Dating Bradford: Dignifying Herpes


I don't care if it is simplex 1, I still feel like a leper when I
have a mouth ulcer. I can't tell you how many times I've run to the
clinic to get swabbed at $150 bucks a pop to hear the same "negative"
results in terms of contagion.

"Are you sure?" I keep asking them, "I mean it's an ugly sore inside my mouth and it hurts, and I get them a lot."

"More than once a month?" The doctor asks.

"Sometimes," I meekly reply.

"Then your diet is lacking, you need to drink more water and you probably aren't sleeping enough."

but can I give it to my dates? I repeatedly ask. They usually say no,
but they may be wrong. There are conflicting theories about where
herpes can take up residence, and how to tell if it's a canker sore or
a cold sore. For instance, where exactly does the inside of the lip
start? My little immigrants try to build border towns.

want to quick-fix. They tell me about taking Valtrex daily as a
preventative, but it's more than a dollar a pill and doesn't seem to
work well for my mysterious mouth ulcers. They prescribe acyclovir but
it's also expensive, and if I'm going to ruin my liver on a gamble, I
prefer vodka to antibiotics. So like the majority of herpes victims, I
live with my grey-zone grossness until it goes away.

I pretend to
feel confident even when a blister in my mouth hurts so bad I can't eat
spicy foods or citrus. So I order the blandest meal possible,
decimating it into microportions that don't have to be chewed. Then I
smile across the table at my date, but not too widely, lest he should
see inside my mouth and think I'm oozing pus or something.

What I don't
do, just to be on the safe side, is suck dick, tongue-kiss, or chow box
(all the really good stuff). The point is, my confidence gets
toilet-flushed no matter how hard I try to tell myself I've had them
since childhood. I can't shake the feeling I've got a communicable

My favorite playmate was in town from L.A. and wanted
to get together. I was delighted I would get to see him because we
always have fun (and romance), but the day I got his text, I had woken
up with a mouth ulcer.

That afternoon I ran into Dr. Rob at the
gym and asked, "Is it possible to have the contagious kind inside?" He
replied, "In some cases herpes simplex 1 can reside inside the mouth,
but it's difficult to tell if you have it. Results might come back
negative if you aren't 'shedding' at the time of the culture."

I put my playmate off for a week, but on his last night in town I
had to see him. On previous trysts, whenever I brought up my
mouth-ulcer thing, I noticed he would avoid kissing me on the mouth,
and it always made me feel bad. So, since I was hoping I was out of the
"shedding" zone, I neglected to mention my canker sore. I still didn't
use my mouth for more than kissing, but after sex he asked me if I had
one on the inside of my lip. He said he could feel it with his tongue.

"What?" I thought, "Is he serious, or seriously paranoid?" Obviously I'm not a good judge.

was mortified. Not only could I not hide it, but now I was busted for
trying to do just that. "Serves me right," I thought, while I made up
some excuses about not knowing exactly if I'm contagious or not, that I
often get them from eating peanut butter, or when I accidentally bite
or scrape the inside of my mouth it can turn into an ulcer (all true),
but still he kissed me goodbye on the cheek.

Feeling like a used whore, I got busy on Google and found the bible of herpes websites:

says: "People don't understand that you can have type 1 orally or
genitally, that the two types are essentially the same virus," says
Marshall Clover, manager of the National Herpes Hotline. "One type is
associated with stigma, the other is 'just a cold sore' -- our society
has a euphemism for it so we don't even acknowledge that it's herpes."

read on, and, as it turns out, you can easily pass oral herpes. Not
surprisingly, 50 percent of the population carries simplex 1 antibodies
by the time they are teens, as does 80 percent to 90 percent over the
age of 50. These facts are staggering, but just because I'm "in the
club," it doesn't help that my self-esteem is shattered during an

Aside from the physical precautions of abstinence and
pill-popping, how does one take psychological precautions? With
conflicting stories sent, how can we be confident?

At a party
the other night at High Bar, my friend Daniel Nardicio said, "Honey,
when you have a cold sore, throw some glitter on it and make a
statement." Charming sentiments for the outwardly mobile, but for us
less theatrically evolved, I want to know:

When you've got herpes, how do you keep your dignity?

information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to
serve as medical advice. The information provided should not be used
for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. It is not a
substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a
health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

(Photo: Chris Coffey)