empathy

The Modern, Single Girl’s Fear Of Herpes

Painting by  Christian Großkopf

Painting by Christian Großkopf

I’m totally scared of dating again. Aside from the obvious fear of ego wars, being rejected, and living in the unknown; more specifically, I’m terrified of getting an STD. Terrified. I’ve come this far without getting warts, syphilis, hpv, herpes, having an abortion, or ANYTHING… and I don’t want to start NOW. I wonder how many people I’ve given blowjobs to and had sex with in the past had herpes, but I didn’t know cuz they didn’t tell me, and I didn’t get it. And now that I’m older, I’ve begun asking people point-blank if they have any sexually transmitted diseases, and when I boldly ask…they boldly tell me the truth. And sometimes the truth is ‘yes’, which is a very brave thing to come out and say. It’s what they should do. It’s a very personal, vulnerable thing to share and I totally respect them for it… But it makes me want to run in the other fucking direction as quickly as possible.

As quickly as I’d asked, I’ll have wished I hadn’t… because now I have all the information at my disposal. And there’s something to be said for ‘ignorance is bliss’ I mean, at least until you find out you caught something. And while I’m totally able to separate my affection and fondness and respect for a person, from my fear of their STD,  it still weighs on me. Cuz as much asII am attracted to someone who might have something, my main priority is to protect myself. I’m all for being sympathetic and empathetic and I know life happens and this is life and STD’s are very common and happen, but at the same time, to have casual sex and risk getting herpes from someone who isn’t even going to be a potential boyfriend and who will never, could never love me… well, that’s too big a risk to take.

I have friends with oral herpes aka HSV 1 (cold sores that break out on and around their mouth) and I have friends with HSV 2 aka genital herpes – both suck. Both have stigmas.

Obviously genital herpes sounds worse and have a worse stigma cuz it’s a break out on your private and for women who have it, it can also affect your baby when giving birth in the future. And while you can at least, more casually, refer to oral herpes/hsv 1 as ‘cold sores’ and they are more common cuz you can get infected with that as a kid, from kissing or sharing drinks… it still sucks cuz they are outbreaks on your face and both forms are extremely contagious. You could have an oral outbreak (or not), go down on someone and give them hsv 1 on their genitals. Or you could go down on someone and get hsv 2 on your mouth if THEY have genital herpes. And people can pass the virus through ‘shedding’ while they aren’t even having a breakout. It’s all so terrifying to me.

I’ve asked my gynecologist all about it and done so much research because I am an anxious, obsessing, over thinking, worrier and I like being that way. I like caring and getting all the information, so that i can protect myself as best as possible. She told me that if people with HSV 1 or 2 were to take a low dose of Valtrex on a daily basis, they could significantly reduce transmission of the virus. It reduces ‘shedding’ of the virus and it lessens the chance of a potential outbreak. But when i tell my friends who have the herpes, I don’t think they believe me, or want to take a pill everyday. But why? Just take it! If not just to prevent your own potential outbreak, but to protect the people you hook up with. Smoking, stress, drug use, anything that compromises your immune system, and even the onset of your period also increases your chances of having an outbreak. That’s why it’s important to take vitamins that strengthen your immune system, not smoke or do drugs, and keep your stress level down. I tell my friends all these things, but then I get labeled as ‘freaking out’ or ‘obsessive’. Well, I gladly accept these labels.

I don’t know what’s worse, to not have herpes and live in fear of getting it, or to be on the other side and already have it and no longer have to live in fear of getting it – but then you’d have to worry about break outs,  telling someone you have it, and possibly infecting someone. Unless you decide not to tell at all. But that would be a really horrible thing to not do. I suppose in either case, you can decide if you want to ‘worry’ about any of it. All I know is that I don’t have anything yet, and I do live in fear about it when sex is concerned.

The fact that there is NO CURE for herpes is terrifying, not to mention the social stigma attached to it. A stigma that makes you seem dirty and makes people scared. And overall, it all just seems like a painful hassle, headache that would make life more complicated. I already had cancer when I was in my early twenties. I don’t want anymore hassles or responsibility or things to worry about. I already have that when it comes to making a living, maintaining my friendships, trying to make my dreams come true, not getting pregnant, avoiding moving violations, and falling in love. Dating and meeting new people is hard enough without having to pick up ointment and keep a shameful secret.

And why does it seem like women are the only ones who get tested? Why does it seem like girls are the only ones who are mindful and responsible when it comes to going to the doctor? Men seem to only run to a doctor when it’s too late and there’s a sore on their dick or ooze pouring out of some orifice. It doesn’t have to be like that. Men are the ones who don’t carry condoms to put over their dick; men are the ones who say ‘i hate wearing a condom. I cant feel anything.’. If they would just get regular check ups and blood tests after each sexual partner, or even just every month or two, and stopped thinking about only their dicks comfort, maybe STDs wouldn’t spread as easily. I’m not saying it’s all mens fault; and i know i get tested more than most people, cuz I’m hyper health conscious and lucky enough to have health insurance, but you don’t need health insurance to get tested. And to be concerned about your health and others doesn’t make you neurotic, it makes you mindful and respectful of your body and the person you choose to link yourself too physically.

And if it seems like I’m man bashing, I’m not – but here’s what I do know from talking to men and women and doctors and people of all ages, genders, shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and sexual orientations, etc… that the general consensus is: men hate going to the doctor and wearing condoms. Case closed. This is a very general statement, but one that is more true than not.

Ugh. Life! Insert emoji of a girl in pink throwing her arms up in a flurry of a huff.

And ps: because I do ask people/strangers about their opinion on herpes, and sex, and their fear of it all – can I tell you something horrific I’ve heard people say (mainly teenagers, but adults as well) on MORE than one occasion? I’ve heard people say ‘I don’t have herpes, I’m white.’ WTF?! Well you are in for a rude awakening you small-minded racist bonehead. White people get herpes too. Jesus fucking Christ! What is wrong with people?!

Fuck, when I start having sex again, I might start taking preventative Valtrex to protect myself from getting something. And yes, I already intend on having protected sex.

But I think the smarter thing for me would be to only enter into a sexual relationship with someone I could be in a real relationship with. As obvious as that seems, it’s a big step for me, as I’m a person who loves sex and does what she feels and wants to do. Prior to my last relationship, I had sex here and there with people I liked, but it wasn’t serious. And that was a blast. You could label me as ‘promiscuous’ or ‘slutty’ but that’s such a lame, misogynistic, unfair, gender stereotype. Men can do whatever they want, but if a woman has sex like a man does, cuz she wants to, cuz she can, MEN and girls who don’t know better call her a slut. Well fuck off, and grow up.

However, nowadays, I do think it’s important to know why you make the decisions you do. I think it’s important to be conscious of your decision-making and to not be acting out of fear or some sort of subconscious, unhealthy, untrue belief system or sense of obligation; to think you must do something to please someone else, or because you think this is what you have to do because it’s all you can do, or what you’re supposed to do, or you deserve this. If you can really have a frank discussion with yourself and know why you choose what you choose, or why you want to do something: that’s awesome.

Anyways, here’s to being single, making healthy choices, being careful, and playing the game of sexual russian roulette. Good luck everyone. Xo

Alexi Wasser (Girls, Dirt) is a writer, director, actress, comedian. 

She is the creator of IMBOYCRAZY.com, host of weekly call in advice podcast boycrazyradio.com & host of talk show series ‘Alexi In Bed’.

Follow Alexi on insta/twitter @alexiwasser