Why Men Still Chose To Sleep With Me–Someone With Genital Herpes – Rafaella Gunz
I contracted genital HSV-1 this past summer. I was 21 and exploring casual dating for the first time. I had recently got out of a 10 month relationship I found to be stifling to me emotionally and sexually. I wanted to explore my sexuality in a no-strings-attached way as opposed to being in monogamous relationship after monogamous relationship like I had been doing since age 15.
At first, I thought the diagnosis was the end of the world. I thought no one would ever want to sleep with me, much less be in a relationship with me, ever again. But as my first and only outbreak subsided, I found not much had changed.
Robert, a guy I was seeing before I got herpes, was with me through it all. He came over the night I first found out I might have contracted it and held me for hours while I cried. He was also the first person I slept with after my outbreak went away. “I guess it was scary at first but then it was whatever,” he said about why he chose to still sleep with me. “I didn’t see you as less of a person.”
The next person I disclosed to was Ryan, another guy I was seeing before I had contracted herpes. Upon first hearing the news, he was “bummed,” as he knew the shitty circumstances of how I contracted the virus. But, as he was educated on the different strains of herpes and knew it was “possible to have a healthy sex life that’s basically unaffected,” he felt okay. “I knew that something like 80% of people have HSV-1, and that most people only get like one outbreak and then do not show symptoms,” he said. He then did more research to learn about viral shedding and the different options for treatment.
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“I decided to sleep with you because I was aware of the risk (which was very low) and we both had a good attitude about safe sex, and the social stigma of herpes is stupid and there’s no reason it should be as taboo as it is, considering how many people have to deal with it in some form or another,” Ryan said.
Then there was Trent. Trent is someone I have known since age 17. He’s someone who has seen me go through a lot – from abusive ex boyfriends to struggling with my OCD/anxiety, and now contracting a stigmatized but non-serious STI. He lives relatively far from me, but came to visit a couple months ago. We had sex for the first time—it was a long time coming.
“You’re the first person that I know to have gotten an STI. As a friend I was concerned, that’s just due to my own prior misinformation,” Trent said. After my disclosure, he did more research, realizing his high school health class taught him very little. “It’s surprising how what you’re taught is skewed. I didn’t know that there are two strains of it and a pretty large demographic actually has the first of the two,” he said.
Trent cites “personal reasons” as why he still chose to sleep with me. “I was comfortable with you regardless and antivirals exist for a reason,” he said.
Both Ryan and Trent offer their advice to any man who just had someone disclose herpes to them:
“Make sure to get tested regularly (worst case scenario being that you’d have it and weren’t aware), treat it properly, don’t think of it like a death sentence, and to always, always, always make sure to disclose it to a potential partner beforehand. No one should be afraid to talk about it because of what other people might say about it.” –Ryan
“Don’t be an asshole. Be supportive, listen, and understand as I’m sure you’d want someone to do for you.”-Trent
Overall, herpes hasn’t had much of an effect on my sex life. I’ve disclosed to every partner I’ve had and every reaction has been one of acceptance and not seeing me any differently. In fact, I think herpes has made my sex life better. Knowing I have to disclose before getting intimate with someone promotes a sense of honesty and trust within the relationship. Since contracting herpes, I’ve also become more educated on the information my high school health class failed to provide, which is also an important part of a healthy sex life.
Rafaella Gunz is a senior at The New School in NYC, majoring in journalism and minoring in gender studies. She has a passion for feminism and LGBTQ+ issues.