I remember when I told my parents I got herpes. Well, I didn’t exactly tell them, my sister did. I was studying abroad at the time and the mail from my doctor got routed to my parents’ house. My mom, being a typical *concerned* mom, asked my sister what the doctor’s mail could be about. My sister already knew I had been tested for herpes, so she called me to discuss the matter. I didn’t want to tell my parents. I mean…the humiliation! They knew I was having sex, but I just couldn’t discuss this with them. My sister convinced me they were really suspicious and needed to know. She said she’d tell them for me, and to ease the pressure a bit, she’d also tell them about her oral herpes.
“So…what was their reaction?” I dreadingly asked during our next phone conversation.
“Well, Mom’s pretty upset and thinks she’s a bad parent. And Dad…said he’d sue the guys who gave it to us.” My sister summed up.
“What? They didn’t even know they had it. No, no, I’m not bringing the law into this. That’s crazy!”
I was surprised that my dad’s initial response to finding out that two of his daughters had herpes was to sue the ex-boyfriends. My parents had immigrated to the US almost twenty years earlier and had always laughed at the way Americans seem to love to sue each other. But suing the guy who gave me herpes was completely out of the question for me. I didn’t want to discuss my secret with even my closest friends, let alone an entire courtroom. No, thank you, your honor. Besides, I was pretty sure the guy who gave it to me didn’t know he had it. I didn’t want to pin all the blame on someone else; I assumed full responsibility for my own reckless behavior.
These days, however, it seems that suing an ex-lover who has passed on an STD is becoming more common. Depending on which state you live in, it may be illegal to knowingly pass on an STD. (How do you define “knowingly pass on”? Is there a way to measure the degree of malice?) Pretty much if you know you have an STD and engage in sexual relations with someone else without disclosing your STD, you can be prosecuted. All across the US there are angry lovers pointing fingers – sometimes erroneously – and trying to get some compensation for their suffering…if only monetary.
What does this mean to me? I live in California, where it’s illegal to “knowingly pass on an STD” and the last thing I want is trouble with the law and less money in my pocket. So since there is proof that I know I have herpes, I now realize I really cannot have sex with anyone without telling him that I have it. Some of you may have already made that decision. But if you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll know that I’ve long held an (arguably immoral) notion that I don’t need to tell a casual partner as long as I’m safe about it and body and health-conscious. (In fact, it is commonly understood in the medical community that having sex with a person who knows she has herpes is less risky than sleeping with someone who doesn’t know if she has an STD.) With regards to this topic, I generally agree that people should tell their partners if they have an STD. However, I wish people would take more responsibility for their actions instead of running to Johnny Law when they've made a mistake. (Unless it’s a case of rape, sex inherently involves risk.) Of course, if the partner straight-up lied...then let the bastard fry!
Regardless, the point is there is no way I could deny knowing I have herpes. So I am now not only morally, but also legally, obliged to tell every partner I sleep with that I have herpes BEFORE I engage in sexual relations. Although this can be frustrating, especially if I know it’s not a relationship that will get very serious, I think it may actually be a relief. Now there’s no debating in my mind of when exactly is the right time to tell. My options are limited. Like getting a visa before entering a foreign country, I must tell my partner about my herpes before I cross physical boundaries. And if I’m turned down at the border, then that’s ok, I know there are other places to explore. At least that’s better than quietly hopping the fence and hoping no one will get hurt.
Have any of you sued, or thought of suing, your ex-partner for giving you an STD? Why would/wouldn’t you? Have you ever worried about getting sued yourself, for the same reason?