This is quite possibly one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written. I’m outing myself as someone with an incurable STI and talking about a very painful situation surrounding how I got it.
Recently, I broke up with a long term partner, let’s call her Karen. The reason was boundary violation and lying.
The boundary I have is that, in any relationship in which I “fluid bond” with my partner (decide to have consensual unprotected sex), that partner and myself agree to inform one another if any unprotected sex occurs in any other relationship.
The thinking is simple. Each person is still free to make their protection decisions without violating the safety of the other person. Should one of us say that we’ve had unprotected sex with someone else, the other person then has the option to choose protection.
As of last week, I tested positive for HSV2, genital herpes. I bet you can guess where this article is going…
It turns out that the person, let’s call him Rick, from whom herpes was caught had withheld information from her, my partner, that they stopped using condoms later on in the night after multiple acts.
When Karen found out about the diagnosis, she was livid. She was so furious, I had to talk her out of going to Rick’s office and outing their STI status to everyone.
For my part, I did not blame her. Karen was mislead, not lying.
I tested a week after her, and I came back positive as well.
Fast forward another week, and my partner is still seeing another person, let’s call him Peter.
Karen had been seeing Peter about a week before her diagnosis. So when she tested positive, both Peter and myself had to go get tested.
I pretty much knew that I was going to get it, but with protection, Peter might be alright.
Peter was not alright, and almost immediately, my partner admitted that over the course of two weeks and many sexual encounters, Karen had never used protection with Peter. The first time, she said was out of passion. And after that, to their great mistake, figured it didn’t matter anymore.
We’ll never know if it would have mattered.
Further, even after testing positive, Karen and Peter continued to have unprotected sex, fairly well guaranteeing that he’d be positive. A really stupid mistake on both of their parts.
Peter came back positive, obviously.
Two days later, and with other boundary and honesty issues on the table, I broke up with Karen.
This was actually the third violation that I knew about. There had been two violations towards the beginning of our relationship at nearly the same time, and I made especially clear to Karen a very important fact.
When you break a fluid bonding agreement by lying, you are putting my life at risk.
I had thought she got the message. But even after testing positive, and being livid at Rick for his deception, she continued her deception with me.
Luckily for me, Peter didn’t have something worse, like HIV.
At the end of the day, Peter and Karen both had consent to put themselves at risk. And Karen holds some responsibility for not even checking before or after sex to see if Rick put on or took off a condom.
If he’s not pulling something off, he didn’t use anything.
For that, Karen held some responsibility for my catching herpes.
And she and Peter share full responsibility for him catching herpes, especially after the positive test.
Rick and Karen’s situation was not malicious though, just a really stupid accident and oversight.
Peter and Karen’s situation was different. It was very malicious and done with full knowledge that I was being put at risk.
I might go into more details, but this story is to illustrate a point. Real people get really hurt when someone lies or isn’t as careful as they could be.
Even with protection, Karen could have gotten herpes through skin to skin contact with Rick. However, she could have significantly lowered her chances with checking protection.
Another factor was not actually checking test results before sex. This is not something I’d insisted on, but now completely regret. I also regret naively and blindly being in a fluid bonded situation.
And not just because of previous lies, but because it was stupid to begin with. I will never advocate a fluid bonded situation ever again. Accidents happen, and people we just met can be malicious without our knowledge.
Had honesty been the policy of everyone involved, there is a small chance that everyone would have still been infected.
I thought I was safe with safer sex, disclosure, and regular testing. Karen and Peter chose not to be safer. And I was put at risk from two different men.
Honesty matters. Otherwise, you will get burned, literally. This is an abject lesson about the high cost of lies surrounding sexual practices.
And considering that Karen was free to share what she did, how big they were, and other details, the use of protection should have not been withheld.
Out of fear that I might get mad for having to use a condom, I instead had my life put at risk.
This isn’t a game.
I encourage all fluid bonded couples in polyamory to really reflect on if this is a good choice. Do you truly trust this person with you life when it most matters about a fairly easy topic to discuss.
I also encourage individuals to consider sharing most recent STI tests, in person and on paper, before engaging even in protected penetrative sex.
And maybe I’m even being lax there. I’m still able to share some forms of intimacy with my non-HSV partners, but very limited, no penetration, and even then with strong barriers. In those cases, I disclose my test results, but don’t require them to unless they know.
Also, the lesson here which I learned is that HSV1 and HSV2 is NOT a standard STI test, so most people don’t know they have it. Make sure you ASK for your test, and require your partners to ask as well from their test providers.
And lastly, know that condoms don’t protect completely from either form of herpes. It is passed by skin to skin contact as well, though there is a slightly lower risk.
In our case, nobody will know if condoms would have had any effect, because everyone decided at some point against using them.
This was a disaster just waiting to blow up, and I hope you learn some lessons from my situation.
Just a final word here. Karen and I remain friends. I always remind myself that someone did this to her, too. She herself is a victim and sees this from both sides now. She’s lost one partner, and is living with the guilt of still dating the other infected partner.
I don’t hate her. I simply couldn’t continue past this with her like he could, and will care about her for as long as I get to know her.
Perhaps Peter can live with it because, well, it’s 100% his fault. His choice to not use protection even knowing she was infected removes every, single, bit, of sympathy I might otherwise feel for anyone who simply didn’t know and chose not to use condoms.
I could not. And two hearts were broken, and three people are paying for it for the rest of their lives.
As for Rick. Fuck Rick. I hope he gets hit by a city bus. I can say that, because the guy had the nerve to admit everything in an email exchange I witnessed.
I’ll write further articles about what it’s like to date with an incurable STI and the emotions tied to that.
Until then, please, be safe… or at least safer, in your relationships.