We would all like our sexy times to be effortless and without any worry. In an ideal world, if you and someone else “click” and the energy is right, you should be able to just cast off clothes and engage in some mutual hedonistic abandon. Passion would come without any barriers and we would be free to romp around as we so desire.
Alas, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in the real world and the real world comes with some unsexy restrictions. Today’s column is about some important considerations that all reasonable and sexually active adults need to be aware of. Yes, I am talking about STIs and safer sex practices and how to incorporate them into your activities. I know it isn’t the most titillating of topics to tackle. Knowledge is power and the more you know the better off you will be.
How Do I Deal With My Potential Partner’s Herpes?
“I am interested in a guy that I really like and it has been going well, even though we haven’t being hanging out for all that long. He just disclosed to me that he has herpes. I don’t necessarily consider this to be a dealbreaker and am taking it in stride, but what steps should I take for protection?”—Wanting Safety
Before unpacking this question, I want to compliment the both of you. Him, for being upfront and disclosing and you for not running away. The societal shame that we associate with STIs is so heavy that people can feel great reluctance to disclose their status. People are (rightly) concerned that they will be judged and are often tempted to keep their status in the closet. Which only leads to more shame. In fact, one poll shows that disclosing genital herpes to a potential partner is second only to disclosing HIV. Kudos to him for laying his cards on the table right away before things went further. And kudos to you for not panicking and bolting upon receiving the truth.
The odds are that if you have had more than six sexual partners in your life than you have probably already been exposed to HSV-2 (the viral strain that causes genital herpes). According to the CDC more than 1 in 6 people are infected with the virus. However, most people infected by the virus are never even aware that they have it because they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms that go unrecognized.
The good news is that most healthy adults infected with the virus will usually have no adverse health effects or breakouts. For individuals that have compromised immune systems caused by other factors, herpes is fairly effectively managed by medication that do a very good job of keeping viral loads low.
As with all STIs, there is nothing that you can do that is 100% safe and effective in terms of transmission prevention. You need to be aware of that going in. There are possible risks associated with almost every activity that we engage in. It is up to you to choose what feels right for you and your body. Your best options are to use condoms and avoid any sexual interaction when your partner is having an outbreak. Herpes outbreaks are brought on by a number of factors, two of the main ones being stress and illness. So, as with any relationship, encourage your partner to live a healthy low stress lifestyle. You and your partner can also discuss medication with a health care provider.
I know plenty of people that have dated herpes positive partners for years and years and never became infected. No matter what you do end up choosing to do, I am proud of you. You chose to research the situation as opposed to freaking out and bailing when the truth was revealed to you.
How Do I Deal With My Condom Hatred?
“In this day and age, I know that I should be using condoms, and I really do try to, but my dick just HATES them! Whenever I put one on, I go soft and then I can not get hard afterwards, no matter what I do. Help! I don’t want to skip on condoms but they just don’t work for me.”—Hates Condoms
While this is a less than desirable situation to be in HC, I am glad that you are committed to condoms. You are certainly not alone. I have run into this situation frequently and have come up with a number of techniques that are fairly effective in addressing it. Hopefully one or more of these will make condoms work better for you!
The right fit and style of condom is very important. Too small and it is choking your erection to death, too loose and you feel like you are sliding around in a plastic sack. There are now companies that sell custom fit condoms. They even have a handy measuring guide that you can use at home. If sensitivity is an issue, use condoms that are advertised as “ultra thin” or “ultra sensitive”.
Once you have the right condom for your needs, the training begins. A man’s mind has almost unreasonable control over his dick, and once his mind stops cooperating, the dick is sure to follow. You have gotten into a feedback loop around condoms that keeps getting reinforced. If not addressed it will only get worse. So take the pressure off! Rather than attempt to tackle a condom during the middle of sexy time with another person, do some solo homework.
