Secret Sex Diary: the celibate 22-year-old living with herpes
A week in the sex life of…a single bisexual overcoming herpes stigma and unpacking her fear of dating women
image Team Woo
One-night stands may be on the decline, but a new generation is giving us insight into the who, what, where and why of hooking up.
Letting us into the intimate details of a week in their sex life is a 22-year-old bisexual who's navigating difficult thoughts around her one-year celibacy anniversary. Read on as she battles misconceptions and comes to terms with her mixed feelings about a life without sex.
Age: 22 Gender: female Relationship style: preferably none (I’m avoidantly attached, oops) Orientation: bisexual
This week in numbers:
Masturbation frequency: 1 Intercourse frequency: 0
After forcing myself to go on a series on unsatisfactory dates, at the beginning of 2022 I subconsciously made the decision to not date men for a while. This, combined with my tendency to overthink, hypochondria, avoidance and extreme indecision means that I’ve now not had sex for a year.
I discovered I have herpes shortly after my last break up, which at first sent me into a spiral of hypochondria, feeling betrayed by my body and made me assume I’d never have sex again. Luckily the latter disappeared a couple of months later when I had sex, but I've become so picky about who I sleep with that I’m veering dangerously towards prudishness. Though Gen Z are notorious for having less sex than previous generations, when I explain the situation people flinch as though there must be something wrong with me.
Because sex used to be something I valued and looked forward to, there are moments where I wonder if there is something wrong with me. The further I’ve gotten into my self-imposed celibacy, the more my sex drive has slipped away into the unknown. I rarely even get the urge to masturbate. I have, though, developed a propensity for crushing on people like I never have before.
I’ve just had a ton of deadlines and, with the exhaustion, can feel my immune system rapidly deteriorating. It was inevitable that I’d get sick, but I’m worried that I’ll also have a herpes outbreak as I usually get one when my immune system is low and it’s been six months since I last had one. As I’m not having sex it’s not a massive deal but outbreaks are not particularly pleasant to experience. I give myself a day to recuperate and take my supplements just in case.
As the brain fog clears I realise it’s approaching the year anniversary of when I last had sex and wonder whether I should try to beat it by going on a Hinge or Feeld date. I’m not in the mood to sleep with men at the moment so I change my settings to women and non binary people in the hopes I’ll meet someone interesting. I have both an extreme desire to date women and an absolute fear of it, having only slept with my ex girlfriend who I broke up with five years ago now, and have developed an irrational fear that this will put off any woman I decide to go on a date with. I’ve not changed my Hinge settings to women until now because I convince myself that, if I do suddenly get unbearably horny, men are an easier option to go for because I know how the routine goes with men, though I despise said routine (that’s compulsory heterosexuality for you!).
I’m disappointed by how slowly my Hinge likes are streaming in with these new settings. Having my profile open to men meant that I had a steady and constant stream of likes, even if I turned pretty much 80% of them away. I consult my lesbian best friend, who also happens to be my ex, to see if I’m doing something wrong with my profile— maybe I’m not coming off as queer enough? She reassures me that it will happen, it just takes time.
I realise that as I’m looking for reassurance about my Hinge presence, something I’m not prone to, I’m probably feeling a little bit sensitive about it being nearly year. When I have a lull in work I try to refocus on my personal life, which often leads to the realisation that my friends are all in relationships and don’t have as much time for me as I do for them. This either serves as a motivator for going on dates, even though I really do not want a relationship, or causes me to cling onto my friends for dear life.
I break the news to my friends that it’s been almost a year since I last had sex. One of them jokes we should go for a celebratory, or at least commemorative, drink. Mostly it prompts a slew of disbelieving comments (they’re all either coupled up or have an unfathomable amount of sex). “If you wanted to have sex by now, you would’ve,” says one friend. “All it takes it five minutes and a bit of motivation.”
I’m not sure whether to be inspired by this or offended. I understand the sentiment, but I think men often forget it’s not as simple for some women as being horny and having five minutes available. Having herpes means that, as well as being horny (a rare occurrence for me nowadays), I have to be slightly more selective about who I sleep with. It has to be someone I think won’t shame me when I tell them I have herpes and will take time to make me feel comfortable. I’ve also finally reached a place where I’ve raised the bar of my standards, after years of pleading by my friends that I deserve a lot better, so I’m trying to not just go for anyone who’s into me.
Thankfully, I haven’t developed a herpes outbreak but I have developed a terrible cold, which means I’m bed-bound with more time to overthink, oh joy! I am convinced men you’ve slept with have some kind of telepathy that allows them to sense when you’re open to dating and sex, because I get a text from a man I last slept with three years ago.
I ignore him and open Hinge to pick up the sparse trails of conversation I’ve amassed with a few women, which none of us seem too devoted to maintaining. I decide, instead, to have a nap.
I’m feeling a little better but my doctor has advised me to not go outside, with which I less than willingly oblige. I’ve watched almost everything worth watching on Netflix and I think I’m getting my period, so for once I’m actually horny. I decide to masturbate but because I’m not into porn and my vibrator ran out months ago and I keep forgetting to recharge it so all I have is my thoughts and some lube.
I don’t orgasm but I get sort of close, and I’m remember that I should really do this more often.
I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m not really in the right headspace to date anyone (shocker, I know). I’ve watched enough TikToks over the last few days to know that I’m not the only one that’s celibate. There’s a new trend where 20-something year old girls post photos of themselves, saying ‘End celibacy? End celibacy.’ That validates me and makes me feel slightly less alien. Even if they're talking about ending their celibacy they are, at least, currently not having sex.
I’ve also had enough time to reflect on the fact that being lacklustre about talking to people on Hinge means I’m really not that devoted to going on dates, and any negativity I feel towards it comes more from doubting my own instincts than anything inherently wrong with not having sex. Eventually, I’ll ease myself back into dating but for now I really need to focus on my mental health.
As per the NHS, genital herpes is a sexually transmitted infection which leads to red, open sores around the genital area, a burning and itching sensation in the affected area, pain during urination and irregular vaginal discharge. It can be difficult to judge when you contracted herpes as blisters may take months or years to appear.
If you have symptoms of genital herpes, make an appointment with a GP or with a sexual health clinic (you can also attend a drop-in sexual health clinic). There is no cure for genital herpes: the blisters will go away and may return as an outbreak in following months or years. Antiviral medication is prescribed during outbreaks in order to prevent symptoms becoming more severe, and cream may be prescribed for the pain.