Here’s another pet peeve of my email inbox: when a man (because it’s almost always a man) asks if he should continue seeing this woman he’s been dating who just told him she has herpes. Sometimes the problem is data-based, about what transmission statistics are real. Sometimes the question is esoteric, about whether or not he truly knew this woman in the first place. And sometimes it’s the classic entitled bullshit I face on twittering all the time: I’m not a jerk for dumping someone who poses a threat to my health, right? Why on earth would I knowingly choose to put myself in danger like that? Is she worth it?
I don’t know, man. Does your dick get hard around her? Is she nice?
When you get to ask me questions about if you should date someone with herpes, I know you’re getting an expert opinion. You’ve never given herpes any serious thought before and here I am, a woman with herpes and a blog, who has so generously spilled her guts to the Internet about what it’s like. It’s just a simple question for you: should I date this person, yes or no?
But to me, it feels like you’re being asked to justify my value. The facts on herpes are actually quite pleasant when you do research online: herpes transmission is not that simple, particularly when both parties work to use condoms, antivirals, dental dams, and so forth. I know couples who have gone years without transmitting by being completely honest with each other about when they are having outbreaks. The person most likely to provide you with herpes is the person who doesn’t know they have it in the first place. On the other hand, herpes itself honestly isn’t that big of a deal for most of us. Although individual symptoms base on your overall health and the strain you carry, for many folks herpes is an uncomfortable initial outbreak and mild recurrences, if any. My first outbreak was quite painful because it coincided with an infected spider bite, but now I show symptoms so rarely that I pose no credible risk to my partners 99% of the time.
In retrospect, if my ex-boyfriend had known he had herpes and told me before we started dating, I wouldn’t have done anything differently, and I would still have herpes today. That’s because when we met, he was gorgeous and charming and his status wouldn’t have put a dent in how attracted to him I was.
How did my partners after my diagnosis make the decision of whether or not to have sex with me? I’ve asked them. Sure, they did some Googling. One spoke to his doctor about how it might impact an existing condition he had. However, mostly they looked at me, and thought about the fun, challenging conversations we had, and remembered, how adorable my thick hair is. They considered me as a rich person, not the “side-effects” of having feelings for me. When it came down to the brass tacks of who I am, there was no decision to be undertaken at all.
In the past, I have made room for the discomfort of strangers who do not want to date someone with a STI. You get to do whatever’s right for you and your health. I reassured and soothed my readers, not liking to ruffle feathers, not liking to seem extreme. And I still think that if you have a valid health condition that herpes would complicate, you’re a gentleman and a scholar and I wish you the best of luck. However, too often my impulse to capitulate to people who just don’t feel comfortable stems from a desire to seem chill. I am not afraid of being that ranting feminist with herpes who seems to consider herpes is great. Harassment and mocking of “Men’s Rights Activists” and strangers on Twitter have gotten to me. Hah, herpes is disgusting and hilarious. How silly, this girl thinks we’re bigots for not wanting to contaminate our junk for some desperate, shitty lay. What a slutty joke. Feminists these days, am I right?
Screw that. At the end of the day, STI stigma is a form of prejudice. It perpetuates a preconceived notion of someone’s moral character and individual worth based on a skin condition that itself does not constitute a barometer of value or happiness. To let someone’s STI status be a game changer is a type of discrimination. To you, it may seem reasonable, a matter of self-preservation. Nevertheless, to us, it is dehumanizing. If you let someone’s herpes define who they are approved as a person and the role they will or won’t play in your life, you have reduced them to their STI status alone.
And here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, or asking Google, if you should date someone with herpes. It’s human nature to think of it, and to wonder, and to actively make a decision. I’m doing not tell you you should automatically say yes. Nonetheless, in getting to ask me this question, an actual person with herpes, you are shaming and insulting me in the name of needing help deciding. I don’t want to be selfless Mother Teresa of herpes. It’s far more fun to be the loud, controversial and brilliant Kanye west of herpes.
I do not have a thing to no interest in being with someone who doesn’t reckon I’m worth getting herpes from. Yeah, you can say that again. If you are not prepared to brave the risk of getting herpes, you are not worth my time. If my STI is a deal breaker for you, your ignorance and cowardice are a deal breaker for me.
One of the most romantic moments of my life was when an old partner told me that I had so thoroughly de-stigmatized herpes for him that he saw contracting from me as an inevitability he chose, rather than a nightmare I should have panic attacks over (and although I continued to have said panic attacks, I never did transmit to him). A loyal partner, a loyal best friend, accepts all of you. They do not barter or keep score, or make a pro and cons list when it now comes to ask you on a third date. The question you should be asking is not “Why should I date someone with herpes?” It’s “Do, I want to date someone for who they are?”