Hot Safer Sex

{November 20, 2007}   Bringing It Up Gracefully

My past two partners voice distaste for safer sex practices. They both said that they were taking the pill and they couldn’t get pregnant. One of them even said “Don’t you trust me?” Now, I know the correct answer is “Ditch them, it ain’t worth it.” That may be true but what advice could you give to others in a similar scenario?

For example, you’re in the heat of the moment, you reach over to grab a condom and she says “Oh, you don’t need that.” How can he politely and without loss of arousal educate the partner that he does not know who she has slept with and neither does she…Wouldn’t the social stigma with STD’s cause the partner to become offended? Or is “no cover, no down under” good pillow talk? – Sukima, in comments

Oh, you don’t need that…” (shiver). What a scary thing to say. My first reaction is “Oh, I bet you say that to all the guys…” Because that’s the thing: if your partner (especially a new one) is wiling to forego a condom with you, do you really think they wouldn’t with others? I would never give advice…oh, wait, that’s cunningminx. Fuck that, I’ll give advice: if you hear a lover say something like that, ditch them, it’s not worth it.

OK, that’s harsh. And hypocritical; I was one of those people who put a huge stigma on herpes for a long time, and it took a patient partner to educate me on the realities of the issue. That’s only one STD, admittedly, and an incredibly benign one. But the initial reactions of people are way, way out of proportion.

In my opinion – and it’s only qualified in the sense that I have practiced safer sex for many years and hang out with people a lot smarter than me about it – is that the conversation needs to be had before the reaching for the condom. In my own case, usually the conversation has been about sex at some point in the evening anyway, and I will simply say things like this during conversation:

“Yes, I get tested every 6 months for STD’s, and also give blood regularly which is a great free HIV test…You know, I’ve had a several partners who had herpes, and even though I’ve been very careful, and never showed symptoms, I felt I had to tell people that they were at risk, because there really isn’t a reliable way for a guy to tell if he’s a carrier. Funny thing, no one ever said no to me for that reason…guess the stupid stigma of the disease is finally passing by. Oh, I prefer magnums, but the worst I ever tried were Avanti, with a lover who had a latex allergy. Oh, that really, really sucked…You know, I heard there are even Vegan condoms…”

By abstracting it like this, I give the person the information they need to know without the added pressure of “You need to know this now so that you can decide if we shall do the sex!” Usually the other half of the conversation is the person talking about how they’ve been tested, or what kind of condoms they prefer, or some funny story about the one time they tried the female condom and couldn’t stop giggling.

However, I suspect that not everyone peppers their dates with this much sexual content. For me, it’s almost a requisite that the person be comfortable talking about sex openly (one of my favorite first conversations with a lover was her relating how she learned to enjoy giving oral sex – this before she knew my last name. My kinda woman.).

If that’s the case – if you’ve spent the evening discussing Goya’s etchings and Barry Bonds’ bail – remember that the heat of the moment is the absolute worst time to make that decision. Forgive the pun, but it’s too hard to think clearly at that point…at least, I’ve found it difficult. But it’s necessary – even something as simple as

“Just a sec -” (style note: eye contact here is a really useful thing for maintaining intimacy) “…is there anything I should know about your sexual history? I have to tell you that I used to get cold sores in High School, so I’ve got the HSV1, but it’s not broken out in 15 years now. But if that means you’d rather I not go down on you, I’ll understand.”

That way you are taking the stigma on yourself (assuming that applies – it does to me, but your script may vary). It also sort of opens you up as a vulnerable person – Look, I’m opening up to you because I trust you won’t judge me and will talk to me – and therefore gives them the safe space they need to say “Well, after spring break a few years ago I came back with an unwelcome friend named gonorrhea, but everything else has tested negative.”

