Chances are, you’re not exactly focusing on risk every time you have sex with your on-again, off-again partner. Or in your monogamous marriage. But risk features in all our sexual and romantic activity, whether it’s emotional heartache or sexual health. How much are you risking?
Now, I’m not going to get all Dr. Drew on you about your drunken hookups (but, seriously, wasn’t that so freshman year?). It’s just that most people know to use protection during sex, but do they know what they are protecting against, and more importantly, what they cannot?
Our own Violet Blue has a great zip file put together explaining the risk levels of different unprotected sex acts, both for the bottom and the top. It’s your prerogative whether you only want head sans a barrier, but you need to know what you are at risk for and what you put your partner at risk for…especially if either of you have not been tested recently.
And what does “recently” mean? Ultimately, you should do what is right for your situation, and that can mean anything from getting tested if you think you’ve been exposed to something to getting tested at three, six, or even twelve month intervals.
It depends on how active you and your current partner are. Are you two long-term monogamous AND loyal? (Are you sure?) You should still get tested once a year at least, and it’s easy for women to schedule an STI screen alongside their annual pelvic exams anyway. If you tend to be a serial monogamist, testing before you sleep with a new partner can work for you…followed by consistent testing during the relationship.
For those at the frisky end of the spectrum, testing before each new partner may not be financially feasible or even that effective. Many STIs take time to show up in screens or manifest themselves on your body, but it’s still prudent to get tested regularly. Some people in this situation like to get tested every three months, the time in which you are most likely to get an accurate HIV test result.
On the other hand, you shouldn’t shame yourself into abstinence. It’s not necessarily bad or unethical to engage in riskier sexual situations, like multiple partners or receiving anal sex or not using barriers. Safer sex has different forms for different people and different situations. It’s about what you and your partner are comfortable with, and hopefully you are aware of the risks you take and are comfortable with that.
With multiple partners, though, keep in mind that you put them at risk too, and they need to be informed of that. It’s proper partner etiquette to let each new partner know when you were last tested, if you’ve slept with anyone since that last STI screen, if you have any STIs you know of, and what sort of safer sex precautions you take.
I know, it’s a lot. But so is your health, and that includes sexual health. Sure, it’s not exactly first date conversation for most, but it’s a conversation that ideally happens before you two (or three, more power to you) are rolling around on the bed. Bringing it up is also a way to prod your partners into revealing their own STI status and safer sex practices.
Sometimes, you may find out that your partner has a different idea about safer sex than you do. “Oh, you like to use dental dams for oral?” In the case of different expectations, you should always honor the more conservative (or if that’s too judgmental of a word, the “least-risky”) safer sex method.
Maybe you’re the type of person who never uses barriers during oral–giving or receiving. It doesn’t feel good or feel much like anything to you. It is perfectly OK to jump ship. You are not sexually compatible with this partner, and in the long run, it is much better to not sleep with them than to force them into a sexual situation they do not want.
If all this talk about risk has you paranoid and squicky, it helps to educate yourself. Do check out the link to Violet’s safer sex page, but your resources extend beyond that.
For women/vagina-owners, the old favorite Our Bodies, Ourselves is your bible. For quick questions, you can call or email the San Francisco Sex Information at 415-989-SFSI or email@example.com, respectively. And though Scarleteen is aimed at teens and young adults, it still has an informative and inclusive STI section. You’ve got to make up for your dismal K-12 sex education somehow, right?
Image by parl.
The Sexual Manifesto is Christine Borden’s weekly column on sex in the city, sex and culture, and, well, sex. Got a tip for Christine (and it’s not in your pants)? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.