A few months back I moved from Kansas to Los Angeles and I was hit in the face with an array of earth shattering realizations: Getting drunk at bars is impossible unless they’re within walking distance of my house. I can’t have friends that live more than ten miles away from me. It hardly ever rains here (whaaaaat?). People actually prefer to use condoms (whaaaaaat?). I also learned that there’s no real way to really sum up “most people” in Los Angeles, other than that most people want to be writers or actors. Most people are unsatisfied. Most people own a car. That’s about it. Whereas about Kansas I could say, “Most people are white. Most people only speak English. Most people are Republican. Most people my age don’t care a whole lot about safer sex.”
I started seeing someone shortly after I moved here. In an almost embarrassing amount of time, I had bagged a guy this guy, Scott, who kind of looks like a cross between Hal Sparks and Carey Mulligan. (Which I realize probably sounds like an insult, but trust me, he’s packing the same caliber of heat as Rachel Maddow. Uh-huh.) He’s got a great career ahead of him in writing and is also a thoughtful, engaging and well humored guy. I like him. But he made a fatal error when we first started dating: He asked me to get tested for everything. EVERYTHING. Including herpes.
I panicked. Not because I actually thought I had herpes, but because I had never gotten tested for it before and from what I knew it was expensive and inaccurate. I knew it was possible that I could have a false positive and I’d forever be forced to walk around with a scarlett H sewn to my thrift store J.Crew blouses. And I’m better than that, damn it! OR I’d have a real positive and I’d be reduced to nothing more than a diseased whore. Because obviously, everyone who has herpes is diseased and whorish. Blisters are the mark of a whore.
What didn’t occur to me was that I’ve had series of cold sore outbreaks on and off since I was seven years old. My mom has them, my grandma had them, and eventually my kids will probably have them because let’s face it, this is my legacy. No more than maybe three or four times a year do I bear these swelling pinching, scabbing and ugly knots on my mouth. When they’re on my face they’re obnoxious, but not the center of my focus.
When I got tested, I tested positive for Type 1 and negative for Type 2. While Type 1 can be either oral or genital herpes, most cases are oral and since I recognized that I occasionally get cold sores and have never had a genital outbreak, I was pretty relieved. I found myself to be superior to those crusty blistering jerks that were spreading the evil between their legs to my potential future unsuspecting partners. I get blisters on my MOUTH not my vagina and butt hole. Ha! I win!
But then, Scott declared to me that there was no difference to him between the lesions that exist on the junk and the lesions that exists on the face. In other words, they were equally scary and unacceptable to him. I was devastated.
I called all of my friends as quickly as I could to get their input (that I was right, duh). I needed validation. I needed to talk to people who would tell me “Oh yeah, I get those all the time. Everyone has it. Don’t worry about it.” And while people did reassure me that “everyone had it,” I couldn’t find a single person who actually did… except my mom. Who very defensively explained that “anyone who cares about it is a fucking idiot and not worth your time.” Eloquently put, Mom. But thanks. And I tend to agree with her.
Before I go on, I feel like I should say that:
a. cold sores kind of make your lips look plump and sexy before they turn into pus-filled scab-tastic wounds
b. they’re way easier to deal with than canker sores and/or other cuts in the inside of the mouth — much less painful
c. everybody has them, so you should too!
d. I didn’t take debate in high school; I don’t know how to win an argument
After spending probably something close to ten hours on the internet reading every article I could find and watching every Youtube video that related to oral herpes (note: please do not do this. It will ruin your mental health), I found some pretty useful information. Though the virus can be transferred without an outbreak through viral shedding, the odds of getting the virus this way is roughly 1 in 24,000 if the person has had it since childhood. And then even if you are exposed to the virus, still only 40 to 50% of those with antibodies actually show symptoms in their lifetime. AND roughly 20% of people who show symptoms only show symptoms once. So realistically, it’s not a big deal.
But it sure feels like it is when a person tells you they don’t want to kiss you because they don’t want to risk having a disease for the rest of their life.
Recently I had a conversation with Scott. He’s still not into the idea of being exposed. It’s been hard not to tell him to go fuck himself for obvious reasons, but when I step back and think about it, if he had told me when we first started dating that he had genital herpes, my reaction would’ve been similar to his. Now fortunately, doing my research has made me realize two things:
1. Herpes of any kind is not something to freak out about. While I certainly have no desire to expose myself to genital herpes, just because someone has the virus does not make them inherently irresponsible, gross or whorish. (And honestly, what does whorish mean? I’m an idiot.) I like to think now that if someone presented me with the information that they occasionally have outbreaks on their genitals, I might need some time to process, but it ultimately wouldn’t deter me from pursuing a relationship with them.
2. Just because Scott needs more time to sort out his priorities does not make him a bad guy. It doesn’t make him a bad boyfriend, an insensitive lover or a selfish person. It just means that maybe this is baggage that he eventually won’t be able to handle, or an attitude that I eventually might not be able to handle dealing with in my romantic/sexual relationships. Or who knows, maybe in time he’ll come around and see that I’m worth risking the integrity of his lips for.
If he chooses the former, I’ll totally understand and I’ll eventually find someone else who can dismiss my blemished immunol health. But for all of the herped-up ladies and gentleman everywhere — I hope he chooses the latter.