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I Want to Sleep With My Friend But She Has Herpes 

Dear Athena,

My platonic friend and I have discussed becoming intimate. We have known each other 17 years, and I guess it was inevitable things would come to this. We've only met once; our entire friendship has been through online chats, emails and phone calls. I would love to sleep with her, except that she has herpes. I've told my friend that I'm worried about having sex with her, but I would like to be her friend with benefits. How do I handle this?

 Sincerely,

Walking on a Tightrope

Dear Walking,

You've only met once? That's a big deal in and of itself. Herpes aside, the start of an intimate relationship between friends can be tricky, especially given the modern-day Love in the Time of Cholera kind of anticipation you two have got going. Wow, 17 years! You say you want to be "friends with benefits," but the concept is often, well, just that. It can be challenging to pull off without someone getting too attached, or hurt. You two have cultivated an impressively long friendship, and deciding to take it to another level should not be taken lightly. Sit down and talk honestly about what you both want and expect. Be aware that you could lose a friend while trying to gain a lover. What's more important to you?

If you proceed with this, you'll be getting to know each other physically, and the chemistry will be there or it won't. The way she chews her bagels, for example, could end the relationship before it begins. I recommend taking it slowly and trying not to be judgmental. And that includes your reservations regarding the herpes. After so many years of communicating, I would guess that door is wide open.

But keep in mind that sex with someone who has herpes does not have to be scary. There are many forms of protection: Using male or female condoms, dental dams and gloves can reduce the risk of getting infected through vaginal, anal or oral sex. Learn how each product works, if you've never used it, so you can be as safe as possible, and avoid sexual interaction when she is having an outbreak.

Finally, take the time to understand herpes — About.com, among other sites, offers useful and expert information. Knowledge is power, whereas fear puts a damper on intimacy and pleasure. The more you know, the less afraid you'll be, and the less afraid you are, the more fun you can have. Good luck and let me know how it works out!

Yours,

Athena

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