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The STD scape goat. Poly and STD's

#1 User is offline   lil.red.ridinghood Icon

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 10:38 PM

I have a pet peeve.
Ok, fine... sometimes I'm a controlling princess with a ton of pet peeves. But the one I'm talking about today is:
Hearing STD risk used as a way to avoid dealing with deeper issues in relationships.

I live in a poly community. I see it happen all the time. STD risk is a fantastic cover for jealousy which in turn is a fantastic cover for a myriad of fears and discomforts.

In this sexually-explicit, negotiation-heavy lifestyle most of us are open and upfront about any risks we may pose to our partners and we're checked regularly to see that nothing new has changed. It's part of RACK (risk aware consensual kink). Even when everybody in the circle is coming in disease free many people still choose to treat everyone like they have Hep C (if you don't know about hepatitis C stop reading this post and go Google!). That's all well and good. People should be free to negotiate their boundaries where-ever the hell they want.

What bugs me is when partners lose their shit over "possible contamination" when the real issue is possible loss of exclusivity.

It's murky emotional water this poly thing. We like tangible risks like disease. They're easy to get riled up about and then point to. "You can't do that with her, gawd knows what she could give you and then you'd pass it on to me!!" But when all the tests come back negative you're still hurt and scared because it turns out this had nothing to do with disease in the first place. What you meant to say was "You can't do that with her because I'm afraid I'll be abandoned." It's really hard to say it, but once it's out there it's so much easier to deal with it. Because rather than your partner saying "You're off your rocker and there really isn't any STD risk in what we did anyway!" he or she says "Wow, that's a big fear. I have no intention of abandoning you. What can we do that will make this feel more secure?" Or he or she says "Um, now that you mention it, I am getting pretty uncomfortable in our relationship. Is this really something that's good for both of us anymore?" In either case you skip the bullshit and are able to get on with your lives faster and cleaner.

I've been through these discussions a few times from several different angles. I can spot the death of decent poly relationships a mile away when the STD blip hits the radar. Cut the crap people, be honest about why you are negotiating the boundaries, it's a hell of a lot easier to stick to them when the risks aren't imagined.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled thoughtful submissive girl,

Red
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#2 User is offline   tiamet Icon

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 12:08 AM

I think trust issues come up under the STD guise as well. Sometimes the STD issue really isn't about jealousy, instead its a gnawing fear that your partner won't be conscientious about safe sex standards when you aren't there to enforce them. You really are worried that they're going to bring a disease home, but the disease still isn't the issue. Should you really be with someone that you can't trust on such a fundamental issue?
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#3 User is offline   lil.red.ridinghood Icon

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 01:25 AM

But is it really trust that you're struggling with there? Quite possibly yes. On the other hand it might be your own fearful beliefs that are getting in your way. Do you really believe your partner would willfully put you at risk? What are the reasons this person would make such a choice? Does he or she need more education about the risks? Perhaps, when you really stop and look inside, you feel your partner doesn't prioritize your relationship in a manner that balances the way you prioritize it. At that point is it more important to quibble over the STD risk percentages of each form of fluid contact or to talk honestly about where you fit into each other's worlds? Will the conversation get farther if it starts with "I don't trust you to keep me safe" or if it starts with "Your partnership is this important to me, where does our relationship fit into your life right now and in the future?"

Don't get me wrong, I've seen couples start the former conversation and come out rejuvenated and focused on the relationship and I've seen latter conversations turn into half-truth marathons that crash and burn. But honestly, if you both have similar understanding of the STD risks to begin with, you're almost never actually arguing about actions causing the health risks. Fidelity is an emotional hot-button. It taps right into the foundation of our lives. It's messy and has tendrils sticking into a multitude of potential insecurities (power, intimacy, stability, basic living needs). The trick is to follow those insecurities as close to their roots as possible and then start working your way back out.
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#4 User is offline   tiamet Icon

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Posted 27 June 2008 - 07:33 AM

I have learned the hard way that some people know how to ace the "safe sex talk" and will say and do one thing when they are around you and something else entirely when you aren't there. Sad but true. But its still a TRUST issue, not an STD issue. I could talk to that type of person about STDs till I was blue in the face, and we wouldn't get anywhere. But when the conversation about trust starts, the picture gets real clear.
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#5 User is offline   lil.red.ridinghood Icon

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Posted 04 February 2009 - 01:10 AM

I'm bumping this topic, because it's been 6 months and I think it's worth flashing people again. (also because I love Dale and I want to see his board get some more action :bigsmooch: )
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#6 User is offline   MasterDale Icon

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 12:24 AM

Hiya Red *hugs*

I saw a post on another group today about someone who intentionally infected someone with HIV. While people who would behave in such a sociopathic way are rare, we see enough stories about that to raise the paranoia level up pretty high.

I think the bottom line is a lot of people are just fearful in a generalized way. HIV is such a huge scary monster that people can transfer all of those generalized fears into one thing that nobody can argue with...AIDS. It makes for a great dodge. A catchall fear.

To be honest, I dont know how to get around someone who is so afraid of intimacy that they will call up the devil himself to avoid it.

M. Dale
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#7 User is offline   Gideon Icon

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Posted 05 February 2009 - 07:17 AM

Methinks that people do this because they have not come to terms with there own demons, fears, hang ups etc.

I suppose it is just easier to grab on to something tangible as an excuse instead of looking inward and working on the core issue that is causing the fear. However if these people are blind to the damage that is caused by such outbursts, perhaps they are also blind to what is going on inside them.

I know we are told to communicate, communicate, communicate! But if we aren't "communicating" with ourselves how can we do so clearly with others? Perhaps they need to Unfuck their Shit (forgive my "french") then take a deep breath and try to address the issue again.

Just my .5 cents worth :)

Gid

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#8 User is offline   lovely1 Icon

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Posted 10 February 2009 - 04:34 PM

I read this the first time round and didn't post because I couldn't think of how to frame a response.

Still not entirely sure, but I'll give it a chance:

It blows my mind, but I *still* run into men (both in the BDSM community and outside) who have a STRONG aversion to condoms. On more than one occassion, when I've broached the subject I've had them get offended at my implications that they're 'not clean'. I mean, first, it's not all about you: I've had multiple sex partners (sometimes at once ;)), and I spent 3 years of my life living in parts of Africa with extremely high HIV rates, including strains that are so uncommon here that they aren't even tested for (unless you flash the 'lived in the Congo Basin' warning badge). I'm forever banned from donating blood because of this. Now, I can tell you I was tested for those strains when I left the Peace Corps and it's true. I also got a follow-up 6 months later (since that's how long the HIV virus can lurk in your body before being detected by tests), and that's also true. But I haven't been tested for HIV-3 since, and the 6 months may turn out to be 8 months, so you could be royally fucked. Or I could be lying. Or, even though I make it a point to practice safe sex, some STDs, including HPV (which men can't even be tested for), aren't entirely preventable by condoms. Are you going to check my test results or just take my word on it? And secondly, if you're pulling that attitude with me, you've pulled it with others. So, no.

It's a risk, it really is. My man and I don't use any protection ever, except when doing blood play at a party where they require/request it. We have that trust. (And I agree with Tia, a lot of it is trust.) I showed him my tests because I wanted him to be that sure, and he got tested on my request (for the common 3 plus HIV) and showed me the results. I didn't have him do a follow-up HIV and neither of us have been tested since. I trust him to not engage in risky behavior with others. BUT we have pretty strict rules for sexual monogomy, which for us, is part of that trust.

When it comes to playing with *anyone* but my man, I use agreed-upon precautions. Even with habitual partners. Because no, I do not trust them that far. I mean, I can't be the only woman in the world who really believes in safe sex/play but has fucked up once in a while. I'd hope the friends I commonly play with would tell me if they had, but I'm not going to rely on that.

And I, in turn, take some risks others may find unacceptable. I don't use barrier protection for oral sex, for example. I've read the research. Some STDs can be transmitted that way. Others, while having 'no known cases' of transmission that way probably shouldn't be entirely ruled out. It's a risk my man and I will take, but not a risk I feel I have the right to require of others.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is, the risk *is* real and *is* present and *does* increase when you bring in additional partners, for play or relationships. The level of trust *must* increase as well, I believe. Because I'm asking my man to trust me, but also to trust my partner to not try to subvert my efforts and to follow our rules. And if New Partner has a partner, he or she is trusting New Partner, me, *and* my man.

