Sex, Shame & STI Status
I had been dating Stefan for at least a year in person and we had been together close to two years total. We had been fluid bonded already (not using protection during sex) for almost that whole year. But we had never had a conversation about safer sex, STI status, STI testing, or condom use (or not) with other partners. We hadn’t talked about any of these important things.
We were sitting on his couch, eating dinner, sharing a fork and a plate. Very soon we would be kissing and making love, and I STILL couldn’t bring myself to talk to him about it! But I was determined to have this conversation ever since I had had a very thorough and matter of fact conversation with my then new partner Roland. He had brought up the subject in such a calm, no-nonsense manner, and the discussion was so easy, it made me realize how weird I had been acting around this topic. That didn’t make it any easier to NOT make it weird, it just helped me to see and try to course correct.
The Starter Conversation
When we started seeing each other, Roland sent me a text and said basically, “Since we like each other and we’ve discussed having sex, let’s talk about the logistics.” He proceeded to ask me a battery of questions, including:
✓ How many people are you currently having sex with?
✓ Do you have unprotected sex with any of your partners?
✓ Do you have any known STIs?
✓ When was your last STI test?
✓ How frequently do you get tested?
✓ May I see your results?
✓ What are your safer sex rules? Condom use for:
⁃ Oral sex?
⁃ Penetrative sex?
There may have even been more, but I think this covers the basics and the idea of the conversation. I am glad we had this conversation in text because even at 45 years old, this was a difficult and slightly embarrassing conversation for me. I say “slightly” because being polyamorous had already taught me to have more conversations about things I never would have thought to talk openly about as a monogamous person, so this was just one more. But nothing in my past life or in my growing up years had prepared me to speak about sex and the technicalities surrounding sex quite so matter of factly.
Like Grandma Says!
Why is that exactly? I mean, like the picture says, if you can put a man’s dick in your mouth, shouldn’t you be able to use that same mouth to talk to him about sexual safety and other really important things?
I think it’s because there is so much shame surrounding sex. When you grow up in a culture of religion, purity, and/or traditions that disallow someone to be a sexual being until a certain point in their life, then natural feelings and “urges” are pushed off into the shadows, made out as wrong or bad. Sex is certainly one of those things.
I was raised to believe that the only time sex is ever acceptable is when I would be married to a “nice man” and settled down in a monogamous lifetime with him. Sex outside of marriage was shameful and a punishable offense. Once, when the elders in my church learned I was sexually active (in my mid- 20's), I was denied the chance to go to Ecuador and be a secretary at a mission school- because it was technically a mission trip and only “good Christians” can be missionaries and my current sexual status meant I wasn’t good enough.
What can you learn from that experience, except that sex is bad? As a sex-positive adult, I wonder how one is supposed to flip the switch from “sex is bad” to being married and “sex is something wonderful with your spouse?” I have read so many accounts of people, primarily women, who have struggled with this conundrum and it’s really hurt their ability to have happy healthy sex lives.
I wish I could write a blog post, “6 Easy Steps to Overcome Your Experience with Purity Culture!” But I can’t really say how I got to where I am. I’ve had amazing counselors, friends, lovers, and mentors who have helped me along the way. I’ve asked myself a lot of questions and looked inside to help me find answers. There are still times when I struggle and wonder if what I believe now is right or wrong. But all I can do is go forward.
Back to Stefan
It took me three more dates with Stefan before I finally stammered and sputtered around until I managed to form a coherent thought. Then we had a good honest discussion about condom use, safer sex practices, and what we were doing with other partners. I learned some new things in that conversation and had the opportunity to make a more informed decision about what we would do going forward in our own relationship. It didn’t even hurt! He was open to talk and treated it like it was simply a factual discussion. I appreciated that. He cares for me and I for him, and he knows my body like his own, so why should I be afraid of talking to him? (Hint: I shouldn’t!!)
I also realized, just like the image above says, this is a man I’m in a relationship with and if I can share my body with him, it’s probably a good practice to also have open clear communication about how we go about doing that sharing.
Going Forward- No More Shame
So now instead of holding on to the shame and stigma of sex, I try to think of these conversations: conversations about sex, STI status, even needs and desires, as facts. It’s a fact that adults have sex. It’s a fact that if we’re dating, it’s likely we’ll have sex. (VERY likely!) So, if it is “just a fact” then the conversation about safer sex practices doesn’t (ok- shouldn’t) carry any of the emotional weight.
Your STI status is also just a fact. It is what it is. You can take steps to keep a clean STI panel clean, but whatever your current status, that can’t be changed at this moment. You have the right to not feel ashamed about it. I could even argue that you are obligated to treat it as a simple fact of your life.
Don’t allow the shame that surrounds sex prevent you from having the conversations that will keep you and your partners safe, facilitate open honest communication, and ultimately lead to a more connected relationship.
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