The First Time I Had Sex After Getting Herpes

The first time I had sex after getting diagnosed he was wearing that black blazer I loved over a white v-neck shirt. We tasted like beer and early summer sweat, finals over, medication finished. Sunlight spilled through my bedroom window and my back was against the plaster wall. I think my roommate was out; otherwise she was right on the other side listening to One Direction and worrying about me like the sister the universe knew I needed that year.

He smiled at me, really smiled for what felt like the first time in weeks. It sank into my skin, relief soothing the ever-present panic in my stomach. He was thrilled; his eyes poured over my face, my lips, my shoulders. His Yankees cap was abandoned on my desk and I relaxed into him, let him push me back against the wall. I remember his hands, or maybe I just imagine them traveling to find my hips and hold me close, press me against the proof that he wanted me again. It seemed unthinkable that he could want me now, my body ruined and foreign, invaded, repulsive.

But then again I wanted him. I wanted his firm shoulders and the smooth skin of his jaw, wanted to burn myself alive under his weight. I didn’t want to fuck—I wanted to disappear inside of him where it was safe, nestled in the warmth of his approval. I didn’t want to have sex but I wanted him to never stop looking at me like that ever again. My legs wrapped around his waist and his mouth found my neck, so gentle with me. He’d gotten the same diagnosis and I still wanted him. It shouldn’t be so strange that he could want me too.

This man must love me, I thought. This man must love me to want me after what I’ve made of him. Love was the only motivation I understood in the context of all that sunlight, his jeans sliding down his hips, my skirt bunched up around my waist. He folded his blazer over the back of my desk chair and I think I stored the useless condoms in the pink plastic container back then, right on the windowsill. We always used them despite the good they’d done us. I remember the sex wasn’t good, even as the headboard of my narrow twin bed rocked into the plaster wall and the light yellowed into evening. Not bad but not good either. Its mediocrity, its normalcy meant everything to me. First times are never great.

I think we went out for dinner afterward at the fancy-ish Italian place on Main Street because the burger joint I loved was closed on Mondays. It was a belated birthday dinner because we’d both been on so much Valtrex the night I turned twenty-one. I might be getting the dates wrong.

I know now that we had sex that night, and many nights after that, because he wanted me and I wanted him and there was barely any love involved. Life with herpes still meant desire and intimacy and men bailing for immature, flakey, misogynist reasons that had little if anything to do with STDs. On the night I broke up with him for good he was wearing that blazer again and I wanted to fold it over his desk chair, wanting him even though I hated him by then. He probably doesn’t remember the first time we had sex after our diagnosis—it took me a while tonight to churn up the details. But maybe he does. I don’t know him anymore.

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

2 thoughts on “The First Time I Had Sex After Getting Herpes

  1. OK- on the third date this guy and i slept together. I was clear before ths date that I was looking for casual funnot a full on realtionship. I am a 45 yo divorced mom of 2 who was marreid for 16 years and never sexually satisfied in the marriage. plus i was absitnent for 2 years after the marriage. I did not want to go through my life without having some awesome fun!! Half way through making out i decided to give sex a try. Honestly i didnt know if my body would function, or if i would cry partway through it or after. My big fear was that the guy would be wham bam thank you maam and it would remind me of my ex. Who knows what emotions thatw would bring up. Insetad it was awesoem sex like I have never had (not since my 20’s anyway) but it is so differnt feeling. This guy and I hev been togtehr every friday for 7 weeks. I am comfotabl with him, alwys have been, we are both oursleves, he tested e one night showing his asshole side and i didnt mind. 92% of the time I am unbelievably not insecure! whch is a problem for me with most men. My cooking skills are what i ma self cosncious about! LOL. Casual as i wanted it to be i have begun to feel an awesme level of trust bulding for him.This guy is a great person. i was afraid to open up & be vulnerable but realzed i had to be in order to progress in my life. So i told him how this trust is forming for him invited him to my house. This guy has contually surprised me with his positive actions. A day after the trust talk he told me two things at once – i have been on dates wiht other people. Ok we never talked about exclusive. number 2- ihave herpes. we alwys use condoms. wi firsta sked him if he woudl enjoy sex without he didn’t say anyhting. this is long but just happned and ahrd to talk to my friedns about right now. i like him and care about him as a person. i would not reject him because of this but am confused why he didnt tell me earlier. I can admit that i wouldnot ahve slept with him the first time if he told me. Only beacuse i would not have been informed on hsv and didnt have feelings for him. casual sex is new for me so… anyway any perspective? i worry he didnt tell me beacsue of a alck of respect for me? I know only he can answer that question. lack of respect is an old hurt from my marriage not an issue i ahve had with this man. i guess i dont have a question. Maybe if you have any advice for my conversation wiht him. i am taking time to talk so i can be clear. even after he told me we still had great protected sex. also maybe sme help with a casual realtionship? i understand him dating. his 3 year realtionship ended awfully and only 6 months ago. I have not been casual for 17 years. i am thinking about what respect means to me in a casual relationship. casual multi dating relationships normal? what are they about in general? FYI- this guy has had herpes for 10 years.

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