I guess what I'm trying to say is: I understand that 'the STD risk' can be used as a scapegoat or excuse. But the risk is real, and should certainly be discussed (including, IMO, potential pregnancy). For some people, that really might be a deal breaker. For others, it may come down to trust: he or she says one thing, but you know from the way they acted when you had those negotiations when it was just the two of you, that they don't really value safe sex and might not perceive the risks in the same way you do, and you don't trust them to apply your rules if you're not there to watch. And that yes, it can most definitely be a "see, there are PHYSICAL risks! This isn't about emotions! It's about my health!!!" cop-out. It's just complicated all around.
"They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much." --Arundhati Roy
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#9 User is offline   MasterDale Icon

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Posted 10 February 2009 - 09:46 PM

Great post, lovely.

D
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#10 User is offline   lil.red.ridinghood Icon

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 12:51 AM

Hi Lovely,
I'm totally down with acknowledging the real health risks involved in play/sex with multiple partners. That's a big part of why this post is located in the "Flames, complaints and gripes" section rather than the health section. Thanks for the post though!
--Red
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#11 User is offline   lovely1 Icon

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 12:47 PM

Yeah, I kinda figured you weren't denying any risk, what with saying that people do use that risk as a cover. :) And I'm not denying that it does happen. I just feel like it's an important issue that really needs to be addressed in any relationship, and that needs to be addressed in special ways when a relationship has some degree of poly in it.

As a personal example, our BDSM community has a handful of people who are HIV positive. One of those people is a bisexual man, who is one of my semi-regular play partners. He, of course, is open about his disease, and I began playing with him *before* my relationship with my man developed. My man knows very well how much I hate barrier protection for oral sex. There are 'no known transmissions' of HIV through oral sex, but choosing to rely on that slim fact (because, come on, what sort of controled study could verify that?) was not a risk I was willing to take with a play partner. So, prior to my relationship, I'd just not been having oral with him of my own choice. (And he, of course, being not an idiot and a good man in general, easily accepted that as a hard limit. His limits are pretty high himself, so it's never been a problem.) HOWEVER, when things got serious with my man and we began negotiations on monogamy and what that consisted of, the fact that I have an HIV+ play partner *and* hate condoms for oral sex definitely factored into it.

It was early in our relationship and so our trust wasn't entirely established, and yes, both of us have some insecurities (which also had a lot to do with some of the rules we came up with), so we eventually decided that I couldn't have oral sex with any man OR woman unless he was present. We agreed to re-negotiate that point two months (or whatever, I think it was two months :P) down the line.

That hard boundry had some things to do with his own insecurities, some things to do with trust, and some things to do with the very real STD risk.

I know that the main issue was trust--he didn't trust me to use condoms/dental dams and was uncomfortable with my "well, I just don't have oral with people I know to be HIV+, and I don't really have oral very often at play parties anyway" stance. I said I would use barrier protection, and he said he wasn't willing to trust me to do that when he wasn't around. That was an agreeable provision to me. It did hurt my feelings that he wouldn't trust me to keep a rule I hated just because I said I would. Some of that goes back to his own personal insecurities, but some of that goes to the level of sumbission I was giving him at that phase (not an awful lot). And since the risk was a *known* risk with one of my partners, that made it somehow more scary than a vague "you never really know".

I guess I just feel like it's impossible to seperate insecurities, trust (of lack thereof), and the true risk. I think these negotiations are extremely difficult, and that everyone may have their own hang-ups. (For example, I would never be ok with having my primary relationship be with a man who had a female sexual partner whom I didn't know *extremely* well and having them use the Pill as birth control, because I couldn't trust *her* to not get pregnant, and I am absolutely unwilling to deal with that for my own reasons.) I think that 'the STD risk' might very well be a cover, (subconciously or not) but that it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, and that the risk itself NEEDS to be addressed. And that in some cases, the partners may not be able to see eye to eye on the risk, and that it might be a valid breaking point.
"They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much." --Arundhati Roy
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#12 User is offline   lil.red.ridinghood Icon

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Posted 11 February 2009 - 09:58 PM

Lovely, please also know that I'm not saying the insecurities should be dismissed, just that they should be acknowledged and dealt with as insecurities, not arguments of physical risk.
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