Why Should I Date Someone With Herpes?

Here’s another pet peeve of my email inbox: when a man (because it’s almost always a man) asks me if he should continue seeing this woman he’s been dating who just told him she has herpes. Sometimes the question is data-based, about what transmission statistics are real. Sometimes the question is esoteric, about whether or not he truly knew this woman in the first place. And sometimes it’s the classic entitled bullshit I face on Twitter all the time: I’m not a jerk for dumping someone who poses a risk to my health, right? Why on Earth would I knowingly choose to put myself in danger like that? Is she worth it?

I don’t know, man. Does your dick get hard around her? Is she nice?

When you ask me questions about if you should date someone with herpes, I know you’re looking for an expert opinion. You’ve never given herpes any serious thought before and here I am, a woman with herpes and a blog, who has so generously spilled her guts to the Internet about what it’s like. It’s just a simple question to you: should I date this person, yes or no?

But to me, it feels like you’re asking me to justify my value. The facts on herpes are actually quite clear when you do research online: herpes transmission is not that simple, particularly when both parties make an effort to use condoms, antivirals, dental dams, and so forth. I know couples who have gone years without transmitting by being honest with each other about when they are having outbreaks. The person most likely to give you herpes is the person who doesn’t know they have it in the first place. On the other hand, herpes itself honestly isn’t that big of a deal for most of us. Although individual symptoms depend on your overall health and the strain you carry, for many folks herpes is an uncomfortable initial outbreak and mild recurrences, if any. My first outbreak was quite painful because it coincided with an infected spider bite, but now I show symptoms so rarely that I pose no credible risk to my partners 99% of the time.

In retrospect, if my ex-boyfriend had known he had herpes and told me before we started dating, I wouldn’t have done anything differently, and I would still have herpes today. That’s because when we met, he was gorgeous and charming and his status wouldn’t have put a dent in how attracted to him I was.

How did my partners after my diagnosis make the decision of whether or not to sleep with me? I’ve asked them. Sure, they did some Googling. One talked to his doctor about how it might impact an existing condition he had. But mostly they looked at me, and thought about the fun, challenging conversations we had, and remembered how gorgeous my thick hair is. They considered me as a full person, not the “side-effects” of having feelings for me. When it came down to the brass tacks of who I am, there was no decision to be made at all.

In the past I have made room for the discomfort of strangers who do not want to date someone with an STI. You need to do what’s right for you and your health, I reassured and soothed my readers, not wanting to ruffle feathers, not wanting to seem extreme. And I still do think that if you have a valid health condition that herpes would complicate, you’re a gentleman and a scholar and I wish you the best of luck. But too often my impulse to capitulate to people who just don’t feel comfortable stems from a desire to seem chill. I am afraid of being that ranting feminist with herpes who seems to think herpes is great. The harassment and mocking of “Men’s Rights Activists” and strangers on Twitter has gotten to me. Hah hah, herpes is disgusting and hilarious. How silly, this girl thinks we’re bigots for not wanting to contaminate our junk for some desperate, shitty lay. What a slutty joke. Feminists these days, am I right?

Screw that. At the end of the day, STI stigma is a form of prejudice. It perpetuates a preconceived notion of someone’s moral character and individual worth based on a skin condition that itself is not a barometer of value or happiness. To let someone’s STI status be a game changer is a form of discrimination. To you it may seem reasonable, a matter of self-preservation. But to us, it is dehumanizing. If you let someone’s herpes define who they are as a person and the role they will or won’t play in your life, you have reduced them to their STI status alone.

And here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, or asking Google, if you should date someone with herpes. It’s human nature to think it, and to wonder, and to actively make the decision. I’m not saying you should automatically say yes. But in asking me this question, an actual person with herpes, you are shaming and insulting me in the name of needing help deciding. I don’t want to be the selfless Mother Teresa of herpes. It’s far more fun to be the loud, controversial and brilliant Kanye West of herpes.

I have little to no interest in being with someone who doesn’t think I’m worth getting herpes from. Yeah, you can read that again. If you are not willing to brave the risk of getting herpes, you are not worth my time. If my STI is a deal breaker for you, your ignorance and cowardice is a deal breaker for me.

One of the most romantic moments of my life was when an old partner told me that I had so thoroughly de-stigmatized herpes for him that he saw contracting from me as an inevitability he chose, rather than a nightmare I should have panic attacks over (and although I continued to have said panic attacks, I never did transmit to him). A true partner, a true best friend, accepts all of you. They do not barter or keep score, or make a pros and cons list when it comes to asking you on a third date. The question you should be asking is not “Why should I date someone with herpes?” It’s “Do I want to date someone for who they are?”

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Ella Dawson is a rowdy millennial who cares too much about The Bachelor. Her passions include sexual health and education, feminist erotica and social media.

65 thoughts on “Why Should I Date Someone With Herpes?

  1. Hi Ella,
    Thank you for your vulnerability on here. I truly appreciate it. I had such a horrible experience this week. In 2014, I was told by a doctor in an email versus a result (ugh) that I had been exposed to herpes 2 not verbatim I had it. Don’t know why i didn’t do more research then. I was with a long term partner. Dr. just said to avoid sex if i ever had a cold sore. I don’t know how this happens but i repressed this information for 4 years and never gained clarity then. (Maybe too painful/confused Idk). I’ve never had any outward outbreaks.