Tests. Tests are the hard part. It’s too easy to just say “Yeah, sure, I’ve been tested.” What does that mean? For HIV? For the full spectrum? Two days ago? Two decades? I think it should be a point of sexual etiquette that general questions should be met with specific answers: “Is there anything I should know about your sexual history?” is general. Something like “I get tested every six months, I’m due again next february, and I’ve had two partners since the last time. We used condoms, but not for oral, but neither of them have any diseases that we’re aware of.”

Too much information? Perhaps…but it lets the partner make an informed decision. It lets things be safer, and at the same time acknowledges (“…that we’re aware of.”) that there may be things that will still come as a surprise (Ding! goes the pun bell.)

Personally, I think that the idea of two people making adult decisions like that together is pretty hot, and can add to the feeling of fucking with wild abandon because you don’t have to have that doubt in the back of your mind of “What if I’m about to contract a disease that could kill me?”

Cuz that really sucks. At least, that’s all my opinion. Thoughts? Am I full of it? (Ding!)


tddog says:

I had had five sexual partners before I ever even went to the gynecologist. There was a lot wrapped up in that — I’m trans and would rather ignore that I have such a thing as a uterus, I started having sex when I was fifteen, my partner at the time didn’t want anyone to know we were a couple let alone having sex, four of the five were women…

I finally went when my current partner said “Alright, we kind of jumped the gun on this, but here’s my status, how about you?”and I went “Er…” and she said “Go to the doctor. I can go with you if it would help.” I went and I didn’t die (although the doctor nearly did when I told her I was sexually active but didn’t take the pill or use condoms) and everything turned out okay.

I got lucky. I should have gone years previously. I knew intellectually that I was supposed to, that it didn’t matter that I was only having sex with women, but at first I was scared and then I was in the habit of neglect even when I got out of that situation.

I don’t know if there’s a sex ed teaching method to diminish that fear and get more young people to really understand the need to keep track of their health, but we need one. (Suggestion for a future Midwest Teen Sex Show episode?)

As for talking about it, informed confidence is a lot more fun than false confidence or doubt.

Graydancer, not that I have more than a very general idea of your sexual history, but are you really allowed to give blood? I would have thought the lifetime ban would affect you as well — but I could be completely wrong.

graydancer says:

“Lifetime ban”? Not sure what that is, but I’ve got no tattoos, no piercings, no overseas travel during certain years…and while I am bi in terms of finding some men attractive, it’s never gotten to a point where I’d have to say “no” to donating blood.

That and I’m o neg, so they really like me.

Good topic for a future post, btw.

ritaseagrave says:

As someone who periodically writes sex advice, I try to think about some of the underlying reasons why someone might say, “Oh you don’t need that” in addition to the reasons that you’ve already mentioned. Here is a scenario I’m envisioning. A man is dating a few women. In order to stand out from the pack, one of the women offers to have unprotected sex. In terms of safety, it goes against all logic — I’d want to have safer sex with someone who has multiple partners — but in terms of wanting to achieve some kind of intimacy or to feel special, the logic kind of makes sense. Perhaps she feels like she doesn’t get to have a deeper connection with him in other ways. Not using a condom easily becomes a symbol of deeper connection and a symbol of something special that they share. So if I were giving advice, I might brainstorm other, safer ways that she can nurture a deeper connection with him even if she’s sharing him with others.

sherynb says:

The writer’s original question was how to respond in the heat of the moment, and for that, I think I’d stick with “Yeah, but it makes ME more comfortable. You’re not allergic to latex are you? No? Oh, GOOD!” With a smile, while putting it on…and then IN. The whole maneuver only takes about four seconds from wrapper to paradise, and once you find the spot you’re aiming for, the desire to chit-chat about technical details should end quite naturally. (If it doesn’t, you have other issues.)

So unless you’re planning to negotiate, there’s really no reason to stop for conversation. Discuss and educate when everyone is breathing normally. Sure the conversation should have been had before…but if it wasn’t, it’s gonna come after, and for me, it’s a pretty short one.

