For Tricia Wise, Safety is Sexy

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

Tricia Wise is a sexual health advocate and the creator of Safe Slut, which promotes safer sex and educates on STIs. She’s also a content creator who never imagined she’d still get to live her lifelong dream of making porn after being diagnosed with HSV II.

Tricia is on Instagram @safe.slut, and on Twitter @safe_slut. Her video series “Getting Sloppy with Safe Slut” can be found on YouTube

[Book recommendation: Celebrate Your Body (And Its Changes, Too!) by Sonya Renee Taylor]

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Podcast Transcript:

Aria Vega [00:00:00] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics, and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega. Tricia Wise is a sexual health advocate, erotic content creator and herbalist based in New York City. She's the creator of Safe Slut, an online platform promoting safer sex practices and reducing STI stigma. She's come a long way from her Catholic roots.

Tricia Wise [00:00:34] I did go to public school, and so we did have like some sort of sex ed, but I think it was like one day, and we basically just were shown the scariest images of STIs and they were like, "Don't have sex." And then in CCD, which is like Catholic... If you go to public school but you go to a church, you have to go to CCD on Sundays after church to learn about God and whatever. So in 10th grade,we had to watch a video about — basically just saying, "if you have sex before marriage, you're damaged." So basically that was not for me, and I knew that I was not going to wait till marriage. My family though, my parents were Catholic, but they were more open about stuff that wasn't.... My mom kind of found out I was having sex because she read my diary once, so she would just say, "I want to make sure you're being safe." Obviously I was really embarrassed and didn't want to talk about it, but at the same time, we also didn't talk about sex. I don't really remember having conversations with my parents about sex. It was just kind of like, You know what it is, we don't need to talk about it because it's uncomfortable.

Aria Vega [00:01:42] Yeah, I mean I'm not a parent, but I can imagine.

Tricia Wise [00:01:46] Yeah, because it's like, you don't want to talk to your kid about that, and they don't want to hear it from you. I actually I have an eight-year-old niece and she's been asking my sister in law questions. So she got her a book, a very age appropriate book for an eight-year-old. I have a book by her, she's the body positivity woman... Oh, Sonya Renee Taylor...

Aria Vega [00:02:03] Oh, yeah!

Tricia Wise [00:02:04] Yeah, which, I have her book for adults that I haven't read yet, but I've been meaning to.

Aria Vega [00:02:08] That's what I have, the one with the purple cover, right? I can't remember what it's called....

Tricia Wise [00:02:13] The Body Is Not An Apology.

Aria Vega [00:02:14] Yes!

[00:02:15] Yeah, so she wrote a kid's book, and it's kind of about body positivity, but like, seeing as your body changes. So I was reading it to my niece because she asked me to and she was like, "I want you to keep reading it to me."She was like, "You read it better than my mom does!" I think it's just cause she got embarrassed talking to her mom about her body changes and sex and stuff. Which I get!

Aria Vega [00:02:35] Yes exactly, I totally get it. When it comes to parents and kids, neither party really wants to have that conversation with the other. It's not that the parents necessarily don't want the kids to know about sex, or that the kids don't have questions about sex. That's just not the person that they want to talk to about it. But then schools don't want to do it either, especially these days, with how politically fraught it is to talk about anything even adjacent to sex ed. There isn't.... In some ways I feel like kids today are better off because they have the internet, and then other times I feel like they're worse off because they have the internet.

Tricia Wise [00:03:10] It's definitely a double-edged sword because... Yeah, I know you're in the South and I know there's so many states down there that, like, they're trying to ban, condoms and... Not having sex ed, like comprehensive, medically accurate sex ed, it's so damaging for kids to not have that information.

Aria Vega [00:03:26] You know, aside from the sex aspect of it, like you alluded to, this really is just a matter of health concerns and helping people consent.

Tricia Wise [00:03:34] Yeah, that was a big thing in the book. Actually, the word "sex" isn't in in the book, which I think was age appropriate, 'cause she's eight! They talk about periods, how your body changes, but that it's still... Your body's amazing! And like consent, if you want someone to hug you. It's these things that yeah, eight-year-olds absolutely need to know. The book is great, I can't recommend it more for kids.

