When negotiating safe sex gets complicated
A few years ago, I did something slap-me-in-the-face idiotic. It was during a crazy wild super-hot threesome. The aftermath was chilling. I had unprotected sex with two bisexual guys who weren’t in the habit of practising safe sex.
I see myself as a bit of a stickler for safer sex; negotiated safety has always been paramount. So, what happened? How did I get into this situation? In a healthy relationship, this should never occur.
It was my 35th birthday. I had been single for over a year and used barrier protection for almost all sexual encounters (excluding oral, which was a calculated risk). The one exception was with my Dom. As his submissive, I was often in vulnerable physical positions and couldn’t always see what was going on. I trusted him (foolishly) to do the right thing without having the conversation we evidently needed to have. We had talked about sexual health and he said he was ‘clean,’ but we never discussed forgoing condoms.
I trusted him to do the right thing without having the conversation we evidently needed to have.
One time I recall before he entered me, he paused and reached for something. There was noise and motion I couldn’t see. I assumed he was putting on a condom. He wasn’t. He was sliding on a cock ring.
It should have ended there. I should have spoken up. I didn’t. It seemed a bit late to say something.
The sex we had was intense and exactly what I needed, so I went back for more. He invited me to hang out with one of his lovers on my birthday and I leapt at the chance. Things turned sexual quickly. We three interacted, using barrier protection for anal and vaginal penetration. As I was getting dressed to leave, the boys looked from me, to one another, and grabbed me, flipped me over and fucked me, one after the other. It all happened so fast, and was insanely hot, but neither of them paused to put on a condom. And I let them.
I was on my way out, so didn’t have time to process what had taken place or what I had allowed to occur. It was only later, alone in my bed in the dark of night that it hit me, the real and stupid risk I had taken. These were young guys who talked about visiting bathhouses, who had frequent casual sexual adventures, and who seemed unconcerned about sexual safety. I should have known better.
It all happened so fast, and was insanely hot, but neither of them paused to put on a condom.
What was I thinking? Why didn’t I speak up? It was hot, but it was a moment in time, a fragment. HIV may not be the death sentence it once was (I grew up in the wake of the Grim Reaper campaign) but what about the risk of contracting an antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhoea, hepatitis C, or any number of sexually transmissible infections and blood borne viruses? What if my carelessness posed a risk to any future partners?
The next little while was traumatic, dealing with the shame and fear for my health. Me, who should know better, who worked so hard to rebuild following an abusive relationship, proud of being able to now set boundaries and negotiate terms, to assert myself, and I failed to do any of these.
An incredible fantasy had turned into a nightmare. Trapped, I couldn’t share my fears because I was so ashamed. I spiralled and withdrew. What might have been a minor dip into depression morphed rapidly into a sinkhole of suicidal ideation.
I pulled myself out, but the suddenness and depth of the spiral terrified me. Unable to reach out to friends, family, even my therapist, because I didn’t want to be a burden, and because I didn’t want them to know what had triggered me or that I wasn’t able to cope. I could barely admit these things to myself.
An incredible fantasy had turned into a nightmare…How was I empowered in so many aspects of my life, yet powerless in negotiating my sexual safety?
How was I empowered in so many aspects of my life, yet powerless in negotiating my sexual safety? Using protection is simple courtesy and consideration for yourself and your partners. Yet in the moment, I did not speak up.
I wasn’t regressing into self-harm (which explained earlier risk-taking behaviours), but perhaps I found a remnant crack in my self-worth—the part that felt privileged to be invited into the experience, instantly replaceable and with a diminishing shelf-life; the part that vividly recalled being dumped by my then husband for being ‘overweight’ and ‘unattractive’. This world of sexual adventure was new. I had found an attractive male partner who also liked me. I didn’t want to lose him or the opportunities being his lover afforded, so I gave up my power.
I should have been angry with him for not showing me greater care and respect, but I also know his self-worth was compromised. He struggled with his sexuality and desires, engaging in high-risk behaviours also. It was complex, and as I learned, negotiating safer sex can be thorny—more so when your self-worth is tied to a perceived power-imbalance.
…negotiating safer sex can be thorny—more so when your self-worth is tied to a perceived power-imbalance… When speaking up poses a social risk, it’s not surprising people don’t.
Beating myself retrospectively is unhelpful. It’s like a dieter who eats a Tim-Tam, then feels shame and remorse, so binges on the entire packet. Even today, it’s there, in the background, ready to bubble up when I least expect. I can’t change the past. I can only enter encounters more aware of the trappings and complexities of relationship dynamics on sexual safety.
Negotiating safe sex should be straightforward. But when those involved fear rejection and judgement, when we associate asking for a condom with calling someone ‘dirty’, when we are socialised to defer to others (imagine a group trying to decide what to have for dinner or what movie to see), it gets complicated. There are so many factors at play determining whose preferences dominate. When speaking up poses a social risk, it’s not surprising people don’t.
I’d love to say this was about the heat of the moment, but the truth is, it was about the power relations and dynamics between me and my sexual partners. I gave up my power because I didn’t consider myself valuable to them. It was a difficult lesson to learn and I was lucky; I walked away with my physical and mental health—this time.