My response to “Don’t you trust me?”: “Sure I do. But it makes me more comfortable.” To “yeah, but I don’t like condoms”: “Yeah, but it makes me more comfortable.” To “but we can’t get pregnant”: “Yeah, but it makes me more comfortable.” To “but I can’t come like that…”: “Have we MET?” To more than one offer or protest: “Yanno, if you’d rather, we can do something else. I’m okay with that. Wanna go get pancakes???”

The fact is, the person I’m responsible for is ME. And guy or girl, if I want my goodies covered, nobody should question that decision. It’s not a value judgement about anything or anyone. It’s a decision about my risk-acceptance. And that’s not open for off-hand debate.

And what kind of a value judgement would I be making about someone in choosing with whom to have, or not have, unprotected sex? I actually think people who are more sexually active, and people in higher-risk subgroups, are SAFER than those most would stereotype as low risk. Because they are more likely know their risk factors and believe them, and thus to be diligent about protecting themselves and about being tested regularly. Still isn’t a guarantee that they are, though.

The reality is that you are most likely to be infected by someone who doesn’t know they are infected. Even those who get tested regularly go months between tests. The vast majority of women go a year or more between tests, and most don’t even know which STDs their doctors are choosing to test for. Most men aren’t tested unless they show symptoms of something, or someone tells them they’ve been exposed…usually sometime well AFTER the fact. And often THAT little bit of news comes to light along with the revelation that somebody wasn’t being as monogamous as their partner thought they were.

All STD’s are prone to false positives and negatives, and the incurable ones also tend to have long and unpredictable latency periods when they can’t be found on a test. A couple of them can’t reliably be tested for in men in any case. And, disease aside, the Pill doesn’t always protect against sexually transmitted children, either.

So the best of intentions aren’t good enough, even though I’m sure they are there. Which is why…”of course I trust you, but it makes me more comfortable.” With a smile.

And if that doesn’t work…so far, I’ve never heard of anybody ending up with an STD from pancakes.

[…] Bringing It Up Gracefully « Hot Safer Sex This just shoes why it is SO important to be able to discuss sex openly and honestly and without all the weird stigma bullshit that so many people seem to grapple with. Are there still people who find condoms insulting? 😛 (tags: sex sexuality communication) […]

roxyharte says:

Did she really say “don’t you trust me?” Egads… even if she had only one partner in her whole entire life THAT partner may have had a hundred or a thousand previous partners…so don’t even think I wouldn’t be doing the math!

I just had this conversation with my sixteen year old daughter who because she is now on the pill brought me the stock of condoms I and her two sisters had stashed in her room (all separately and without each others knowledge even though to the best of our knowledge she was still a virgin)…she said, “Here, you need these more than me.”

Thus the lecture about safe sex practices began… which included, “…it isn’t about trusting the other person” or “thinking they are diseased”… “it’s about a safe sexual habit that you will develop and practice for a lifetime…” and the real point of the whole conversation “…if he doesn’t respect you enough to practice safe sex, run…because he isn’t going to respect any of the limits you set.”

(I probably won’t really address the core subject of “what to do in the heat of the moment here, but I couldn’t help but chime in on a favorite topic…)

Yay for the great blog and great topic! Last spring I did a workshop at Sexy Spring called “Beyond Risk Reduction: Negotiating Smarter Sex” because STIs, risk, and risk tolerance can be so difficult to discuss and negotiate. My co-presenter and I focused on discussing risk perception, risk tolerance, and negotiation strategies, rather than specific STIs, symptoms, preventive measures, etc. (we had a handout that went over a lot of that stuff). We did that because we found that the problems people run into in negotiations with potential partners about STIs, prevention, and risk, has a lot to do with risk perception and tolerance.

