Ask PolyAnna: Multiple partners?? Safer sex??

Question: Can a relationship that involves multiple, possibly rotating, partners really ever fall under the category of safe sex?

Here is the thing, I think the only truly safe sex one can have is with one’s self,and then only provided one cares for and uses one’s toys in the manner in which they were intended and cleans them properly.

When you involve other people, there are ways to be safer.

In theory, if you only have sex with one other partner for life, you are safer and likely close to being as safe as having sex with yourself, provided that this other partner also has no other partners. Many people point to this and argue that, there see, monogamy is safer ergo better. The only downside is, what if one of the partners decides to cheat? Then this twosome takes on another dimension and, as a very close friend found out, things can and do happen when you think you and your partner are being monogamous, only your partner is out sowing some oats. It was a surprising and very unsettling day for her at her doctor’s office. She was all of a sudden dealing with a STI/STD and with the fact her partner was likely cheating on her.

A little known fact: in another lifetime, I was a banker. We used to work with the business concept of risk mitigation or risk reduction:

Risk mitigation – A systematic reduction in the extent of exposure to risk and/or the likelihood of its occurrence. Also called risk reduction.

I think “safer sex” is the sexual equivalent of risk mitigation. This can take many, many forms in the non-monogamous world.

1. Know your partners and your partner’s partners.

2. Have a very frank discussion about sexual health practices. As with so many things, make sure your terms and definitions match your partners.

3. Have your own set of sexual health practices and do no bend the rules for anyone. Have specific comfort benchmarks for when/if those rules can/should/will change. Be firm. Don’t do something with someone/anyone that you feel violates your sexual health boundaries. Trust me, it isn’t worth it.

4. Some people have safer sex practices for those that they deem known as opposed to unknown. If they are with a regular partner, there are certain rules versus if they are at a sex party with people unknown to them.

5. In the Swinging community and perhaps this holds true in large poly-families, there are instances where it is a closed unit. So in swinging circles, there are X number of couples and they can only have sex with each other and any new people to enter that circle, must be interviewed, tested and retested and agree to only have sex within the circle.

6. This might seem obvious, but getting tested regularly and staying current on the sexual health literature is important. Local resources like the health department, Planned Parenthood, AIDS organizations and community health centers are wonderful. Staying informed is vital.

Notice I did not lead off with condoms, condoms, condoms. I think dental dams, gloves and condoms all play a vital role in the overall safer sex strategy, BUT I also think they are not a substitute for the items I have listed above. Safer sex is so much more than layers of latex. It is something that has to be incorporated into one’s overall dating and relationship strategies.

As with investing, everyone’s tolerance for risk varies and this is why I think it is important to formulate a personal safer sex strategy and then stick with it. Gambling with your sexual health is one thing, in the context of multiple relationships, it takes on an increasing level of complexity and in the heat of the moment, a non-monogamous person is not only making a judgment about his/her own sexual health, but also his/her partner(s.)

As for the specific question posed, I don’t know, the more people involved in the relationship, the more overall risk there is. There is a complex mathematical formula for calculating investment volatility/risk, which one could argue is equally applicable here. However I will keep it simple – the more people you are sexually active with, and your partners are active with, the more chance there is for exposure. That is simple math.

That said, if you are in multiple partnerships and/or if you have multiple casual partners, I think you should formulate a safer sex strategy and stick with it. Be consistent and be clear with your partners what you will tolerate and what you won’t.

When in doubt, I say you walk away and have some hot and steamy solo sex… at the end of the day, it is better to be safer than sorry.

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