“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” Anais Nin
Recently, a friend of mine had a disturbing visit with her gynecologist. She wisely scheduled a visit to complete a panel of testing before engaging sexually with a new partner. She and her partner agreed to be tested and to exchange results as part of conscious safer sex planning. If everyone did this, imagine how much new STI transmission rates would decline!
Shockingly, my friend’s gynecologist suggested that she forego testing for HSV-I and II (Herpes Simplex Virus), explaining that if she got a positive result for either and had never experienced an outbreak of either, it would “muddy the waters” and be difficult to explain to a partner, so it was better not to know. Seriously. A gynecologist in Eugene, Oregon, made this recommendation. In 2016.
The fact is there are many people who have HSV-I and II, and do not know it because they have never experienced an outbreak. According to the CDC, most people who have genital herpes do not know it. These silent carriers can still transmit the virus, so knowing one’s own status is vitally important as is knowing a potential partner’s status through testing. Herpes is not the only STI that some people can carry without symptoms; it is also not the worst player out there. By far.
My friend was not deterred and asked her doctor to order testing for HSV-I and II. She explained to her gynecologist, that as a matter of sexual ethics, she wanted to know what her tests showed so she could have an open and honest discussion with her partner. The gynecologist did not offer any additional information or ask any other safer sex-related questions.
One of my original motivators for becoming a sexologist and certified sex coach was meeting too many women in their 40s-60s who had contracted sexually transmitted infections because they did not know how to have a safer sex conversation, didn’t know what STI tests to ask for, took a partner’s word for it that they were “clean,” and did not use barriers, or were too embarrassed to talk to their doctors at all. Judging by my friend’s experience, I’m not sure talking to a doctor would be much benefit in any event. A visit to Planned Parenthood undoubtedly would be far more beneficial!
When it comes to sex, we need to choose empowerment, from learning how to be comfortable talking about sex, to taking responsibility for our sexual health, and to standing up to a medical doctor’s suggestion that ignorance is acceptable in the realm of sexual health. Information is empowering, deliberate ignorance is dangerous and debilitating.