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Commentary: Gambling With Herpes

An attractive, successful businessman reveals why he had unprotected sex even though he knew he could infect the women in his life... Read more: Uncovering HPV: The Common Cold of STDs'SURVEY: What Do You Know About HIV & AIDS? Here's what you had to say: Lovely wrote: "Honesty is the key to living with any kind of STD when you are sexually active. Herpes is not a death sentence." SharonT Commented: "I can't stress enough the importance of asking for lab results rather than going on the "word" of another. When people produce lab results it shows you they care, about you and themselves."
A lot of men are going to hate me for admitting this, but women can’t rely on us to be up-front when it comes to disclosing our sexually transmitted infections. I’m living proof. Ten years ago, after having unprotected sex, I realized the stinging sensation in my pants wasn’t like the yeast infections or trichomoniasis I’d had before. I was diagnosed with herpes. And I only told two women about it out of the 20 I went on to sleep with. When I got my results, I became depressed. I was used to pursuing attractive, ambitious women, and I thought women like that wouldn’t want a man with herpes. I was so angry at whoever had infected me–and I wasn’t even sure who she was. I never thought of myself as a victim though. By the irresponsible way I was living, I practically volunteered for this. From the time I was diagnosed in 1998, I only used condoms half of the time. With every new woman, we would start out with protection. But after a few months of safe sex, we’d just take our chances. Sometimes a woman would ask me not to wear a condom, and I obliged her request. No one ever asked me to get tested for herpes, so they never knew what a huge risk they were taking by having unprotected sex with me. I never admitted that I had it to women I was in relationships with. I thought about confessing, but I never had the courage. I feared being rejected by someone I cared about. I did outlandish things to hide the truth about my disease, like keeping Valtrex, my herpes medication, in a different prescription bottle so no one would discover it. Sometimes my girlfriend would want sex when I was having an outbreak. I couldn’t arouse any suspicion by saying no, so I would have sex with my boxers on to conceal where the blisters were located. If she asked why, I’d say, “Oh, it’s just a fantasy I have.” Afterward I would feel like a scumbag for putting my fear before her health. Of those 20 women, only one told me I gave her herpes: the mother of my children. Our relationship was over by the time I was infected, but occasionally we hooked up. At that time, she was the only woman I confessed to that I carried the virus, and I made sure she knew it was possible to catch it even when I didn’t have an outbreak. She doesn’t like to use condoms and took a risk. When she informed me in 2007 that she had tested positive for herpes, my life changed. It took knowing I had infected someone I really cared about to realize I was living a messed-up life. Shortly thereafter I joined a herpes support network, where I shared my experience with hundreds of people who had recently been diagnosed. But I’m still not comfortable telling most women that I’m infected. (When I told the other woman who knows my status, she was surprisingly okay with it, which made me wonder: What do you have?) I advise guys to not make the mistakes I’ve made. Be honest with women about STIs, even though it’s not easy. The advice I give to women is different. I want them to know that some men just won’t tell you they have a disease. And some men don’t even know they have an STI because they don’t have symptoms or haven’t been tested. Since herpes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact even when a condom is used, every woman should ask her man to get a herpes test before they become intimate. If you can’t be there when your man is tested, insist that he show you his recent results from a medical facility on letterhead. The conversation might be awkward, but it’s necessary to protect yourself from a guy like me. Read more: