I went to the sex party with as much confidence as I could muster. In everyday life and typical scenarios, I'm a very confident person. Not much phases me, and I rarely allow the opinions of others to affect me. But this added baggage weighed on me.
I made up my mind early on: if I didn’t have any sexual interactions, it would be OK. I try to go into such situations with minimal expectations (and hope to be pleasantly surprised) but set the bar at the absolute lowest.
At the party, I was hit on, as expected. I flirted and touched and allowed myself to be touched in a sexy, clothed fashion. I even made out with a few people before things progressed too far. Two couples made serious advances of the “we-would-like-to-fuck-you” variety. I wasn’t particularly attracted to either of them but saw the opportunity to try my HSV-2 spiel on them. I had absolutely nothing to lose.
In your standard-issue date situation, it’s usually a one-on-one dynamic. There’s time to talk, and in most cases, no one’s rushing from the bar to bedroom. It’s different at a sex party, where hookups happen with far fewer formalities.
Still, it's essential to have the STI/STD talk. I don't care how fast you hop into bed with anyone, just be sure to know your partner’s STI/STD status. This means asking them when they were last tested, what they were tested for and what their test results were. Clear communication is necessary to weigh potential risk factors, because no barrier is 100% effective. Condoms break or may slip off. There’s a whole host of stuff that can go wrong.
I ended up not having sex with anyone the night of the party, probably because I was being weird and overly cautious. If I had, I would’ve had the STI/STD talk, then followed it by barrier use, and possibly limited myself to activities unlikely to transmit pathogens, like oral sex.
There’s something immensely comforting about being able to disclose an STI/STD diagnosis on your own terms and timeline that a sex party doesn’t exactly allow for. I’m hoping that I'll get more comfortable with practice because the first pass felt really awkward and heightened every insecurity I didn’t even know I had. STI/STDs are so stigmatized. They’re the brunt of endless jokes and often cause a negative reaction. It’s no wonder we have a hard time talking about incurable viruses when we do have them.
My best advice? Get tested consistently. Require it from your partners. Make it common practice. At most, HSV-2 is going to be an annoying skin irritation (if and when a breakout does happen). In the meantime, I don’t need to let it define me. I just need to get better at using my words and navigating this situation - particularly at sex parties.