The last few weeks have been stressful. I have mentioned that. I have been vague. I have been a bit elusive in terms of what has been going on. And I really had no intentions of sharing what has been going on. It was not something I wanted to do. I wasn't sure I was bullet proof enough to share as the emotions and stress is too raw - too near the surface yet. But after some discussion, I have decided I am going to share.
In short, Garbanzo was diagnosed with an STD - herpes.
For some people, they are probably snickering - thinking that's what you get for swinging. Assuming that if you don't destroy the marriage, you are going to do something like this instead. If you are going to go down that path, skip it - leave now - because I'm not in the mood for it - specifically, I'm not in the mood for the uninformed.
- 1 in 5 adults have herpes
- 90% of those who have it, do not know they have it because they never have an outbreak - or the outbreak does not include blisters.
- Even without an outbreak, herpes can still be spread.
- Condoms offer some protection against it, but herpes is transmitted skin to skin. Wherever boxers cover is where the herpes virus can be spread.
- Herpes does not pose any long term health risks. It's the stigma that affects people more than the disease.
I should mention clearly that I do not have it. All of my tests were negative. I may use the terms "us" and "we" when I write about it because even though I do not have it, we do have to deal with it. We have to live with it. Because even if I never have sex with another partner but my husband, I will still have to use caution.
Garbanzo is on suppression medicine. He is one of those 90% above who did not have an outbreak. It was diagnosed via STD testing. This is why we have been so fucking shocked by it. Imagine getting that phone call. Now imagine not understanding how you got it because you have been "playing safe". As he explained to his doctor, we grew up during the AIDS scare. We know condoms protect. To hear that is not the case for this one is shocking.
We continue to tell partners. We are not looking for the person to blame. We are trying to be clear about that. We decided to take the approach that someone is in the 90% that didn't know because there were no symptoms. We are recommending everyone get tested for their own piece of mind (and ours too). In some cases, we have had to educate those around us as to the symptoms - or lack their of. Of the risk despite the use of condoms. We have had to help them sort the myth from the facts.
Overall, people have been supportive. We have had a couple people freak out. Mainly people have been concerned about Garbanzo and how he is taking the news. While this seems like a horrible thing, it is the emotional stigma that cause the greater problems. It is worrying about how people will react. Worrying about infecting me. Worrying about what's next. We have read and been told that many times people end up in counseling to help them deal with the news - or get diagnosed with depression.
We are thankful though. Thankful it was not worse. Thankful that this wasn't gotten because of a cheating situation or a failing relationship. We don't have that stress to deal with on top of it. Thankful that the reactions of those we care about have been understanding, not judgmental. Thankful the docs are all understanding, reassuring that this is not something we are alone in dealing with, and very helpful in terms of providing good information.
One of the reasons we decided to write about this was to talk about something we don't talk about enough in swinging. STDs do happen. Most swingers put on their profiles "must be disease free" or something to that effect. All couples and singles we have been with have involved that discussion - use condoms - been tested, etc. But, to be honest, I have not had a single couple or single actually ask "when were you last tested". Most say "we don't do the one night stand thing" but intention versus actuality can be different - just like it can be in the single world. Even the parties where it is expected and even stated that everyone must be disease free can expose people to diseases. Again, it's all based on everyone's honesty and word. And, like I've stated, 90% don't know they have it. At the time they may be honest, but truly, one cannot know without a blood test.
Very few people we know swap tests. Or if they do, they don't do it 100% of the time. Some people we know do find ways of reducing their risks. Some will not play at parties....ever. Some are pretty cleanliness conscious by taking a shower before and after - or even wash hands between partners. (Yes according to the doctor and literature, you could pass it between people via fingers - as long as everything is warm and moist, the virus survives.)
Swinging does involve risks but so does having sex in general. If you are not in a 100% monogamous relationship (or 100% closed relationship), make sure you know that. Make sure you are getting FULL STD screens. Why do I say "full"? We learned that if the doctor doesn't understand your full sex history, they may not order a full STD panel unless you insist upon it. Make sure you have blood work done. That is key to diagnosing herpes as they look for the antibodies which means you have been exposed.
Ask questions - more than just "are you disease free". If you are willing to talk about favorite sex positions, you need to be willing to ask "when was your last STD test?" or "how many partners have you played with" or "did you have a full STD screening"?
Be honest with yourself. Intention versus actuality are two different things. Remember the phrase goes "the path to hell is paved with good intention". A yearly test is good for most, but if you find you are playing with a larger than usual number of people, go get retested. Put yourself and your future partners mind at ease. I'm not advocating paranoia. I'm advocating being realistic. I have known some people who don't swing (but who are single) who ask their potential sex partners to get a test with them before having sex with them the first time - just to make sure everyone is safe. Why not be willing to do that in the swinging world?
Lastly, understand that you could do everything right - and still end up with something. Be careful to judge those around you who do. It just takes one exposure to get it. Someone who has it may have gotten it the first time they had sex - others may get it because they have sex with tons of people. The only explanation that is universally true is that someone got it because they unknowingly had sex with an infected person. Number of people they had sex with doesn't matter. Frequency doesn't matter. Number of partners doesn't matter.
As we discovered, it only takes one partner.
Where are we going from here? We don't know. We are still processing the news. Still trying to figure it out. I guess we'll see where we go. All I do know is that any and all conversations will now include more STD talk than they ever have before.