If you have decided that being ethically non-monogamous (ENM) is the way you want to live your life, there is one important factor you will have to consider. You and your partners will have to have some agreements for being sexually safe.
Not everyone will have the same ideas about what is safe and what is not. That means you will have to set your own boundaries and communicate them to your partners. How you maintain your boundaries will be up to you.
Ultimately, you can’t control other people. You can only control what you do or don’t do to avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs and STIs).
Keep reading to learn about some of the ways that people who are ENM practice sexual safety.
Before you can even start to talk about sexual safety with your partners, you need to educate yourself. You should know what STIs and STDs are most common. Also, you should learn which ones can be contracted through which activities.
For instance, did you know that HSV1/HSV2 (also called herpes) can be contracted through oral sex? And did you know that HSV1/HSV2 can be contracted from someone even if they don’t have an outbreak? And even more importantly, did you know that HSV1/HSV2 can be contracted from someone even if you are using condoms?
Some people think talking about sex and STIs/STDs is boring. They might try to skip over this conversation or just glaze over it. It’s an important conversation to have though.
If you don’t have this conversation before (and during your relationship), you can miss out on vital information. Ask questions. Be specific.
Instead of just asking something like, “Do you practice sexual safety?” try asking more specific questions. A general question will get a general answer. And one person’s yes can mean something totally different than your yes.
Ask questions like:
- Have you ever had an STI or STD? Which ones?
- How was/is it treated?
- Do you use condoms all the time? For penetrative sex? For oral sex?
- Do you have HSV1/HSV2? How is it treated?
Condoms are one of the best ways to prevent the spread of STDs and STIs. They are easy to access. Condoms can prevent a lot of infections and diseases that can be spread through sexual activity.
Using condoms is an expectation for many people in the ENM community but they are not used all the time by everyone. You will have to make sure that anyone you are considering having sex with understands that this is a hard boundary for you.
If you talk about your boundaries before you have sex, you can let them know that this is non-negotiable.
If you find yourself in a long-term relationship with someone, you might want to eliminate the use of condoms. This may be for various reasons but many couples in monogamous relationships stop using condoms after a while, too.
In ENM communities, this is called fluid bonding. It means that you have sex without condoms with a specific person. You have already talked about sexually transmitted diseases and infections and have agreed on using condoms with other people.
Fluid bonding can take place between several people, too.
Remember, if you are considering becoming fluid bonded with someone, they have to be someone you trust implicitly. You have complete faith that they will use condoms with everyone else. They show you their STD test results and they tell you if there has been a slip up.
Regular STD Tests
Most people in the ENM community agree that regular STD testing is a must. They keep you and your partners up to date on your sexual health and help you make decisions.
STD tests can be done as often as you like. Some doctors will tell you that you only have to get them done once or twice a year but you can have them done every month if you want. Keep your doctor in the loop about your sexual frequency, if you want to have testing done more often.
If a doctor refuses to let you get STD tests done as often as you would like, it’s time to look for a new doctor!
Most people who are ENM get tests done about every 3-6 months, depending on how many sexual partners they have. Sometimes, when considering a new partner, a new round of tests might be done. Or, if you are thinking about becoming fluid bonded with someone, you might wait until new test results have been received.
Keep in mind that standard STD tests do not test for everything. Ask your doctor which diseases and infections are being tested for if you’re not sure.
Also, it is good to know that although you can be tested for HSV1/HSV2 if you don’t have an outbreak or have no other indication that you have the disease, the test results may not be accurate. If you don’t have what you think is an outbreak, false negatives are common. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from contracting HSV1/HSV2 is to communicate openly with your partners.
How Much Risk Are You Comfortable With?
When it comes to sexual safety, the only way you will be 100% safe from contracting STDs/STIs is if you aren’t having sex at all. If you have sex with only one person for the rest of your life and you are positive they are not having sex with anyone else, you are fairly secure.
Everything else is just minimizing your risk.
You will find that in the ENM community, there is a wide array of levels of risk that people are comfortable with. Some people use condoms only for penetrative sex but not for oral and don’t use dental dams. Others don’t use condoms at all but keep their circle small.
You must choose your own boundaries and decide what level of risk you are willing to accept.