STDs in Sex-Positive Community: Examining Stigma and Safer Sex Practices

Depositphotos_3419955_L-300x240by Guest Blogger: Aiden Fry

A prominent sex-positive organization’s LinkedIn profile recently posted a call out for a group seeking to establish an intentional living community in Arizona.  When I noticed they excluded membership on the basis of STD-positivity, I responded expressing my disappointment and frustration with the policy.  I received the following response from the gentleman who initially posted the announcement:

“If you have an STD who in their right mind desires to engage in intimate contact? none that I know of. There will be general rituals people could still participate in. Now in private practise you are free to do what you please, however, please name one person you know of that would engage in intimate contact, with someone who carries and active STD”

The following is my response, to both he and his group, but also to all others who might posit the question of who might choose to be involved with someone they knew to have a sexually transmitted infection or disease:

First off, please add my name to that short and budding list.  As a medical professional, sexuality educator, and sacred intimate, I can tell you that this assumption [that all persons discriminate based on STD-status] is not based in truth.  I have had many partners and lovers that I have chosen to have sex with who have had a STD – mind you, however, that I didn’t say I chose to do so without protection.

Colorful condoms isolated on whiteDue to misguided beliefs and practices, I have met many people who have had (and continue to have) unprotected sex based on faulty logic and/or denial.  As a medical provider, I meet people who choose to make decisions based on the logic that someone on Craig’s List said they were STD-free, deny risk because they have never known anyone with a “serious” STI, or because they believed that their risks were minimal. Today, most of these people “luck out” and either end up leaving with a breath of relief or get a prescription for a treatable infection. Yet, there are others who are not so lucky.  Some, after a single encounter, discover all-too-late that they should have been wiser – that they should have used protection.Personally, I don’t feel an STD should disqualify someone from being sexually intimate; in fact, I get frustrated when people state they will not have sex with someone who is open and honest about their [HCV, HIV, HSV, HPV] status – especially if they are willing to have casual and/or anonymous sex with persons whose status they do no know.  In my opinion, it is better to treat all lovers as if they are potentially-infected (by using barriers for all sex acts, including oral, vaginal, and anal intercourse), rather than to place blind trust in out-dated or inaccurate test results… or worse yet, someone’s word.  In my experience, just because someone SAYS they are STD-free does not mean that they ARE!  While some may intentionally lie about their status, the vast majority of infected persons are unaware because the most common symptom of an STI is a total lack of symptoms.  As gonorrhea – the most common sexually transmitted infection spread through oral, anal, and vaginal sex – becomes increasingly resistant and thus untreatable, this oft-times ignored STI could potentially lead to greater concerns.  Let us not forget the days before HIV was identified and AZT discovered; remember that the worst STD we have to fear… is the one we have yet to uncover.

Depositphotos_10010709_L-199x300Although this might sound sex-negative and frightful on the surface, the fact remains that in order to lead sexually liberated and ecstatic lives, it is important to make INFORMED DECISIONS about the risks we take.  All people, especially those of us in the various sex-positive communities (LGBTQI, kink, non-monogamy, and pagan), need to be aware of the risks to ourselves and our partners so that we can keep ourselves and our communities safe – which means not burying our heads in the sand.  We must be pro-active and educate ourselves and our communities if we are to keep each other safe.

First and foremost: frequency and type of STD testing is NOT standardized.  Too often, people aren’t tested regularly or extensively enough to accurately declare their STD-status; thus, how can you truly know a person’s status?  In other words, just because a person’s test result was negative last week, does NOT mean they are still negative today.  Whether we are speaking about test accuracy, window periods, or sexual activity between testing, the fact remains that results are not infallible.