Aria Vega [00:03:56] I think a lot of people, when they hear the idea of sex ed for let's say K through [grade] 5, like the elementary or the youngest kids, they're like, "Oh my God, we can't do that, that's the wrong age for that!" But like you're saying, you can talk to kids about sex without using the word "sex," because sex is so much more than penis-in-vagina intercourse, like so many adults unfortunately seem to believe. Particularly those bits around building relationships, setting boundaries, establishing consent and the things pertaining to health are essential. Do you have a sense of... I know 8 is really young, but do you have a sense of what she understands about STIs, and how much stigma you think she has internalized about that? But that's probably, we're probably not there yet at 8.

Tricia Wise [00:04:41] Not there yet, but in the book I actually randomly flipped open to a part that talked about cold sores, and that it's the herpes virus. And I was like, I love this woman! Wow, amazing.

Aria Vega [00:04:53] Tricia knows just how hard it can be to find media that discusses herpes without disrespecting the people who have it. People like her. In 2019, Tricia was diagnosed with HSV II, or genital herpes. By the way, HSV I is the strain of herpes that appears on the mouth as cold sores. But for some who contract herpes through receiving oral sex, they can have HSV I occur generally. Ever since Tricia got her diagnosis, she's wanted to create a digital space where others can access the support they need in those emotional early days after receiving their own test results. Through Safe Slut, Tricia also offers skin care, tinctures, remote reiki sessions and support calls for people newly diagnosed with herpes.

Tricia Wise [00:05:42] So I got it almost three years ago. I got it at a Halloween party. I had a one night stand with a guy, and three days later, like clockwork for typical herpes outbreaks, I ended up getting an outbreak and it was really small, but my whole body felt it because you get flu-like symptoms too. So I was sick and then also was like, Why? What is this? Herpes wasn't really on my mind though, which, I kind of figured it'd be something curable. I didn't even know anything. I was like, is it gonorrhea? I don't know what this looks like, I have no idea. So I had my roommates both look at my vulva and be like, What are you guys think this is? And they were like, No, it's nothing! It's fine! It's going to get checked out. I know in their heads, they were like, Oh shit... So I went to an urgent care close by to me and the woman immediately was like, Yeah, this is herpes. Yeah, it was definitely traumatizing. The woman was really sweet who diagnosed me, but she didn't really have great bedside manner, and, I just needed more information and a little bit more support, because I was just kind of like, What? Okay... And I was kind of sent on my way to get my Valtrex prescription. I bawled my eyes out the second I left. So it left a lot of questions. I immediately started googling things, which is always a bad idea, because there's so much false information about herpes out there....

Aria Vega [00:06:59] Well, that's why it was the job of those health care workers to support you and help keep you from the point that you were so anxious that you would do that.

Tricia Wise [00:07:08] It's unfortunate, too, because so many health care workers also don't know a lot about herpes. I'll have people message me saying, "I have HSV I genitally, but my doctor said that's not a thing, [that] it has to be HSV II because it's genital." You can get either strain in either mouth or genitals. HSV II is less likely to go on the mouth, but there's just a lot of misinformation or just slut-shaming, which is awful because it's literally their job.

Aria Vega [00:07:33] Especially something this common. I mean, what are the numbers on this?

Tricia Wise [00:07:36] It's over 1 in 6 people in the US, and over 1 in 4 New Yorkers have genital herpes. And then cold sores, it's like two-thirds of the population. So it's so common. It's usually asymptomatic, and they don't test for it on the regular STI panel. So more people actually have it and don't even know. But again, it's their own bias and stigma, which is just unfortunate because it's inevitable sometimes. Like there's people... You can still get it when using condoms. If someone has a cold sore and goes down on you... It could be like in a long term relationship and you get it. It doesn't mean you were a ho! I got it from being a ho, but that's not everyone's story, so it is what it is.

Aria Vega [00:08:21] Tricia's first herpes outbreak occurred shortly before the global outbreak of a different virus— the coronavirus, of course. But in between those two events, in February 2020, Safe Slut made its grand debut. Tricia figured she'd make the most of her situation by educating herself and connecting with other HSV positive people. Then the COVID lockdowns claimed Trisha's esthetician job about a month later. Suddenly, unemployment was a golden opportunity to grow the platform beyond her initial vision. But there were definitely some roadblocks.

