There Will Be Men Again
I’m working on a book titled How To Do Single With Dignity and Grace. About three weeks ago, I started writing the chapter on STIs and I was doing some light research on the internet. I didn't think I needed to go into much detail about herpes. I didn't think much about herpes. Herpes had nothing to do with me. But I needed to plug some statistics in along with my mantra, "know the risks".
As I was skimming through the articles about herpes, I asked myself, if I met someone I really liked, and I wanted to have sex with him, and he told me he had herpes, what would I do? And as I had always concluded before, I’d be very nice about it, but I’d tell him no, I didn’t want to have sex, I wasn’t willing to take the risk.
Just days later, I got my diagnosis. In the 15 days since then, I’ve done hours of research and talked to perhaps twenty people online, on the phone, and via text. This includes doctors, a research clinician in the Virology Department at the University of Washington, and an infections disease case manager from the Lewis County Health department. In addition, countless friends that have herpes, and countless individuals I've connected with on the very active Reddit site (r/Herpes).
If I had known only a smattering of the things before my diagnosis I know now, I’d absolutely have sex with someone that had herpes. I’d request he go on anti-virals, which cut the risk of transmission by 50%, and I’d use condoms. But I’d absolutely have sex with him if that’s what I wanted to do.
The thing is there’s just so much misinformation. Most people think herpes is rare, yet it’s estimated two-thirds of the world’s population carries the virus. Most people would never imagine they have something so insidious, the STI with the second worse reputation to HIV.
Now that I know I have herpes, and I’m at least educated on the basics, I may be able to make a small dent by getting accurate information out. I may be able to make a small dent by helping people with herpes understand it doesn't define them. Character is what defines them. Character is what defines all of us.
I've disclosed to those partners of whom I still have contact information. I figured if I was going to be out and start talking and writing about it, I better put my money where my mouth was. While I was doing that, I thought about how if I didn't want to have sex with someone with herpes before, who was going to want to have sex with me now?
I’ve been validated by one long-term very good friend. He’s educated about herpes, his brother has it. He told me he remains enthusiastically willing to be intimate. The thing is, he lives in Cincinnati, and I live in Washington State. So, we won’t be testing that out anytime soon, but I've no doubt he'll follow through. The day I told him, he knew how broken I was. He texted me throughout the day and called me twice. He gets it. He loves me. He’s an incredible friend.
I’ve lost a couple of online men friends. It was a sort of test. Disclose and see what happened. The risks are low when you've not met in real life.
I have one online friend I’ve been chatting with for over a year. He's been wonderful. He’s stuck by me, checked in every day, encouraged me. Although we’d been planning a liaison this month, it’s unlikely our relationship will ever be physical now. But that’s OK. He’s a consistent supportive friend, and that’s all I need, really. To be valued and accepted, regardless of my flaws, regardless of the bipolar, regardless of my size, regardless of the herpes. To be valued and accepted just exactly as I am.
The thing is, I can’t hold it against any man who is unwilling to have a physical relationship. Because just three weeks ago, I felt exactly the same way. I would have been the best friend, the best cheerleader, the best and most consistent supporter, but I never would have had sex with someone with herpes.
I thought I knew, I thought I had it all figured out. How humbling to know I was so wrong. How embarrassing to realize I was so cruel. I truly believed if I ever got herpes, it would be the death of sexual intimacy for the rest of my life.
I could not believe I’d not gotten it with all the sex I’d had. I was one lucky lucky woman. YAY ME! I beat the odds! But I didn't beat the odds. The odds were stacked against me, and I didn't do myself any favors not being consistent with condoms.
But herpes is not punishment for unprotected sex. It's not punishment for casual sex. It's not punishment for having had a lot of partners, whatever "a lot" means. No one deserves to get herpes because of their behavior. Herpes just happens. And it happened to me. And it can happen to anyone. And it's happened to a lot of people that just don't know it's happened.
When I first got the diagnosis, I went straight to believing I'd be less. That didn't last long. I’m not less. I’m more. I made myself more. More educated, more understanding, more compassionate. I’m better. The bad things make me better.
And there will be men. There have always been men. There will be men again. And I will have sex. Hopefully lots and lots of sex until I’m too old to have sex. Which, apparently, never happens.