The Star (Nairobi)

10 March 2012

Kenya: Herpes Is Forever

column

Something tickled me last week. I walked into a kitchen at a dinner party and one woman was confessing to her girlfriend that she thinks she has herpes and she is scared to pass it on to her boyfriend.

Now I get it, herpes is not typically funny and its being passed on to an innocent man is even less funny. But I have been laughing for days. Herpes. Laughing out loud, shaking my shoulders in traffic, it is so funny.

I do not know this woman at all but when you write about sex and laugh about herpes, people tell you things. So her college boyfriend was here over Christmas and they bumped into each other at some den of iniquity on the beach. Three shots of tequila led to sex, no condom and pimples in her nether region around Valentine's Day. Now she is avoiding the boyfriend.

I have so much compassion for this woman who is so scared that she was hoping I could inform her of some miraculous way that she can continue to have sex with her man and not infect him. I have so much sympathy for her poor unsuspecting boyfriend who has an STD looming in his near future. I am also riddled with mirth and school girl giggles whenever I even think of the word herpes.

I have met people who never have unprotected sex. Ever. They are waiting for that person that they can say 'I do' to, that person who will sign on for sickness and health before they have gloveless sex... naked sex. That person who will nurse the faithful partner through HIV/Aids if they bring it home. It sounds prudish, square and even prim, this insistence on condoms. I mean really condoms? Always? How straight-laced can you be? Well it turns out straight-laced enough to remain herpes free.

It used to be that if you held hands with someone in public they were your boyfriend. If you kissed then people knew you were deeply in love. Now, kissing is slightly above a handshake and dating couples will confess to snogging strangers in bars when drunk. Apparently, kissing in public is affection but kissing in private is intimate knowledge with intent. Forget an idle mind; tequila is the devil's real playground. So as we all become a bit more affectionate and what was previously strictly bedroom conduct seeps into bars and soon streets, how can you protect yourself?

I think we have to find the temerity to demand protection. Even when our partners look at us askance like we are accusing them of filth and calling them a health hazard, amongst other things. There is a reason kids shouldn't be having sex, it is not for the puerile, or faint at heart. Sex, especially the casual kind, is for people who aren't afraid to offend others in their pursuit of an orgasm; people who aren't afraid of having uncomfortable conversations surrounding disease. The thing with casual sex is that you do not want to keep this partner for a long time, so why should you be left with their diseases. Don't give your ex an opportunity to quip that just like diamonds, herpes is forever and that you shouldn't say she never gave you anything.

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