Taking Responsibility for Your Sex Life

Penelope James Health Guide
  • Last week I had a refreshing conversation about sex and responsibility with a former lover.  I was telling him how my attitude has recently changed, and that I will only engage in sexual relations with someone who knows I have herpes.  Believe it or not, this is a contrast from when he met me five years ago, when our friendship suddenly turned sexual before I could muster up the courage to tell him I had herpes.  When he asked me why my behavior with sex had changed, I responded that I finally realized how morally wrong it is to expose someone to a disease without letting him know.  I reminded him that he wasn’t upset with me when I told him I had herpes, and asked whether his reaction would have been different had he contracted herpes from me.  To my surprise, he responded that no, he wouldn't be mad.  He figures that if he got the virus it would probably have been from unprotected sex, and therefore the transmission would be just as much his fault as mine.  He believes that it’s each person’s responsibility to protect oneself from the potential hazards of sex.  What a reasonable guy!

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    Speaking of taking responsibility for one’s actions…have you heard the latest news in herpes lawsuits?  A 56-year old woman from Riverside, CA was awarded almost $7 million in a case against a 77-year old man who gave her genital herpes.  (Viagra much?)  The man knew he had herpes for over 25 years, the couple failed to use protection, and now the woman can’t get health insurance because of her new ailment and accompanying treatment.  Though I sympathize with the woman, and agree that the man should have warned her about his disease, I think this ruling is a little extreme. 


    First of all, $7 million is a lot of money, much more than the prosecutor would need to treat herpes for the rest of her life.  Assuming she decides to go on suppressive therapy, she would have to be on it for about 5,000 years before blowing through that money.  Yes, I know, part of the money is to make up for the grief, humiliation, and [insert compassion-inducing adjective here] this woman is going through, but all I have to say about that is: join the club.  There are millions of people in America experiencing the same problem as her.  By overdramatizing it, we are sending a message to the population that herpes is such a horrible condition that one can only overcome it by…well…becoming a millionaire.  How will the stigma around herpes ever go away if people exaggerate its negative effects for profit?


    Secondly, I was amused to find that most journalists reported that the man “failed to use a condom to protect her”.  We aren’t talking about a rape case here, people, we are talking about two (very) grown adults who have had a lifetime of sexual knowledge and experience.  It is just as much the woman’s responsibility to ensure that some form of protection is used during intercourse, as it is the man’s.  Why she has been completely absolved of any guilt regarding the outcome of this situation is beyond me. 


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    Thirdly, I just don’t understand how this woman’s rejection by insurance companies can be used as any kind of argument against the defendant.  The fact that she cannot get healthcare coverage due to her recent diagnosis is a fundamental problem with the American healthcare system, not just a result of the defendant’s actions.  (In fact, he, too, has probably struggled with getting healthcare over his lifetime.)  We can’t blame this man for the failures of “the system”.  Let’s not forget the real root of the problem. 


    Though I believe that those of us with STDs have the moral obligation to tell our partners about our diseases, that doesn’t mean that no one else has to worry about being responsible.  By agreeing to have sex with another person, you may be taking great risks which result in unfavorable consequences.  The blame and responsibility of those consequences should be shared equally among all consenting partners involved.


    What do you think about the case above?  Should the woman take more responsibility for having unprotected sex?  Or is she right to win such a huge settlement? 




Published On: March 03, 2009