Safer Sex Condom Sense: Margaret
The Right Condom For the Job: Jeffery
Love is Not a Barrier: Susie
Testing = Informed Choices: Leslie
Specialty Condoms: Michael
Fear of Talking About STDs: Linda
How Herpes Travels: Steven & Marie
STDs Without Symptoms: Denise
Testing for Herpes: Ben
Margaret*, a 56-year-old divorcee, walks up and down the condom aisle, repeatedly, trying to get up the nerve to stop and look at the options, let alone actually pick up a box of those and put it in her shopping basket.
So, let’s start with Margaret. Kudos to Margaret for trying. She’s left the store with a lovely new tea light for her bathroom, but no condoms. What Margaret doesn’t know about condoms is that she can buy them online or by mail order. She could also learn everything she needs to know about them, thereby becoming more comfortable in her knowledge, by calling a pharmacy or a condom store, anonymously, over the phone. She could also have done some research online. Most major cities have sexuality shops where the staff is approachable, knowledgeable and helpful. Besides, that would avoid her running into her friend’s son, who is working at the till of her local pharmacy. That phone call would teach her that not only are there varying sizes and types of condoms, there is also the question of lubrication, should she need it, to keep the condom from breaking.
Jeffery*, a 34-year-old bachelor, is a savvy fellow who recently learned that he should be wearing a condom when having oral sex performed on him. He is shocked and confused at his partner’s reaction to the condom (who is now spitting up in the bathroom).
Jeffery, well kudos to Jeffery for trying, too. There are, however, a few things that he needs to know about using condoms for oral sex vs. for penetration. One lesson, that he’s learning the hard way, is that Nonoxyl 9, a spermicide, tastes terrible and, furthermore, it can cause ulcerations on womens’ vaginal walls. Recent literature on Nonoxyl 9 suggests that this spermicide actually heightens the risk of STD transmission to women because the ulcerations act as portals for many STDs. Jeffery also needs to know that there are condoms made specifically for oral sex. They come in all different flavors, so his joystick can become a chocolate flavored lollipop for his lover. If he’d rather keep things simple, there are also spermicide and lubricant-free condoms available. He would also be wise to avoid any condoms that have a dusting of talc in them as he or his lover may be allergic to it. Some people have sensitivities to latex; in that case, polyurethane condoms are available for purchase online, as well as in some pharmacies.
Susie* is a 21 year-old gal who is on the pill and newly in love with her beau Jason* who she’s been dating for 2 months. She has decided to give up using condoms with Jason because she loves and trusts him and, besides, he comes from a good family.
Susie, oh, Susie. Unfortunately most people acquire STDs from the people they love. Love or trust are not recognized by STDs as adequate barriers. STDs do not care whether you are in love, in lust, married, common law, in a monogamous relationship or having a one night stand. There are a number of STDs that a person can have for a lifetime without ever experiencing any symptoms. However, this doesn’t mean that if you catch one of these, you won’t experience symptoms. Another important thing for Susie to know is that many STD tests, such as the ones for herpes and hepatitis, are often not part of the standard screening she may receive from her Doctor.
Leslie*, is 32 years old and doesn’t want to go for STD testing. Leslie figures it doesn’t matter because it won’t make any difference, considering the background of sexual promiscuity, number of partners and Leslie’s current safer sex practices, which include the use of condoms, dental dams, and latex gloves.
Leslie practices safer sex and does a decent job of it. What Leslie may not be considering is that not all STDs are genitally transmitted. Herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are just some of the STDs that can be orally transmitted. A great number of herpes transmissions, for example, occur at a young age with an innocent kiss on the lips, forehead or cheek from Aunt Molly or Grandpa Jake. What Leslie also fails to understand is that ignorance creates a loss of power, in that, when a person is informed they are that much more open and able to deal with their environment and those within it. Leslie’s partners are expected to disclose any knowledge of STDs to Leslie, but Leslie is effectively avoiding any kind of disclosure which could affect a partner’s ability to make an informed decision.
Michael*, a 41 year-old married executive, has an occasional “rendezvous” when he’s out of town on business. He’s never worn condoms and he’s not about to start, since they “reduce the sensation” for him.
Michael is about the unsexiest creature we’ve encountered yet. Michael’s sexuality is all about his pleasure since he doesn’t seem to care much about putting his partners at risk. STDs love people like Michael. Michael is to an STD what wind is to a seed. He is the perfect host and conduit for their longevity, allowing them to prosper and evolve. Michael needs to learn that for every man there is a condom, and a good condom is one that a man does not even know is there. In fact, some people have to keep checking to make sure it’s still there, as the condoms fit like designer jeans. Many men have a tendency to walk into a drugstore and just grab some box of condoms off the shelf. There are a lot of different types of condoms out there, including ones that are specially designed with size or sensitivity in mind. What Michael needs to do is to go shopping and find a condom that fits him, the same way he does when shopping for a good suit.
Linda is another perfect host for STDs. She knows about them, and even worries about them, but does not have the self-confidence or skills to protect herself from them. Linda needs to know that her body belongs to her and that it is hers to look after. Just as she puts her seatbelt on when she gets into a car, she needs to have her lover put on a condom before he gets into her. To be able to attain this, she needs to empower herself. How? By understanding that no one else will take care of her, even though they may love her, and that she needs to learn to do it herself. She may need to take some assertiveness training. She may need to talk to a counselor or therapist, get some coaching, or take courses in this area. She could also sign up for a Herpes Foundation Teleclass, which addresses the issues of self-esteem and communicating your needs to your partner.
