I have herpes. I want to have casual sex. How can I make this work?
August 4, 2013 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I find myself at a time in my life when I would really like to have lots of casual sex. However, I have genital herpes. I know I need to disclose this to potential partners, and I know how to do that. I would like to know if there is anything I can do to improve my ability to find potential partners who will not turn me down on the basis of my STD status.

About two years ago I was diagnosed with genital HSV-1. I had a big primary infection that was pretty unpleasant, got it tested, and learned to my dismay that it was indeed herpes. Thankfully, I have not had a single recurrence since my primary -- on a day to day basis, it is as if nothing has changed. I was on medication for the first few months (valacyclovir) but eventually stopped and have not taken any treatment for perhaps a year and a half.

From around the time of my initial diagnosis up to now, I have been out of the sex pool for unrelated personal reasons. However, I now find myself at a time in my life where I would like to start having sex again. I am not interested in a relationship at this time, but would really like to have some non-relationship-based sex either on a no-strings-attached basis or as part of an ongoing friends-with-benefits kind of arrangement (though not with any of my existing friends).

Obviously having herpes complicates this. I am a responsible person and will of course disclose my STD status to any potential partners and of course I will employ barriers during sex to reduce the chance of transmission (and just because barriers are the way to go for casual sex as a rule). I am not looking for advice about how to go about doing the actual disclosure -- we've had that AskMe before -- but rather for advice on how to find people who will not reject me for sex because I have an STD.

I am aware that many people will not want to have casual sex with someone who has herpes, period. However, it's also an extremely common and not particularly debilitating disease, and surely there are also many people out there who either already have it or who aren't too bothered about having sex with someone who has it as long as precautions are taken to reduce transmission. How do I find those people? If it matters, I am a late-20s straight white male who likes a degree of intellectual connection in his hookups and is also somewhat kinky.

All suggestions are welcome. Insights gleaned through personal experience would be especially welcome. If you prefer not to speak publicly, either use the Contact Form ask to the mods to post your answer for you or email me at hsv.askme@gmail.com. Thank you very much.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

If I knew that the person was on prophylactic valacyclovir to reduce a asymptomatic viral shedding, and that and safer sex practices were going to be used, that would go a long way toward making me feel comfortable with the minimal risk.
posted by quince at 6:56 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Well, first, you should go back on the antivirals. If nothing else it will help demonstrate to future partners that you're concerned about preventing transmission.
posted by Anonymous at 6:56 PM on August 4, 2013

Exactly what the previous two posters have said.

I was in a monogamous two-year relationship with a guy who had herpes. (I didn't, and haven't.) One of the big things that made me okay with his STD status was that he was very proactive about minimizing the risk of transmission. That included taking Valtrex (valacyclovir).
posted by Salamander at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2013

I know there are forums for people with herpes and other STDS-s who want to date, but I'm not personally familiar with any. But in a more general sense, I think you want to disclose your status up front AND you want to get back on anti-virals. In that sense, I wonder if online dating may work well for you, in part because you are kinky.

Generally, as you probably well know, there are some folks who will be okay with dating and sexing if you are safe, and there are other folks who will run screaming because they don't know any better. The more proactive -- and vocal -- you are about not spreading the HSV-1, the more likely it is that people will want to have sex with you.
posted by sm1tten at 7:24 PM on August 4, 2013

I'm not a person seeking casual sex partners, but I am an HSV-negative person aware of the seroprevalence of HSV-1. It's like, 2/3rds of the U.S. (Maybe more among the sexually active dating pool.) In fact, the last time I was STD tested, I had to press Planned Parenthood to do HSV-1 at all (which is the only reason I know I have a neg status), and getting it done required insistence almost to the point of "look, I know the stats! I've had a paper published in the Journal of Virology, for christ's sake! I still want to know my HSV-1 status!" If I were in the dating pool, especially having casual hookups, I'd be pretty much assuming I was putting myself at regular risk of contracting it, and in general, I'd be looking for my partners to disclose active infectious lesions (which I would avoid contact with), but I wouldn't assume anyone I date was HSV-1 negative, even if they said they'd had a full STD screen and come back negative.

