Sex Positive? Not If Your Test Results Are Positive…

“Sex positive community”?

I’m calling you out.

Something that has always bothered me is how the “sex positive community” has responded to openness about STIs. We claim, as a community, to value honesty, upfrontness, and safer sex- and yet I can’t recall the last person who, before asking me on a play date, mentioned that they have HPV or herpes.

And frankly? That’s statistically improbable, if not impossible. And guess what? Condoms don’t protect against these things, so the sex positive community version of safer sex (which, in practical terms, usually filters down to “using a condom for penetrative sex vaginally or anally”) doesn’t do much. And have you heard about trichomoniasis? That can spread with vulva to vulva contact, along with the expected unprotected sex. It’s a parasite. And, likes herpes and HPV, they usually won’t test for it unless you ask/demand it- men almost never have symptoms, and women only sometimes.

So basically, what I’m saying is SOMEONE probably should’ve said “hey, I have ____ by the way”. But magically, in my multiple years in this “sex positive” community, the times I’ve been told about an STI or unsafe sex creating a risk? I could count them on both hands. I doubt those are the only times there’s been a possibility of transmission. So what’s going on, guys?

I think that in spite of our desire to be open about these things, as a community, we still shun those who have an ongoing STI. I think it’s still scary for us, the idea of having something for the rest of our lives, something that we can transmit to others. I’m a child post-AIDS scare, more in the world of HIV awareness, and I wonder sometimes if there’s a carefree attitude that comes with not seeing people around you dying of a sexually transmitted infection of some sort. And yet I’m concerned that it seems this community is blasé about safer sex risks until someone says “by the way, I got tested and I have HPV”- and then, slowly, politely, but inevitably, the play dries up for that person, they don’t get invited to the parties, they’re shunned. So no wonder they don’t say anything if they have something. It’s not right, or ethical, but it kind of makes sense. We don’t reward honesty.

And yet I’ve seen people squirt all over a bed with no care for the mess and the risks involved, or give oral sex to someone they just met (even more than one person in a row), or finger someone and then reach for the bowl of condoms. What’s up with that?

I remember a group called “I Got Tested”, the idea being that it was a place for people to talk about safer sex, talk about getting tested and the results, and alleviating some of that fear with up to date information. And even there, I see posts about how to alleviate “safer sex fatigue”, or people suggesting that since 7 out of 10 people have HSV1 it’s ok not to mention it. And when it comes to some of the harder stuff, like how to deal with being out about having HIV and yet being bisexual or a swinger or poly or kinky, there’s no comment or the comments had to be provoked. Again, what’s going on?

Well, I’ve had enough of this silence. I’m a sex worker, for fuck’s sake. I have to be on top of ALL and ANY risks all the time for the sake of myself, along with my lovers and clients. I assume that everyone has everything unless they’ve proven to me otherwise- and you know what? There’s a LOT you can do with that! Having an STI doesn’t make you a leper. Safer sex is hot sex, people- dental dams, condoms, gloves- these things are fun to use, when you know how to use them and experiment with them. Can we stop treating these things as inconveniences? I was so angry when a major kink website said about filling in your password “it’s like condoms, annoying but necessary”. They’ve changed it now, but WTF? Can we turn this fear-mongering among our own people around, please, for all our sakes?

So I’m issuing a challenge. A call to arms, if you will.

Get tested. Tell them you are a needle sharing sex worker who sleeps with HIV + men if that’s what it takes to get them to test for everything- and insist on herpes and HPV tests. Stay up to date on how to have safer sex in various ways. When you go to a play party, bring your own condoms, lube, gloves and dental dams. Volunteer to use them- hell, make them sexy to use (just make sure your lover doesn’t have a latex allergy– extra points if you have safer sex options for that instance too). Don’t get too intoxicated at parties and then say “oh I’m sure it’s ok” instead of being upfront. Bring it up casually when you’re interested, instead of waiting until things are hot and heavy. Even better, make talking about testing, status and safer sex part of your sexy foreplay. Know how to use your safer sex barriers properly. Use toys that can be sterilized- silicone, metal, glass.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I give uncovered blow jobs or cunnilingus. I have unprotected sex with the boy when on hormonal birth control. I keep up to date on what the risks are of these activities and I get tested every three months. Yes, something could slip through the cracks- but because I tell prospective lovers about my work, when and how I have unsafe sex and how I have safer sex (along with the practices of my lovers, which I know and can tell in detail if needed), the results of my testing, what I get tested for, and when I got tested last, my prospective lovers can decide if my risk assessment works for them or if it doesn’t. We can negotiate. Hell, I had chlamydia once and it’s now just that bit easier for me to catch an STI- I tell them that too.

Risk assessed safer sex CAN ONLY HAPPEN when everyone is comfortable demanding FULL testing, saying what their status is freely without fear, and everyone can give INFORMED CONSENT. Get it? If you’re not doing these three things (and you know if you are or not) and expecting it in return, then you are not giving people the chance to give informed consent to what you do. You’re removing their agency.

And that’s not sex positive.

So, let’s step it up. We’re better than this. Aren’t we?

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Kitty Stryker

Kitty Stryker is a geeky sex worker, Burner, rabid writer and feminist activist with one high-heeled boot in San Francisco, California and one in London, England. In London, Stryker worked with the TLC Trust, an online organization connecting people with disabilities with sex workers experienced with emotional or physical limitations. She is the founder of the award-winning Ladies High Tea and Pornography Society, and was nominated by the Erotic Awards as Sex Worker of the Year for her charity and activism work. Now back in the States, Stryker has been presenting Safe/Ward, a workshop on combating entitlement culture within alternative sexual communities, along with being the PR rep for the Bay Area Sex Workers Outreach Project promoting sex worker rights. She has written for Huffington Post, Filament, and Tits and Sass, built a social media strategy for Cleis Press, and consults with sex workers about their online presence. In her copious free time, she enjoys switching things up with her two hot lovers. Read more from Stryker on her personal blog, Purrversatility.

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