The authors of The Ethical Slut (Easton and Liszt) maintain that the phrase “safer sex” has been around for a while, but I have only encountered “safe sex” in my sexuality education. The difference of “safer” versus “safe” makes a lot of sense to me now (I also encountered this subtle difference when reading Opening Up—see post below; J also has his own thoughts on the use of the two phrases). Sex is never 100% “safe”: there are always emotional, psychological, and mental consequences of sex, positive or negative. We can do what we can to mitigate negative consequences through healthy coping mechanisms- journaling, talking with friends or trusted figures in our lives, talking with partners, seeking professional help, etc. We can build on positive consequences, too (give me more of THAT please!). Most of us (i.e. not those without access) also have a lot of control in using physical barriers to mitigate the physical consequences of sex, which are the consequences most of us are familiar with—STIs (sexually transmitted infections), unwanted pregnancy, etc.
Sex, I think, is supposed to be a positive experience. It is a way for people to show caring, respect, and interest in a healthy and natural way. We don’t want negative consequences with sex to be the norm!
J and I have pretty strict rules about our safer sex practices. For one, we are constantly communicating about how our encounters go, to make sure that negative feelings aren’t cropping up and being repressed. We need to talk about potential and real negative feelings so we can address them and make sure that our experiences are as wonderful as possible. We also get tested for STIs every six months and make sure to have hard copies of our test results to share with potential partners. We expect the same of our other partners, and are unlikely to play with people who don’t get tested regularly, who can’t show us paperwork, or who do have an STI(s). It can be an initially difficult and disappointing decision to make: aw, darn! She is really cute! He made me laugh all night! But that is also the beauty of having these unabashedly open and honest relationships with other people: we trust others to be honest with us and respect our boundaries around safer sex, and we still gain awesome sexy friends! Both J and I highly value our mental and physical health. Sex would not be a positive experience if we had to lay wide awake at night wondering and agonizing over if we contracted an STI or had put ourselves or someone else at risk for an unwanted pregnancy.
One difficult thing J and I have encountered is our inability to find specific information about the transmission, risk levels, and ways to avoid contact with various STIs. We both have a basic understanding of many STIs, but without the guidance of a close family member in the women’s health field and medical school, we may have made different choices about playing with partners who have STIs.
Information about safer sex should be easy to understand and accessible—and not just to those of us who are over 18 and have family members in medical school. There should also be resources available to those who experience the historical and systemic counterparts of human sexuality—sexism, homophobia, rape, patriarchy. Everyone should feel empowered to protect themselves and have the ability to seek help from violent situations. Everyone’s body is worthy of respect and dignity. No one deserves his or her physical and emotional space to be infringed upon without explicit permission. Counseling, birth control, and access for these sorts of services (including financial access) should be available to everyone, regardless of age, ability level, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, or race.
Sex should and can be a naturally safe way to express love, respect, caring, trust, and friendship. Keeping it safe and positive through respecting your boundaries and others’ boundaries is AWESOME! :-D