Note: I'm saying it's not good that you're being proactively informing (it is!) or that your status won't turn some people off (it will). But you may find it's less of a deal for other informed, responsible people than you think.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:06 PM on August 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am an HSV-negative person aware of the seroprevalence of HSV-1. It's like, 2/3rds of the U.S.

The seroprevalence of HSV-1 might be 2/3 of the US, but, as I understand it, the seroprevalence of genital HSV-1 is significantly lower. Yes, they are the same thing, but the location of the virus (i.e. where it has set up latency) is not insignificant. In other words, having genital HSV-1 involves different concerns and precautions re: transmission than having oral HSV-1.

posted by Salamander at 9:27 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

BTW, I'm not saying that genital HSV-1 is 'better' or 'worse' than HSV-2 or oral HSV-1, and I agree that there's a lot of misinformation around. I was surprised to learn that genital HSV-1 in a pregnant woman can be more dangerous to a developing fetus than HSV-2.)

The following information might also be useful to the OP:

A prior infection with HSV-1 orally greatly lowers the risk of contracting type 1 genitally. Studies have shown that the majority of HSV-1 genital cases are occurring in those with no prior history of HSV of either type.

In the absence of prior oral infection, HSV-1 can be spread to the genital area, usually through the practice of oral sex. In some countries, genital HSV-1 accounts for more than half of their entire genital herpes cases.



A prior infection with oral HSV-1 lowers the risk of acquiring genital HSV-1 even further. Studies show that genital HSV-1 infections almost always occur in people who have no prior infection with HSV of either type (Corey, Annals of Internal Medicine, 1983).

In the absence of prior oral infection, however, HSV-1 spreads easily to the genital area, usually through oral sex. In some countries, such as Japan and parts of Great Britain, genital HSV-1 is as common as genital HSV- 2, or more common.

"Prevalence rates of genital HSV-1 differ based on the practice of oral sex and on the percentage of people who are HSV-1 positive from childhood," explains Anna Wald, MD researcher at the University of Washington at Seattle.

posted by Salamander at 9:44 PM on August 4, 2013

Point taken on the different rates of transmission, Salamander (although as you note, the oral-to-genital rate isn't exactly low). Since the OP is asking for ways to identify people for whom this is less of a big deal, I guess I should note that for me, this would be less of a big deal because I've been on an antiviral before (woo, childhood shingles!) and have some sense of what that'd be like if I did contract it. I don't disagree with the previous posters that getting back on antivirals would be a good idea to minimize the potential sex partners, but I'd also suspect that there are plenty of people who'd be comfortable with disclosure+barrier methods+no sex during any outbreak out there.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:43 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine in a similar situation reports good results from positivesingles.com.
posted by bac at 11:04 PM on August 4, 2013

Just a point of reassurance. As a person who has had herpes for decades (!) and plenty of casual sex, I've never been rejected because of it. Not once, which amazes me still. And never passed it on, not once. Being open and honest, and following the precautions outlined above, are crucial. Herpes seems like doomsday curse at first, but it needn't be that at all. The candor and respect it requires can actually improve relationships, even brief ones.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think I would look at dating sites specifically for people with herpes. A friend of mine had good success with one of those, though I'm not sure which one.
posted by corb at 9:00 AM on August 5, 2013

I'm coming from this from the opposite side of the question. I have a chronic illness affecting my immune system, and HSV-1 can be really nasty when people like me get it. I want to know my partners' HSV status if they're aware of it, for obvious reasons.

However, I have had relationships of varying seriousness with a number of people who're HSV-positive. (Conversely, I ended a 6-year relationship in part because she knowingly lied to me about her HSV status.) Knowing that someone:
- Knows their status,
- Is willing to be open with me about it, and thus give me the information I need to make decisions about my health,
- Can tell me what steps they're taking to manage their own health and minimise the risk to their partners,
will help me feel safer with them than with someone who doesn't know their status and doesn't care to look into it.

Not everyone feels the way I do, but I wanted to add another data point about HSV-negative people who don't consider the diagnosis a dealbreaker in and of itself.

(Also, you sound like someone I'd totally consider meeting up with if I were looking for a FWB/casual situation. You come across as intelligent, thoughtful, and considerate of your potential partners - usually good signs in a lover. I hope you find someone great, and have loads of fun together!)
posted by Someone Else's Story at 8:52 PM on August 5, 2013

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