Terrifying (Or Herpes: The Jerk of the STI Family)


I had a nightmare scare recently. I'd been shaving my pubic region regularly for a while, and always got some ingrown hairs and bumps, but these weren't going away. So I called my friend in Michigan who's a doctor.

“Were you watching House again?”

“Yes, but that's not why I'm calling!”

She listened to me describe my symptoms, asked me several questions that she said she got from her super secret doctor website, said: “It's not herpes, you hypochondriac!”  Needless to say I wasn't quite satisfied with this answer, but accepted it and spent the next week getting more and more nervous. She told me two more times it wasn't herpes before saying: “You should just go to the doctor if you're so damned worried!”

I expressed my continual forlorn wish that she was a doctor in Illinois and not Michigan and could take care of my hypochondriac ass in person.  “Gotta dream the dream!” she said and hung up.

So I moved onto plan b.  I called up a playmate of ours who's the head nurse at a hospital and she asked many similar questions (I want to know what their super secret website is!) then ALSO said it's not herpes.

But I wasn't calmed by any of this. These two were taking my word for the symptoms, and who really knows what a “tingly feeling radiating” means. And of course, I've spent PLENTY of time on webMD (which they both told me is NOT their super secret doctor website) looking up symptoms.

Marilyn also assured me it wasn't herpes, but allowed me to cancel our date that night, and indulged me when I wondered if she'd resent me if our “life was over…”  (Though I'm sure I meant lifestyle there…I'm a bit dramatic at times)

My doctor was able to see me the next morning bright and early.  This is the same doctor who grew noticeably cold when I told her I was non-monogamous.  (Though, to be fair, I didn't specify HOW I was non-monogamous, so she probably is sure I'm cheating on my wife.)

“What's up today?”

“I've got some bumps…that concern me.  You know, thought I'd get it looked at.  Make sure it's not…herpes,” I told her in the most nonchalant voice I could muster.  She said “let's have a look,” lifted the sheet and declared “you have folliculitus.”

“Are you sure?” I pleaded.

She gave me that look that doctors get when you challenge their diagnosis, poked at the bumps and said “Yeah, I'm sure.”

So, many weeks later, with my bumps gone away just as promised, I can breathe easy.  But it's a terrifying moment, the herpes one…

Who else has had that scare?


About Cooper Cooper S. Beckett is the co-founder and host of Life on the Swingset: The Podcast since 2010, author of swinging & polyamory novels A Life Less Monogamous and Approaching The Swingularity, and memoir My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory. He teaches and speaks on swinging, polyamory, pegging, play parties, and coloring outside the boundaries of your sexuality. He is a graphic & web designer, photographer, and voice over artist, has been a guest expert on Dan Savage’s Savage Lovecast, & is the announcer of Tristan Taormino’s radio show Sex Out Loud. He is currently working on two instructional non-fiction books, one about beginning non-monogamy, and another about pegging.


  1. I was the one who wrote about it on EdenCafe. It's crazy how your mind takes something and runs with it, isn't it? I get that way every time I test for HIV – until I get my neg test back I work myself up until I'm convinced I have it. Such a mindfuck.

  2. LOL My Dr. is fairly open and has met our Life Partner when I had my son so he will answer any and all questions I have about whether I have sufficiently been exposed to any STDs and need to be seen. He's very nonchalant about everything and reassuring so when I go all hypochondriac he calms me down in a few minutes. We get tested regularly and since my husband likes to swing he also keep him abreast of the latest in the world of medicine when it comes to safer sex practices. I'll tell you I dunno what we will do if our Dr. reitres or we move! I can't say enough how wonderful it is to have a Dr. who is a Dr. first and foremost. he doesn't completely agree with our choices but he never makes us feel dirty or "bad". He just does his damndest to keep us healthy!

  3. My wife's gyno is very open and respectful of her lifestyle. We've been very lucky that all I get are teensy judgements from my doctor (who still recommends things and does her best to help)

  4. One way to avoid that conversation:

    "I'd like to get a full workup done, please".

    It costs a bit of money, but it's worth it.
    It also verifies against non-invisible STIs, AND it checks my cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

    The physiological secret here is to schedule it on a regular basis, like a dental appointment or an oil change, so it becomes more of a "chore" instead of a "potentially life-changing diagnostic".

  5. Lifeofthemind on

    I thought swingers were pretty cool with herpes? Apparently the fear is still alive and well. Only HIV seems to be more feared. Just to keep it in perspective, though. Remember that herpes is basically the occasional small cluster of tiny pimples on you genitals. It looks bad, but it is less harmful than the common flu and cold…by far. It is not even a competition.

    Also, if your herpes infected partners take antivirals and use barriers properly, your risk might actually be lower than just playing with other people who do not know their herpes status and engage in unprotected oral sex, which is quite common in the Lifestyle, I believe.

    The gay community had to deal with a much scarier and deadly virus. They watched their friends and family die and yet gay men still go out and have fun and handle the virus in a reasonable manner (know your status, know your partners, assume everyone has it, use protection, etc.).

    I think swingers need a similar plan for herpes. It is an issue. Let’s deal with it and find a way to make it less scary than it is. Because when it comes down to it, the worst part of having herpes is the judgment from other people (who may have it themselves, btw). It is the modern Scarlet Letter and seems completely unwarranted.

    Herpes is the elephant in the room that swingers seem terrified to talk about and deal with in an adult sex-positive manner. Swingers put themselves at risk for it all the time, yet the often treat people who have like a pariah.

    The longer that attitude pervades the Lifestyle, the longer infection rate will go up. If people did not have such an irrational fear about it, people would disclose more, use antivirals more, use barriers more.

    Anyway…I am off the soapbox. Love the show, love the sex-positive attitudes, and one day I hope to find out what everyone is raving about with this whole swinging thing. Do I need to grow a mustache? 😉

  6. Driftingtoandfromthenorm on

    I’ve totally been there. It is TERRIFYING! yet I agree that it never hurts to pay the Dr a visit, even if they do judge you a bit.

  7. Most venereal diseases are no big deal.  The real danger is sexual dysfunction.  Sexual dysfunction can be caused by
    repressive attitudes towards sexuality and is far far more damaging than most

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