One of the most common questions polyamorous people hear is: but what about STIs? It is a valid question, but when most of what people think about STIs it is hard to sort out fact from fear. For example, people think that polyamorous people are far more likely to have STIs than their monogamous peers. In fact, this isn’t true. The reason for this lower rate can not be definitively identified, but I think it probably has a lot to do with the openness with how many of us discuss safe sex and frequent testing. Many polyamorous people, on the whole, are more likely to get tested more often, learn about their risks, and explicitly discuss STIs and risks before having sex.
It is absolutely understandable for people to want to minimize their risks for STIs. However, it is important to do so without basing risk control on stigmas and misinformation. It is also important that steps towards safer sex do not become unhealthy and controlling.
Boundaries vs. Control
Boundaries focus on yourself and what things you are comfortable participating in once you evaluate potential risks. Control focuses on what things you are comfortable with your partner participating in and here within lies the problem. In life, all you can truly control is how you yourself react to situations. While people commonly try to control and manipulate other’s behavior we cannot healthily control our partner’s behavior in relationships.
In terms of STIs, the key is to focus on your comforts and limitations. Before the time comes when sex might happen you should have (at least) the following questions answered:
- Are you comfortable fluid bonding (not using condoms) with anyone? How many people?
- What would someone need to do to for you to be comfortable fluid bonding with them?
- Are you comfortable having safe sex with someone who has an STI? What about sleeping with someone who sleeps with someone with an STI? How many degrees away would they need to be away before you felt comfortable sleeping with them?
- How many months can go by before people need to be tested for you to be comfortable sleeping with them?
- In the case of accidental pregnancy, what are you comfortable doing?
Then make the decision of whether to sleep with someone based on your own boundaries instead of dating someone and then trying to control their behavior to fit what you are comfortable. There is a big difference between “I feel comfortable sleeping with people who do _____” and “You have to do ______ or I won’t sleep with you anymore.” One is asserting your boundaries and the other is trying to control your partner’s behavior.