Sex After Herpes
My sex life became way more exciting post-herpes diagnosis.
Before I was diagnosed, I took a lot more risks with partners, not taking time to get to know them, not talking about the last time either of us were tested for an STI, assuming penetrative sex was the kind of sex that was on the table and that latex condoms (the gold ones 😉 ) were all that was needed for me to get the green light.
To me, I was practicing safe sex – and I still ended up with herpes.
That’s because so-called “safe sex” is based on incorrect assumptions. You assume you’re protected from STIs because you take the precaution of using barriers. Very few people are taught about how lubricant and foreplay contribute to added safety by reducing friction during the act of penetrative sex – if that is what’s agreed upon between partners.
Safer sex is different, first and foremost because it sheds the dishonest notion that sex can ever be 100% safe. Sex always carries risk, but after my diagnosis I learned how to reduce risk for both me and my partners.
Safer sex means in-depth discussions prior to sex. I now have to have a very uncomfortable conversation with each potential partner about my STI status. I have to tell them condoms REDUCE risk and do not PREVENT risk of exposure to my genital HSV-2. Reactions to this statement vary from just being ghosted to an “oh, I have it too” response. This conversation always has a negative emotion behind it because of fear of rejection, so when it goes past that point, it’s liberating to know that now we can move on to the dirty talk and foreplay.
This is where negotiations come in: we discuss the last time either of us have been tested, we talk about our experiences with STIs, and any precautions that need to be taken such as barriers and lube. Maybe my partner is allergic to latex which takes the magnums off the table. Maybe my partner prefers not to receive or give oral or doesn’t like to be touched a certain way – or loves to be touched in a certain kind of way. These are the conversations that lead up to some very positive intimate experiences. The transparency and openness in communicating expectations together allows space for people to express their turn-ons, kinks, and ultimately adds to your pleasure, because you not only allowed them to share what they enjoy, you shared what you enjoy as well!
It has been a gift to open the door of communication about sexual health due to my herpes diagnosis, and while not all potential partners have been accepting of it, I truly believe that it makes it easier for me to find the kind of sexual partners who are for me. I am someone who lives an open and expressive life and I refuse to restrict myself by hiding things about me, like the fact that I’m a carrier of the herpes virus.
These conversations have not only led to some of the best intimate exchanges, I’ve also become open to many more types of sex in the process. Where I once believed sex to only be oral, vaginal or anal penetration, I know now that there’s so much more to be explored. There’s BDSM, there’s mutual masturbation, foreplay, toys, voyeurism, exhibitionism, group sex, and then there’s dismantling this belief that sex starts with penetration and ends with an orgasm. It has been such a liberating feeling.
So, to anyone who believes that an HSV diagnosis means their sex life is over, I challenge you to have your own experiences before you automatically count yourself out. Talks about sexual health are liberating. There’s a broken tension that leads to much more than a chance for someone to share that they carry an STI. These conversations will weed out people who aren’t right for you and show you the people who are. There’s more trust, a deeper connection, and a sense of security that you give the other person that comes with not only sharing your status but also being able to communicate about sex more broadly. It takes strength to do that. It takes vulnerability to give someone else the safety they need to be vulnerable. Sharing your body is a vulnerable experience in itself. Setting the foundation for the other person’s safety makes space for an orgasmic experience. Oh yes I did, haha.
Courtney W. Brame is the Founder of Something Positive for Positive People, a hub of sexual health resources to navigate the challenges of a new sexually transmitted infection/disease. Resources primarily consist of the real experiences from people living with HSV (herpes), HIV, HPV and AIDS.