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.