    I recently began dating again after 7 years and did the whole sti panel with this partner. I hadn’t shown any sypmtoms (maybe a lip cold sore every few years) (they didn’t test me again for herpes on blood test so out of awareness). He and I touched one another naked, made out, with some saliva exchange obvi. Days later receiving his results triggered some subconscious awareness (i know it’s hard to make sense of) and I dug up the old email. I then went on to gain more clarity with a doctor that it means i have it. WTF didn’t the dr tell me this before ?!!!! 😦 (A lot of anger here around this complexity and pain it’s caused me and him since). She stated that doctors say (exposed based on positive antibodies) as a pre-caution and they can’t state for sure unless you have sores. I was in disbelief and angry. I proceeded to tell this guy and he became really upset and felt betrayed I didn’t say anything prior to. (I get it!!!!! I was so compassionate for him and felt like shit that I could just “forget.”) His anger, fear, hurt, and sadness was coming through. I turned that hate at situation inward and got really depressed and luckily have a great social support group and amazing therapist. He and I have since talked and came to more closure which I am so thankful he was open to. (speaks to his character). I just may not have gotten the closure and would need to forgive myself for an honest mistake.

    I’m trying to not beat myself up for putting him at risk even though it’s small. I wish I remembered and told him when kissing :(I got re-tested so i can have an actual test result versus email (“you’ve been exposed/this is a confusing result” ugh). I have a lot of anger at doctors for not being explicit and towards myself for my ignorance. The stigma around STI’s is so huge. I had it before too until recognized I’m human and 1 in 6 people have herpes 2. I respect his decision to not want to proceed further due to fear of risking dealing with herpes, the stigma, and emotional pain I’m currently experiencing. We also haven’t known each other long and if it doesn’t work out he will have to tell people like me. I get it! Though i don’t have outward symptoms doesn’t mean a partner won’t It sucks I really liked him and felt a connection. The rejection sucks!!!!! (I don’t do well with it and have to adjust) I hope I meet someone that is okay with it. I mean obviously your story speaks to it. Now I don’t know when to tell people and scared of the rejection big time. (When we are kissing? Before?). This process is so new to me so any support and guidance is appreciated.

    Thanks for sharing your story and inspiring me to do the same. I hope this can be healing. It has helped me dive into core pain that was activated when I wasn’t feeling understood. Your story has really impacted me for the better and my shame is slowly diminishing.

    Warmly,
    T

  2. This was a good, interesting and funny read. It’s a lot to take in, but gave me a perspective I didn’t have before. I’ll definitely be thinking about this article more than once. Thanks.

    1. Ella, So beautifully well written. I have Herpes 2 and am currently dealing with shame around it. I like the :” I have little to no interest to date someone that doesn’t think I’m worth getting herpes from.” I know I’m worth it too and this is a reminder that I will meet someone that believes this too. It’s scary dating in the beginning because they don’t know me, or know if I’m worth it/may not want to risk it. Just gotta say fuck it and move on then!

        1. i was told after my wife left she had several affairs so i got checked i was told no hiv or hepatitis but i had antibodies at a high enough level that would suggest i have herpes its been 3 1/2 years i have tried to date but when i tell these dates that i have herpes thats the last i see of them. the last several months i have been seeing a lady and we both felt love for each other i told her she said she didnt care i was so relieved finally somebody really loves me .last week we attempted to have sex which she started i was still scared which caused some erection issues so it was short lived she said not to worry but today she said she was so scared after she became ill went to get tested and has ended our relationship so again i feel like damaged goods not fit for a lady to love and it sucks

      1. I feel you. I’ve been scaring off partners for almost 25yrs. At a point I stopped divulging my situation until I was sure I could trust my partner with my humiliating reality. I was always careful, never sex when I get that tingling, had to lie on my menses sooo many times. Now I am approaching an age where I can’t say it’s my “monthly friend” and I’m scared. Someone just broke up with me after 5months of dating. We moved kinda fast but I knew him from my past and thought it was safe to tell him right away. I had already had sex with him when I told him about my condition. He stayed for a few months but eventually left, said he fell in love with me before I told him. He said I didn’t play fair, he would cheat, he didn’t want to risk his life. I get his position. Like you I didn’t want it and I don’t want to give it. I hope this isn’t the story of my life. We just have to be strong and patient. My heart is with you.

        1. Risk his life? Oh please! This is the kind of hyperbole we should check them on for the sake of being factual and not allowing ourselves to be demeaned. (Although I don’t know if I would have the presence of mind to think of it in that situation). A good response might be “Risk your life? Don’t you think you’re being rather dramatic, dear?” After all… guys always accuse US of being overly dramatic. And , as has been established, that’s pretty dramatic for a skin condition.

  3. Thank you so much for writing this, It’s exactly what I needed to read. Your awesome girl. 🙏🏼🙏🏼

  4. Thank you!!!! Out of all the blogs I’ve read this one is my fav. If you’re not worth the risk to him then you never were!!!! You are amazing. Do you have any more blogs?

  5. Thank you a million times over for being the voice we all have, but feel too stigmatized to use. I’m sure myself and so many others would feel far less empowered and self-aware if it weren’t for your not giving a fuck. The world needs more people like you.

