“When we change the way we communicate, we change society”
― Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable.”
― Fred Rogers
Taking someone’s uninformed assurances about his or her STI status is playing Russian roulette with your sexual health. If someone is willing to have unprotected sex with you—without knowing your STI status—you can bet they’re having unprotected sex with others. Are you prepared to have sex with all of your partner’s past partners—and all of their partners as well?
Initiating a safer sex conversation can be intimidating because we’ve never learned what to say and it can feel scary and vulnerable. We fear that our potential partner won’t want to talk about safer sex, or will refuse to use barriers. If that’s the case, be prepared to walk away, chanting your new mantra: safer sex or no sex! Do you really want to compromise your sexual health for someone so unwilling to respect your safety? And if a prospective partner complains that you don’t “trust” him, remember, trust is earned. What’s more important is that the person doesn’t respect your need for safety and sexual health.
Prepare, Plan and Practice
Schedule your conversation. Do not wait until you are sexually charged. We all know it is surprisingly easy to sacrifice our best intentions and principles when we’re turned on.
Plan what you will say. “I’m feeling the sexual energy build between us. Before we go any further, I need to have a conversation with you about safer sex. Are you up for having this conversation with me?” Or, very simply as Joan Price recommends, “I always use barriers with new partners.” “Do you prefer flavored dental dams or unflavored?” “Your condoms or mine?” “I brought this sample kit—what would you like to try?” Read Chapter 16, “Safer Sex: Always,” in “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50: How to Maintain—or Regain—a Spicy Satisfying Sex Life,” by Joan Price.
Like any other challenging conversation, it pays to practice what you want to say. Learn to say your message with an assertive, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense tone. Make no apology—this is your sexual health on the line.
Stock up on your personal favorite safer sex supplies because it shows that you are serious in your commitment to your sexual health and safer sex. Include traditional and female condoms, lubes, dental dams and gloves. “The Ultimate Guide to Sex after 50” has an excellent section on female condoms—I highly recommend that both men and women learn more about them.
Reject those tired old excuses about barriers lessening pleasure. For you, safety enhances pleasure because you can relax when you are protected. Also, many safer sex aficionados have learned to eroticize barrier use. A wonderful man recently shared with me that he has trained his body to erotically anticipate condoms through incorporating playing with condoms in masturbation. Instead of losing erection strength as he puts on his condom, his excitement increases.
At a minimum, you’ll want to ask a potential partner a few questions:
- Do you have any STIs/STDs?
- Do you have any unexplained symptoms on, inside or around your penis/vulva/anus that you’re currently experiencing?
- What are your safer sex practices?
- Are you currently having unprotected sex with anyone? Have you ever had unprotected sex?
- When were you last tested for STIs? For which STI’s were you tested? What were the results of those tests? How often are you tested?
- Have you had unprotected sex with anyone since your testing?
- Do you have unprotected oral or anal sex, either giving or receiving? (some people still consider “sex” as only intercourse, so being specific is important! STIs can be transmitted through oral sex.)
- Are you willing to get tested and exchange test results before we become sexual?
You can learn a lot about a person through how he/she communicates during this conversation. If the prospective partner is open, relaxed and able to discuss his/her sexual history and is willing to follow safer sex practices, you at least have a good foundation for sexual communication and safer sex. If the prospective partner is closed, embarrassed, or unwilling to follow safer sex practices, you will know that proceeding with this person is risky—on several levels.
Learn to take full responsibility for your sexual health. This includes setting a personal policy of safer sex or no sex, owning your own supply of safer sex products, practicing your safer sex conversation, and learning to talk about safer sex with confidence. From the various reports and statistics, it is clear that not enough of us are taking responsibility for safer sex. It’s time we do this one differently—your health and vitality may depend on it.
Next week: A brief digression before getting to The Emotional Health Safer Sex Conversation (You’re not going to want to miss either one!)