to a partner through oral sex, and you can pick it up that way. HSV-1 is less virulent than HSV-2, which means that if you pick up a case of HSV-1 on your genitalia (from someone going down on you), you are likely to have fewer and less severe outbreaks. On the other hand, if you pick up a case of HSV-2 in your mouth (while going down on someone) you are likely to have more severe outbreaks than the average 'oral herpes' patient. It works both ways.

As I mentioned at the top of the thread, condoms + supressive medications are the best was to avoid transmitting HSV. [Except of course for abstinence, but don't get me started on abstinence only programs, which really REALLY don't work. There are higher STD rates in kids who take abstinence pledges, etc.] Herpes is most easily transmitted during an outbreak, but viral shedding occurs at all times, and transmission can occur at all times as well. When you see kids with herpes it's because an adult with the virus has kissed them on the mouth, so transmission may already have occurred even without genital contact.

This is a bit off-topic, but I'd like to add something about the psychological impact of HSV. I'm a psychotherapist who works at an HIV program inside an STD clinic. 95% of my patients are HIV+ and many have Aids. Most of those patients deal with thoughts about their mortality, related depression, and minor levels of suicidality every day. I expected that when I started the job. I've had to walk more than one patient to the ER for a suicide assessment. I've only had to have the police come to transport one patient to the ER, and that was a young woman who had just been diagnosed with herpes. (She was otherwise healthy.) She was the only person who got that upset, but many people have a very hard time accepting an HSV diagnosis. This isn't, after all, a varicella virus (chicken pox), that also stays with you for life. People have very intense feelings about sex and sexuality, attractiveness and 'being good.' It doesn't surprise me that the responses in this thread have been so strong, although it would have been nice if some of them had refrained from such blatant value judgements.
posted by OmieWise at 6:10 AM on June 9, 2005

Your insurance company may pay for it, or they may not, depending on whether they know you knowingly had intercourse with someone who had the disease.

No, this isn't how it works. Your prescription drug card plan with your insurer may cover Valtrex, or it may not (I just looked at a bunch of insurer's non-covered drug lists and it wasn't included on any). It will probably be covered with a higher co-pay, particularly if there's a generic drug deemed equivalent available. Whether you contracted herpes "knowingly" will in no way come into the equation.
posted by MarkAnd at 6:30 AM on June 9, 2005

Well, that's nice of the insurance companies, I guess. I stand corrected. I personally would never expect other people to pay for the consequences of uncommon, risky behavior that I could have as easily avoided, or at least I'd expect to pay more for coverage if I engaged in high-risk behavior.

Sure I could get herpes from someone who doesn't tell me or doesn't know they have it. But let's do the math. If 25% of people have it, and say 80% of those people don't know it, and say 80% of the people who do know they have it are dishonest, then it shakes out as follows:

A - Having sex with someone who doesn't tell you they have herpes: 24% chance that they have it.

B - Having sex with someone who does tell you that they have herpes: 100% chance that they have it.

Given a choice between scenario A and scenario B, I'll take scenario A every time, as it reduces my risk significantly. Having sex only with people I know well enough to be confident that they're honest further reduces my risk, although surprisingly not that much -- though statistically, any additional risk does make a significant difference if you have a lot of partners.

I don't want herpes. Okay, maybe it's not the worst thing in the world, and no, I won't forego sex entirely to avoid it, but reducing my risk to the absolute minimum makes sense to me, especially when it's so easy. I certainly don't want to have to complicate every future relationship by telling my intended that I have it and asking them to make the same decision you're making now. I would find it easier to stop dating, frankly.

If you don't care whether you get it, then great, go ahead and get serious with this woman. She is at least honest, which is a good sign.
posted by kindall at 9:18 AM on June 9, 2005

I have no idea whether the original poster is planning on his relationship becoming sexual in the short term, but if that were the case, then there are some excellent suggestions upthread. If not, then a bunch of people are being complete jerks.

There are a lot of different beliefs held about love, life, and priorities. Some people date (and have sex with) many people, while others are lucky enough to find someone they marry without getting intimate with anyone else. Deciding whether it's worth the risk of getting herpes depends on these factors. If you're in a stage of your life where you're prone to have more casual relationships and don't see this as a staying things, then maybe it is, as mentioned above, a deal breaker. If you're seeking a long-term relationship and are willing to accept risks, then you might continue to pursue this girl.

