The purpose of this writing is to share my own experience with HSV so that folks will know that it doesn’t have to be terrifying. I know there are lots of different and contradicting and confusing facts about what herpes is and isn’t, what it will and won’t do to you, whether it’s worth getting tested or not, and how important it is to disclose different strains. I won’t touch on those topics here- that’s not my focus- but I will link to the resource I use for statistics, because I’ve found it to be reliable and factually based. The Westborough Heights Herpes Handbook, available for free here: http://westoverheights.com/herpes_handbook/
How did you get it?
I got HSV1 genitally a little over 2 years ago from a long-term partner who didn’t know he had it. We had both gotten tested before we played and hadn’t really realized that our doctors weren’t testing for herpes. At the time I got it, I had 3 active partners- one long-term and two newer. I used barriers with the newer ones, and all four of us shared our test results. We also shared the false assumption that when we had gone to get STI testing and had asked for “the works,” we had been tested for HSV. We had not. About a year into a relationship with one partner, I got it from him. Luckily I didn’t pass it to either of my newer partners, though one found out he actually already had HSV2 and hadn’t realized it till he got tested because of me.
How did you tell your partners?
I called each of them and told them when I initially got tested, and then again with my results. I also emailed with some links and statistics they could look over on their own time, as well as some basic information about what they should look for. For potential partners afterward, I prefer to tell them online after a date or two so that they can have their reaction in private and do their googling right away without worrying that it will make me feel bad.
Was it awful?
At first, yeah. I didn’t know anyone who had it- or if I did, I didn’t know. I felt like a leper, and stayed in bed for 2 days crying. My butt hurt and I got the telltale first outbreak flu. I felt alienated from my body, and then betrayed by it. I felt distanced from my sexuality in a way I had never imagined. I thought my sex life and my love life were over. I didn’t want to impose myself on anyone else. It was scary and it hurt and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling comfortable touching myself again. Luckily, those feelings didn’t last for too long.
What helped you feel better?
People. My partner at the time of diagnosis- when he didn’t reject me, held me through days of sniffling, and patiently and gently helped reacquaint me with sexual touch. My best friend- who helped me find reliable statistics online when my doctor offered very little concrete information. My next partner after diagnosis- who gracefully received my disclosure and reassured me that STI status may change the way he played with someone, but not who he played with. My therapist- who made the decision to disclose to me that she also has it, and had been through the same journey of feelings. My current partner- who is HSV negative, and is supporting me in sharing my story here.
Do you have a ton of outbreaks?
Nope. Just that first one. I haven’t had another outbreak since.
Have you given it to anyone?
Not that I know of. I’ve had several partners, some with barriers and some without. I still ask for and offer test results, and so far I haven’t passed it to anyone else.
What is it like to talk about?
Mostly good. I chronicled my experience at the time on my now defunct sex blog, and invited readers to email me privately with questions or for support. The response was overwhelming. It became clear to me that people needed to hear voices of other people who have HSV in order to help lessen the stigma, which for me was the worst part of the whole thing. So I decided to disclose to my non-kinky friends. I’ve since had more than a handful of them come to me privately saying they’ve contracted it, and that it has been much better knowing someone who has it. I’m hoping this writing may help someone else in a similar way.
The down side of talking about it is that I worry I will scare away potential partners who are just getting to know me, or that I will scare people away from playing with my partner. It would be a shame.
Do you tell all your potential play partners?
Even though with your strain being where it is and using barriers, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll give it to someone?
Because even though the virus itself is almost completely harmless to my body and most days I don’t even remember that I have it, the stigma SUCKS and I don’t want to put someone at a risk of that- even if it’s a tiny risk- without their consent. So anyone whose body is going to touch my lady bits gets the talk.
How have your partners reacted?
Every single person I’ve wanted to play with has been cool with it. Having HSV1 has not prevented me from playing with anyone. That was a really pleasant surprise.
What is the worst part about having HSV1?
Well, having the talk is not great. As cool as my potential play partner may be, I always risk rejection from them because ofmy diagnosis. So far, this hasn’t ever happened, so the talk is getting easier. It does suck to read some of the back-and-forth postings on Fetlife about HSV because there is usually at least one person in the conversation who implies that people who have HSV are dirty or gross or that HSV is catastrophic in some way. Then I remember that that’s kind of how the internet is, and I should save my energy for in-person conversations with people I want to play with.
Also watching Pineapple Express right after my diagnosis, which has a lot of herpes jokes in it.
My partner/friend got the herp! What can I do to support him or her?
First of all, stop calling it the herp. That’s rude. (Unless they call it that.) Tell them they’re not a monster. Tell them you love them and are attracted to them. Follow their lead as to when they are ready to have sexytimes again. Do your research and take a couple days to determine whether the risk statistics are worth it to you and if not, exit gracefully. Offer extra snuggles and check-ins while they get back on their feet. Talk directly about how to lessen risk of transmission. Don’t guilt them for getting it- we all take risks when we engage in sexual contact with other people, and it just as easily could have been you. There are lots of ways to get HSV and getting the virus does not necessarily mean they were acting irresponsibly. Be an ally. Dispel misinformation where you can. Stop using the word “clean” to say your STI tests are negative- just say they were negative.
I just got diagnosed and am freaking out. Can I email you?
Absolutely! I promise I will reassure you you’re not a monster. If you want, I will send you my old blog posts that detail myfirst couple of weeks after diagnosis so you can read them and not feel alone.
How do you feel after writing this?
Honestly? Kind of nervous. But here goes. Greater good. Aaaaand POST!