Pedestrian Commentary: More notes on Polyamory and STIs


Hey Listeners!

The HPV episode is still inspiring some pretty great listener mail. Here is another note from a thoughtful listener:


Morning Shira,

– Gavin mentioned that it's the obligation of someone who has an STI to share that information and while I wholeheartedly agree with that, I think that it's more important to take control of the situation. What I mean by that is don't rely on someone else to bring up the topic as there people who feel uncomfortable talking about the subject, especially if they have an STI. What I do is always bring it up; if you feel that there's going to be an intimate relationship occurring and the topic hasn't been broached yet ask. Usually by date 2 I bring it up and say, “I was tested 3 months ago and was clean and get tested every 6 months regardless of whether I'm in a relationship or not.” Usually this makes the date comfortable and they'll bring up when the last time they've been tested was, if they don't then you ask. I've found that you cannot rely on someone else to bring up the topic and it's my obligation to provide for my and my partners' safety rather than rely on someone who has the infection to bring it up. I've also shared, or asked for, a copy of someone's most recent test results to prove mine or their STI-free nature.

– Most of your discussion surrounded the topic of staying away from STIs, however through our discussion we talked to a couple of poly people who have very successful poly relationships while having an STI by being upfront about it and managing the STI through various forms of barriers and communication. We found it very important to note at the end of our discussion that while STIs suck they are a part of life and sexual interactions; even if you are protecting yourself you can still contract it (I know you touched on this as well). However, if you do contract an STI it's not the end of the world. I mean herpes can't always be tested for, if you don't have an outbreak there's no way to test if you have herpes. I've talked to a couple of medical professionals and they've confirmed that you could have herpes and could pass it on to someone and never know that you've done so because you've never had an outbreak, which yes is frightening, but by no means the end of the world (CDC says that 81% of HSV-2 were asymptomatic or unrecognised, but can still be passed on). I feel like there should always be a discussion of how to have a successful poly relationship while having an STI because they can be done ethically, carefully, and successfully.

I remember hearing about a study that said if you have had over 20 sexually partners in your life there's a 95% chance that you've contracted herpes (I've been looking for the study online but can't seem to find it, if I do I'll pass it along to you) and 1 in 2 individuals between the ages of 40-50 have herpes. There's almost a better chance that someone has herpes than doesn't, even if the test comes up negative and while scary, it's important to know that you can have a successful poly relationship with an STI.

Hope you had a good weekend.

B.K. Barry


Thanks for writing in, B.K.! Your note at about number of partners the end of your letter brings to mind the whole numbers game that is played in my head. I've always been a little self conscious about letting my ‘number' get too high. Sounds like show topic fodder.




Shira B. Katz is a co-host of the Life on the Swingset podcast, bringing a pansexual and polyamorous viewpoint to the show. Shira also hosts Pedestrian Polyamory, a podcast on the Swingset network that focuses on polyamory and all of it's glorious (and not so glorious) features. When not writing articles, podcasting, or otherwise extolling the virtues of polyamory, Shira can be found in the wild getting crushes on nerds, lusting after boykisses, and fussing about in the San Francisco Bay area. To learn more about Shira B. Katz follow her on Twitter


  1. I think what’s interesting in all this talk of HSV, STI testing and disclosure continually fails to mention that the majority of STI testing does NOT test for HSV unless you specifically ask for it. Also, many people don’t mention they get cold sores when you ask about STI testing. HSV-1 can be transmitted from mouth to genitals and then show up as genital herpes. Even if it’s not the HSV-2 everyone is worried about, one then still has to disclose they now have genital herpes. For the record, it’s not something I have, but I worry about how infrequently potential partners mention cold sores when we have the STI talk. I have to specifically ask them.


    • We’ve spoken a number of times about how difficult it is to get doctors to test for HSV. Good point about cold sores, and I feel we’re always better off asking whatever level of questions we need to feel comfortable.

  2. There are some comments here that are pretty egregious in my book and I would like to speak to those.

    The statement that you can’t be tested for herpes if you don’t have a current outbreak is just completely wrong. Of course you can get a test to know if you have herpes or not and even if you’re asymptomatic. Its an IGg blood test that tests for antibodies and there is a different one for both type 1 and type 2. however, if you were RECENTLY exposed, there won’t be antibodies yet to show so timing is everything with an IGg.

    If you have been recently exposed and you are NOT presenting symptoms, there is the early detection IgM they can do. It won’t differentiate between type 1 or type 2, but if you got ANY type of herpes infection and you test within a 2 week-ish period of that exposure, you WILL have IgM present in your blood whether you are symptomatic or not. After a certain amount of time, IgM is no longer in the blood so if you’re wondering if the test is useful when you might have type 1 already from say childhood, yes it is. You won’t have IgM in your blood anymore from a previous infection that far back so if it does show up, you can be sure you now have the other type.

    Secondly, STOP USING THE WORD “CLEAN” TO INCIDATE YOU ARE STI-NEGATIVE!!! By using that word, you are basically calling people who do have STI’s as “dirty”, if being negative is “clean”. Using this type of language just further keeps perpetuating the stigma of having herpes as a “dirty” thing. Just use language that means what you’re trying to convey. Just say “I have tested NEGATIVE for all STIs”. why is using the word “clean” necessary? Its not, so cut it out.

Leave A Reply