“El riesgo siempre vive” (The risk always lives) – Unknown author
I received an email about poly regarding STDs. Oddly enough, this is the first one I ever got that was more realistic about the mechanics, rather than the emotional issues behind being in a poly unit.
The email went on (and on, and on and on…) but eventually, the question was “How do you and your group manage the risk of STDs and stuff?”
I suppose it should be no surprise that my book (https://www.amazon.com/Ladies-First-Guide-Woman-Beyond/dp/1304289303) contains an entire appendix with information about STDs, because I treat them VERY seriously. So much in fact that my wife and I have a rule about it. The rule is as follows;
“Any sexual contact between involving one or both of us, where we (singularly or collectively) involve someone else, it is understood that the proper protection is used. The only caveat to this is if we are engaged in a closed poly group, that the group may engage without protection, provided certain criteria is met.”
The criteria is birth control is used, regular testing (bi-monthly) is conducted and conversations to ensure everyone is on the same page.
The short version is “protection is worn and exercised at all times with everyone else but the primary”, which is myself and my wife.
I’ve never understood the idea of people gambling with their health. Granted, I’m one of the last people in the world to actually work out, but when it comes to my sexual health, I don’t take any chances.
When I was in my early twenties, I met a woman at Ozzfest (we’ll call her “Kate”, I don’t know why, but I like using Kate as a psuedonym…) and we ended up sleeping together, when I went home for my test (I usually got about four times a year) I found out I had gonorrhea. Thankfully, she had given me her number and I called her to let her know that she needed to get checked.
Her reaction was that she knew she had it before we had sex. I was less than pleased.
I flipped the f**k out. When I asked her, “Why in the absolute f**k would you not tell me before hand?!?!” She replied, “You wouldn’t have had sex with me.” To be fair, she was right. The night we had sex was the only time I did not use protection with someone outside of my primary relationship. I also called 2 others I had been sleeping with to let them know. I also said that I would pay for testing if they wanted me to.
One of them was a little irritated but not badly, and she refused for me to pay. I guess her insurance covered it (I miss the Clinton days sometimes). The other said that she was actually impressed that I called and cared enough about her well-being to make sure she knew. She wouldn’t let me pay, but I did go to the appointment with her, just to be courteous.
My girlfriend was out of town on business, so I didn’t have to worry about her.
The test I had to receive was quite literally a cotton swab the size of a dagger into the urethra of my penis. I’ve broken my femur skateboarding, and this was worse.
So, since then I have used protection with everyone whose sexual history was even the slightest bit suspect. If I don’t know you well enough to trust you implicitly, I’m bagging it.
Thankfully, I had just gonorrhea and nothing that really affected me too badly. One of my girlfriends actually contracted HIV while we were sleeping together and I went to the appointment with her.
Getting an HIV/AIDS test is one of the most stressful tests one could get. Not because of the testing itself, but because you have to wait a week or so for the results, some places have you wait up to a month. During that time, you will question things, have revelations, possibly even swear off sexual intercourse altogether. (I’ve known a few people who have done this.)
You start to question every little sexual encounter you’ve ever had. (When you’ve led such a rackety and bohemian life as I have, this can be mentally damaging… “Was it the stripper in San Diego? Yes, it was PROBABLY the stripper in San Diego…”) I had someone have a break down on me, absolutely swearing that she could have gotten it from a dirty toilet seat she sat on when she was in San Diego (not the case).
When your results come back, you will either be HIV positive (you have it), or HIV negative (you don’t have it). If you are HIV negative, all is well and you can go back to your life, though you should get tested again and again, usually at the 6 month and one year marks. Counseling is usually provided upon request if the test period was a little too stressful for you. My first one, I took advantage of that, just to make sure that what I was feeling was normal.
If you are HIV positive, a completely different experience awaits you.
But, “Kate” an ex-girlfriend of mine (whom I was great friends with after the dissolution of our relationship) was diagnosed HIV positive. As we had not had sex in quite the while I was not required to get tested, but I did anyway a few days later, just because. Again, better safe than sorry.
I sat with her and her doctor and a grief counselor came in and sat down. The conversation I remember verbatim because it was a conversation that cemented my habits on testing and sexual practice in general.
Doctor: “Kate, I’m sorry, but your test results concluded that you are HIV positive.”
Kate was silent for about 2 minutes and I held her hand.
Counselor: “I understand this is not what you wanted to hear. The (clinic she was being tested at) clinic offers grief counseling and services to help you deal with this. You don’t have to go through this alone.”
Me: “She WON’T go through it alone.” I squeezed her hand a bit, while she was still very silent and staring out the window.
Kate: “I have HIV.”
Doctor: “I’m afraid so.”
Kate: “So, I’m dead… This is what you’re telling me.”
Doctor: “Absolutely not. These days HIV is not a virus that is uniformly fatal. There are treatments and lifestyle changes that can make life almost normal. This is not the end, this simply requires a reassessment of priority and the decision to get your treatment.”
He was silent for a beat.
Kate: “I think I want to go home.”
Counselor: “I would like to schedule you for a visit with us, so that we can discuss it and make sure that you are going to be alright mentally.”
Me: (Turning to Kate.) “I’ll make the appointment for you. Then you can decide whether or not you want to keep it later, okay?”
She nodded. I turned to the counselor.
Me: “Is this alright?”
I made the appointment for her and afterward the doctor said that she had to submit a list of names and numbers of people she had had sex with for the past year. I was on that list, and I told the doctor I would make an appointment with my own doctor to get tested.
Generally, this is what happens when you are told you have HIV. The doctors and professionals do everything they can to try and lessen the emotional impact of the results, but realistically your life changes right then and there.
I do NOT mess around with my sexual health. I recommend that anyone involved in any kind of non-monogamy do the same. It’s quite simply not worth it. You’re not only putting yourself at risk, you’re putting people around you at risk as well.
Generally, my wife and I manage the risks by being very honest with each other and our lovers about our methods, use protection every time, educate ourselves about everything we can regarding the management of STD and pregnancy risk and generally be very aware of everything we do.
My wife and I don’t normally use protection with each other, and if we do, it’s normally just to make sure for our own piece of mind. I highly advise you to do the same.
The biggest issue within any relationship is trust. If you can trust your lovers to be completely honest with you about everything, than the risk of everything is lessened.
But, your sexual health is NOT something I would gamble on for anything. Again, you’re not just putting yourself at risk, you’re putting your lovers and your family at risk as well.
And THAT takes a special kind of arrogance.
Cheers and safe loving. 🙂
Photo Credit: Getty Images