There was a strange shame in telling this relative stranger that I have had unprotected sex. As much as condoms don’t 100% prevent transmission of herpes between partners—the virus is transmitted through skin contact, not fluids—condoms do bring that risk down considerably.
I did not trust my body, a fracture it took a very long time to heal.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t understand the appeal of having sex without using a condom in the first place.
A journalist wrote a piece about me (and my genital herpes) for a very prominent, respected publication in the United Kingdom, and she included a line about how I’ve never had sex without a condom. I sucked it up and sent the author a short note, she made a quick correction, and no one was the wiser.
It was a reasonable assumption; in my essay for , I discussed how shocked I was to get diagnosed with herpes when I had never had “unprotected” sex in my life. But the exchange stuck with me, if for no other reason than for how self-conscious it made me feel. When I got diagnosed with herpes and for quite some time after, having sex without a condom was unthinkable.
When I became sexually active, my primary fear also wasn’t of getting an STI—it was of pregnancy.
STIs seemed like something that happened to other people, but volunteering at Planned Parenthood had taught me that accidental pregnancy could happen to anyone.Although I was still concerned with pregnancy, I was oddly zen about the possibility.Getting diagnosed with herpes had put me squarely in touch with my sexual health and agency, and I had a privileged “whatever will be, will be” attitude aided by solid health insurance.It was a long-term partner’s suggestion to forgo the Trojans for the first time.The prospect had never occurred to me before, and I looked for my past reservations about condomless sex but was surprised when I couldn’t find them.But condoms felt symbolic, and I had to decide whether or not I was comfortable playing what at first felt like Russian roulette with my partner’s health.