  6. Thank you! I just met a beautiful, amazing girl that makes me truly happy but she shared she contacted herpes as a kid, HSV-1. At first it freaked me out, but my friend suggested I research it 1st & not b stupid, don’t let that be the reason I don’t give her a chance. My fear is that I’m also a mother to 2 young children & I don’t want to expose them to anything. However after doing research and listening to my friend, I’ve decided she’s worth it. Your blog reinforce my decision.
    Thank you!!!!! She is beautiful & truly amazing, I’m sure I won’t meet someone else like her.

  7. Thank you so much – I think you’re wonderful, and you are right, someone should be able to accept YOU AS A PERSON, all of you, if they cant handle that then they are not the right one for you.

  8. thank you so much this has helped me alot also looking it up as well. i dont have the herp a durps lol but theres a guy im very drawen into and he came out right away and told me scared me off cuz im clean never had an std etc. but im addicted to him idk why lol we spent the whole day the other day talking and we both are hooked to each other we both are in liveless relationships both jlwant the same out of life even what to experiance the same things as well i can feel he is def a soul mate
    n i know i have things i need to learn from him and him from me but the std scares the shit out of me like idk i gave up cuz i really like him everything i find i like abt a guy he has it and with whats going on in my life its like he came in at the right time cuz my life is falling apart
    so i decided thanks to you ima see where things go with him i told him befor he told me that i want to take things slow not rush into anything and he is 100% ok with it and is for it!!!! a keeper id say
    but its the media and the damn schools etc. that teach us stds are bad and ull never basically have a normal life or find love etc. we all have someone for us its the ignorant who loose out someones past never defines who they are today and sometimes thoes people caught in their oast need someone to say hey i forgive you on ur behalf its ok move on but humanity on this planwt is knowen for their stupidity greed lazyness and hate

  9. This post has really helped me form my decision when it came to dating someone with genital herpes. My head was spinning when I first told to say the least.

    My girlfriend opened up to me after a month of dating and copious unprotected sex that she had genital herpes, that she was on suppression medication and that she had not had an outbreak for 3 years. I myself have cold sores and to be perfectly honest I definitely did not know as much as I do now about the disease. I thought it to be very very contagious even when dormant.

    So, she told me and I freaked out. I was torn because I do love her and I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her but, even the best laid plans go awry.So I had a storm of “what if,” scenarios in my head. What if we date over many years and I contract genital herpes only to find out that we weren’t the greatest fit after all. I would then have to try and find love with an STI which frankly scares a lot of people away. Would I have to lie to my partners until we were dating long enough that genital herpes wouldn’t scare her away (which I would not be comfortable with)!? These scenarios are still a possibility but after reading your personal experiences about opening up to potential partners before you slept together has made me feel much better about taking the risk.

    I’ll be honest I still don’t want to catch it and I will start using condoms with her but I am more comfortable with the risk I am taking after reading through this post.

  10. I’m happy I found this!
    I’v gotten to know this great woman whom upon opening up to each other one evening told me about, as she put it in her own words “a skeleton in her closet”, that she has genital herpes. In the past I thought I would have ran away from someone who were to tell me this, but in reality it did not phase my attraction to her at all what so ever. Yes I did have questions and concerns but I feel we are closer now than ever and are able to talk about anything without criticism or judgment from each other. I have never experience this type of relationship before and perhaps that is why so many have failed for me in the past. I care about her deeply and hope to continue to grow our relationship much further. Thank you.

  11. Well I’m reading a lot of the herpes and I just wanted to say thanks I’m learning a lot about it and just wanted some opinions my first love came back into my life in July 2017 and we are trying to work things out just being friends first and then working on a healthy relationship with each other then the following month I went on my vacation were my home town is of course that’s where he lives also and we saw each other a lot we both decided to get tested to see if we had anything so I got tested and all my test results came back normal and he was still waiting on his results to come back then he called me and told me that he has herpes 1 so we both got tested again for double check I’m still waiting on mine and then in September he came to see at the end of the month Im still waiting on the second test but I have to think if he gives it to me when we’re trying to get back together will I be ok with myself or will I regret of going back with him and if we ever get back together in the future cause I’ll get it from him he’s my true love and my everything and I love him very much he doesn’t want to give it to me and he understands that if I just want to be close friends or take a chance of going back with him or not when I get it will I be ok with myself of not being able to have him in my life will I find True love again and how will I tell a guy who I want to date that I’ve got herpes I know it’s up to me to make that hard choice to make he had it for more then 20 year’s I need some feedback please God bless everyone and thanks again I’m learning a lot from everyone’s story thanks again

    1. I’ve gotten cold sores (hsv1) since I was a kid (always showed up on picture day at school… lol!) It never, and still doesn’t, occur to me that I would need to divulge that to a partner as it is soooo common (surely there was at least one kid you grew up with who got cold sores on picture day😀) the word herpes is so fraught because our society has let it be). But, in reality, it is no big deal. I had a boyfriend who knowingly and carelessly passed hsv2 on to me (I was sooo stupid… he told me the broken skin on his penis was “chafing”.) that had been harder to deal with, not for any physical reasons… I almost never get outbreaks… but because the stigma has made the idea of having it do frightful that guys who would have no qualms about having unprotected sex with some woman whose status they didn’t know will steer clear of me because I know… and tell them… I do. The chances of their having something passed to them from one of these other women is probably better than from me, because I take suppressive drugs and am careful. It’s up to you, of course, but I think in your case, it’s worth the risk if you take the usual precautions. Good for you for educating yourself!

