Dear Internet Commenters Who Really Don’t Want Herpes,


Your Facebook comments have made me think. I’m not being facetious—whenever I read a comment from someone (usually a man) upset that rejecting someone who has an STI makes you a bad person, I wonder why you are so alarmed and defensive. When have I ever said that turning down someone herpes+ makes you a jerk, or a sexist, or an idiot? Where is that in the BuzzFeed article you just read? Where is that in my Tumblr post you’ve just reblogged with a snide note attached to it? My saying that I will not feel like less of a person because I have herpes and asserting that I’ve had a great sex life since getting diagnosed is not the same as condemning you for being frightened by such a prospect. I’m also not asking you to date me; I’m pretty set in that area.

“Up next on Buzzfeed, how rejecting someone with a STD makes you close-minded and insensitive lol”*

I was turned down when I came onto a close friend two months after getting diagnosed. I wasn’t even really coming onto him, merely talking to him about how undesirable I felt. “I still find you attractive,” he said, “And I would totally fuck you. But I think you need some time to figure out your situation first.” He was talking about how little I understood my new virus, and also my noticeably floundering self-esteem. The sort-of rejection hurt, but it was also smart and fair. This friend wasn’t a dick—he was looking out for me, and for himself. No one wants to be used as validation, particularly not by the girl who couldn’t explain how the virus worked yet.

A few months after that, one of my first partners had a health condition. There’s not a lot of research on how certain diseases interact with herpes, but it was worth a conversation with his doctor. I would have been disappointed if he decided not to pursue a sexual relationship with me—hell, he would have been disappointed too. But I would have respected it. People are completely allowed to make informed decisions regarding their bodies and their sexual health. Especially if it isn’t personal. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

You can turn down sex with someone who has an STI. That does not make you ignorant or mean or politically incorrect.

What you are not allowed to do is imply that someone who lives with an STI is somehow gross, immoral, ruined, slutty, unworthy, and less human. Thinking that a person is less attractive because they have an STI does make you judgmental. You can talk about self-preservation and human survival instinct all you want—you’re still a jerk.

“Yeah, because how dare someone use the fact that you might have a communicable illness that would reduce their quality of life as a factor in deciding whether or not to pursue a sexual relationship with you.”*

Here’s the other thing: I don’t know if you would actually reject someone with an STI. Humor me for a minute. Imagine you’re on a great third date with a girl you are wild about. She’s funny and sweet and her hair does this weird curly thing that you find charming as hell. You’re walking her to the subway when she goes quiet, her hand shaking slightly in yours. She says she has something to tell you. She has herpes, and she hopes this doesn’t change how you see her because she really likes you. There are ways you can be safe—condoms help prevent transmission, and she takes a daily pill to bring that risk of transmission down even further. Is it a deal-breaker for you? She isn’t a Facebook post or a sensational headline. She’s the girl you were really starting to like a whole damn lot, and she’s standing right in front of you.

Maybe you would turn her down, and hey, that’s your call. Maybe you would always regret it a little bit, wondering if you had let an awesome girl go. Or maybe you wouldn’t regret it at all, secure in your knowledge that you would rather be safe. It’s none of my business why you made that choice. But I think you’d think about it before deciding. I think you would do your research. I think you’d sleep on it.

“soon there will be herpes pride parades and people will be chided for herpes shaming! saying anything derogatory about it will be as bad as saying the f word to homosexuals. be proud you have herpes! puke……..”*

And if you didn’t think about it, if you immediately said no fucking way, I’m out of here, I have some news for you: you are ignorant. It’s not even your fault, considering the piss poor state of sex education we have in this country. You have internalized the myth that STIs only happen to disgusting, irresponsible people. No one ever told you the statistics—that somewhere between 75 and 80% of Americans carry some form of the herpes virus, and that most of them have absolutely no idea. You don’t know that you probably have herpes. Sorry to break that to you.

Knowing that, if you still find the concept of dating someone with an STI unthinkable, congratulations: you are an asshole. And you don’t deserve any more of my time.

*real shit real humans have written about me on the Internet.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

8 thoughts on “Dear Internet Commenters Who Really Don’t Want Herpes,

  1. I was diagnosed today and sobbed at Planned Parenthood, despite their amazing and supportive staff. I am very grateful for your work. You completely changed my perspective on both my self and the virus. Thank you.

  2. Well said. The only rejection I ever had from someone was, “I just have a phobia about your disease.” Coupled with how I wasn’t any less of a person, all that, plus he took a whole two weeks to agonize over the decision. It sucked, but it was fair, and not that “puke” input from the above internet guy. Ignorance is contagious too, and IMO way worse for everyone’s health!

        1. It’s around 80%-85% (people who have the virus and are unaware) – and this is for genital HSV2 when frankly, catching HSV1 on the genitals is on the rise as well. 75-90% of the world population has oral HSV1, and knowledge on the fact that oral HSV1 can be passed to the genitals is pretty low.

          You can find these stats on the CDC website, ASHA, or other reputable medical websites.

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