I believe that anyone who is sexually active (take that broadly) has the responsibility to learn about STIs. It’s really easy to have inaccurate perceptions of our risk because we’re ill-informed, this can make us uber-afraid of certain infections that actually aren’t that common, or worse, lead us to believe that it’s unlikely that we’ll pick something up doing a certain activity or with a certain person. Understanding both your own and your potential partners’ risk perceptions is incredibly important. Nevertheless, we live in the real world, and the real world includes conflicting data and “expert advice/opinion”, which means that even if we try to base our risk perceptions on reputable sources, there’s no one “correct” final answer to how risky this or that activity or person is.

Another problem with living in the real world is that even if two people look at exactly the same information about a risk, they might end up with a different tolerance for it. There are a lot of reasons for that, one of them being the “heat of the moment”, others including simply having a risk-averse or risk-seeking personality, or recent media exposure to the topic. Perceptions can be adjusted based on reality, and those perceptions can influence our tolerance, but RISK TOLERANCE IS PERSONAL — it comes from thought and feeling and experience, and thus doesn’t always mesh well with the “facts.” For instance, someone might know that kissing presents essentially no risk for HIV transmission, but still not be tolerant of risking transmission orally. Or, someone might understand that HPV is really common, but be tolerant of activities that could transmit it. I think it’s very important not to make moral judgements of people based on their risk tolerance, but that unfortunately this does happen. People with low risk tolerances can be labeled prudes or discriminatory, people with high tolerances sluts or spreaders of disease; those and other labels aren’t at all useful in helping people to decide how to keep themselves and their partners safe, happy, and sexually fulfilled. It’s perfectly fine to disagree with someone’s risk tolerance, to discuss what it might be based on for them, and to tell them that we think they’re basing it on an incorrect perception or that it exposes them to risk that we don’t want them exposed to. However, a tolerance level is never right or wrong, it’s simply a personal choice that has consequences.

This gets into the factors that go into determining risk tolerance for various activities and potential partners. There are a LOT of them, including the aforementioned “heat of the moment,” to how curable or preventable certain STIs are, how risky certain activities are, the potential benefit we perceive we will get from participating in a certain activity with a certain person, childhood fears, overall mental health, ease and accuracy of testing for certain STIs, and short-term vs. long-term thinking. For example, if an STI is curable, we may be less afraid of it, and thus more tolerant of activities that might expose us to it. Conversely, if we percieve certain STIs as particularly “dirty” or “low-class” or whatever, we might be less tolerant of activities that might expose us to them, even if the long-term consequences would be low. A personal example: HPV is a particularly tough STI to think about, because it can cause death (even though as a proportion of the total people who contract it, the number of deaths is very small), is difficult to detect in women (which I am) until it’s causing problems and is undetectible in men (who I sometimes like having sex with), is really easy to spread, and is usually treatable when it does causing problems (particularly in situations where women have regular access to medical care). Considering those factors and my personal situation I’ve decided that HPV is something I’m willing to risk. Someone else with a very similar personal situation might determine that HPV is not within their risk tolerance, perhaps because they knew someone who died of cervical cancer. We created a Big STI Chart and a Risk Tolerance Worksheet to help people think about how these factors impact their tolerance.

In the workshop, the group’s discussion seemed to come to rest on the importance of making it easier to disclose STI and risk histories. Many people bravely talked about their own experiences feeling shame or disapproval from potential partners for disclosing in the past. If we don’t make it less shameful to have or have had an STI, people will keep avoiding disclosure and testing. When we’re negotiating sexual activity with a potential partner and that person discloses to us a current STI or past positive test or other exposure information, we should congratulate them for their bravery in disclosing and appreciate that they did (imagine the alternative!), the conseqences of the disclosure may be that certain activities are outside our risk tolerance with that particular partner, which can be disappointing, and it’s okay to express that disappointment as long as we don’t shame the discloser.

I don’t think that higher sexual activity correlates to more accurate risk perception or better negotiation skills. However, I do believe that consciously sex-positive communities and groups ARE probably safer, not because they have fewer STIs (although they might), but because people in them are more willing to be open with each other about sexual issues in general.

