Anna Pulley, @annapulley
RedEye's sex columnist
1:40 PM CST, January 18, 2012
This super dominant dude has been all into me the last couple days. He has a primary partner/girlfriend, and has been chatting me up/calling me/texting me. So we get down to the STD conversation, and turns out he won't play with me, not because I have herpes, but because one of my regular partners does. Is this normal? Was I even obligated to discuss that? Should I have even mentioned it? I mean, in a way, I was sharing someone else's secret. I'm totally unsure of my ethical obligations in this case. Do I have to tell everyone I might potentially have sex with that one of my regular partners has it?
My partner takes medication for it so he doesn't have outbreaks. He's careful about checking. I'm careful about double-checking. We always f**k with a condom, but not with oral. I was tested six months ago and came out clean. So what's my obligation here?
A really good friend of mine was dating a man who had herpes. He never told her he had it though, and she contracted the virus from him. She was distraught for months, not only because of the physical discomfort, but because her lover, whom she entrusted with her body and safety, lied to her in such a big, unalterable way. There's no sugarcoating this. This is standard information you should disclose. I can't speak to whether it's normal or not, but this isn't merely someone's "secret" you're exposing. It's not like you're putting his STD status on a billboard, along with his picture and phone number.
Yes, you absolutely tell all potential partners that someone you're regularly boning has herpes. If you don't, it takes away that person's right to choose for themselves whether or not to take the risk. And if you withhold this information and pass it on to someone else unknowingly or not, then you're impacting that person's sex life forever. Not to mention their life life.
Here's the thing about herpes. It's very common and it's also asymptomatic a lot of the time, meaning you might have it and spread it without knowing it. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 16.2 percent, or about one in six, people 14 to 49 years of age have genital herpes, aka HSV-2. But, if you're a woman, your odds are actually greater: one out of five. Basically, if you're sleeping with somebody who has it, you shouldn't assume that you don't, tests and double-checking be damned. Besides, the tests aren't all that useful if you aren't mid-breakout, anyway. You can do a blood test, but even then, it's not foolproof, says the depressing CDC fact sheet linked above. This isn't to say you shouldn't get tested, of course, just that it's not necessarily an accurate predictor of a clean bill of health.
As evidenced by your dominant guy scenario above, the knowledge that one of your partners has herpes will be a deal breaker for some people. In the long term, being ethical about your sexual choices will probably mean you're going to get less ass, but that doesn't mean you can be willy-nilly about other people's willies and nillies. In fact, we'd all do well to remember the golden rule of sex: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but not until you've discussed what risks might occur from said doing and unto-ing.
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