April is STD Awareness Month, and with that I’d like to talk about what it’s like dating with herpes.
According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of the world’s population has HSV-1 or “oral herpes.” HSV-2, typically associated with genital herpes, is also pretty common with an estimated 1 out of 6 Americans having it. Yet, either strain can transmit to either location. For instance, I have “oral herpes” on my genitals, which I most likely contracted by receiving oral sex.
I’ve had genital HSV-1 for about 9 months now, but I didn’t let my status get in the way of my dating life or my sex life. Before I met my boyfriend, I was exploring casual sex. I always disclosed to new partners, and as you can read here, I’ve had quite a few positive experiences with casual sex despite my HSV+ status.
Then I met my darling Daniel on OkCupid, as us millennials do. After messaging a few times back and forth on the site, we switched to texting. I told him about my HSV+ status right away, just to get it out there, and his response was one of acceptance. He said, and I quote, “you could have HIV/AIDS and I’d still be into you.”
So wow… from a guy I hadn’t even met in person yet, I was glad to see my genital herpes wasn’t a dealbreaker and that he was a person who was able to see past the silly stigma attached to STIs.
We met in person a few days later and really hit it off. Our first date was 13 hours long, in fact, and continued on to the next couple days. I only was going home to sleep.
He asked me to be his girlfriend on the second day we hung out. And we consummated our relationship almost right after I said yes.
Things went fast for us, but everything just felt right in a way that hadn’t for me in so long. And for Daniel, I was the first girl he dated seriously in two years. Daniel identifies as demisexual and rarely meets people he’s interested in sexually.
We are now three months into our relationship. I spend about half of each week staying over at his place, where I have a toothbrush and some clothing. And things are going pretty great for us, if I do say so myself.
So without further ado, here is my interview with Daniel about why he asked out this candid feminist who writes about herpes within two days of knowing me.
What was your initial reaction upon me telling you I had herpes?
I first responded. I went to [my room mate] and told him that I met someone really great and that I was really excited. I mentioned that she had herpes and he asked me if that was a deal breaker. It wasn’t. I just needed a sanity check from a friend. More so about how into you I was for not even knowing you than anything.
When you replied to me you said that I could have HIV/AIDS and you’d still be into me. That says a lot, yet we had just started talking. What made you say that?
As someone who grew up pretty ace, sex isn’t that important to me. I liked you a lot and I wouldn’t want to disqualify someone as a person for something stupid. There are safe sex practices and creative ways around every problem. STDs in general are at most a bump in that road that may, or in our case may not, require some creative thinking.
You identify as demisexual. So what about me appealed to you before we even met in person, and despite me telling you about my HSV+ status?
You were in the midst of being cyberbullied at the time and I admired you for being strong and principled. In addition, you were very straightforward and upfront with me and I respected that a lot.
I write about my experience with herpes publicly on the internet, but you’ve never seemed embarrassed about this. How come?
On the contrary, I think it’s important work. In the couple months we’ve been together, uncountable people have come to me and talked about their minor sexually transmitted blemishes. I didn’t even realize how many people live in the dark hiding these minor diseases in shame.
I know your friends and family looked me up upon hearing we were in a relationship. Many of them saw what I write about and didn’t seem to care, except for your mom. Can you tell me about the experience of your mom finding out I had herpes?
It was pretty dramatic. She didn’t seem to know what to say. She just kept telling me “you don’t want herpes.” She ended up speaking with an OB/GYN who confirmed what I was trying to tell her about how benign the disease is. My dad also talked her down and told her she was “ignoring the important part.” That important part being that I was happy for the first time in a very long time.
You got a blood test at CityMD when we started dating to see if you already had HSV-1, the strain of herpes I have. It came back negative and you were surprised. Can you talk about this?
The various nurses and physicians assistants who I talked to seemed pretty confused by the request. They asked me if I had any sores I was concerned about or if I had had unsafe sex recently. I think they thought I may need a more comprehensive test or maybe even be educated on sex. I explained to them, no, I’m just hoping I am among the majority of people who have HSV antibodies already.
When the person called to give me my results over the phone three days later, I think she expected me to be happier that they came up negative. I felt bad, I’m sure most of her day is spent giving bad news to people over the phone and that maybe she was looking forward to that one.
Like me, you also struggle with bad anxiety. I know from experience that herpes can be a very anxiety-inducing condition. You’ve told me that thinking about getting herpes has caused your anxiety to act up. How did you calm yourself down from that?
Typically the episodes just play themselves out. I don’t really think they’re about herpes. Health anxiety is a very common anxiety for people with severe generalized anxiety disorder or OCD. I’ve had episodes ranging from “this skin rash is cancer,” to “I just slurred my word so I’m having a stroke.” You can’t always combat ridiculousness with logic. It’s better to try to get at the root of the issue.
I’m on daily suppressive antivirals and we also use condoms, but you still go down on me without a barrier. HSV-1 is typically attracted to the mouth, meaning you’re more likely to contract it from me on your mouth than your genitals, but why doesn’t that seem to bother you?
I’m just really not concerned with getting oral HSV-1 at all. I’d be lying if I said the stigma of genital HSV-1 didn’t scare me sometimes. When it comes to oral HSV-1 there isn’t even really a stigma associated with it. Also, that stigma is dumb and I feel dumb for being afraid of it ever.
As our relationship progresses, you seem less nervous about the possibility of contracting herpes from me. Why do you think this is?
Because I like you more and more and I just can’t be as bothered to care about something as irrelevant as herpes.
Overall, what’s your experience been like dating someone with a benign yet stigmatized skin condition?
Interesting to say the least. I see how people on the internet react to things you post, as if herpes were some kind of horrible blight. In our day to day lives it is far more benign than my acne, which requires much more attentive care. Ignoring how people react to your writing on the internet, your herpes hasn’t affected our relationship at all. Everything that makes this interesting seems to come down to the stigma associated with the skin condition and the sheer number of people who come to me seeking my advice.