Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
We love chatting with Stoya — writer, thinker, on-screen-sex haver — about all manner of sexual, sensual, and feminist topics. In fact, we had so much fun talking with her, we asked her to write a monthly sex and relationship advice column. Have a burning question? Send any and all queries to email@example.com.
Hello, Stoya. I recently had a major setback in my sex life: About a year ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Genital Herpes. This was devastating to me. I'm 34, have not had many sex partners, and have been careful to have safer sex. It took a few months after my diagnosis to come to terms with this and begin to date again. I met a very nice and understanding person whom I began to trust.
We saw each other almost daily for nearly a month, and the topic of sex naturally came up. We had played around a bit, but I always stopped before it progressed to intercourse. My friend was getting suspicious and asked why I wouldn't have sex with him. So, I did the right thing and told him about my status. I tried to be positive about it, and told him to do his research and get back to me about how he feels. He was open and honest about his fears and basically said, "Thanks, but no thanks. Let's be friends."
Although I am proud of myself for being honest — and I respect him for being honest as well — I am devastated and very hurt. Furthermore, this guy has talked about his sexual "prowess," how many partners he's had, and how he has rarely used protection. So, I can only assume he has come into contact with herpes in the past — and he's afraid of MY vagina?? So, my question is, how do I go on from here? I feel like my sex life is over. I was really hopeful about this one; how do I know when it's the right moment to disclose? I'm too young to be sexless!
I’m so proud of you for being honest and doing the right thing. I’m also proud of you for using “safer sex” instead of “safe sex” because (feel free to say it with me now) there is no such thing as safe sex, only safer. That said, I need to address a little assumption hidden towards the end of your email. You say this guy has rarely used protection. If protection means latex male condoms, they don’t necessarily provide a barrier against herpes. Herpes is transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, and herpes infections can occur in the entire genital and mouth areas.
So, a person can have herpes on their lip. A person can have herpes on their butt crack. A person, if they have testicles, can have herpes on those testicles. Do condoms cover lips, buttcracks, or testicles? No. Now, dental dams can provide a large degree of protection during oral sex, but use of a male latex condom during penetrative sex isn’t going to cover that buttcrack-to-testicle point of possible transmission. That is, unless someone has invented a barrier for use during sex that covers everything a modest swimsuit would (which, now that I’ve said it, someone should totally get to work on).
According to the US Center for Disease Control, one in six people between the ages of 14 and 49 in the US have genital herpes. According to Planned Parenthood, one in four adults have genital herpes and eight out of 10 have oral herpes. Keep in mind that herpes simplex 1 and 2 can transfer from genitals to mouths and from mouths to genitals. Even going by the more conservative CDC numbers, that’s a lot of herpes floating around the sexually active American population.
Since herpes sores are open wounds, they can raise the risk of HIV infection if a person is exposed, so that’s something to keep in mind. Also, the current tests for herpes simplex are still kind of dodgy, especially the test for HSV2, which is known to throw both false-positive and false-negative results.
The right time to disclose is ALWAYS before any activity that might expose your partner(s) to potential infection, but the exact moment is going to depend on the individual person and your rapport with them. I really wish there were an exact answer like “approximately 63% of the way through your fourth date” or something, but there isn’t. Here’s a fun little comic from Erika Moen about herpes, because fun little comics tend to make me feel better about everything and might do the same for you. Maybe it’ll be useful during the disclosure process.
If you take nothing else away from this response, remember that disclosure is always the right thing to do, and that you are not relegated to sexlessness; there are plenty of other people in the world who also carry some strain of herpes simplex or are comfortable with their risk of acquiring it.
Illustrated By Ly Ngo.
I recently told my boyfriend that he can cum on my face if he wants to. His reaction was not what I expected. I thought he'd be enthusiastic at the thought, but his response was surprise at my wanting to do "porn stuff." Surely, people have been jizzing all over each other's faces since long before porn was invented? I want to do it because I think it would turn both of us on. What's your take on this? Should I be worried about the stigma of "doing porn stuff," or just ask him again?
Culturally, we tend to have a discomfort around discussing sex, and we don’t have a huge vocabulary to use when talking about it. Your boyfriend may be using the phrase “porn stuff” as a substitute for other words — like "raunchy," something he perceives as "degrading," or who knows what else. He might have just been surprised but totally into it. He also might have said exactly what he means. In order to find out what his real feelings are about ejaculating on your face, you’re going to have to talk to him about it and ask him to elaborate.
If you’re super into having your face ejaculated on, you really, really, really need to have this talk — because his reaction could be a sign of a major sexual incompatibility between the two of you. Even if you aren’t super into it, communication is very important in relationships, and there’s no time like the present to start building your ability to talk to each other about sex. If you’re finding it difficult to talk face-to-face, consider turning the lights off, texting, or emailing. And, yes, it seems completely absurd to imagine that thousands of years' worth of humans managed to never ejaculate on each other’s faces until the invention of moving pictures.