Put on some porn or think of something that really really turns you on. Pick a time when you are not rushed and there is nothing else on your mind. Get yourself as hard as you possibly can. Slowly practice putting on a condom and masturbating while wearing it. If you go soft, take it off and start again. There is no pressure and there is no rush. What you are working on overcoming is the hatred of condoms that your mind (and thus dick) have developed. It might take a while. Penis can be tricky and uncooperative at the best of times. You will have to put in the hard work of retraining your brain. Once you have mastered the art of staying hard in a condom by yourself, you can then move to adding a willing partner into the mix.
Some men prefer to masturbate with a condom and even fetishize what is known as a “Posh Wank”
Are you going soft because putting the condom on interrupts the heat of the moment? If possible, make sure that the condom is unwrapped and ready to go before getting into the sexy time. There is nothing worse when things are getting hot and heavy than having to stop to dig out a condom and then attempt to open the small tricky package with possibly slick fingers in dim lighting.
Better yet, incorporate putting the condom on into the foreplay. Would you say “no” to a partner that wanted to give you a slow sensual handjob that involves unrolling a condom on you and getting you good and hard before you slip yourself inside of them?
As a side note, no partner should ever shame you for not staying hard in their presence. If you encounter someone like that, run, don’t walk away. Sexual activity has natural ebbs and flows and if the dick decides to take a break, roll fluidly into fingers and tongues and hands. Not all sexual activity has to be penile penetration, and if your partner does not understand that, they are not the right partner for you.
Concerned About Herpes and STIs From Oral
“My partner and I are exploring non-monogamy but are worried about oral sex. We are especially concerned about our risk for herpes. Do you have any safer sex tips for us? We don’t want to stop our explorations but can’t help but be concerned”—Oral Sex Concerns
The honest truth is that you have a right to be concerned, particularly in this day and age. I wish I could say otherwise, but that isn’t where the facts lie. We live in a time where more than ever taking care of your sexual health needs to be a top priority.
As for oral herpes, you probably already have it. According to the WHO 67% of the population have HSV-1. Most people were infected in their youth but don’t ever show symptoms. If you don’t already have this type of HSV, you are more likely to get it from kissing than from oral sex. Individuals who already have HSV-1 are unlikely to be subsequently infected with HSV-1 in the genital area. Additionally, it is very rare for HSV-2 (genital herpes) to be spread through oral sex. The main concern involving herpes is the heightened risk of transmitting and contracting other diseases during an outbreak. The open sore provides a means for other viruses to enter your body. Be aware if you have any active cold sores and don’t engage in any oral sexual activity while you do.
Herpes isn’t the only thing that you should have on your oral sex radar. Although not as easily spread through oral as other sexual activity, almost every STI can be contracted orally. There are now antibiotic resistant strains of gonorrhea that can be spread by oral sex as well.
A huge part of non-monogamy is trust. You have to trust that the people you are engaging with will be honest about any STIs they might have. If you begin having sex with multiple partners, for your own and your partners safety, it is important that everyone gets tested on a regular basis. To further reduce your risk of STIs you can use dental dams and condoms with untested partners.
As a dedicated non-monogamist, I take this information in stride and adapt my behavior accordingly. Of course I wish that I could engage in all the hedonistic behavior I crave willy-nilly without a care in the world, but that isn’t my reality. Instead, I engage with trusted and tested partners that I have clear and effective communication with. I will use barrier protection like condoms and dental dams at times. If a sexual situation doesn’t feel right I do not move forward with it. I take the time to do visual inspections before going into sexy times, as unsexy as having to do so might be. I do not engage in sexual activity if I am too intoxicated to make safe decisions. Once you get turned on enough, your brain stops working effectively. Trying to discuss sexual safety while in a state of arousal rarely works well.
By all means explore! There is a wealth of experiences to be had out there. By keeping a level head and practicing the reasonable safety steps I outlined, there is no reason that you two can not have some fun. Probably not to the extent that we would like to indulge in, but it is what it is. I commend your awareness and willingness to play safer. Keep it up!