  12. Ms. Dawson,
    Well written think these and I applaud you for tackling this head on. As a person with HSV1( common cold sore i.e. Herpes) I believe I most likely contracted it from my mother as a child. I am obsessive about protecting my partners. I threw out all my Chapstick in my tooth brushes if I have a break out and I limit my contact to a hug until it’s Healed plus 2 days. I have never passed this on to a single partner that I know of, and I’m always upfront about it from jump. I would not rule out a partner based on an STI. I would not rule out a partner based on an STI. Your observation about distilling someone down to an infection was spot on. Thank you for taking the time to write this piece it was insightful.

    1. I have cold sores to and I afraid talking about it with my partner and on dates.
      How and when do you tell them about it? It really makes me insecure and afriad he’ll leave me

      1. Oh, I hate to see you limiting yourself like that! Cold sores are embarrassing when you have them, that’s for sure. For me I hated that it looked like someone had given me a fat lip. But common… you’ve seen the commercials for abreva, right? But I see no more reason to tell someone about cold sores than anything else. You know herpes is the virus behind lots of things, right? Chicken pox, shingles. To manage your cold sores , ask your doctor for a valcyclovir or acyclovir prescription. It cures them fast. I think the way nick handles his outbreaks makes a lot of sense

  13. I think that in addition to the social stigma, there is this very lizard-brain level fear response to the idea of infection, even outside of a sexual context. That tension and desire to hold my breath I get when I hear some kid coughing in the supermarket. The visceral horror people have about leprosy, which is also sort of a skin condition. Even the whole genre of zombie movies. Something about contagious disease itself is inherently frightening.

    To clarify this a bit! I also have HSV-1. So does my mom. She got it from kissing family members at a Christmas party. I don’t know if I got it from her or not, but she was always very careful to try not to transmit it to me. I think as a little kid being told she couldn’t kiss me during outbreaks and not to drink out of her glass scared me more than she meant it to. There was nothing remotely sexual about it for me, and most of this was before I even knew what sex was. I just found the idea of catching something you have for life scary.

    I later had outbreaks, as an adult. I could have had it from years, from some asymptomatic shedding kiss. I could have gotten it at school–indeed, I’ve seen many little kids with cold sores pick absently at their sores and then touch everything with unwashed hands, too young to understand what’s going on or what a cold sore is. I could have gotten it from sharing a friend’s toothbrush, as I did know that friend had it. I also could have got it from a sexual partner–he had no symptoms, but I did know another partner of his had it, so it’s not really unlikely. Herpes can express itself almost anywhere, even on the hands, and it’s unlikely, though possible, to get it from a handshake. I’ll never know exactly who I got it from, or when, or if I’d had it for months or even years before symptoms.

    Whether I’d gotten it from sex or not was pretty irrelevant to me, and I knew it had no bearing on my character to have it–after all, my mom had it and it had no bearing on her character either. But it did upset me a lot at first, and I did feel dirty and tainted. Not sexually, but rather more generally than that. I felt unfit for even platonic human contact. I felt trapped and forcibly altered and “ruined.” Maybe it’s weird to say that I knew and loved so many people with it, and saw them as full humans and not defined by the virus, yet still had so many negative emotions upon contracting it myself. This was also many years ago and I was pretty ignorant about not only this particular virus and how common it is, but how our bodies in general are full of all kinds of viruses and bacteria and assorted passengers. The microbiome is truly huge and complex: we have more non-human cells than human cells in our bodies. Many, many microorganisms we encounter in our environment enter us and change us. Some help us, some hurt us, many are entirely neutral. A lot of the human body is pretty “gross” when examined on a microscopic level. We all have microscopic mites living in our pores and on our eyelashes too. And while it upset me to know I had it for life, I also have the chicken pox virus (which is another variant of herpes) for life–I contracted it before the vaccine existed. And running around barefoot in my childhood got me the kind of HPV that gives you plantar warts–I freeze off the warts, but either I sometimes get reinfected or it’s one of those viruses that chills out in your body, I don’t really know.

    Age and experience also taught me that everything changes. When I was younger I’d held onto this idea of “purity” which meant remaining exactly the way you were born, not having anything bad happen to you ever. But this just isn’t realistic. Things break, things go wrong. So many things in my life have turned out for the worse, or left lasting scars. So many things have changed me in ways I can’t take back. Some of the changes have even been positive, or at least things that eventually brought me somewhere worth going. I understand why a younger me was afraid of change, and why change for the worse was a terrifying concept, but I also see now that herpes or no herpes, change for the worse was inevitable. You could even say that’s the aging process itself. That doesn’t mean “life happens and then everything is horrible.” It’s more…we survive and weather changes better than we think we will. To change is to live. It IS unrealistic to expect that nothing will ever go wrong and we’ll never carry things with us. Most of what we experience we carry with us in some way.

    I still feel that sense of visceral, primal fear if I know a partner has an STI I don’t. Sometimes the emotional presence of the fear is such that I just can’t relax and enjoy sex. I don’t mean that I make a decision to judge them, or that I don’t like them anymore. I do like them, and I wish I didn’t feel that way, and I don’t want them to feel judged or tainted. But my animal brain is freaking out about the possibility of infection, and sexual desire is a very fickle feeling. My more rational self can try to think of everything I like about the person and the precautions we’ve taken and the statistical risk, but my primal animal brain is having none of it, it just feels fear instead of desire. I’ve come around to realizing herpes is really too common to be “that big a deal,” but I also do think that fear can come from places other than negative sexual stereotypes. No one wants to get sick, really.