There I go again…probably saying too little with too many words, at least I got it out of my system 🙂

roxyharte says:

oops…forgot to add… The Lifetime Ban was placed on gay men by FDA in 1983 in an effort to stop the spread of HIV…it was recently reconsidered (winter2006-spring2007)

In March 2006, the American Red Cross, Blood Centers of America? and the AABB proposed replacing the lifetime ban with a one-year ban following the last known male/male sexual contact.

So basically, according to the FDA, if a man admits to having sex only once in his lifetime he will be “banned for life from donating blood” (in the national FDA Database)

This ban is still being challenged by different groups…

If anyone has heard anything more up to the minute…let me know

tddog says:

@graydancer: The lifetime ban on donation of blood by men who have had sex with at least one male partner since 1977 was what I was referring to.

@roxyharte: I could not find more current information than that either, so I don’t know what the current status is. Surely with the current more advanced state of blood testing technology we can do away with such a discriminatory practice…

Minx says:

I’ve definitely heard the “I can’t come that way,” both with oral and PIV sex. Really, that should’ve sent me flying in the other direction, because that would mean that the guy(s) in question would have regularly had oral or PIV sex without condoms, right?

One good thing about being poly is that most of the people I see tend to have already had the safer sex debate with their partners, so there’s not a lot of fuss over it. Personally, I’ve never had sex without condoms, and I never will–not once, not ever.

In terms of the actual mechanics of putting the condom on, I learned early on that putting on the condom was my job (it’s polite and kinda sexy), and I always give a little extra head before putting it on the guy. It’s fun for me, fun for him, and it also get the cock all nice and slippery for the condom to go on nicely. Everyone is happy! In fact, I’m trying to figure out how that is NOT sexy, compared to, say gonorrhea.

[…] had a great post that I really can’t summarize here; I’d suggest you go to the comments and read it if you haven’t. One thing that I really took from that is the idea that “RISK TOLERANCE […]

Sukima says:

Minx: I love that idea. Now the only challenge is to get girls to do that! I think I must live in the most ass backwards hick town in the world. I have never in my life met a girl who would do that! (Then again I haven’t met a girl who gives blow jobs either. Wow my life sucks!) Anyway.

I think if we can get the word out. educate women and men how not only to have safer sex but how to make it fun! I hate the stigma that the guy has to turn around put it on and then turn back around. Your going to become very intimate if you haven’t already. So why covet the process. Embrace it together. Bond together in everything. Imagine how sexy it is to the guy to know that his safe sex practices are part of the mating ritual and not some aside he has to do a fast as possible.

Girls love it when guys undress them. Guys love it wen girls unzip their pants. These are require parts of the mating ritual that in most cases are shared. Why is the condom any different?It all adds up to preparation anticipation.

[…] The Muse Amused wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerpt … ou know, a while back I had a partner with herpes, and even though we were always very careful, and I never showed symptoms of any kind, I felt I had to tell people t…” OK, that’s harsh. And hypocritical; I was one of those people who put a huge stigma on herpes for a long time, and it took a patient partner to educate me on the realities of the i ssue…. […]

[…] unsafe sex. Did you really want unsafe sex? No. But the language of unsafe sex is hot. “You don’t need a condom. Don’t you trust me, baby?” and “Don’t pull out. I want your cum inside me.” What happened afterwards? […]

[…] Advice Bringing It Up Gracefully I Don’t Need Porn, I Get Real Sex! Prince Albert for […]

[…] Advice Bringing It Up Gracefully I Don’t Need Porn, I Get Real Sex! Prince Albert for […]

[…] Advice Bringing It Up Gracefully I Don’t Need Porn, I Get Real Sex! Prince Albert for […]

[…] Advice Bringing It Up Gracefully I Don’t Need Porn, I Get Real Sex! Prince Albert for […]

This is why you communicate and get to know someone before you get to the point of just doing it…

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