The Beaver Whisperer and the Lesbian Safe Sex Puzzle

Q: First off, I absolutely love your work! You’re informative and hilarious. Unfortunately, I tested positive for genital herpes (HSV 1) two days ago and I’ve been extremely depressed about it. Normally, I’m a very positive person but, this has really made me feel wicked shitty. Obviously, I did the responsible thing and contacted all my partners fortunately, only myself and the woman who infected me were affected. Right now, I’m trying to come to terms with being single, 21, queer, and having genital herpes for the rest of my life.

Is it possible for you to write an entry on STIs, dating with STIs, and proper queer safe sex techniques? 

A: If consent is sexy, informed consent is even sexier. Unfortunately, our partners don’t always care to or know to inform us of their STI status in advance of playtime so that we can make informed decisions about our sexual health. While at the lowest risk for STIs of any sexually active group, lesbians have got to also be the worst at practicing safe sex. We all know what we’re supposed to do, or at least we think we do, but we rarely do it.  

If we are having sex (digital, oral, or anal) with someone with whom we are not in a long term sexually monogamous relationship where we’ve both been tested for STIs at least twice, we should be practicing safer sex.  

Testing for STIs more than once is important. Some STIs have latency periods, meaning that you may have been infected, but the infection won’t show up yet on an STI screening. So, even if you’re clean on your first test after becoming monogamous, you still want to use barrier protection until you and your partner have both been screened a second time at least 3-6 months later and are still found to be infection free.  

What does safer sex look like for lesbians who don’t want to pass HSV 1 (oral herpes) or HSV 2 (genital herpes) to their partners? The first step is to recognize that we need to practice safer sex. 46% of lesbians (so assume 46% of the women that you will sleep with) have oral herpes, and 7.9% have genital herpes.  

First, let’s talk about how to protect ourselves when we don’t know that our partner is infected (or when she’s not having an outbreak). In some cases, it’s essentially “the price of admission to the party” (to quote Dan Savage, whom I adore). Oral herpes can be spread by kissing, and short of foregoing it, there’s no safer sex practice that I can think of to help out with this. If you know your partner is infected, you can avoid kissing her while she has sores or lesions (think cold sores) on or around her mouth. However, she is still infectious the rest of the time, and that hot femme you met last night on okcupid might not even know that she was infected by the hot butch she met last week.  

Genital herpes can be spread through oral sex; use a dental dam or split a condom or latex glove in half and use it as a dental dam. It can also be spread through grinding, scissoring, or any other term you want to use for mashing your cunt up against hers. In this situation, I recommend saran wrap (and not the kind with the holes for use in the microwave!). It, or sheets of latex that you can find at kink-friendly retailers, is about the only thing that will cover enough surface area to offer any protection. Both oral and genital herpes can be spread through the sharing of sex toys. Use condoms on dildos and vibrators and change the condom every time you change who the toy is being used on. This does not have to be unsexy – just keep a pile of condoms by the bed and take turns picking them out and putting them on. When it becomes a sexual habit, it becomes just a part of sex.

If you know that you or your partner is infected with herpes, taking medication to suppress outbreaks can help to protect the uninfected partner, but it should not replace barrier safety.

Now that I’ve given you the medical details, it’s onto being 21, single, and dating while knowing you’re infected with a virus that nobody wants. It’s here that I really invite our readers to chime in because as an HSV-negative femme, I can only relay what I’ve heard and offer advice that may or may not be useful. If you are living, dating, and fucking with HSV, please comment and tell us what you wish you’d known when you were first diagnosed.

My advice is to be yourself. You are still the same awesome and worthy person that you were before you were infected. Give girls the chance to get to know you before you inform them of your status, but make sure you inform them before you’re in bed. We all know that we make bad decisions when we’re wet and waiting. Inform your partner in a neutral setting. This means that you will probably not be having sex on the first date anymore, but such is life.  

In some communities, like the kink community, up-front fully informed consent is expected with people that you might not know very well. If you’re kinky, people might not be so surprised to hear about your status in this setting. If you are meeting girls through more mainstream channels, just let them get to know you first. Herpes sucks, but it’s also something that you can live with, and if a girl falls in love with you, she may be willing to live with it, too. It’s a big deal, but you’re aren’t dying. A “hey, I really like you, so there’s something I need to let you know. I’m HSV-positive, and I hope that’s something that we can work around together” over a nice dinner might go over a little better than a quiet room and a “we have to talk.” If you treat it like something that she should be able to deal with rather than something that you don’t expect her to even want to try to deal with, she might be a little more willing to try.  

 Good luck!