    So I’ve always found “it’s a skin condition” to be somewhat…minimizing? I also have eczema, which is a skin condition. No one ever feels afraid of eczema, because it’s not contagious. Whereas warts (also a “skin condition”) are a lot scarier, even without any sexual implications, because you can catch them. They’re slightly less scary because you can usually get them frozen off, which makes them seem manageable, but that fearful “oh no I don’t want to get sick” feeling is still there. We evolved from animals that had no medicine, and usually couldn’t do much beyond the abilities of their own immune systems when they got sick, so our fear levels are still kind of tuned to that outdated reality.

    Anyway. While I understand all that about fear, and am sympathetic towards it, I think the people who bully you on the internet are working against their own interests if they don’t want herpes. What a person who doesn’t have herpes and doesn’t want to get it should want the most is destigmatization, testing, and honesty. As you’ve said, you’re most likely to get it from someone who doesn’t know–or knows but is afraid/ashamed to tell you. The more stigma and shame there is, the more people will be afraid to get testing, and afraid to disclose. Someone who discloses IS giving you a choice, and can’t actually force you to choose a certain way. That’s the ideal situation for someone who’s badly frightened. They can act on that fear, or they can research and see if their feelings change with more knowledge. It’s really up to them. And yeah, asking you in particular about it is callous and insensitive.

    I guess…I just feel uncomfortable with calling it bigotry, provided it isn’t coupled with misogyny or slut-shaming or whatever other garbage, and doesn’t involve treating the person badly. People aren’t really in control of what they feel afraid of, and infection is a deeply primal, common fear. I think people can say, “Sorry, I don’t want to,” without being bad people. I do also kind of think they’re being silly about it, but if someone has a phobia of dogs and won’t date dog owners, it’s pretty similar. We all bring our full personhoods to our relationships, and that includes emotions like fear. I don’t think guilt-tripping someone who already feels afraid is going to push them through their fear in a healthy way. Forcing themselves into situations just to avoid feeling like bad people is actually likely to make the fear worse and foster resentment. Ultimately, they’re the ones who have to make the judgment call–if they feel afraid at all (many don’t!) and if so how much, and if a lot if it’s worth it to them to examine why and if it’s a fear they want to confront or not. I don’t think their fear makes the person they pass on any less valuable or worthy, any more than being passed on by a dog-phobic person makes dog owners any less valuable or worthy. Maybe the person with the fear will regret it later, as their attitudes on herpes change–due to learning more information, contracting it despite their efforts, or even finding out they’ve had it all along. Maybe they won’t, and that will have been the right decision for them.

    I still don’t get why they’d ask you. I’d work it out through examining my own feelings. If I felt more afraid and no longer amorous, I’d leave. If I felt breezily unconcerned and realistic about human biology, I’d stay. If I felt conflicted, I’d proceed slowly and with caution and check in with myself along the way.

    It’s true that they may get it even from a cautious partner. But they might also decline, go on their way, and catch it from a toddler who picks their sore and rubs their hands on everything. Or from sharing a toothbrush with a platonic friend. Or from platonic kissing at a family gathering. Herpes, especially HSV-1, is so common that you’d pretty much have to go live on a herpes-negative mountaintop retreat to be sure of never contracting it. So it is pretty silly to pass on a promising relationship. But people have the right to be silly. People have the right to be irrational if it gives them peace of mind, provided they aren’t hurting anyone–and exercising your right to say no to sex is not hurting anyone. People have the right to be afraid for stupid reasons, or say no for any reason or no reason at all. It’s a sort of naive view of biology combined with a very old visceral fear which is natural to have, but I don’t think it’s bigotry. Just as I hope others will be realistic about human biology, I try to be realistic about human psychology. Fear of infection, like herpes itself, is common and something humanity is probably stuck with.

    1. Good post. Yes… it is pretty natural to be wary and grossed out if you see someone with a drippy cold digging in the communal silverware tray or someone with a cold sore offering you a sip out of their cup. Every virus ran through my family with so many of us. My parents, aunts, siblings had cold sores. When one of us had strep, we’d all have strep. And so it went. Chicken pox made the rounds. As you pointed out, genital herpes is not so different from a lot of these other conditions. If it were perceived as just what it is… a common virus that is bothersome but not all that ever present, people wouldn’t think that much of it. We’d buy abreva for genital herpes in the display right next to the display for abreva for cold sores. But because it is passed during sexual contact, which carries a tremendous amount of baggage in our culture, people are terrified of “catching” the ensuing stigma and all the future difficult conversations that entails. I’m here to tell you, that IS the tough part about it. Ella is right, it is a type of discrimination. I totally understand the fear, if not for the condition itself, but for the misinformation, judgements, and misperceptions that surround it

  14. I hear the humanization here.

    Realize: “Why should I date someone with herpes/STIs?” only makes sense when you’re not dating someone for who they are, you’re dating them with full intent of only casual sex.

    The distinction between casual sex and “dating” (whatever that means) matters because if you’re casually involved with someone, you’re not investing into that person beyond the next time you have sex. You’re more aware of the next person you intend to have sex with AFTER them, and how this infection hinders that.

