Why have I chosen to focus an entire section on gay men with herpes? On the net there is a lot of consolidated information about having herpes. Not much of it is specifically about gay men with herpes and even less on lesbians with herpes. So I have decided to put together a resource guide for gay men that will help them explore the issues specific to them. I think many will get a lot out of it, but it is intentionally directed toward gay men and men that have sex with men.
I hope that you find this part of my site useful.
Now That You Know
“Hey doc, this odd rash on my dick (ass or my sore throat) just won’t go away. What is wrong? Do I need an antibiotic?”
“No, you have herpes, everyone does, so just forget about it and don’t have sex when you have an outbreak.”
This is a typical conversation that many men have with their doctors. The guy is just pushed out of the office and the doctor goes on as if he just told him the sky is blue. For many men it seems that is fine and they never think more about it. For others it is a devastating loss of purity, cleanliness, and sexual viability.
Many ads on the Internet and profiles, say “Disease Free” or “Clean” and UB2. Few people who engage in sex with more than one lifetime partner are disease free and will certainly not stay that way. There are way too many STD’s that you can get through casual sexual contact that may or may not have any external or visible signs.
HPV has over 200 varieties, some of which cause cancer in women and some have been linked to cancer of the throat in men. HSV I and II can appear anywhere on the body. Given how long they have been around there is surprisingly little that is really known, and there is no cure for them.
HSV I better known as oral herpes is increasingly being diagnosed both anally and on the genitals. HSV II is commonly known as genital herpes is very common in the throats of gay men. If you are going to be sexually active it is part of the risk, like any of the common STD’s. What is different is that herpes sticks around.
Getting an HSV diagnosis is not the end of the world. For men who have a conscience and who attempt to do no harm it can be devastating. Gay men have lived with the threat of HIV for so long and the stigma that goes with it that getting an HSV diagnosis can feel like the same kind of life-ending or at least sex-ending forecast. Feeling toxic is common. It is also not true. If so, then 80-90% of the US population is toxic. You are in good company and being honest with yourself and others is important and healing.
Indeed there is a similar process of acceptance that a man diagnosed with HIV and HSV go through. I have adapted the classic Kübler-Ross stages for men with HSV.
Stages of Acceptance
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1969) concluded that people progress through the following five stages when facing their own possible death or other important emotional losses.
The stages are denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, and acceptance. There is no particular order to these stages, although they can follow an ordered pattern. These can be applied to an HSV diagnosis and may help an individual understand why they are feeling or acting in a particular way.
This isn't happening to me, it can't happen, it's not true. For you and for many others recently diagnosed with HSV, impulsive assertions that the test must be wrong, or a mix-up of test results would be a natural and normal first reaction. In most cases you would seek additional testing, just as you would seek second medical opinions. In time, after additional tests were conducted, and the tests continued to produce positive results, some acceptance would hopefully begin to take place.
Some issues of acceptance are choices in antiviral drug use, episodic or suppressive, and/or support services.
As people with an incurable condition come to terms with their situation, they may create bargaining strategies with their personal god or a high power or themselves.
I will never have sex again if this just goes away. I will stop having gay sex. I won’t get fucked any more.
All of these have to do with some manner of shame/guilt about sex and or gay sex in particular. This in the best case will help a gay man resolve any unconfronted issues about being gay and/or gay sex.
(Suggested reading: The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs)
Why is this happening to me? I hate this world and all the people in it! I hate my life and myself. Anger can display itself in acting out behaviors that can take on the form of acting out excess behaviors. Overeating, indiscriminate sexual interactions, and impulsive and aggressive behaviors toward others can all be indicators of anger. Anger is okay, but hurting others is not. This is a disease, and it's not a just, fair world. HSV does not pick or choose and it does not discriminate.
These acting out behaviors can result in isolation. We all need social interactions. HSV support groups -- there are a few around -- are a great way to talk to others that truly understand and to hear others peoples’ journeys.
One view of depression is that it anger turned inward.
Poor me, I will never have sex again. Everyone experiences depression now and then, some more than others. We have a tendency as people to try to blame it on something. Herpes is convenient just like being too bald, or having too short of a dick etc. There is always something to blame it on.
There are many ways to deal with depression, such as exercise, talking with others, talking with an understanding professional. Working on the underlying causes of feeling bad about ones self is always useful. A little depression is useful. A lot of depression is not. If you get really low and/or really isolated, then get some help, professional or otherwise.
I have herpes, my life and sex life will continue. I cannot be as unconscious about sex as perhaps I would like, but I am okay, I will experience sex and love in the future. It is a virus; it does not make me a bad person. I am not dirty and I will not infect everyone I come into contact with. I am a healthy normal man.
Rules of the Sex Game
These are what I consider to be the current rules that most gay men of any conscience act under as they navigate the sex game in the gay community. Not everyone operates by these rules.
Just Say No
If you have an outbreak or feel one coming on; do not have sexual contact until the tingling sensation is gone or the lesions are completely healed.
Don't Tell, But Answer
Casual hook ups you don't know and are not likely to have further contact with, let alone name exchange, you don't bring it up, but if asked you tell the truth.
If Wait, Then Tell
Men who are potential partners, boy friends or even friends, you disclose up front.
Disclosing that you have HSV can lead to rejection. I have known some guys so hot that no one rejects them, but that is the extreme exception. People get rejected for all kinds of reasons. Most men seem to want to be unconscious about sex and telling them that you have herpes makes you and the sex too real. It moves it out of the fantasy spectrum. So what you will have really been guilty of is destroying the fantasy and that is the reason for the rejection. If they reject you because of it, they are not really interested in you. I think that you deserve someone that is really interested in you if you are going to put the time and effort in to having sex with them.
Move on to the next one. Take heart that you can look at yourself in the mirror and sleep well.