I was at a fairly small sacred BDSM event and I saw that one of the classes they were offering was on safer sex techniques. I admit, my prejudice came over me – I thought to myself, “If someone is at the point that they’re at this event, they probably don’t need to know about condoms and gloves.”
I attend the lecture, and there was an air of “you probably know this already, but a review couldn’t hurt.” And there was a lot of nodding and such. But I got this memory-vision stuck in my head, of all the times I’ve heard someone go on about something I didn’t know about but I chose to nod because I didn’t want to admit I had no idea what they were talking about. With that thought, I looked around again, and wondered to myself how many people are nodding and smiling, while at the same time hearing for the first time that condoms don’t protect you from herpes?
That’s right, kids. There are STIs that condoms can’t protect you from. I happen to know quite a bit about Herpes Simplex 1 and 2 (HSV1, HSV2) because I am in a small minority of adults who is HSV1 negative. That’s right – I’ve never had a cold sore. Scientists say somewhere between 60-90% of adults are HSV1 positive, and a good number of them don’t know that you can have HSV1 in your genitals – that is, if seropositive oral contact is made with someone’s seronegative genitals, and some of the virus sheds, voila! It’s not like the virus knows the difference between a mouth and a genital. You can, therefore, also contract HSV2 orally. (Heck, doctors recently announced that you can also get Human Papillomavirus in your throat, too.)
Also, because of my compromised immune system, catching HSV1 may be more detrimental to me than most people. It’s not just cold sores.
From the linked article:The common myth is that HSV-1 causes a mild infection that is occasionally bothersome, but never dangerous. The reality? HSV-1 is usually mild, especially when it infects the lips, face, or genitals. However, in some cases type 1 can recur spontaneously in the eye, causing ocular herpes, a potentially serious infection which can lead to blindness. In very rare cases HSV- 1 can spread spontaneously to the brain, causing herpes encephalitis, a dangerous infection that can lead to death. HSV-1 is also the usual cause of herpes whitlow, an infection on the finger, and “wrestler’s herpes,” (herpes gladiatorum) a herpes infection on the chest or face.
The range and potential severity of HSV-1 infections lead some experts to view the virus as more risky than usually perceived. “This is heresy, but I think type 1 is a more significant infection than type 2,” says Spotswood Spruance, MD, an oral HSV specialist at the University of Utah. “Type 1, and the morbidity associated with it, are underestimated.”
Yes, I’m aware that the options for me are basically stay celibate, wrap all my partners in saran wrap or body condoms before having fun, or resign myself to the fact that I am probably going to seroconvert before I die. This does not mean that I do not ask about status, or that I reject partners who test seropositive. For me, it’s about risk awareness, and making the conscious decision about how much risk to take.
And as it turns out, sometimes it doesn’t matter. As I’ve written here before, my spouse cheated on me, thus exposing me to unknown risk. Off I went to the doctors to get tested. And I told my partners, too, about the fact that I had a big question mark in my potential risk column. With some, we choose to limit our activity to things that held lesser risk until I get my results. Others, we chose to take a breather entirely.
How do you talk about STIs? When is the right time to talk about it? Are you aware of the risks you take with the various stuff you get up to? (You know that Hep C is the bigger risk in blood play than HIV, right?)
Reid Mihlako has a great article on how to write your STI ‘elevator speech’ that encourages you to get the conversation out early, make it a little sexy, and also check for other potential pitfalls (like being the unwitting partner in someone else’s cheating, or finding out someone is not sexually oriented towards your gender, or even something as mild as learning that your favorite position is their no-go).
I get this conversation out pretty early if I think things are going in a sexual direction. Sometimes even before I think they are. I figure it can’t hurt, and it might even be a good gauge as to whether or not they are.
If you have questions about safer sex, testing, talking about it, how they are transmitted, what the symptoms are, please feel free to ask in the comments. I know quite a lot about this subject, and have some great colleagues who can chime in if I don’t know the answer.
I had a nice long comment on this, and my frakkin work computer ate it. Will retype at home.
Ah. A good connection off IE. Nice. Anyway, I’m a big, big fan of basic STI information at events – I really think all sexuality related events ought to have a basic type class, because as you said, how many people are sitting there nodding at what to them, is new information?
I have HSV1 on my junk. Got the blood tests sorted out any everything since the whole thing started. I have HSV1 on my genitals because my boyfriend and his girlfriend have HSV1 orally and had NO IDEA that 1)HSV1 could get on your genitals and 2) that you could shed without having an outbreak. And these are not stupid people. I’m not a dumb gal. We had 3 months between when we started dating and when we were able to actually do things. (Long story, but in that whole time there was no sexual contact or kissing.) I had the STD conversation with him. Several times. Testing, recent results, barriers between us, what they use, what they wanted us to use, ect, and they didn’t know. I’ve had this conversation for the past 8 years to good effect, but apparently I was lucky in that all my parents until then were much more aware of, and involved with, STI education.
I was HSV seronegative until all this too – and gotta say, it kinda blows. One, because I grew up with a mom who was HSV1 positive and managed to not pick up anything from her. Two, its so much more than just blisters on your mouth or bits. It hurts, it makes you tired and achey. My THIGHS hurt; and thats nothing compared to the mental trauma I went through trying to figure out what was wrong with me, how to fix it, and then a break down at work in my bosses office. (She was super cool about everything because I kind of verbally vomited the whole story out to her).
And all this, becuase they just didn’t know. I knew herpes could be shed between outbreaks, I knew 1 and 2 could wind up on either place. They didn’t even consider HSV an STD – one thing his partner was upset about was that she hadn’t ever had an STI.
So I’m super happy when instructors go over STI information during their classes, even if it seems like old hat people should know.
However, outside of the various scenes, more education would still be better. My partner and his gf were not practicing poly before I bounced in – aside from their doctors (IMO, who were obviously not thinking about education past ‘you have this, here’s your valtrex, don’t touch anyone with your mouth while you have sores’) and learning on your own (of which I am a fan, but I get a little compulsive about things and research everything thats wrong wrong with me) how else could they learn? She’s turning 40 – I assume they didn’t go much over this all when she was in school, and he and I were childrent of absintence only education.
As for disclosure – personally, I get it out early and fast. To me, its an important factor in allowing people to make an informed choice – and I like that choice to get made earlier rather than later this way I don’t get upset or attached before they decide its a no go.
I do have one question the three of us havn’t gotten a straight answer on yet, though I did add it to my list of dr questions next month. We’ve been trying to figure out if, since they have HSV1 orally, can they get it on their genitals at this point, and since I have it gentially, can I get it orally? We all upped the barrier level, but there was a period of time where I had no idea I was getting an outbreak and he and I kept fucking. Condoms, of course, but we hadn’t been using oral barriers until after the whole shebang.