Love Herps

11/07/2012 4:00 AM |


Dear Audrey,
I have recently started falling for a really great girl. We like each other a lot and have a great time together. Before we got physical she told me she has herpes. I was initially disappointed but soon decided I liked her too much to break it off completely. We have kept seeing each other and I can’t decide whether I am making a horrible choice. We haven’t done anything yet but it’s only a matter of time. How fucked am I?

Not fucked at all, apparently, ha ha. But as you say: it’s only a matter of time! I would never brush off someone’s concern about safer sex, and of course only you can decide what level of risk you’re willing to take. That said, herpes is super not that big of a deal. A LOT of people have it—16 percent nationally and 25 percent in NYC. You may very well have it already. Many, many people never experience symptoms, and so have no clue they’re infected.

It is generally true that once you have an infection, it’s difficult to get reinfected with another strain of the virus. I’ve always thought we should deliberately infect everyone with a non-symptomatic version of herpes so that they’re “immune” to the symptomatic kind. I’m sure there is a medical reason why that is stupid, but I would like know what it is.

Anyway, there are two different herpes viruses, HSV-1 and HSV-2. Generally, HSV-2 is only genital, but HSV-1 can be genital or oral. Infections are site-specific, so a person could have one virus genitally and another one orally. You can also pass the virus from mouth to genitals and vice versa. So like if a person with a cold sore gives you a blowjob, you can get their mouth herpes on your penis.

Once you’re infected with herpes, you will have it your entire life, though now there are drugs you can take to help reduce outbreaks. Aside from cold sores (and whatever the dick version of cold sores are), the only real side effect is that you can slightly increase your chance of contracting HIV. A weeping sore of any kind is an HIV transmission risk factor. Blood, sores, mucous membranes: all HIV risks.

That all sounds very dire. Nobody should have to read the word “sore” that much. Honestly, if you have protected sex (which you are doing anyway, RIGHT?), you greatly decrease your chances of getting herpes. It’s possible to transmit the virus when there isn’t a visible outbreak, and it’s possible to get it even while wearing a condom, because your other skin is exposed. The risk is real. You could really definitely get a lifelong STD as a result of having sex with this gal. And good on her for being so up front about it.

But for me—and this is just my opinion—the potential rewards far outweigh the risks here. Whenever you have sex with anyone, you’re rolling the dice, disease-wise. Hell, whenever you walk around outside, you’re rolling the dice, hit-by-a-bus-wise. If you’ve found someone you care about and are attracted to, the small chance of getting a very low side-effect disease like herpes (which you may already have, let’s not forget) seems like not worth worrying about. But it’s your body. And your decision. Only you can say if you think it’s an acceptable risk. Don’t let me tell you what to do.

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