Tricia Wise [00:08:57] I was also really triggered because of course everyone was just watching TV and drinking alcohol. So I would justdrink and watch movies, but any time there wasa sex scene, I would get super triggered and I'd be like, Oh my God, I can never have sex again. I had to shut this movie off. But then I ended up having... It was like a week into the pandemic, so I probably shouldn't have asked them to come over. But it was like someone that I've hooked up with in the past, and I was like, Let me just tell him, he's a really great guy. And he came over and I disclosed to him and he was like, Okay. Which was great!

Aria Vega [00:09:27] Tell me more about that, the process of disclosure to other partners. Because I know that for a lot of people, that is one of the scariest parts of of an HSV diagnosis.

Tricia Wise [00:09:37] I feel like when I first started disclosing, I would either send a really long text message of all this information, how I got it, like paragraphs. It's kind of overwhelming, and I think it can make people be like, That's a lot. Where[as] in person, I would get kind of drunk and be like, "By the way, I have herpes" and...you could tell that I was very nervous about it, but I actually have a close person in my life who also has it and he was like, "No one cares. Literally, no one cares, because I have slept with so many people. Just say it, who cares?" So I kind of took that approach of just being very confident about it. Now I'll either disclose just by, like, a one sentence like "Also, by the way, I have HSV II, let me know if you have any questions." Super simple. I usually will do that if it's just to hook up, because it'slike, just give me a yes or no, because this is what we're here for. But my favorite way to disclose, because this is also very important, is asking them when they've been tested last. Because not only am I disclosing, but they're also disclosing. Their sexual health is just as important. Because, just because I have an STI doesn't mean that I should just sleep with whoever. So if they're like, "I've never been tested," or like, "Oof, it's been a while," you have every right to say no to that person.

Aria Vega [00:10:53] Some of the guys that Tricia tried to hook up with during that period made it clear just how badly her sexual health advocacy was needed.

Tricia Wise [00:11:02] I went on a Tinder date at this dive bar in Bed-Stuy. This is when I first moved here, and we were having a really good time. He had a tab open and he neveroffered to buy me a drink, which like, I'm happy to pay, but offer at least one! We're getting like $5 drinks, come on. So we came back to my place and I was like, "So I have HSV II, when have you last been tested?I've been tested this recently, I'm negative for all these things." And he was like, "Oh, I've never been tested." I just I think I just responded, "That's so embarrassing." I was like, "You're 32!" It's just a turnoff because it's like, you don't care about your own health? So I remember being like, "This is what we'll do: I'll give you a handjob, you can use my toy on me, and then you can get on your merry way." And then he texted me saying, "I would love to grab coffee with you some time, I want to see you again." And I just was kind of like, "Nah." I mean, honestly, I think was more because he didn't buy me a drink! Although it is very ridiculous that you're that old and you've never been tested, and you've clearly slept around. That's just very irresponsible! But I do go back to our sex education that failed us where it's like, "but I never had any symptoms." So he's like, "Yeah, I'm fine," or, "the person I'm seeing would have told me," and it just doesn't work like that. Ignorance is bliss, but that's just it's just not how it works.

Aria Vega [00:12:23] And then, there was this guy.

Tricia Wise [00:12:26] Oh, my God, I was dating this guy a few months ago, and he gets cold sores. But he wouldn't go down on me because he was scared of getting herpes. And I was like, "You already have it on your mouth! You already have it!" This man is a chiropractor, and he was like, "Well, I'm a medical professional, so I havestudied this," and I was like, "Sir...."

Aria Vega [00:12:46] Sir, you get why that's worse, right?!

Tricia Wise [00:12:48] You sound dumb! First of all, you're a chiropractor, you're not a doctor. No shade to chiropractors, but like, come on, it's not the same. I was like, "You're going to discredit my three years of lived experience with your maybe one hour you spent reading about cold sores from textbook from 1980? Okay, cool."

Aria Vega [00:13:06] So frustrating.

Tricia Wise [00:13:07] Yeah, I never saw him again after that.

Aria Vega [00:13:14] Safe Slut was initially meant to be a personal project for Tricia, but that went out the window pretty quickly.