    The infected person was never being considered as a person to begin with: they were a potential place to have sex with for a finite period of time, before going on to the next potential place to have sex with.

    Honestly, if you value them as a person, their STI may hinder your relationship/how you interact with this infected person, and may even mean you don’t pursue them romantically or sexually, but the infection wouldn’t limit their presence in your life. You wouldn’t ask the question.

  15. I don’t think herpes is a skin condition. I wouldn’t say no to someone who had it–it’s not like it’s a DUI or a mark of character, in my opinion–but as with anything else I do think that one has to be smart and ask themselves if they could handle the worst possible outcome. Yes I might not get it, but if I did have it as badly as one friend of mine does, when she can’t even sit comfortably during an outbreak, could I handle that? You sound like you’re judging people for being cautious. But wouldn’t you have preferred the guy who gave it to you had been more cautious? Or are you glad you have it? You have a blog about heroes because it’s a big deal. It’s not a skin condition. People should make informed decisions. That’s their right.

    1. I agree with jcalavarez on this. The notion of it being just a skin condition seems to be peddled moslyt by people who, as you ella have stated, had only one bad initial outbreak followed by mild, near nonexistent outbreaks since. There are plenty of people, and I know a couple, who’s outbreaks are not so mild. Even after their initial outbreak, their outbreaks afterward continued to be anything but mild. The 2 people I speak of both take their antivirals and adhere strictly to their doctors regimens. Yet their outbreaks are still erratic and painful. So herpes is not just a skin condition, its a true ailment one must live with that is painful and even sometimes debilitating. You are being very uncompassionate towards people who come to you for advice regarding what they should do if they find that a potential romantic and/or sexual partner has herpes. You say they are shaming you and insulting you by coming to you with their questions. Now yes you have no doubt been through a lot of harassment, but that doesn’t mean that everyone asking for your input and advice about if they should or should not be with their infected partner is unworthy of your compassion and understanding. You saying such a thing is a complete and unjustified over generalization.

      You have, through your fight to end herpes stigma, and your many articles about it, interviews on it, the popularity of your erotic novels, and even your current job at Ted talks, owe a lot to your activism for herpes. You have quite literally built your entire online persona around it, originally, with your feminist activism coming in second in terms of what has gotten you noticed by the internet and the general public. Basically your herpes infection and your speaking out about it got you your seat at the public table, for lack of a better metaphor. So you have put yourself and your status out there and as such you owe it to those who have supported you from the beginning, those who still do, and those that see you as the expert you have made yourself to be, to help those people who come to you with such questions. If you cannot do that, or have let the harassment you have endured stop you from doing that, or negatively color your view, then why did you start the movement in the first place?

      Also your disregard of people who have genuine, and legitimate fear for their sexual health in not wanting to contract an STI, is disheartening. Your statement about “if someone is not willing to brave the risk of getting herpes, is not worth your time” is just really very spiteful in its wording. Your stating that anyone who is legitimately afraid of contracting an incurable and potentially painful STI is somehow cowardly, is much the same kind of hateful statement some of your more ignorant haters have said to you, because it rings with the same sound of ignorance and judgment. You also have this incredible luxury of your outbreaks being few and far between and mild at their worst, as you have explained. What about all of the people who do not share your good fortune? What about those who’s outbreaks, even while on antivirals are not mild and quite painful? The herpes viruses, both 1 and 2 are not a one size fits all kind of STI. Each person’s body reacts differently to the infection. Some lucky few like you hardly ever have an outbreak or only mild ones if they do while others really do suffer with it and can’t sit down as jcalvarez said, or cannot leave their house and show their face because the sores on the mouth are too visible whether they are taking their antivirals and doing everything else their doctor tells them or not.

      I think at this point in your career, you have become so disconnected from the fact that it was originally your compassion for those with herpes, and the stigma they suffer from it and the pain the STI causes them that got you noticed. Your speaking out about it, your interviews on the subject, and your articles that you have written about it, got you where you are today and have made for you a social media as well a cultural presence. It has opened doors for you in the journalism and even political worlds, that otherwise would not have been opened so easily for you if they would have opened for you at all. It has also gained you a much larger following than your feminist activism alone would have gotten you. Adding all of that up, your herpes activism, while it’s brought you controversy and hate, has also made you successful at what you do and brought with it rewards that you take for granted. As a result, you, now that you have achieved a modicum of success, seem very much disassociated from the feelings of those who helped propel you to the status you now enjoy and the rewards that came with it as I have already listed. When you began your journey, you had so much compassion, not just for those who struggled with herpes, but for those afraid of contracting it. You’ve let the hate you have received turn you into a more cynical and less compassionate activist, and that’s sad. This article you have written is proof of that, and it makes one wonder, where did the compassionate, understanding Ella go, and now that she has achieved success does she even care at all anymore about the fear that still exists about herpes both from those who have it and those afraid to contract it? It’s interesting because reading through your articles you can see the change happen gradually in your online personality going from an understanding, full of compassion woman with an STI trying very hard to reach out to others with the STI and others who do not have it to educate and lead, to someone who has become so infected by the hate she has received that its turned her into a cynical person whose words are now less filled with compassion and understanding and more laced with anger, judgments, and a level of nastiness that at times judging from your twitter posts, rivals that of even your most staunchly dedicated haters. Very sad indeed to watch you become the very type of person you have spent so much time fighting against. In a very real way, you STI has made you successful while your infection by the hate of others has robbed you of the compassion you once had.

