Sunday, February 6, 2011

STI's, Logic and Emotion.

There's a huge on-going debate in many discussion fora regarding the topics of STI's, barrier usage, safer-sex practices, and how to approach this within poly relationships. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in STI's, transmission rates for various microbes, likely vectors, and how effective/ineffective barrier usage is in preventing the "sharing" of more than orgasms. I haven't spent hours and hours researching the topic, nor do I whip out statistics to justify or defend my own position on my choices, or the requests I make to my partners regarding safer sex practices.

For me, the idea of making sexual choices about "acceptable risk" as weighted against potential pleasure doesn't get all the way to my decision-making center. It isn't as simple as saying, "Well, my odds of getting an STI from sharing a few orgasms with this person are lower than my odds of getting mowed down by a drunk driver while getting my mail. That seems reasonable, so let's run with it!"

There is certainly a component that is about acceptable physical risk, but, being poly, that doesn't hit me where I live. If I, or my partner, is going to have sex with someone who has an STI, having an emotional context to frame that in feels important to me. Example: Let's say that I'm interested in being physical with someone that has HSV-2. For me, it makes more sense to keep the physical interactions confined to the realm of pleasurable activities that don't involve significant risk of exchange of bodily fluids unless there is potential for an on-going relationship. At that point, the admittedly low-level of risk for transmission can be assessed. All the related parties get to (are requested to) have a conversation about what that might look like, and see if there is sufficient consensus to move forward.

Yep, I don't make the call just for me and let everyone else deal. There are people that are already part of my life, and I prioritize those relationships (dare I say privilege?) more highly than potential connections or pleasure. That doesn't work for everyone, and there is certainly a very honest and morally conscious segment of the poly community that this wouldn't work for. Many prefer to approach sexual behavior from the perspective of each person being responsible for their own sexual health and risk setting. For me, that's a bit antithetical to having a family approach to poly. I remain very sex and pleasure positive. I just choose to empower my existing partners to have input in my sexual decisions, because my decisions impact them.

Each of my partners gets a head's up and opportunity to weigh in on their preferences in advance of any interaction that would have potential to bring slippery bits into proximity. Let's say I'm going to a party where there is some possibility for raucous libidinous excesses; if they have input on how that needs to look for their sense of safety to be maintained, we hash that out before anything happens. If we haven't talked about it, and an opportunity arises, I keep my pants on and my mouth closed. Do I miss out on some possibilities? Sure, but if someone doesn't want to wait long enough for me to go through proper channels and get consensus from my existing partners before boffing, they really aren't my cup of tea anyways.

It isn't all about me. That's a huge part of being poly they way I choose to do it. My partners get to have more input in my decisions than whether they want to use barriers to protect themselves from the potential risks my choices bring to the table. Yes, that means that I choose to curtail my personal freedom at times. That's not being controlled by others. It's choosing to be self-controlled.


Anonymous said...

"That's not being controlled by others. It's choosing to be self-controlled."


A+++. Great post. Would read again!

Anonymous said...

I have HSV-2. HSV-2 isn't transmitted in bodily fluids the way that you think it is. Please educate yourself completely on these topics instead of making blanket assumptions that all STIs are transmitted in the same manner. I don't mean to be harsh, but this is an important topic to me for obvious reasons.

HSV-2 is shed from epithelial cells in the "boxer" area, that is, from the area that would be covered by boxers. It isn't transmitted in semen or female ejaculate per se, but of course as fluids pass over skin cells that are shedding, copies of the virus can be picked up. For most people, the area that the virus sheds from is tiny. Sometimes, it is covered by condoms, sometimes not.

While HSV-1 can and does infect areas all over the body from hands to mouths to genitals, HSV-2 NEARLY ALWAYS lives in the genitals. This means that it isn't "safe" for someone with oral HSV-1 to go down on an uninfected person, even if there isn't an active cold sore. Chances of cross-contamination are high. Chances of getting oral HSV-2 from going down on an infected person are almost nil. Don't take my word for it. Ask a doctor who is knowledgable about STIs or call the University of Washington virology clinic to ask.

While you and your poly family are making decisions about who is "safe" to frak, let me offer some suggestions and insight -- nearly everyone who thinks they've been tested for HSV hasn't been. Testing isn't indicated for the general population. Unless you see paperwork stating a negative status, the person may very well be infected. Even WITH paperwork, it takes months for antibodies to show up in the blood. Around 3 or 4, to be precise. So, the person may get a false negative at the time of testing.

It is patently unfair, given those facts, to disallow positive, honest partners just because they're positive UNLESS you make sure that all your partners have actually been tested for HSV. This would at the least involve them asking their doctor for a copy of their lab results. If HSV is such a big deal, then multiple and frequent tests are the only way to minimize exposure when you live in poly land. Do the infected people of this honor and pay this respect -- go to a knowledgable sexual health counselor and really educate yourself about these issues if you are going to deem an entire class of people "unsafe" or allow your other partners to do the same. By age forty, 1 in 3 women has antibodies to HSV-2. It's far more common than you've realized

polyfulcrum said...

@ Anonymous: I don't think I ever said that HSV-2 is transmitted only in presence of bodily fluids, and specifically made clear that I am not an expert in STI transmission.

The point of this post has nothing to do with HSV, or any other STI, for that matter. It's about the idea that my choices in sexual contact have potential impacts (physical OR emotional) on my partners, and I choose to give them a say in how I conduct myself within safer sex situations.