Tricia Wise [00:13:21] So I had no intention of being public about it, but I think it was two weeks later I was like, You know what? I'm going to post a photo of myself. Who cares? That's my own stigma about myself and herpes for wanting to be anonymous, which again, no one needs to be public about their status. But for me, I was like, that feels to me personally more about stigma. So I shared a photo of myself on Safe Slut, but still kept it private from my actual public life. It's still like a month or two later, so still shortly after that. I was like, You know what I'm going to do on my personal account where literally my family and friends and everyone are on there? I was like, I'm was going to post a nude and say I have genital herpes, and then give information. So I posted a nude and was just like, "I HAVE GENITAL HERPES" in all caps and just gave information and it was like, it's not a big deal. So then I was like, Cool, I'm just out here being public about herpes. I was so scared, but the amount of messages I got after that from either acquaintances or just random people that, we just followed each other and I wasn't really close to, it was like, "Oh my God, I've been suicidal, I've never told anyone else. Thank you so much. So obviously I'm sure I lost followers or whatever, but I don't care. The positive definitely outweighed... So yeah, that was good. Then it was mostly like herpes focused, but then as it grew, I realized that there was so many things that I wanted to say about like dating and sex relationships that I never had a place to. So now I just use Safe Slut as a way to just express myself and my sexuality in general. Also I feel like I've always been very passionate about social issues and stuff like that. So just having a big platform, of course I can use that to spread information and all that stuff. So it's just kind of this whole thing now, not just herpes, but herpes is where it started.

Aria Vega [00:15:05] Safe Slut turned out to be an ideal space for Tricia to showcase a different area of expertise.

Tricia Wise [00:15:11] Before I got herpes, so I'm an institution and I'm also an herbalist. I already had a background in skin care products, and also herbal products. So I actually had my own little witchy shop before, called Wise Craft Herbals, and I would make tinctures. Actually a lot of it was specifically for people with vulvas, like PMS tinctures, and all that stuff. So when I got herpes, I was like, Well, I'm gonna make stuff for myself now that I have this, because I also just love.... I love skin diseases! I mean, that's why I became an esthetician. I love popping people's acne, I love like weird shit. So when I got herpes, I was like, Ooh, let me research this new thing. So I had all these herbs and stuff in my kitchen that worked really well. So I made some for myself. After doing that, I was like, Oh, I should like also sell this stuff, it works really well for me, which is cool. And also during I think it was like a month after I got diagnosed, I got certified in Reiki. So kind of encompassing this whole spiritual and holistic approach to herpes... I was like, I can definitely use this and help people as well, which has been really great.

Aria Vega [00:16:18] Yeah, I mean it sounds like you're sort of establishing this body of care options that is everything that was missing from your own initial experience seeking health care. Like you said, the bedside manner wasn't there, the emotional support wasn't there, the guidance about disclosure and navigating relationship... All of that should be available to you as soon as you find out that you have herpes.

Tricia Wise [00:16:46] I agree, and that's why I'm glad there's just so many Instagram and like content creators out there who aredoing all this herpes advocacy, which is amazing. I feel like everyone is also so different, andwe all have our own little thing that we do. So I think there's always,there's someone for everyone in the herpes community that you can really relate to, which is cool.

Aria Vega [00:17:05] In addition to the work that you do with respect to educating around herpes, you're also a pleasure advocate and an erotic content creator. I'm wondering, does it feel important to you to show your followers that a herpes diagnosis doesn't subtract anything from your sexual expression?

Tricia Wise [00:17:21] Oh my God, totally. So I made an OnlyFans two months ago, and the name is HerpesWitch, which, I was going to be SafeSlut but you can't use the word "slut" on OnlyFans, which is ridiculous.

Aria Vega [00:17:32] Get the fuck out of here! Oh my god.

Tricia Wise [00:17:32] Yeah, there's so many rules, there's so many rules. Censorship! So I made it @herpeswitch, and the main reason was... I've always wanted to do porn, I'm not going to lie. I've always been like obsessed with it! When I got herpes, I was like, oh my God, my dream of being a porn star is over. And so I wanted to make the OnlyFans to show people that like, Yeah, I'm still hot, I still have sex.I actually, I took a few photos when I had an outbreak, of me masturbating and me in the bath. You could see the outbreak, and me being like, "I'm still hot!" It's a different approach than most people's, like herpes advocacy.

