Non-Monogamy and HSV2

I have a deep, dark, dirty secret. It’s one that hinders my ability to have fulfilling non-monogamous relationships. The thing is, I don’t feel like it should be a deep, dark, dirty secret. I don’t consider myself unclean or unsafe.

I have HSV2. Herpes Simplex Virus 2. I’ve had it since I was 19. I’ve had it 29 years. Most of that 29 years, I was married. And yes, while I was dating him, my ex-husband caught it from me. That is a story I’ll tell you in a bit.

I’m on acyclovir. I’m one of those carriers who break out frequently if I’m taking acyclovir or zovirax daily. On it, I have no outbreaks.

I’ve never been one to hide having HSV2. My conscience won’t let me hide it. The reason for writing this post is it’s become abundantly clear to me the last four months that even in this day and age of the internet, the availability of information, people still are not educated about STIs.

I’ve been rejected more in the last four months of actively seeking meaningful non-monogamous relationships than in my whole adult life of having HSV2. I don’t mind being rejected; I get it. No one wants to have an STI, and especially one that can’t be cured.  Having multiple partners compounds the complexity of the issue. The part that bothers me is each time I’ve been told, “I don’t know much about it, but I can’t risk it.”

“I don’t know much about it.”

When someone says that, it means they are making a decision based on fear, not fact. It means that today the stigma is still the driving force of how we treat someone with a disease. I’ve also realized is many people are dipping their toes into the polyamory pool but truly have not considered all the risks and consequences of their choices.

I’ve been approached on Openminded.com by numerous men claiming they and their partners are finally opening up their marriage/relationship and are in essence looking for simple hookups. When I reveal that I have HSV2, the figurative squealing of tires is audible. I finally added on my profile that I have HSV2, and the interest has died drastically. I’m okay with that; quality relationships are what I’m after, not the hookup.

STIs are not to be taken lightly. Some are easily curable, such as chlamydia. Some used to be curable but today have certain strains that are not curable with antibiotics, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. Others last a lifetime, such as HSV2, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.

My plea to you if you are non-monogamous or are considering non-monogamy is to please get educated. Make smart choices based on fact, not fear and stigma. When engaging in non-monogamy, your percentages of being exposed to STIs are higher. Get tested frequently, and get tested when ending a relationship. Require that your partners get tested, and ask to see recent test results from partners of interest.

And last but not least, condoms, condoms, condoms. Being fluid-bonded is a special relationship, and should be reserved for a partner or partners with whom you’ve been with for a long period of time and know who they are with.

For those of you reading this who don’t understand HSV2, I’ll share some data, the sources of the data, and give you the range of what can happen with HSV2. HSV2 is still not fully understood by science.

  • Herpes is a virus. It cannot be cured. It can be controlled through taking acyclovir or zovirax. More common forms of herpes are oral  (HSV1) or genital (HSV-2). Other herpes family diseases include ocular herpes, chicken pox, shingles, viral meningitis with encephalitis, and Epstein-Barr.
  • One in six Americans aged 14-49 has herpes.  According to WHO, two-thirds of the world’s population under 50 has herpes. Many people do not realize they have herpes. Some outbreaks can look like a pimple or an ingrown hair. Outbreaks can be around the mouth (HSV-1), the rectum or genitalia (HSV2 typically), and in other areas such as along the sacral nerve on your buttocks. It is possible to transmit oral herpes to the genitalia through oral sex.
  • Herpes is still transmittable even if you don’t have a visible outbreak.
  • For those exposed to herpes and have their first outbreak, flu-like symptoms such as soreness, lethargy, and swollen lymph glands can accompany the outbreak. More commonly the first outbreak is usually the worst. The symptoms can be alleviated with NSAIDs, but most importantly you should go to the doctor if you suspect you have your first herpes lesion, or blister, to get tested.
  • Herpes testing is not a standard part of an STI panel. The common medical practice is to test when you have a lesion or a reason to believe you’ve been exposed. A culture, or a swab, of the lesion is taken. The danger with these culture tests is there is a high rate of false negatives if the culture is taken later than 48 hours after the lesion first occurs.  DNA tests can be run instead of a culture test, and the results are faster and more accurate. Other tests use blood to detect the herpes antibodies in your system, but the American Sexual Health Association states these tests are not quite accurate yet.

If you’re exposed to herpes, the physical impact can vary. Some people are exposed to it and never have an outbreak. Some have one or two, and then never have one again. Some people, like me, will have frequent outbreaks.

If you spend any time reading blogs and posts about herpes such as this one, a variety of opinions exist on how serious herpes is. I’ve seen some people write that beyond the outbreak, herpes is no big deal. Herpes can have no impact on your life, and for others, it can have serious consequences, and yes, in rare cases, death. A pregnant mother with herpes can pass it to her infant through the birth canal, resulting in skin infections, encephalitis, blindness, or seizures.

I had my own frightening experience with how serious herpes can be. Remember earlier I mentioned passing it to my ex-husband during our dating period? During that outbreak, certain conditions existed that resulted in something I didn’t know could happen. He was coaching a youth baseball team practice one day and got terribly sunburned on a day of 80-degree temps, especially on his head as he is bald. That sunburn resulted in the herpes virus becoming more highly active in his system. Two days after getting sunburned, I was taking him to the hospital. We thought he had some horrific flu. The diagnosis was viral meningitis with encephalitis. Over the course of a month, between two separate hospital stays totaling three weeks, he received 750 CCs of acyclovir intravenously daily to eliminate the viral meningitis in his system. Five spinal taps later, he was finally cleared medically and could return to normal life.

I never forgot that lesson. Viral meningitis from herpes is incredibly rare. At the time he went through this, I read something like 1 in 10,000 herpes carriers experience this. It didn’t matter to me; in my mind, I nearly killed a man because I underestimated my body (I thought I was completely recovered from an outbreak) and the impact of herpes on the nervous system.

That lesson sticks with me. It’s why when I think someone is interested in me beyond friendship, I sit down and talk with them. Truthfully the rejection sucks, but as I said earlier, I understand it.

Be educated about all STIs. Being non-monogamous can put you at a higher risk, and you and your partners have to be smarter and safer. And if you meet someone like me who has a life-long STI, please also remember we are not immoral, or unclean, or unsafe. Condoms work, and pleasurable intimate relationships are still possible.

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