29 thoughts on “The Beaver Whisperer and the Lesbian Safe Sex Puzzle

  1. Thank you for this article, especially reminding people that STIs are not the end of the world, or your love life. Yes, we need to get tested, and be honest and learn how to communicate about our sexual baggage. However, to treat the presence of said STIs as a death sentence to your sex life (or to treat others like crap because of it) is just not necessary.

  2. Having been gifted with genital herpes in 1983 (I was about your age), I can honestly tell you it is not that big of a deal. At that point in time the media was making quite a fuss over it. I felt like a leper.

    Then AIDS hit.

    AIDS claimed the lives of so many friends of mine. Living in Hollywood, whole streets seemed to be decimated by it. And people began to see genital herpes as what it is — a nuisance, sometimes uncomfortable, but not terminal. There are great anti-viral meds (Valtrex) that will kick it back into remission within a day or two. Clinical studies have found Cimetidine (Tagamet) works just as well as Valtrex, if you want to start treating immediately and can’t get your script from your doctor quickly enough. For a few years I took I took a daily “preventative dose” of Valtrex, under my doctor’s supervision. Then I found I didn’t need it, and rarely have outbreaks. You can usually feel a lesion before it appears — the area can be tingly or itchy. If you start treatment immediately it might not even ever fully flare up. I tend to get a flare-up right before my period, if I’m under a lot of stress.

    I have had more lovers than I’ll ever admit to, but I have never given herpes to anyone. Ever. I was with someone for 14 years and they didn’t get it. Barrier protection is important. When you’re having an outbreak you probably won’t feel very sexy. I usually feel a little flu-ish. Oh, and I tested positive for oral herpes too, and have NEVER had a fever blister or any sign of it orally. My doc said most people have it and don’t know it.

    You’d be surprised at how many people have genital herpes, once you admit to it yourself. I have had (and continue to have) a rockin’ good time with my partners. I’ve never been rejected because I have herpes. So, cheer up! You’re young, obviously desirable, and this is not a big deal. Really. And I recommend you present it that way to a potential lover — don’t make into a big drama-fest. There are a lot much worse things out there, herpes-shmerpes.

    • Can you please give us more details? Did you use barriers in your 14-year relationship? Do you have naked v-to-v contact? I’ve had HSV-2 for five years now and just got into my first relationship since diagnosis so I am in serious need of advice. I am crazy about my partner and wouldn’t want to pass this along to her. I’m taking apo-acyclovir right now and we’re keeping our boxers on so far. I stocked up on gloves, barriers, and condoms but we haven’t got into them yet… wondering if we should. thx in advance.

      • As it doesn’t look like our other commenter is able to get back to you with more details about her relationship, I’ll step in and at least answer the rest of your question.

        Even taking medication that reduces your risk of outbreak, you still are at risk to pass HSV to your partner. It’s a much lower risk than if you weren’t taking the medication, so kudos to you for taking it, but the risk is still there.

        When you and your partner are ready to remove your boxers, you should use latex barrier protection. At some point in the distant future after you have been in a long-term committed and monogamous relationship, your partner may approach you about not using barriers any longer. That’s her risk to take. I would never approach her about ditching the barriers, though. You do not have the right to try to guilt her or make her feel bad about continuing to have protected sex with you. If she doesn’t want to heighten her risk of infection, she doesn’t have to. She’s doing the right thing, at the moment, by continuing to explore a relationship with you and taking the sexual side of things slowly.

        Good luck!

      • thanks for this — i have a question about latex barriers and i’m just going to ask it right out — can i ride my lover so to speak and if so, HOW? those barriers are small! do i put a sheet of saran wrap on her? i just can’t figure it out. we like to get our bodies up and on each other and i’m thinking i need latex bicycle shorts or something. HALP.

      • (klablammy did reply, btw, her response is down a bit in the chain — she recommended unprotected sex, which seemed ok for her and her male partner, but female-female sex is quite different — more potential exposed & touching mucus membranes, methinks, so i don’t know that it applies…)

      • You can ride your lover. yay! That’s the good news. :) The bad news is that you have to be careful and not do it with complete and utter abandon. You need to take the same care with your latex barrier protection as everyone else should. In other words, you need to do it properly. While you are riding your lover, you will need to reach down between you periodically and make sure that your barrier is still in place. If it slips, you will need to hop off, replace it, and jump back on.
        That’s not such bad news, though, is it?

        As for which barrier to use, while latex bicycle shorts are available (http://www.etsy.com/listing/64780157/latex-bike-shorts), I’m not sure how comfortable they’d be while fucking. To be clearer, I’m not sure if you would have enough room to make sure that your clitoris is actually rubbing up against what you want to rub it up against. If something like this looks like a good idea, I suggest that you search for latex fetish retailers and take a look at the options that they have available. For a less expensive and probably easier option, I do suggest saran wrap. Use large pieces that you can wrap and tuck so that they’ll stay in place.

