reintroducing this feature after a laziness-induced hiatus, i'd like to tackle a weighty subject in the non-monogamous community. this week's word, or acronym, is STIs.
just in case you've been living in a nuclear fallout shelter for the past fifty years, an STI is a sexually transmitted infection. STI came to replace the acronym STD, or sexually transmitted disease, because labelling something as an STD tends to carry the assumption that the condition being so labelled is permanent. hence, STI became the umbrella term for any condition, permanent or not, transmitted by sex or sexual activity.
what's the number one risk factor for contracting an STI? i'll tell you: it's having multiple partners. that's why it's been consistently disappointing to me that STIs are still a somewhat taboo topic within the non-monogamous community. considering how willingly we'll discuss the entire A to Z of sex, study every fetish in the playbook and harp on people both within our community and without for propagating prejudiced viewpoints about being non-monogamous, it bugs me that we're not only unwilling to fully tackle the subject of STIs but also unable to find ways of including those with acknowledged STIs in our community.
so i'd like to clear the air around this subject. if we really want to practice ethical non-monogamy we have to do more than offer a perfunctory overview of possible STIs. we have to acknowledge that all sexual activity, and especially non-monogamous sexual activity, carries a certain risk. this isn't high school anymore, and we can't afford to delude ourselves that our lifestyle is completely free of potential obstacles.
case in point: i came away from camp last year with two STIs. the first was trichomoniasis, the most common non-viral STI - even more common than chlamydia. why is it so common? let's break it down:
1) men are asymptomatic.
2) symptoms in women tend to be mild, if they're present at all. (i first treated myself for a yeast infection before deciding to consult my gynecologist.)
3) you can get it by sharing a towel with an infected person. let me repeat that: YOU CAN GET IT FROM A TOWEL.
i'm lucky i'd done some reading up on trich before i came to camp, so i at least knew what the hell it was. most people who get trich have never even heard of it before!
i also found out that i have HPV shortly after my first camp. to be fair, i probably didn't get that one at camp - had i not compromised my lower immune system with the trich infection, i probably would not have symptoms to this day. in fact, i'm willing to bet that whoever gave it to me didn't even know they had it. how's that? well, let's clear the air: 80% of all sexually active adults - not just non-monogamous adults, but ALL adults - have HPV. i think that bears repeating:
80% OF ALL SEXUALLY ACTIVE ADULTS HAVE HPV.
to put that in perspective: 20% of all sexually active adults have herpes. that's 1 in 5 people who have herpes, and 1 in 5 people who DON'T have HPV. to be fair, the CDC pins the statistic at 50%, but my gynecologist says that's a conservative estimate: many people who have HPV will never display any symptoms.
now, nobody sat me down and told me this when i entered the scene. i only found out after i was diagnosed that, if condoms are used, most people will not disclose their HPV. which is all very well and good - except for the fact that condoms don't always protect against HPV, particularly when symptoms such as warts are present in an area that condoms don't cover. i myself have not always disclosed my status to casual partners when condoms were involved, and it disappoints me that i didn't always acknowledge what many regard as a considerable risk factor before breaking out the latex. i'm definitely not the worst offender in this regard, but it is an area of my behaviour that i regret.
frankly, i think that non-disclosure is a paradigm that needs to change - for the good of both those with STIs and those without them. we need to break out of this stigma in having and acknowledging an STI so that the people who live and play with them feel comfortable disclosing their status to partners who may not yet have an STI - or may not yet be aware of the full consequences of being sexually active.
so what can we as a community do differently? first of all, we need to stop shaming people with STIs into not disclosing. we can do this by being more welcoming of people with STIs - not just the small, curable stuff, but also the bigger things like HIV. we need to encourage people to be open and honest about what they have in addition to getting tested on a regular basis. we also need to acknowledge that sex, and sexual activity, is not and can never be completely risk-free - even if condoms are involved.
and how can we include people with STIs in the non-monogamous community? well, we can start by encouraging people to play together without having intercourse. there are so many things two people can do together besides sex - there's jerking, fisting, toy play, BDSM...the list goes on. and people with STIs need to be up front about what they can and cannot do. for example, oral sex, while still somewhat risky, is a viable alternative for people with certain permanent STIs. hell, i've heard of gay partners where one guy has HIV and the other one doesn't, and the negative guy feels comfortable going down on the positive guy. non-monogamy doesn't have to involve sleeping with everyone you meet.
finally, what can completely clean people do about STIs in the community? well, you can ask questions. a lot of them. you can disclose your status up front and demand that your partners do the same. you can place boundaries on what you do with new people - and you can come up with alternative sexual activities in the event that a partner has an STI. but most of all, you can educate yourself on the many different STIs that are out there, and you can sit down with yourself and figure out how many risks you are willing to take in order to lead a happy and sexually fulfilled life. because STIs are risks that you have to deal with as a sexually active adult, non-monogamous or not, and you shouldn't let the prospect of getting one scare you away from fully exploring yourself and your sexuality. we can't keep STIs a secret in this community, but just because we're open about the risks doesn't mean we have to live in fear.
the desire collective
a vain dilettante's collection of time-for-print photos and random sex-related musings. hey, it's not quite a collectivised artpr0n site yet, but we can dream. THIS BLOG IS INTENDED FOR ADULT READERS. IF YOU ARE UNDER 18 PLEASE GET OFF THE COMPUTER AND READ A BOOK. lemme know if i'm missing any cool links, or just write to me out of boredom! desirecollective[at]gmail[dot]com.