      1. Perhaps, one day.. some woman (or man) you like or love will end up contracting you with HSV 2 without telling you and you’ll then have it forever. Then we’ll see which side of the fence you’re on. You talk a lot of talk, and are shaming this woman. But to be fair to those of us who do have it, we don’t want to give it to you, or anyone for that matter. We would never want to pass it on to someone else. But we get looked at like we have a life threatening disease. Do you think someone with AIDS wants to give it to someone else? You have no idea what it’s like.. you only know someone who happens to have an unfortunately bad case of it. Well, most of us don’t. I’ve never had an outbreak since my initial outbreak. I consider myself very lucky. But I still have to tell another woman that I have HSV 2. You don’t.

        It seems like we then don’t have a right to be appreciated, loved, valued, for any reason whatsoever because of a viral infection. Something that most of us have never asked for. Not all of us are lucky enough to be as clean or as pure as you.. But just remember, that when something suddenly happens to you and the tables turn, I wouldn’t recommend reaching out to people like us for guidance or support, or understanding. I mean, really.. what do you want us to say.? “Yeah I have HSV 2, I guess I should just roll over and let people shit on me?” Because it seems like your mission is to criticize Ella for trying to make light of a situation, that for many people, consider traumatizing. And it is bud. Because people think of it as a life threatening disease. It’s not.

        How about you do yourself a favor and try and help out your friend who is really having some seriously bad outbreaks by taking him or her out and try and get them to meet someone as sweet and as charming as yourself. Then take a look and see how people stigmatize him or her. Then feel their pain as if you were them.. then, you might be able to see how we see it.

  16. Hi Ella, I was just diagnosed with herpes this week & I have to admit, I have been on a downhill, self-shaming, tearful spiral of fear ever since. Let’s just say it’s been a really dark couple of days for me. I haven’t risen up from the ashes yet, so I have been mourning and researching, trying to figure out what kind of effect this is going to have on my life, because right now it feels like life as I know it is over. I have come across a couple of your articles & have really found comfort & empowerment in them. I still have considerable emotional & psychological healing to do but I wanted to thank you for having the courage to be a voice of healing for others. You have given me a ray of hope.

  17. Hi Ella, thank you so much for sharing this post. It has given me a better perspective on having transmitted this STI. It’s a hard conversation to have with someone, but I do agree that I want to be with someone who likes me enough to think I’m worth the risk!

    Thanks again for sharing

  18. Thank you. Just thank you for sharing your struggle. I haven’t had herpes that long, but sometimes I just feel so alone, like I will be alone forever, but this is one of the best articles I have read. You made me feel so much better. We are not worthless, it’s an annoying condition, but most of the time I forget I even have it, until I want to date someone. And then I feel absolutely sick and horrible that I have it. But I love what you said about if they can accept this small thing, they don’t have the honor of dating you. Again, thank you for sharing, thank you for this.

  19. Thank you for posting this article. It does make me feel better knowing that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I’m a man at 32 who was strictly cut off because I was honest with her about me having herpes. It’s laughable really since I’ve never had an outbreak since the day I got it. But it clearly defined that person today that she didn’t really see me. She only saw the negatives and downfalls. It made me feel like a worthless piece of shit and it Fucking ruined my day. Anyways, say it how you mean it.

    Cheers,
    Johnnie

  20. Thankyou, so f***ing much.
    Recently diagnosed and going through every emotion. This left me speechless and also so empowered.
    Thankyou.

  21. This moved me so much I have it bookmarked under, “Remember who you are.” I used to judge women sooo hard with herpes, and deemed them unloveable. Now, oh how the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. I’m a week into my first outbreak and after telling my fiance and being accepted without doubt I have to say this article is moving. I cried reading it. I felt like a part of me died with this diagnosis. I have to pretend to not be in constant excruciating pain. That sex will never be a thing for me anymore and my support base will shun me forever, I couldn’t even look at myself in a mirror. I have come to find out that on the contrary I have never felt more loved in my entire life. Pointless rant aside thank you for your words, you make me feel normal. And that’s saying a lot.

  22. Here’s a question/thought (take your pick). Can dating a person who is herpes+ be more than a “yes/no” choice?
    You mention medical conditions that can be made worse when HSV is introduced as a reasonable criterion for choosing not to date someone who is herpes+. What about someone who has been messed around emotionally not merely by romantic interests but family as well, and might need a “softer landing” to get to complete intimacy.

    For example, what if sexual pleasure and intimacy is explored at a level of comfort for both partners as the two people get to know each other emotionally and romantically and take the measure of their compatibility? For example, oral sex for both partners works for both partners in the early stages of a relationship, and this becomes one of the components of trust that will lead to intercourse. Or the seronegative partner wants to engage in intercourse less often at first until they come to trust their partner more fully in all areas of their relationship and increase the level of intimacy. There are many trust and intimacy issues that evolve: time to meet parents, time to hand off a second set of keys. Must it be all or nothing at the time the herpes+ discloses their status, or when the other person “returns” from their meditation on this news?

    Obviously this depends on the expectations of the two people concerned, but I am surprised that a middle ground (a temporary and ramping up middle ground) is not discussed more generally (unless I am missing it, which, of course, is possible).