        Happy riding!

        P.S. I noticed after I replied that she had replied. The threading on wordpress is still a little confusing for me sometimes. I agree with you that unprotected sex is not your best option.

      • I am a lesbian and lived 10 years with herpes. No barriers, no dental damns. I’ve had four outbreaks, very small ones. None of my partners (2 longterm relationships 4&6 years) have contracted the virus. I think the best thing to do is carry on and abstain from contact when sores are present. herpes is not the end of the world. If your partner is like 85% of the population, she has HSV 1 antibodies which protect her (to a degree) from HSV 2 as well. Unfortunatly no studies have been done on lesbian transmission rates, but in my personal experience its a non-issue. Also we had plenty of naked vtoV contact as you would say :) The problem with most of these sites is they talk about this “risk” that exists. But there is also a risk of you getting in a car accident when you pull out of your driveway. It doesnt stop you from driving. Also, most asymptomatic transmission occurs when someone doesnt know they have herpes so they are unaware of the signs.

  3. Hi, I know it’s not nearly as serious as Herpes (thank you for scaring the pants on me, by the way) but I wonder if you could say something about gloves? I got yeast infections twice after being fingered, and have been thinking that more serious diseases could be spread through cuts to the hand. Also, fo you have any advice on negotiating safe sex?
    Thanks!

    • Thanks for asking. Look for an upcoming post from the Beaver Whisperer here at Buzz Cuts and Bustiers!

  4. I got herpes an ex, and I only found out when I got tested along with my annual exam. I had no idea because it was (and continues to be) completely asymptomatic for me; I’ve never had a sore. That being said, even if it isn’t asymptomatic for you, it is, in the end, a minor skin irritation. Unlike HPV, which many more people have (and don’t know about), it doesn’t cause cancer or warts, and unlike HIV it isn’t a serious health crisis. At most it is an annoyance, and one that is easily managed as Kablammy described above.

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  6. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    For readers under the age of 26, I strongly encourage you to get vaccinated against HPV. It’s a series of shots that takes a few months to complete, but the peace of mind is completely worth it.

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  8. Hey — that relationship was with a man, and no, we didn’t use condoms. You can tell when you’re having an outbreak — use common sense. The drama the media presents around it is ridiculous. Off with the boxers!

  9. Thanks for this question, and article – I’m also 21, single, queer, and think I have genital herpes (I’m going to a doctor in a couple of days to get it checked out). It’s thrown me back to the slut-shaming days of high school, which I thought I’d escaped since coming out and having super fun dates and hook-ups with other queers. I’d be interested to know how you brought it up with your past or current partners, and how it went with them, because that’s something I’m definitely going to do once I get an official diagnosis, but that I’m really nervous about.

  10. Lee,
    I hope some of our HSV-positive readers can get back to you with their stories. Personally, my gf and I had an STI discussion on our first date over drinks at a bar. If you’re not embarrassed about it, it’s easier to talk about.

  11. Hi everyone! I just wanted to direct your attention to an awesome blog post that a kink educator friend of mine sent my way. It was written by a colleague of his who talks candidly and intelligently about her experiences with Herpes. Please check it out: “I’m the 48%.” by The Perverted Negress (it ain’t just the hair that’s kinky) – love it!

    http://www.mollena.com/2012/01/im-the-48/

  12. Hi there, my sex-happy readers! I have an editorial sent my way by a sex educator friend of mine, and while the author is a straight woman who talks about her love life with men while living with Herpes, I think what she has to say can apply to all of us. Check it out: “The Perks of Herpes” by An HSV Positive Lady! It’s very well written and addresses a lot of the concerns that have been brought up here.

    http://thehairpin.com/2012/04/the-perks-of-herpes

  13. Someone above herpies as not a big deal. My girlfriend of 12 years is suffering through her first outbreak now. Sores that have bursted and are causing excruciating pain for her to urinate. From her vagina to around her anal area. It has been a nightmare listening to my poor baby scream and cry when its time to urinate. And there is nothing I can do. We have been with each other only and have never had any signs. Then WHAM! What started with both of us itching, is now the most painful for her, Her final results come In on Monday. Then I noticed 3 small sores on me. Tested today and now am waiting too. Both of us in tears and feeling ashamed. We don’t understand what happened. We had to have missed some signs. So far, we are feeling pretty down and confused. She has taken the physical beat down though. If both of us are affected, then sex feels scary and risky. We never used protection. Didn’t really ever think to either. Now, that may be our only option. Any thoughts? Still all new to me, so I am in the down stage.

