I’ve been reading your column for the last couple of years and it has quite literally changed my life. I’m a Master’s student going into my last year for library and information science. I work two part-time library jobs and I have two internships where I do library things over instant messenger. I volunteer at a third library and I do the finances for both my faculty’s student council and the university sexual education centre. I’m networking my ass off, submitting articles to industry publications and getting involved in professional organizations. I do all of this with the intention of being kind to my future self and making sure that my future self has a snowball’s chance in hell of gaining a strong foothold in a slightly precarious field.
I had to say all that because I need you to know the awesome stuff about me before I tell you my real concern: I was recently diagnosed with the herpes simplex virus (Type 1: the cold sore kind) in the genital area.
I contracted it after being as careful as one can be (verbally asking if they were clean, visually observing that they had no symptoms, and using protection) while having impulsive rebound sex. HSV is contagious even when condoms are used and now that I actually have it, all I can really do is chalk it up to bad luck and move on.
I know what I have to do (disclose to all recent past/future partners, get tested regularly, avoid sex during outbreaks) but I’m still feeling kind of paralyzed. I’m a member of the sex positive community and I know the virus is not that big a deal, but out of all the STIs, genital herpes has major stigma attached to it. It’s daunting to think about the kinds of reactions I’m going to get for the rest of my life (especially since I don’t really plan on joining a convent any time soon).
Your words of wisdom have done amazing things for my professional life and I really want to hear your take on this, seeing as my future self is not going to be thrilled that I gave her herpes. I don’t really need to be comforted, but I could really use a strategy.
(To those concerned, the question writer actually suggested a headline, so I decided to keep it. So the word “embarrassing” came from “Contagious in Canada,” and reflects her feelings right now.)
Dear Canadian lady-comrade! I’m so sorry this happened to you! That really sucks.
First of all, I don’t think you “gave your future self herpes.” I think someone else gave your future self herpes, and that it’s probably not even that guy’s fault, either, unless he knew he had herpes and was lying, but we don’t have any reason to think that, right? He probably didn’t know he had it, and the person he got it from may not have known, and so on. There probably isn’t anyone to blame. You might as well have lupus, or endometriosis, or eczema.
(Want to read more about doing well for your future self? Try Bullish Life: Breaking Free From Terrible Situations and Bullish: Extreme Advance Planning for Very Smart Women.)
Diseases are amoral. You mentioned that you got herpes from rebound sex. Please keep in mind that this guy could have been your fiancé, with whom you fell in love at first sight, and then — due to your mutually conservative backgrounds — you waited two years to have sex, and talked about it a lot, and did the whole thing in the missionary position with the lights off while whispering The Lord’s Prayer. You’d still have the same damn herpes.
Photo: Easy A // Sony Pictures