I just look at comments like sun-el's and think of people who are in love with someone who has AIDS. While the original post made it clear that this is still a pretty casual relationship, it's repulsive to think that someone should be thrown out of your life because they're "damaged goods." If it were a more serious relationship and a more serious disease, "it's just love" would sound absolutely repulsive.
posted by mikeh at 11:06 AM on June 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

Thanks for writing that, mikeh. I like your response the best so far.
posted by hamster at 9:00 AM on June 10, 2005

Thanks mikeh. A voice of reason. My responses were much more technical.

kindall-Your politics are very strange. You seem to want to be so self-reliant that everyone is to blame for having a disease that they could have caught from their mother. I understand that you want to think that herpes=genital herpes, but that just is not the case. I would not only hope that insurance companies would pay for treatment, but that they would even pay for your treatment if you were to contract it (unwittingly). What do you think about insurance covering pregnancy? There's an avoidable set of medical expenses if there ever was one!
posted by OmieWise at 11:39 AM on June 11, 2005 [2 favorites]

Joining way late, but I wanted to chime in now that I'm not reading from work. Fewer than ten years back I was in a multi-year relationship with a man with herpes. He told me about his condition on our third date -- not because we were getting terribly physical yet, but just on "fair disclosure" principles because it was clear we liked each other and were both inclined to let things develop.

I did the research, considered the circumstances (infrequent, consistently predictable outbreaks), and went ahead with the relationship. 2+ years of physicality, frequently latex-free; a few periods of abstinence thrown in here and there. I'm still herpes-free, tested and certified.

It was a good relationship. I might've married the guy; he asked. But it wasn't ultimately what I was looking for, so we went our separate ways. I've been bad at keeping in touch but I hear that he's now married with a fantastic wife and cute kid.

People with herpes are people, and the herpes is not some mysterious condition. You learn how to deal with it, and if you're unlucky, you might have to learn how to live with it. My advice would be to figure out how you feel about this person first; and on that score, I agree with some prior posts in that she's shown some impressive qualities -- consideration, honesty, and guts. Take the physicality slow, maybe, and do your research at the same time. Soon enough, I think the right answer for you about both the risk and the relationship will become fairly clear.
posted by clever sheep at 7:33 PM on June 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

Holy cow!

I know people with herpes. And you do too. Yes you do. Let's just summarise some of the key issues here:

1. Herpes is a permanent, infectious, non-lethal disease.

Being viral, and capable of lying dormant within the body, yes it's permanent. It's also infectious at certain times. All true. But actually this isn't the problem here. There are other permanent, infectious, non-lethal diseases. Shingles, for example. I doubt that would be considered a "deal-breaker". So to point to this as the reason for refusing to expose yourself to risk of infection is disingenuous at best, and self-deluding at worst.

2. Herpes has social stigma.

This seems far more likely to be the reason for people to be so worried about exposure. Herpes is hugely widespread. A friend of mine studies the virus as part of his PhD. He tells me it's the single most ubiquitous human virus on the planet. Most people you ever meet have either got it or been exposed to it. And most of them will never know. The stigma only seems to arise when the infection is genital. But the same virus can infect the lips, eyes, even the fingers and other places. So what's the actual focus of the stigma here? The virus? Surely not - a cold sore on your lip is unlikely to evoke the same shame as a sore on your crotch. So what does this tell us about those people who draw a distinction between a cold-sore on someone's lip, and a sore on someone's dick? Both are caused by the same virus (one of two variations), and can even be caught and spread in the same manner. So not even the *act* of catching it is important. It seems irrational to make such a distinction. So who's got the problem here, the person with a viral infection, or the person who derides them because of where that infection happens to be on their body? What could we all do to stop such attitudes? (Oh, and catching herpes from a gym-mat would be astronomically unlikely, unless you were at some sort of carpeting-fetishists' orgy, and everyone was having unprotected sex. On the same mat. And stuffing bits of gym-mat where it shouldn't be stuffed. And then eating the bits of gym-mat).

3. The perfect partner won't have herpes.

What happens when your perfect partner turns up, and *does* have herpes? Or more to the point: what happens when your perfect partner turns up, and *you* have herpes? What would you prefer them to say and do?

4. Infection is inevitable if you sleep with someone who has herpes.

Not necessarily true. I'm not sure of the detail, but knowing people who are currently in this situation, they seem to deal with it happily enough. My advice would be to do the obvious, for both of you together to go and see some sort of sex guidance counsellor. In the UK, GPs are hit-and-miss: some give good advice, some give bad advice. You're far better off going to someone who deals with this sort of stuff exclusively.

5. Sex and love.

This probably underpins it all, doesn't it. Do you need to have sex with her? Is that where this is going? If you can't have sex with her, then what will happen to your relationship? Personally, I think this is the question that you really need to answer.
posted by ajp at 11:13 AM on June 15, 2005

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