    • Sex doesn’t cause an outbreak, if that’s what you’re worried about. If both of you have Herpes, then neither of you risk contracting the disease from the other (anymore). You should both talk to your doctors about suppressant medication and you should use barrier protection during an outbreak.

      I’m very sorry that this is such a painful experience for your girlfriend. It is possible, though, that she’ll never have another outbreak.

      If either of you have other sexual partners (now or in the future), it is very important that you disclose your status before sexual activity and that you always use barrier protection. We all want to trust the one that we’re falling for or the one that we’ve been with for a long time, but we can’t always do that. It’s important to protect both yourself and the ones you’re sleeping with.

  14. Androgyne back with news from the sack.

    I have been practicing my safer sex moves. There is no other clear way to say this, so steel yourselves, here comes an unpleasant word: a _pantyliner_ in your boyshorts is a good barrier for preventing fluid sharing. It keeps your dry hump dry and can be worn under a harness for fucking. I mean, if you are a gusher (bless you if you are, you sexy thing) this may not be a good alternative, but if you aren’t (I’m not) it works well and I come away from my romp knowing that my partner (whom I informed of my genital herp status while we were sober, well ahead of time) was 100% protected.

    As for the old standard, the (another cringe worthy term) dental dam, well, well, queer primarily estrogen-based organisms, my field research has shown that nobody uses them. Replicate my experiment as follows:
    (a) Try finding them in stores;
    (b) Finally find them in a queer, feminist sex shop at $1.50 a pop;
    (c) Suck it up and buy 20;
    (d) See if your highly experienced, middle-aged lover has ever, even in their slutty 20s, used one;
    (e) Become the teacher. The pioneer safe-sexer in the fluid-sharing vag-on-vag fest rocking your frontier town. USE ONE.

    I laid the pink, strawberry flavoured dam on my lover’s mound of venus, straddled her, and found that the dam glommed onto my very wet undercarriage and stayed on me. After our exertions, it was dry on her side and very very not dry on mine. (Judge me if you will on that, my defense is that it hit her highly stimulated and happy clit, not her wet spot,) It was like a gooey condom when I peeled it off and that was a very hot sensation for a butch-identified dyke like me.

    I do not consider a dental dam as a barrier to be as safe as underwear + liner. It is sexier, but not as safe. Fluids can leak around the edges — there’s nothing but suction to keep a dam in place. And with the dam, my lover and I were both buck naked. With the underwear + liner I am covered up and how and that feels safer and, I can confidently say, _is_ safer.

    As for those dam-like but bigger sheets of latex mentioned above, none of the sex shops in my town sell them, not the queer feminist shop, not the raunchy 2 foot dildos in the window shop, not the fancy corset and custom leather shop. I could internet shop but haven’t looked into that yet. I feel like the dam suits my purpose and is big enough, considering the way it sticks to my area. A bigger sheet would be like a “with wings” version of the dam and I feel like, while it would provide extra coverage, the wings would add more weight to the thing when I rose up in my humping and it might slip or fall. But this is only a theory.

    I have not yet tried Saran Wrap. The idea of it skeeves me out — maybe because it was always in my mother’s kitchen and it is never in mine (I just stick a plate over my bowl of leftovers, you know?). Anybody out there have Saran Wrap or big latex sheet stories? I would love to hear them.

    Lastly, I want to report on going down. I have had one partner who willingly took the calculated risk, and went down without barriers. I think it’s like a 5 to 30% risk of transmitting genital herpes to someone’s mouth this way through viral shedding (during non-outbreak time)? She went down on me many times over a two month period and didn’t get the herp. I didn’t have an outbreak during that time either (haven’t had an outbreak in over a year, in fact). I have had another lover who used the dam. I didn’t care for the dam experience compared to naked, but it’s better than nothing and we plan to try again and see if it gets more fun as she gets used to it. Not sure if finger fucking is possible while holding a dam in place. That would be dam-use of an expert level and we’re still at 101. I feel kind of proud that I am enabling her to learn this safer sex habit so in the future, she can bust out the dam and exhibit mastery of the medium, you know?

    • Honey I feel for you. Your stats are way wrong. There is less than 1% chance per year (sex three times per week) of you transmitting this pesky virus. Don’t buy into the hype. You are not a biohzard.

  15. I agree with herpes being more of a inconvenience than anything else. There is a drug in second phase clinical trials that looks very promising. In clinical trials it virtually eliminates transmission of the virus to non infected people which will give all of use a chance to date normally again. There is a petition to the US Congress to fast track this drug and get it out on the market so we can all use it if you want to sign it. You can find out more info on this petition on the homepage or stdcommunity.com where there is a link to the petition an a little more info.

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