And also, herpes

Pub date March 5, 2008


Dear Andrea:

You guessed right — those letters about women who can’t have orgasms were both mine. Maybe I was so frustrated that I lied about my age so you wouldn’t think they were from the same person. Anyway, I’m in a stupidly worse situation now: I contracted herpes, despite having had sex with only one other human being. My boyfriend engaged in some ill-advised polyamorous experimentation about two years ago: I agreed to it even though I wasn’t sure it was a good idea. And he proposed it even though he was pretty sure it wasn’t a good idea, either.

It’s just HSV-1, but I can’t get over how unfair it is. I don’t even like oral sex! I have this irrational feeling of being punished. I hear that HSV-1 isn’t nearly as bad as HSV-2, and that I might never even have another outbreak (though it doesn’t feel that way). Plus, my boyfriend keeps saying that around 20 percent of Americans have genital herpes, which sucks because that means 80 fucking percent don’t.

While I love my partner, I never thought he’d be the only person I’d ever sleep with. However, I’m shy: having to have the pre-sex "I have an STD" talk means that I’ll just avoid sex. Since I wasn’t enjoying it anyway, this shouldn’t bother me. But now, I feel disgusting too. My boyfriend admitted that he had to leave school on STD Day because he was so completely grossed out that he felt faint. At least he’s unlikely to get it, since HSV-1 doesn’t like to jump from genitals to genitals.

Add to all this the fact that I don’t really want to be touched sexually, and you get the result that my boyfriend is unhappy too. Of course, now that I regret having just one relationship so far, I’m screwing that one up. It’s like some kind of terrible paradox.

I know that I’m overreacting, but I’m just so mad and unhappy. I know that outbreaks can be treated, blah, blah, blah, but then I’m just a less-ulcerated, less-contagious plague carrier. I know that I have to talk to some kind of therapist before I become even more messed up, but I thought that someone whose area of expertise is sex would be a good first person to ask.


Angry and Contagious

PS: Thank you for your previous advice, but I don’t think Betty Dodson will be advising me until everything involved doesn’t hurt.

Dear Contagious:

Sorry, nope. You totally have to talk to a therapist as well as a gynecologist, but mostly to a therapist — and possibly a psychiatrist too. Don’t you think you’re depressed and anxious enough to benefit from at least contemputf8g medication? I do!. And maybe you should speak to a yoga master about learning deep-breathing techniques. Or get a paper bag and breathe into it until you pass out or don’t pass out — however that trick is supposed to work.

First off, do we know how you got the genitally located oral herpes? We do not. Do we know that the introduction of the GLOH to your ménage was due to one of the women your boyfriend kissed during that brief foray into ill-advised polyamory? We don’t know that, either. Unless there’s something you haven’t told me, it’s possible that the boyfriend either picked it up somewhere far less ooky (it’s only oral herpes, after all) or already had it but it hadn’t made an appearance yet. Furthermore, do we believe that you had to agree to doing something that even your guy thought was a bad idea? Nuh-uh. I know you were young and silly, but so was he. I’d chalk that one up to "our bad" and move on.

You’re going to have to disentangle your anger with your boyfriend from your beef with fate and, for that matter, yourself. What happened happened, and hey, it could be worse. By the way, about 20 percent of Americans have genital herpes but somewhere between 50 and 80 percent have the oral version, so you’ve a ton of company — and some of it is quite nice.

If you drag your angry self to a clinic or to your regular gyno you can get on an antiviral, which will not only suppress your symptoms but make it far less likely that you could spread this thing to a putative future boyfriend that you don’t even want, especially since you still like the one you have. Then you won’t hurt as much and can get back to where you were before: frustrated, angry, and bitter because sex isn’t any fun for you. And then you can go see a therapist. And then, after that, maybe Betty Dodson and I can help you.

And before you think me unsympathetic, I’m really and truly not. I just think you need a swat on the behind to stop dithering in fury and start fixing stuff. I swat because I love.



Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don’t do that. Just ask her a question.