Ask Debby Herbenick | Questions from family, friends and strangers on the CTA
TOC's sexpert tackles your most penetrating questions.
Wed May 28 2008
Typically, this column is used for questions from readers who send in their sex queries via e-mail or snail mail (almost always typed out rather than handwritten, interestingly enough). But those aren’t the only ways that I get asked questions. Friends, family, acquaintances, Facebook “friends” and strangers in airports and on the CTA have asked me questions. Yes, even on the CTA. Here are some from the past week:
Q A friend of mine was with this girl, and she told him that she had genital herpes before they ever did anything. He really likes her and they talked about it and decided to have sex anyway, but used condoms. Afterward he called me and asked if that was safe or not, and I said that I thought it was safe, but I also said that I would ask you. So what do you say?
A It’s pretty awesome that your friend found a girl who chose to be honest. I also like that you knew your limits and told him that you weren’t really sure you had good information on herpes, but that you’d check with me. Condoms are really and truly one of the most amazing public-health devices on the planet in terms of reducing the risk of some, but not all, sexually transmissible infections (STI). It’s too bad that some states and school districts don’t give medically accurate information about condoms, because that info is important to a lot of people. One of the STIs that condoms do not offer very high protection against is herpes, and that’s because herpes can be transmitted through genital skin contact, and condoms cannot cover all of a person’s skin in the genital and pelvic area. So while it is fantastic and brave that this woman told your friend that she has herpes, it is too bad that neither one of them knew that condoms—while a good choice, nevertheless—are not as effective at preventing herpes as they are at preventing other STIs. I would encourage your friend and his lady both to ask their health-care providers about antiviral medications that can help to (a) reduce her risk of having herpes outbreaks and (b) reduce the risk of her transmitting herpes to him. Fortunately, the risk of her transmitting herpes to him through one sex act is low, assuming she was not having or about to have an outbreak. They should still look into prevention strategies for the future. Learn more about herpes at cdc.gov or ashastd.org.
Q Last year I went to a group-sex party and totally dug it. It wasn’t part of a swinging group or anything; the parties were privately organized underground events, where you basically had to know the right people to get in, and so everyone there was pretty hot and game and into it. I had a great time and I’ve been thinking about going again this summer. At the same time, I’m in my early thirties and really want to settle down. I doubt that this will help me on the dating scene if my past comes out, and I believe in being honest. So I’m kind of conflicted: keep up with the group sex, or give it up in favor of the settled, happy life?
A I believe it was Voltaire who reportedly said, in declining a group-sex situation, “Once, a philosopher; twice, a pervert!” Not that I think you’re a pervert (or, for that matter, a philosopher), but I’ve always appreciated the quote and the sentiment. Fortunately, in my line of work, I can always say, “But it’s research!” So maybe the solution is to go into sex-research or philosophy? Okay, I jest. In fact, it’s a troubling, challenging dilemma that most men and women face at some point or another and under varying circumstances: how to have what you want without jeopardizing what you might want in the future. Alas, you’ve only described two possibilities—that of going the group-sex route (and thus perhaps causing problems in future relationships) or giving it up now and pursuing the American Dream Relationship of the “settled, happy life” (as long-term partners and spouses everywhere try not to snicker—happy? Settled? As if it were that easy or painless to come by). What about a third possibility, wherein you’re able to choose a partner who—ta-da!—loves and accepts you for who you are, even if that includes a past of having group sex with Baywatch-looking gals and/or guys? Will it necessarily be easy? No. But you’ve already been to a group-sex party, so you may as well start thinking about how to make an accepting relationship function. As for whether you go again, that’s a personal choice and I think you’re weighing important issues.
Q One of my friends found out that her boyfriend has downloaded a substantial amount of gay porn. Does that mean he’s gay? He also has an earring, he removes his body hair, he works out excessively and isn’t really into “guy” sports like basketball or football (but is very big into cycling and swimming). What do you think?
A Though more than a few people thought the earrings were enough to out the New Kids on the Block’s Jordan Knight, it turns out that sexuality and its relationship with body jewelry—and even body hair—is more complex than that. So her boyfriend downloaded gay porn. Does that make him gay? Not necessarily. With the enormous number of images out there, it’s not surprising that people are curious about things beyond the Spice channel. Xtube.com alone will open one’s eyes to new worlds. As for sports, I think it’s become increasingly clear that even stereotypically straight-guy sports are not always for straight-identified guys, even at the professional levels. If your friend is really bothered by this, she might consider being honest with her boyfriend about how she found the gay porn (By accident? From snooping? And if from snooping, then what are her own issues regarding trust?). She should be gentle and open to hearing whatever he has to say, so that he doesn’t shut down. Who knows? Maybe he likes men, too; maybe a friend borrowed his laptop or maybe he’s burning her a gift-disc of gay porn. The only way she will come closer to finding out is to ASK HIM.
Q I heard that I didn’t need to get tested for chlamydia or gonorrhea, because if I had them, I would know by now. Is this true, or should I get tested for them anyway? I’ve never been tested in my life for any STIs, except HIV, and that was only because you scared the shit out of me and told me I should get tested.
A I’m glad you got tested for HIV (everyone who has had sex should, in my opinion), but you got inaccurate information on chlamydia and gonorrhea. Chlamydia often does not have noticeable symptoms among women or men and is often considered a “silent” STI for this reason. Gonorrhea is more often symptomatic among men, but less so among women. STIs do not come with ringtones or other noticeable symptoms (if they did, what about “My Humps” for HPV/genital warts?), and the only way to find out if you have an STI is to get tested.