Love In A Time Of Herpes
I was born in 1965- a year often considered the first year of “generation-x”. The previous generation- the baby-boomers like my parents, grew up in a time of free love. My mother didn’t take advantage of this but my father sure did, but that’s another story.
Us gen-x’ers were the first generation to have to deal with AIDS and the fallout from it. Instead of the sexual revolution we had fear and loathing in our own pants.
Now as a Holistic Herpes Treatment Specialist I treat a lot of teenagers and people in the early twenties who are exploring their sexuality in a time were we are no longer nearly as afraid of AIDS as we were in the eighties but where almost everyone has herpes.
I often see girls as young as 15 who already have herpes and who got it from their first sexual experience. No one told them they could get herpes from fellatio. No one told them much of anything about sexually transmitted infections. It’s a sad sad thing to have to tell a teenager that they now have a life-long incurable disease and have to warn potential sex partners about it beforehand. This sentence drives many to the brink of despair. One 17 year old who got herpes from her first and only sex partner was crying hysterically on the phone with me, asking how in her small town of 1500 people can she tell anyone that she has herpes? She said she won’t date or have sex again until she moves far away, and I believe her.
With oral sex being as common as hand-shakes used to be, why aren’t we educating grade school students about sexually transmitted infections? Very few of the most at-risk population know that they can catch or pass on herpes when there are no signs of an outbreak. They don’t know that they can get herpes on their genitals from contact with people who get cold sores on their mouth.
They aren’t empowered to say no way when they encounter sores and rashes and are told that “they are nothing”.
Further exasperating the situation is the porn industry being a bad role model. Like myself and most my generation, young people these days get a lot of their sex education from being exposed to porn. In the adult film industry condoms are almost never worn during oral sex and only worn during anal and oral sex about 40% of the time. I did three years of research into the adult film industry and learned that porn performers are tested monthly or more often for HIV but are rarely tested for herpes or HPV. Very few porn performers admit their herpes infections for fear of losing work and a backlash from their fans. What kind of society do we live in where even porn performers are afraid to admit that they have herpes?
My older patients don’t tend to fare much better than the younger ones. They don’t know the facts about love in a time of herpes and most didn’t do much to try and educate themselves. And for the ones that do try to educate themselves through the internet they are confronted with a wilderness of websites saying many contradictory things, spreading a lot of misinformation and luring people with magical quick-fixes and snake oils. The message doesn’t seem to be getting out to people that there are no quick-fixes for a life-long viral infection, that herpes cannot be managed with topical oils, or creams or liquids and that herbal medicine or drug therapy combined with proper diet, stress reduction and making peace with herpes are the only ways I have seen in my 15 years of experience to successfully manage herpes over the long-haul.
Because the fear of catching the HIV virus isn’t what it used to be, too many people are becoming complacent about practicing safer sex. Many tell me they don’t want to use condoms because of the lack of spontaneity. Many want the risk and pleasure of unprotected sex. I can relate to all of this, I don’t particularly like condoms myself. But in this day and age it is not smart to have unprotected sex with someone you are not very sure you are in a monogamous relationship with. Unless this is the case do use a condom/dental dam or anti-viral gel or better yet use them both together. Oral sex is sex and is risky sex so do practice safer sex with fellatio and cunnilingus as well.
Before the sex comes the sex-conversation. A conversation many people never have before getting together. It is your right and responsibility to ask a potential sex partner what their history of sexually transmitted infections is, and use your best lie-detecting skills when listening. You must volunteer the same information yourself. Please do understand that most people have never had a real herpes test in their life. Regular STD testing panels do not test for herpes or genital warts. Swabbing is an unreliable way of testing for herpes. So unless your potential sex partner has had a recent type-specific serum blood test for herpes like the western-blot test, they have no way of knowing if they have herpes or not and so then neither do you.
Unless someone has had a recent herpes test, I recommend that you assume that they have herpes and use a condom/dental dam combined with an anti-viral prophylactic gel. Government statistics show that anyone who has had more than 2 sex partners has a 20% chance of having herpes. More than four sex partners gives you a 40% chance of having herpes and more than 6 sex partners gives you a 60% chance of having herpes. And of course herpes is only one of many sexually transmitted infections a person could have.
I invite you to read my articles called “I have Herpes, Don’t You” and “The Demonization of Genital Herpes”.
If anyone is elusive or sketchy about wanting to discuss their sexual health it’s best to assume that they have something they are trying to hide. I don’t mean to sound harsh or cynical- I’m an idealist by nature, but I have listened to too many of my patients grieving over the fact that they were deceived by the person who infected them with herpes. You lose nothing by being careful and looking out for your own best interests.
In both the swinger and BDSM communities people are reluctant to admit to casual sex partners that the have herpes for fear of “ruining the party” or being excluded. It is rarely discussed at sex clubs, at orgies, or “play parties”. People are having sex with others without warning them that they have herpes. Out of fairness I must state that some people in these communities do advise potential sex partners that they have herpes-but they are in the minority. I have seen very few leaders in these communities publically discuss herpes awareness. Again I find it very vexing and disappointing that even the most sexually adventurous people in our society are afraid to talk about herpes or are too complacent about it.
I know it’s a bummer but this is the reality of love and sex in a time of herpes. Love and love abundantly, but please be careful out there.