Hi Yana!

When it comes to sex, I’ve never really cared for it to begin with. Then, five years ago, I found out I have genital herpes, and that put an even bigger damper on things. I’ve had sexual partners since then, but having to have “the talk” before getting involved with someone really can bring you down.

Would you recommend telling someone right away, or is it okay to wait it out and get to know each other more before you tell them? I don’t want to seem like I’m leading the guy on.

Intimately Intimidated

Dear Intimidated,

First, it’s perfectly fine if you’re just simply not that into sex. Sexual desire, much like most other things having to do with sex, exists on a spectrum. It’s completely normal for a person’s sex drive to slide around anywhere on a scale from six-feet-under to rocketing-to-the-moon. Your particular level of sexual desire is only problematic if you’re doing harm to others or if you yourself are experiencing your level of desire as problematic.

However, if you feel like you’ve “never cared for sex to begin with” based on issues related to self-worth, depression, anxiety, shame, or your current STI status, and you wish that you had higher sexual desire, there are certainly ways you can achieve this. Engaging in self-healing via support groups, peer networks, workshops, and sex-positive therapy can all be helpful routes to explore. But again, if it doesn’t feel broken to you, no need to fix.

Now about that STI status. Many folks who have an incurable STI such as herpes have a lot of understandable anxiety around telling new sexual partners. My general rule is that it’s time to disclose personal information if/when it becomes relevant to the other person’s risk-management process. Determining when this point is can be tricky because it’s slightly subjective.

For some people, it’s important to them to tell a potential date right away in order to avoid the hassle of getting to know somebody who might ultimately view an STI as a “dealbreaker.” Others view their STI status as (rightfully) their own private information that might not be necessary to divulge to someone over First Date Nachos at the Dirty Truth.

This is personal, and you have the right to wait to get to know someone before you tell them about it if you want to. What becomes unethical is not telling someone that they themselves may be at risk for genital herpes by, for example, having physical/sexual contact with them that puts them at risk without first telling them about your positive status.

Do this before the clothes come off so that y’all can communicate in a clear-headed, less vulnerable setting. Though texting can help us feel shielded, never text someone information that you don’t want screengrabbed and shared without your permission.

When you do have this talk, be clear, come prepared with information about the riskiness of various intimate acts, and have resources that they can check out if they’d like to take time to think, such as Ella Dawson’s awesome work about dating with herpes.

Whatever you do, don’t shrink away from the power you have to set the tone of The STI Talk. If you approach this conversation with fear and shame, it can create an environment that’s negative and scary. Shaming yourself or others for testing positive for an STI is part of a larger culture of shaming people for having and enjoying sexual pleasure. We wouldn’t call someone disgusting or untouchable or unlovable because they got the flu, so don’t treat yourself that way either!

Though I’d love to tell you that most people will be great at this talk, the reality is that the shame and stigma are real and though rejection is hard, it happens. Potential rejection is a risk for everyone in the context of sex and dating, regardless of their current STI status, and can be a real bummer.

However, rejection is also protection when it comes to making sure that the folks you have sex with are truly enthusiastic about having sex with you for who you are. Besides, let’s be real, if your date’s only reaction to this talk is to get angry about you “leading them on,” they’d likely be a lousy, self-involved lay anyway.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on  her website, yanatallonhicks.com.