    1. There’s so much room for nuance when it comes to HSV+ dating, and every couple should figure out the pace and rules that work for them. I have a partner who won’t go down on me because that’s something that makes him nervous, and that’s valid and I respect it and we have great penetrative sex using condoms. What I’m speaking to in this post is the frustration I have with people who find the idea of dating someone herpes+ totally unthinkable and demand that I justify my value to them.

  23. I really respect you and your point of view and one day I hope I can be as confident as you are and feel as unashamed as you do, but do you think guys/people in general are more willing to be with someone who has a weaker strain of herpes like you do than someone with both HSV-1 and HSV-2, like I do? I’m not saying you don’t have ~enough herpes~ to talk about this subject, because that’s bullshit. I just wonder if you think that may have also affected your experiences post herpes diagnosis.

  24. I really needed to hear this. Surprised by how many sex educators rarely/never talk about a subject that so many people deal with in secret due to social stigma. I know I have. As a single hetero female, it’s affected my relationship with men tremendously. With a one-time exception, I’ve been celibate for the past 5 or 6 years, since I was diagnosed with HSV2. I never even knew I had it until I got tested out of state after a casual encounter; there was no noticeable breakout to alert me. Still, I don’t even date any more, mainly because I don’t want to have the conversation and make myself vulnerable. This has given me a whole new perspective, as well as talking points. Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you…

  25. I loved reading this. I treated my herpes like this big secret burden until I read your article in Women’s Health. But my
    current boyfriend’s reaction to my having herpes was basically,”Ok. There are so many great things about you. Why would that be a dealbreaker?” And while I never thought about being worth the risk of getting herpes, that’s exactly how he makes me feel now. Every time we have sex it’s never a problem and it’s always incredible. He had a few questions the first time. But as things have progressed it’s become a non-issue. In his eyes, it’s just another thing about me that he accepts. And he adores me as a whole! I think you’re awesome,Ella! Thanks for what you do!

      1. What you are doing for people with herpes (and STDs in general) is so necessary! The stigma is real, and for no reason! Since reading the Women’s Health article and various other posts of yours, I have felt encouraged to be more open with people about having herpes. I feel more comfortable telling people and then educating them on the subject. I am still not as upfront as I would like to be about it. I think your openness is incredible and ideal! But I am actively working towards it. Ella, you rock! Never stop doing what you’re doing, because you are fulfilling SUCH a necessary role in our culture.

  26. Thank you ella for being so strong and upfront. I just recently got g herpes and have had a hard time until reading your blog. Do you have any other way to keep contact? Id love to chat about experiences.

    Thank you again

  27. Great blog. I am a lesbian living with HIV and it’s never easy to have to tell a potential partner the deal. I am very out about my status, I don’t hide it but you’d never guess that I’ve had this shit for 25 years now. I am healthy and it’s not a visible disease. People don’t always “get” that we all live with some kind of baggage, some is worse than others. I’m very conscious of my status and keeping my partners safe. I’ve been lucky to meet women who look beyond my sero status and see ME and love me for who I am. I make darned sure that if I am interested in someone that they know right up front about my status. I personally don’t want to waste my time getting to know someone, getting attached and then telling them and having them reject me…it’s much better to be up front and forth coming about things like this. Then they can make the choice if they want to date someone with an STI, (even though I didn’t contract my hiv through sex) or not. Generally, I’ve never had an issue with out-right rejection over it. But there’s always the chance. Thanks for this blog, it’s very well written and informative on a very touchy subject. People are afraid of chronic illnesses until they understand that you CAN live with them successfully and you CAN keep your partners very safe while having a great relationship. Rock on. ~MB

  28. “but now I show symptoms so rarely that I pose no credible risk to my partners 99% of the time.”

    There’s some slight misinformation here. Herpes virii can be shed at any time, even when there is no outbreak. The chances are relatively small (recent reports suggest between 2 & 5%) but it DOES happen.

    And for cred & clarification, I am a sexually active polyamorous male with herpes.

    1. Asymptomatic viral shedding is a real thing, and I know that someone with herpes can theoretically transmit at any time. That being said, with the relatively weak strain of herpes that I have (GHSV-1), the period of time I’ve had the virus (someone with herpes is less likely to transmit the longer they have it), and the fact that it’s much harder for women to transmit to men than it is the other way around, what I said isn’t misinformation. But to be clear: I’m speaking about my own odds of transmitting to my male partners. I’m not saying the odds don’t exist for other people.

  29. Small typo, I think? I’m suspecting “I’m saying you should automatically say yes” was meant to be “I’m not saying you should automatically say yes”?

  30. “And here’s the thing: there’s nothing wrong with asking yourself, or asking Google, if you should date someone with herpes. It’s human nature to think it, and to wonder, and to actively make the decision. ”

    YES! AND, this questioning is giving you a chance to ask yourself if you REALLY want to get into HER as much as you want to GET INTO her. If it’s the former, then yes, date her. If it’s the latter, be honest with her, tell her that you realized that while you are physically attracted to her, you actually realized that you don’t feel compatible enough to continue dating her to the point where you would get physical and she would be assuming that you had stronger feelings than the ones that are being produced in your “little head”.

    I tell people all the time: Herpes makes a GREAT Wingman…. because you will find out who is interested in who YOU are as a person…. they will understand that we ALL have flaws, and it is those flaws that make us human. This not only goes for sexual relationships, but friendships as well….

    Peace out 🙂

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