Really great girl has an STI
July 28, 2012 9:27 AM   Subscribe

The girl that I like has herpes. How do I move forward?

Met an amazing woman and we've been having a fun time together. I can't know for sure if there's a future with her, but I know that I really like her a lot and I haven't felt this way about someone in a long time. I am very interested in having sex with her and dating, even if it's something that only ends up lasting for the short term.

She disclosed that she contracted hsv-1 genitally a year or so ago but that it's under control and possibly the only outbreak she'll ever have, etc. We did not have sex yet. I understand that in the grand scheme of things, this is basically Not a Big Deal at all from a physical/health/hygiene perspective seeing that herpes (at least hsv-1) is pretty much a moderate inconvenience at most. I also understand that something like 50-80% of the population has some form of it or another.

However I still do not want genital herpes. I really, really, really do not want to have to disclose it to possible future partners and face the resulting possible stigmatization that comes with it, which I truly believe is (sadly and unjustly) the more harmful effect of the virus.

So it's a pretty classic/cliche story when it comes to herpes - two people like each other, one discloses they have it, the other has to decide whether it's "worth the risk" or not. How do I come to a decision here and what is the most mature and responsible course of action? I know for a fact that I definitely do not want herpes, especially not genital herpes, and I would feel extremely stupid if I contracted it KNOWING that I was taking a risk. I would also feel equally stupid not pursuing anything further with this girl because I'm really into her and haven't been into someone in a longgg time.

So...what to do? Also can I just go to a doctor or a planned parenthood and ask to talk to someone about this? If anyone has shared this experience I would love to know.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Datapoint from personal experience:
My ex-boyfriend had genital herpes, kept it under control with anti-viral medication, only extremely rarely had outbreaks. I did not have genital herpes (tested negative) so we used condoms pretty much every time we had sex. Over the year and a half we dated, I didn't contract it, as I still tested negative when I got tested after we broke up. So, it's definitely very possible to be in a relationship, have plenty of sex, and still not get it, if you are smart about it and just a little lucky. I have to say though, I was in the same boat as you about not wanting to get it, and for me it was generally a source of anxiety until we broke up, and then I was relieved that I didn't have to worry about it anymore with any future sexual partners.

That being said, there's always a risk that any future random sexual partner could have it and NOT disclose it to you, and then you get it anyway. As you've stated, the stigma is the worst part, and if you choose not to be with this girl because of the herp, you're just contributing to that. If you think you could see yourself being really committed to this girl and possible marrying her, I'd say go for it. I think if I had been happier and more committed in my previous relationship, I would not have worried about the herpes so much, because I would not have been worried about future sex partners.
posted by permiechickie at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am lucky that I don't have any experience in this area. But YES, you can absolutely go to a doctor or PP or sexual health clinic and ask them about it (I would recommend one of the latter two, as they are likely to have more knowledge/experience in this area). It is exactly what they are there for and they will be more than happy to educate you before the fact.
posted by rubbish bin night at 9:49 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, you can absolutely go to someone who specializes in sexual health and talk with them about risk reduction strategies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:11 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

However I still do not want genital herpes. I really, really, really do not want to have to disclose it to possible future partners

Have you been tested? Because if you have not, as gently as possible, what you're actually saying is that you don't want to know you have herpes and therefore, have to disclose. Since 20% of the adult population has genital herpes, it's well within the realm of possibility that you have it or have had sexual contact already with someone who does. I would start with a visit to your own doctor or the men's sexual health clinic at Planned Parenthood both for screening and to have a conversation with a healthcare practitioner about statistics and what safer sex can and cannot do for the two of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:14 AM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This AskMe question is still reasonably current
posted by Blasdelb at 12:27 PM on July 28, 2012

You've asked: what is the most mature and responsible course of action?
You've described herpes stigmatization as 'unjust'.
Of course, you really, really, really don't want to face this stigma yourself. (I doubt she did either. Good on her for disclosing, though.)
Um, not to get all Mahatma in your face, but you must be the change that you want to see in the world.
Seriously, how do you imagine herpes stigmatization happens, if not via people like you walking away from people like her?
posted by feral_goldfish at 12:44 PM on July 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

A note to DarlingBri's question: often, when you "go get tested," you do not actually get tested for herpes, because the test is kind of expensive and most doctors don't deem it significant. In many places you need to specifically ask to include herpes in the tests.

You should talk to a professional, absolutely, but what I've gleaned from various resources is that you have very little chance of contracting the virus from someone who is paying attention and controlling outbreaks with medication -- especially compared to the chances of getting the virus from someone who hasn't disclosed their status to you, because they themselves don't know!
posted by Pwoink at 1:02 PM on July 28, 2012

You can get type specific (HSV-1 and HSV-2) blood tests for herpes at Planned Parenthood, even if you don't have or have never had any symptoms. (This is not part of the routine std panel, you have to specifically request them; where I live the cost is less than $25 at PP). I would do this first off, because if you already have oral HSV-1 (something like 50 to 90 % of the population does), then it is less likely that you would contract genital HSV-1 even if you were exposed to it. It's not impossible, but having a HSV-1 infection in one location makes it harder to contract one in the other location.

And speaking of oral herpes, would you feel differently/less concerned if she had cold sores/oral HSV-1 rather than genital HSV-1? I understand that genital herpes is more stigmatized and seems like a bigger deal but the reality is that if your sex life includes oral sex, then you are also at risk for genital HSV-1 if your partner has oral HSV-1, even if they don't have genital HSV-1. (and oral HSV-1 is pretty hard to avoid if you want to date at all)

If, in fact, you don't already have either oral or genital HSV-1, here are a couple things to consider when you are weighing the risks of dating someone who does. I got genital HSV-1 from my first boyfriend, (lucky me!) and these are things I wish I had known BEFORE we started doing anything. (I knew he had oral HSV-1 and got cold sores once in a while but I didn't think it was a big deal and didn't really read up on it or anything ).