Aria Vega [00:18:13] But it's impactful.

Tricia Wise [00:18:14] Yeah, and a lot of the people who follow me there have herpes or some other STI, and usually I've had people ask me, they're like, "Oh, are your followers like saying like gross things to you or whatever?" Which, one, I want them to. I haven't gotten anything crazy yet, but they usually go, "Oh, wow, is this so empowering! This is so nice. Wow, thank you for this," which is really cool. So it's just kind of this new, this new thing that I'm doing. And now I've like, met people that I'm making content with, and it's just, I never thought after getting herpes that I would be in this position. Yeah, it's really cool. I love it.

Aria Vega [00:18:54] So we happen to be recording this interview the day after the Biden Administration declared monkeypox to be a public health emergency in the U.S. And we're relatively early in this outbreak, though, in absolute numbers, we have the worst in the world. Yet we've already seen factual information about the virus be drowned out by misinformation and stigma. And so basically, I'm wondering if this sounds familiar to you.

Tricia Wise [00:19:23] Yes. Oh, yeah. Oh, 100 percent. Misinformation— and I feel like not only herpes, but of course, like the AIDS epidemic in the '80s, it was just sort of like "it's a gay disease" and was just kind of ignored. And they're kind of making it seem right now that it's also a gay disease. No virus is like, "We're only going for the gays." Like what?

Aria Vega [00:19:47] Yeah let's, why don't we go ahead and state this definitively? So monkeypox is not an STI. It is a virus that causes, among other things, skin lesions, and it is transmitted through intimate contact. Can sex be one of the ways that it is transmitted? Yes. But so is sitting next to someone, hugging someone, sharing clothes, all of these really innocuous things, many of which you do with strangers in public on an average day.

Tricia Wise [00:20:23] And yeah,it's the same thing with herpes, where it's like you can get it through sex, but I mean, there's cold sores which aren't necessarily, but you can get it from your parent or like an aunt, you know?

Aria Vega [00:20:34] Does it make you feel... Basically, I'm wondering,you've been doing Safe Slut for two and a half years and doing your part to combat the stigma and get better education out there and so forth. I'm wondering if anything about the way that we're responding to monkeypox, makes you feel not that that all was all for naught, but does it frustrate you at all?

Tricia Wise [00:20:58] Oh, yeah.

Aria Vega [00:20:59] Does it make you feel more like you're screaming into the void?

Tricia Wise [00:21:03] Yeah, because I felt the same way with COVID, too, when people wouldn't understand that you can be asymptomatic and have it, and it's the way viruses work. Or that, getting tested for COVID, it takes a little bit for it to show up on a test because you have to build like the antibodies, and stuff like that. Again, it's frustrating with the general public that they don't know this, but it's obviously the actual health providers and the government who aren't making this information, this actual medically accurate information abundantly clear and given to us. It's just like, constant misinformation and fearmongering too, all the time.

Aria Vega [00:21:41] You know, it seems really overwhelming, but there's enough of us knowing what we need to know and saying what we need to say to to get the right information out there. It's just daunting.

Tricia Wise [00:21:52] Right.I do believe there's so many, there's so many good people out there, especially talking to people on Facebook and interacting with people. There's so many people who care so much about things, and we all just want the best for the world and everyone. So I'm like very optimistic that like things will be okay, but also like the absolute idiots running the country and all of this shit, it's just very disheartening. But change will come and everything will be okay, I hope!

Aria Vega [00:22:27] That's Tricia Wise, the creator of Safe Slut. You can find the site at safeslut.shop And the Instagram is @safe.slut. The Instagram has a Linktree where you can find more of Tricia's ephemera, including her writing, her Patreon, and her TikTok. By the way, if you're curious about that book on body positive puberty, it's called "Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls," and it's by Sonya Renee Taylor. There's a link to buy it in the show notes in case you've got some little ones in your life who could use it. Has anyone found any resources on living with genital herpes that they'd like to share with the class? Shoot them over to askaria@lustery.com, or you can find me on twitter @vegadreamcast. If you're into the show, please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com And we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. Bye now, lovers.