Just When I Thought I Was Safe

Penelope James Health Guide
  • Just when I thought I had control over herpes, I realized its elusive presence was greater than I had imagined.  I’ve been on suppressive therapy for the last six months and, as far as I know, had never passed on the virus to anyone…until now. 


    Last week I found out that there is a good possibility that a recent ex-boyfriend contracted herpes from me.  Though he takes full responsibility for his actions, I still feel guilty.  I had told him about my herpes before we had sex, and he accepted it since he has oral herpes.  We had both been tested for all other STDs not long before, and he had just come out of a long-term relationship.  So we were comfortable with each other’s sexual health and fully aware of the risks that were involved with being together. 

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    Though we were together for only a few months, the romance progressed very quickly.  After we tore through a box or two of condoms, we implicitly agreed (probably more out of laziness than logic) that since we were exclusive, the condoms weren’t so necessary.  I was definitely the bigger advocate of using protection, but had a hard time resisting his advances when the condoms weren’t around.  I know, it’s stupid…but that’s the truth.  I had a mild outbreak at the beginning of our relationship, but abstained from sex during and around that time.  So, essentially, this may be a case of a symptoms-free herpes transmission.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about it since I had always been completely honest with him, but I still feel bad.  At least, on the positive side, this situation has made me turn previous resentful feelings into a caring friendship. 


    What’s unfortunate is he doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of anti-viral medication.  He hasn’t actually tried it (I mean, why try something when you can make assumptions about it based on a gut reaction?) nor has he tried any other form of treatment.  So when I spoke to him on the phone, and found out he was having both oral and genital outbreaks, I felt it was my duty to urge that he seek treatment.  He had been suffering from an oral herpes outbreak for about two weeks at that point, and had never considered the risk in which he may have been putting his roommates and colleagues.  I suggested he try some medication for him to see how different he would begin to feel (or at least for him to prove his assumption).  He said he’d speak to his doctor about it, and beyond that there’s nothing I can do.  He is, after all, a grown man…at least physically. 


    My grief upon finding out this information also goes beyond my sympathy for my ex and into the implications of this event on my romantic life.  No longer can I proudly tell future partners that I’ve never given herpes to someone else…because I have.  I can say for sure that herpes can be passed when there are no symptoms present…because it was.  And though I can't let myself start fearing intimacy and affection with others, I must accept that I am more contagious than I once thought.  That condoms and safe sex still need to be a priority, no matter how serious with a partner I may be.


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Published On: January 26, 2009