(1) How big a deal herpes is depends on your individual genetics/body chemistry/immune system. My ex who I got it from only got outbreaks when he was very stressed out or sick. I, on the other hand, still (7 years later) get them every month during my period, unless I am very careful about diet, getting enough sleep, and taking lysine. The point here is that just because your partner does not get recurring outbreaks doesn't mean you won't if you contract it from them either orally or genitally (again, assuming you don't already have it).

On the other hand, mine are very mild, usually just a burning feeling and one tiny blister (sometimes no blisters or visual signs at all). So if wasn't being hyperaware because of knowing I usually get them at a certain time, I really might not even know. The point here is that not only can you get herpes from someone who has the virus but never has outbreaks, you can also get it from someone who doesn't recognize their outbreaks as such. So just pointing out again here that even if you don't date this particular woman, if you're going to date anyone there's a fairly high chance of exposure.

(2) There is a connection between oral HSV-1 and Alzheimer's (this also depends on genetic factors; basically having a certain genetic predisposition and oral HSV-1 puts one at a much higher risk). From what I've read, there does not seem to be a connection between HSV-2 (which mostly causes genital herpes but can cause oral herpes). I haven't seen the question of whether or not genital HSV-1 is connected to Alzheimer's addressed directly in anything that I've read. As I understand it, the difference between oral herpes and genital herpes is that during the inactive/non-outbreak periods, if you have oral herpes, the virus just chills somewhere in some nerve center at the neck/base of the head. If you have genital herpes, it hangs out at the base of the spine instead. So one theory is that after a certain age, in addition to causing facial cold sores the virus makes its way into the brain and helps contribute to Alzheimer's plaques. So it seems like genital HSV-1 wouldn't contribute in the same way, since it is at the base of the spine instead of up near the head, but who knows? In any case, because of this, I do consider HSV-1 to be not a completely harmless thing medically, even though most medical professionals will be kind of dismissive of it, especially of oral HSV-1, since it is so common.

Finally, here's a few more anecdotes on disclosure and transmission from my personal experience:

As I said, I contracted genital HSV-1 from my first bf, who had oral HSV-1. I continued dating him for 2 years and didn't get oral HSV-1 (or if I did, got an asymptomatic version of), even though we weren't particularly careful. I believe this is because my prior genital HSV-1 infection was protective against an oral infection.

My second more recent ex-bf did not contract genital HSV-1 from me (or if he did, it was/is completely asymptomatic), even though I was not on anti-viral medication and we weren't particularly careful (he wasn't very concerned about it). I believe this is because he already had oral HSV-1 (he gets a cold sore like once every couple years).

In my (limited) experience disclosing to people, HSV-1 (even genital HSV-1) is seen as less of a big deal than HSV-2 (maybe partly b/c it is more common and partly just because of stupid bullshit stigma reasons). But in any case, neither my second boyfriend or the new guy that I might start dating has reacted badly or not wanted to date me.
posted by my name at 1:23 PM on July 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

This brings to mind some of the best sexual advice ever written:
Well, I think it's pretty damn considerate (and rather) brave of her to let you know that she's got the herps. Estimates say 40% of New Yorkers have herpes. At this point, it's less a disease than a cool genital accessory (oooh look! Spots!). She's right about it not being that big a deal. If you use a rubber and never hook up during outbreaks, you should be fine. But you should ALWAYS wear a rubber, because the truth is that herpes can indeed spread even when she is not breaking out if you aren't using protection. CRIMINY! Sly little virus, that herpes.

So careful with the oral. You're almost certainly fine after your little session the other day. But in the future, I suggest you use a tongue condom. Ever use a lambskin tongue condom? Like licking velvet.

The real issue is down the road. If you end up getting married and wanting to have kids with this girl or something, at some point you'll have to risk riding bareback. Is it worth the occasional breakout of dick spots to have a happy relationship with a woman you find extremely attractive? I say yes. Getting a hot girl with herpes is like getting a Corvette at government auction. THAT'S GOOD VALUE FOR YOUR PENIS!
posted by General Malaise at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I hate these questions, because if there's anything the human heart doesn't need, it's more barriers.

However. Unlike what most people are anxious to assure you, not everyone has some form of herpes. I've had the blood tests, so I know for a fact that I'm negative. And I have several autoimmune diseases, very serious ones, which have already required tremendously expensive surgery and immune suppressants. The reality is that this virus CAN have devastating complications for people who already have health problems, and it SHOULD be taken seriously. Please never develop a cavalier attitude that many people take. I began by saying the human heart needs no new barriers, but mostly, I think people resent barriers to self-gratification more. Unless they're in it for the long haul, infected people should take sex seriously. The heart can only benefit.
posted by thelastcamel at 8:48 PM on July 28, 2012

"But in the future, I suggest you use a tongue condom. Ever use a lambskin tongue condom? Like licking velvet."
WTF is a "lambskin tongue condom"? I imagine "tongue condom" could mean dental dam, and I know they make lambskin condoms, but I'm pretty sure they don't make lambskin dental dams. Plus, lambskin doesn't protect against STDs, only pregnancy.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:53 PM on July 28, 2012

Apologies if my advice above comes off as preachy: I'm in no position of moral superiority, never having dealt with herpes nor with your dilemma. Just saying: Although protecting others from stigma often entails social risk, very rarely does this item appear on our to-do list as GET LAID BY AMAZING WOMAN. Seize the day!
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:41 AM on July 30, 2012

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