Steven* is devastated, because he’s just found out he has genital herpes, but has always been faithful to his wife of 15 years, Marie*. He’s convinced she must have cheated on him. Marie is furious because her husband has obviously contracted genital herpes from some hussy. Marie, too, has been faithful to Steven. Somebody must be lying.
Steven and Marie are asked by Jocelyn, “Do either of you get cold sores, or sun blisters?” Marie confesses that she gets a cold sore, once every few years. She is asked when the last time she got one was, and whether it was anywhere near the time of Steven’s outbreak. She thinks about this a moment and responds “yes”. What Steven and Marie are about to find out is that herpes simplex 1 or herpes simplex 2 can be spread genitally-orally, or vice versa. Herpes is not location specific, which means that the herpes virus can travel into any opening on the skin, anywhere on the body. The herpes virus that was responsible for Marie’s “cold sore” found entrance through a small abrasion in Steven’s genital area, resulting in an outbreak of genital herpes for Steven. They share the same virus, and no one was, in fact, lying.
What they also need to know is that even though Marie will have antibodies to the virus which might normally prevent her from being reinnoculated genitally or in another area of her body, the increased viral load that Steven is experiencing during his primary outbreak may overwhelm her antibodies and allow for reinnoculation. This gets a little tricky. Let us explain it in other words. Let’s talk warriors.
A person who has herpes, and who has had it for more than 12 or so weeks, has developed antibodies to the virus. Imagine these antibodies as little warriors who fight against the virus and help prevent outbreaks. The herpes virus struggles against the antibody warriors.
Most of the time, the herpes virus is surrounded and held captive by these antibody warriors in a nerve ganglion, which is like a maze of “tunnels” along the spinal cord. The antibody warriors guard all the exit points of the tunnels.
Every once in a while, there are not enough antibody warriors to guard all the tunnels and the herpes virus breaks out of a tunnel and through to the outer layer of skin which results in a recurrent herpes outbreak.
A primary outbreak is a first encounter with the herpes virus. During his primary outbreak, Steven doesn’t yet have an army of antibody warriors to contain the herpes virus within the nerve ganglion and he therefore has millions of the virus cells present in his body and on the infected area of his skin.
Even though Marie has developed her own antibody warriors, during Steven’s primary outbreak, Steven’s virus could overwhelm her antibody warriors by the sheer number of herpes virus cells present in his system, until he creates his own army of antibodies. If the herpes virus cells present on Steven’s skin overwhelm the warriors in Marie’s system, she may be reinnoculated wherever they find an opening in her skin.
Over the course of the next 12 weeks or so, Steven will eventually develop his own antibody warriors which will drive the herpes virus back into the tunnels of the nerve ganglion and guard the exits. During future (recurrent) outbreaks (as opposed to primary outbreaks), Steven will have dramatically fewer numbers of herpes virus cells on his skin, and Marie’s antibody warriors will be able to fight off Steven’s herpes virus cells, effectively preventing reinocculation.
Denise’s Doctor told her that she could only transmit the virus to someone while she was having an active outbreak, which means that sores or lesions are present on her genitals (or wherever she has herpes; lips, buttocks, etc.). Denise was misinformed. The herpes virus can be found on the skin, even in the absence of symptoms such as sores or lesions, during what is known as asymptomatic shedding. This occurs between 2-5% of the time — different studies have shown different results. This means that Denise can pass on the virus to Jim without an outbreak approximately 18 days out of every year. There are ways to help reduce the risk of transmission of herpes — learn more here. Other STDs can also be present without showing symptoms and can also be transmitted during unprotected sex.
Ben*, has just left his Doctor’s office after having been diagnosed with herpes. The swab test didn’t tell him what kind of herpes he has. He’s heard about a test called the Western Blot Test but his doctor said he didn’t need it. He’s confused by the diagnosis and doesn’t understand the difference between herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2.
Ben needs to learn that there are two types of herpes simplex viruses: two different strains of the virus. You can think of them as a submarine division and an air division of the same army. Their missions are the same, to conquer the white warriors in all of our immune systems.
Let’s call herpes simplex 1 the “air division”. Herpes simplex 1 is the virus commonly responsible for cold sores and “sun blisters” (facial herpes). This air division of rogues prefers the upper body environment — it is where it thrives and is able to carry out its mission most effectively.
Let’s call herpes simplex 2 the submarine division. Herpes simplex 2 is the virus commonly responsible for genital herpes. This submarine division of rogues prefers the lower body environment — it is where they thrive and are able to carry out their mission most effectively.
It is important to understand that either type of virus, air or submarine division, (herpes simplex 1 or 2) can survive in either environment, but are stronger and better equipped to exist in their natural environment, which results in more frequent outbreaks in that area.
For the record, the submarine division, herpes simplex 2, is a stronger unit, is more tenacious, virulent, and strikes back, more often, so to speak. Luckily, modern medicine has provided our white warriors with reinforcements, in the form of antiviral medication, which can reduce the frequency and severity of outbreaks.
The Western Blot is a blood test that will differentiate between the two types of herpes, but can’t tell the location of the infection. This information can be helpful when making decisions with your partners. Everyone is unique and everyone’s experience of herpes is individual. However, if you are feeling as though your herpes outbreaks are interfering with your life, please contact us so we can help.