by Dan Savage
on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 at 5:31 PM
I'm a straight 28-year-old woman, and I have genital HSV1. I recently visited Portland on a vacation, where I met a charming and wonderful 18-year-old boy. On a whim, I flew him to Chicago for my birthday party. We had a great time! The first day he was there I told him, "I get cold sores, but I get them genitally, and I'm taking suppressive therapy while you are here." He said, "That's fine, not a big deal." We took lots of drugs, had fun, and I completely fell in love with him. We had sex several times with condoms. At one point, he starts messing with my ass—which was awesome—and he starts trying to stick his penis in me without a condom. I stop him, we get lubed up and better positioned, and he starts to try to fuck me again without a condom. I ask him, clearly, "Do you want to put a condom on?" He says, "Not really." And in my mind, I'm on suppressive therapy, don't have an outbreak (haven't had one since my first), my original outbreak was near my clitoris, so I feel like the risk of transmission is very low, and I've already told him I have herpes. I was really turned on, rolling hard, and I know I was being stupid, but I didn't want to disappoint him. So he fucked me in the ass without a condom. Right afterwards, I was like, "That was unsafe of us," and he says, "I'm clean, I get tested regularly." And I remind him, "Well, I have herpes." He gets a scared look so I say, "I told you that already," and reminded him of the conversation, and he says, "Oh right, yeah, fine."
Now he thinks he's had an outbreak—he has not been officially diagnosed—and he hates me. When I try to tell him it isn't that bad and he might not even have it, when I pointed him to Savage Lovecast 195, he just tells me not to tell him how to live his life. I feel really bad. I fell for him HARD, and I didn't want to infect him. I know what you say about younger people: don't give them diseases. I tried to tell him, I took precautions, condoms aren't 100% effective, and herpes 1 is really really common. Is this my fault? Am I a bad person? I would love to see him again—just every once in a while, as there's no long term potential here—and I'm wondering if there's any way to salvage this?
The Birthday Girl
My response after the jump...
Sorry, TBG, but there's no unscrewing this pooch. Let's revisit the campsite rule, here summarized by an anonymous editor at Wikipedia:
With regard to readers who are in relationships with a large age disparity, Savage promotes his "campsite rule": at the end of the relationship, the elder partner should leave the younger in "better shape than they found them." This includes no diseases, no fertilized eggs, no undue emotional trauma, and whatever education that can be provided.
You may or may not have given that boy a disease—it could be a herpes outbreak, it could be something else—but you did traumatize him.
You told this boy after he arrived in Chicago that you "get cold sores, but [you] get them genitally, and [you're] taking suppressive therapy." Telling an 18-year-old kid that you get cold sores is not the same thing as telling an 18-year-old kid that you have herpes. Why did he seem scared when got around to saying "I have herpes," something you didn't get around to saying until after he had fucked you in the ass without a condom? Because it was news to him. Because it wasn't until that moment that he realized you expected him to hear "herpes" when you said "cold sores."
Let's take a quick break here for a public service announcement: HSV-1 and HSV-2 can be passed through skin-to-skin contact. Condoms provide a great deal of protection, and drug treatment can make someone with herpes less infectious. But the condom needs be on the dick before it's rubbed on an asshole or against a twat. Waiting until just before penetration to put the condom on—waiting until after there has been lots of dickskin-to-buttskin/twatskin contact—isn't a good idea. By that point exposure may have already occurred because DUH. (For more info about herpes check out this info sheet from the CDC.)
Back to your dilemma: most 18-year-olds don't know that cold sores are caused by one of two herpes viruses—most adults don't know that—but Birthday Present Boy pretended not to be bothered ("Oh yeah, right, fine") because he didn't want to seem unsophisticated at his first grownup sex-and-drugs party and/or he figured there was no point in freaking out as he'd already fucked you without a condom. He probably went home praying that he'd be fine and... lo and behold... he isn't fine. He's got some sort of sore on his dick—maybe it's herpes, maybe he wore a hole in it during his visit—and now he's pissed.
And he has a right to be pissed, TBG.
You were dishonest. Yes, yes: technically you disclosed. But you disclosed in such a way that he didn't understand what was being disclosed to him. And I'm sorry, TBG, but you can't disclose without disclosing and then demand full credit and/or complete exoneration for disclosing when you didn't actually manage to disclose. Whether you intended to take advantage of his inexperience, naiveté, and cluelessness, TBG, you took advantage. Whether you were intentionally dishonest or accidentally dishonest, you were dishonest. And that's what he's pissed about. And he's gonna stay pissed, TBG.
You can send him links to podcasts where I explain that herpes isn't that big a deal, you can tell him that he should've heard "herpes" when you said "cold sores," you can suggest that he read this terrific essay on the perks of having herpes, and you can tell he can't have grownup sexual adventures without risking grownup sexually transmitted infections. But he's still going to be angry about the way you actively or passively misled him.
Are you a bad person? I don't know, TBG, I don't enough info on you to make a ruling. I do know that you made a mistake and you wound up hurting someone. Good people do that sometimes. I've done that. But a good person learn from their mistakes and tries to avoid making similar ones in the future. So next time you meet a hot 18-year-old boy on vacation use the word "herpes" when you disclose your STI status and send that boy the link to "Savage Lovecast Episode 195" before you fly him to Chicago, no after.