Ask a Sex Researcher

Dr. Zhana weighs in on whether you can force your boyfriend to be monogamous, and how to have an awesome sex life after herpes.

This is the second installment of Dr. Zhana Vrangalova‘s sex advice column here on Slutever. Zhana is a sex researcher, a PhD in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, and an adjunct professor of human sexuality at NYU. Personally, I like to think of Dr Zhana as the archangel of sex positivity. For starters, she founded the The Casual Sex Project, a website where people from all over the world come to share stories about their one night stands, fuck buddies, and the like–the good, the bad and the ugly. She also has a column for Psychology Today called Strictly Casual, about the science of hooking up. And she gives talks and workshops about casual sex and non-monogamy (and why engaging in those things do not make you a bad person!) I previously interviewed Zhana for Vogue about sex addiction, and again for my article on non-monogamy and sex parties. And without further ado, I’ll let Dr. Zhana solve all your problems. –Karley Sciortino

Zhana Vrangalova, Sex Researcher/NYU/Adjunct professor of psychology poses inside of Babeland with some sex toys, books and other sex paraphernalia at Babeland in Soho at 43 Mercer Street, New York on Thursday, July 17, 2014. Enid Alvarez/New York Daily News

Dr. Zhana

1) What should I do when my new boyfriend says that he has another girl, which he started seeing before me? It’s crazy, he says that they have more in common, but he doesn’t love her, he loves me and feels right next to me. I’m 18, he’s 28. Girl’s 25. Obviously, I’m better than her, everyone knows it. Bigger butt, smaller waist, no extra pounds, I’m never hysteric and always nice with every single person, really like BDSM, etc. How do I make him choose one? It seems that he’s quite okay with having 2 girlfriends.

Dr. Zhana: It seems to me you have a boyfriend who wants to be polyamorous – someone who is openly dating more than one person. That’s certainly not the norm, but also not that uncommon these days – did you know there are more people in some sort of an open relationship than there are gay people? It’s perfectly normal to want more than one partner, just like it’s perfectly normal to want one partner.

That said, polyamory (or other forms of open relationships) are not for everyone, and for a poly relationship to work, everyone has to be on board and OK with that. So go do some soul searching, reading, and talking with him (and other poly folks) about whether poly is something you might want to try. If so, talk with him A LOT about the whole process as you’re going through it, to learn to constructively deal with jealousy, and set clear rules you’re both comfortable with. If poly is not what you want or think can handle, you can take your chances and give him an ultimatum (“it’s me or her”) or you can end this relationship gracefully and look for someone who wants to be monogamous with you.

As for which one of you is “better” than the other, just. don’t. go. there! Your respective butt size, weight, or personality are all completely irrelevant here – he can like different people for different reasons. You will do yourself a huge favor if you stopped comparing yourself to her.

2) I was just diagnosed with genital herpes (#party). I’m in my early 20s, and I’m worried about how this is going to affect my sex life, which has been BDSM and casual hookups/one night stands with men and women I meet online up until this point. Condoms turn me off. Do you have any advice on how I can continue to have an awesome sex life without secretly infecting people with herpes?

Dr. Zhana: Genital herpes can be a devastating diagnosis for people, but it really doesn’t need to be. You can still have awesome sex with lots of people without infecting them with herpes. It’s just going to require a bit more care and communication.

First, understand the mode of transmission and risk of infecting others. Unlike the bacterial infections (chlamydia, gonorrhea) or HIV, herpes can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so condoms are only partially effective against it and it is relatively easy to transmit if you have an active outbreak. It can also be transmitted when you don’t have an outbreak because most carriers (about 80%) shed enough virus to be infectious on about 10% of the days with no active lesions. That said, many people have low viral shedding and the chances of transmitting herpes without an active sore are relatively small. These chances can further be reduced to virtually nonexistent if you take daily anti-retroviral medicines (Valtrex or Valacyclovir) – talk to your doctor about whether this would be right for you. Finally, remember that during an active outbreak, you are most contagious right before the outbreak.

Once you’re armed with info, you need to negotiate comfort levels and risk reduction strategies with your partners. Genital herpes is one of the most common STIs (reaching 25% by the time people hit 40), so chances are they may have already been exposed to it and wouldn’t mind having unprotected sex with you. For some people, it will be a deal breaker; others won’t mind as long as you’re taking meds, and others won’t mind as long as you don’t have an active outbreak. You may also reconsider your aversion to condoms. I know they’re not great, but many people learn to love them over time (OK maybe not love them, but at least not mind them). Finally, given your interest in BDSM, there are many kinky activities that don’t involve genital skin-to-skin contact, so there may be many partners who wouldn’t be comfortable having genital contact with you, but would be perfectly happy doing other kinky things with you. In any case, the best thing to do is to disclose your status to your partners before having sex, and work out a course of action together.

For more info on anything and everything related to living with herpes, check out Herpes Opportunity (

Main image by Helmut Newton



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