Sunday, October 16, 2011

Let's Talk About Safe Sex

Most reputable swinging websites have a box to tick somewhere about how you practice safe sex. Response options range from 'never' to 'always'. Looking at this I find myself asking the question "What is Safe Sex?" or more importantly "What do other people think safe sex is?"

It seems that no one really wants to talk about this. Every where you look there are laments about the difficulty in gathering useful data about how many people practise safe sex because people either won't participate in research or if they do they don't give accurate answers to survey questions. Various forums are testament to this. Post a topic about safe sex and all the regulars suddenly fall silent and the thread makes it off the front page at about 100 miles an hour.

This is not a post giving factual information about STIs. There are a plethora of websites out there giving excellent, well referenced information about diseases, symptoms and long term effects. These include the wonderful people at the CDC; CDC STI information sheets and the Australian Government; The Australian Government Website

A few events in our lives recently have prompted us to think pretty hard about our safe sex practises and the risks that we take when we are playing. One thing that got a bit scary was thinking about a diagram and us in the middle surrounded by our partners branching out into their partners followed by their partner's partners and so on. The tree grew exponentially. When we started playing with ideas like if this person is infected with and STI and they pass it on to 30% of their partners and those people pass it on to 30% of their partners we sat back with our eyes wide open.

I think I will become a nun.

Seriously. The reality is that truly safe sex means some extreme approaches. The most obvious is having a barrier at every point of contact. Think condoms, dental dams, latex gloves, the full regalia. Or you could think the condom scene in Naked Gun Unless you have a rubber fetish this kind of approach kind of kills the moment. Alternatively the two (or three or six or whatever) of you commit to being exclusive, get full clearance from the doctor and don't invite anyone into the circle until they are also cleared and everyone is happy that they are trustworthy.

Yep. That is going to happen in this lifetime.

Most of us manage risks by taking the easiest least invasive precaution, wearing a condom. Then we tend to avoid practises that are more yukky like using a condom for oral sex. We tell ourselves that we only play with people who are OK so we are safe. But how do we know if they are truly safe if no one ever really talks about safe sex or how they keep themselves safe?

I don't really want to know the full sexual history of every person I might want to have sex with and really that is none of my business. But, what goes in my vagina IS my business. I have the right to ask people to prove they are clean, but apparently cool people don't do that. Every time STIs are mentioned everyone gets this uncomfortable look on their face like they wish they were somewhere else.

Why do people have such a hang up about it? Once you have a virus you generally have it for life. This isn't something you want to muck around with. I want to know that my partners get regular screens and that they take appropriate measures to ensure they are not sharing their infection with me.

Bacterial infections are easier to treat but again I want to be assured that people are getting tested often and being treated when they need to. Having an infection and admitting to it won't make you a leper.  It will make you like a lot of people out there. In 2009 over 65, 000 cases of Chlamydia were reported in Australia.  It is estimated that as many as 80% of Chlamydia infections are symptomless and so the actual number of cases was probably much higher. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 8 women are infected with Herpes. Again many of these infections are symptomless and so go undiagnosed.

We need to feel comfortable to talk about these risk factors and whether or not we have been tested recently or had an infection without feeling like it is a bad thing or a big deal. We need to stop pretending it won't happen or believing in myths like 'couples are safe'.  We need to stop pretending that we are invincible.

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