There is a pervasive belief in our community that safer sex only entails using a condom during intercourse – yet it includes much more than that.  For people in the lesbian and queer communities, using dams, condoms, and gloves seem more common, yet most people report not using condoms or dams for oral sex (felatio, cunnilingus, or analingus).  In sex-positive communities and events, I have witnessed people suck cock and lick pussy without barriers – sometimes in a group setting – potentially spreading STIs.  At conferences, events, and in swing clubs, people frequently have unprotected oral sex believing that it’s “safer” – even doing it with multiple people they may not know – and opening themselves up to a whole host of possible STDs.  Although the risks may be fewer with oral sex, it is important to recognize that they are not zero.  Using HIV as their basis for determining risk and behavior, most people do not understand that HIV is not the only STD to fear – nor do they realize that other STIs can be more easily transmitted than HIV.  With this in mind, it is important that each of us become aware of the STDs that can be spread through each activity and base our actions accordingly.

I’m not here to condemn sexuality or tell you what choices to make for yourself or what risks you should or should not take – frankly, only you can answer that.  My hope is to inspire people to go back to their communities and have frank discussions about sexuality, risks, and to share ideas with each other on ways to keep themselves and their partners safe.  I want people to have incredible sex – and lots of it. I want people to have ecstatic experiences and know limitless connection. But, I also want people to be safe and healthy.

Educate yourself. Respect yourself. Protect yourself.


For more information on STI transmission, treatment, and prevention, please check out the information provided by the Center for Disease Control and Planned Parenthood.




3 comments on “STDs in Sex-Positive Community: Examining Stigma and Safer Sex Practices

  1. Thank you for your column. Not only is using protection important, it
    works. My ex lived with an AIDS victim for almost a year. They enjoyed
    an active sex life. They made sure to take precautions. When he became
    too sick she was there to carry him through to his death and comfort
    him. They did not do that foolishly, but carefully.

    I would appreciate your mentioning the female condom in your references.
    The FC2 is a very good option. It has several advantages. (I know that
    the first FC was, as one of my friends has said, “Like having sex in a
    shower curtain” but not the FC2.)

    >The FC2 covers more of the woman’s external genitalia, so is more protective

    >It can be inserted long before intercourse

    >It increases the stimulation of the clitoris, carrying intravaginal motion to the clit.

    >It is impervious to oil based lubricant.

    >It doesn’t have to be removed immediately after ejaculation for fear of breakage.

    >It feels better to both the man and the woman. Increasing pleasure for both.


    And too many more to list.

    Including the one of the most important. . .

    >>It is under the control of the woman.

    Given many men’s reluctance to use condoms this is important. Male condom failure when used properly is close to zero, but in the heat of the moment, men fail to leave a reservoir, stretch the condom too tightly, rush to remove it, use oil-based lubricants, etc. The FC2 provides more pleasure to both people.

    I love intentional communities but they should ban, not STDs, but
    anti-social histories. If I had the chance, I would love to create a
    Robert Rimmer-based community. LOL.

    • Thank you for responding to my post.  As someone in relationship with someone who has HIV, my heart goes out to your beloved.  Like she, my partner and I enjoy an ecstatic sex life that isn’t affected by the use of barriers –  in fact, in a lot of ways, I think it has become even better!  As someone who has had (and continues to have) partners, lovers, and extended chosen family with HIV, HSV, HPV, HCV, I know all too well the need to protect myself and those I love; however, I also know that safer sex works (when used correctly, consistently, and for all types of sex) – and that it doesn’t detract from how satisfying sex can be.

      The fact remains that, inside and outside of sex-positive intentional communities, people are choosing to have “bareback” oral sex in instances where they would never have it vaginally or anally.  As a new study shows, people are reporting safer (penetrative) sex with condoms and/or lube is just as sexy and satisfying as sex without (; yet, people continue to rationalized risky oral sex behaviors using “lessened risk” statistics as false reassurances.  With rates of incurable gonorrhea on the rise, HIV is no longer the only STD we have to worry about.  

      And yes, condoms work.  Countless people have, and continue, to test negative of STDs after using barriers with their STD-positive partners.  Statistics show that consistent and appropriate use of condoms are effective for preventing pregnancy, HIV, and more;  HOWEVER, this still doesn’t address the issue of sexually-active persons not considering ORAL sex as a reason to use barriers.

      Thank you for mentioning the Female Condom/ FC2.  As you mentioned, it is an excellent barrier method that can be used for wo/men and is excellent for ORAL, VAGINAL, and ANAL sex. As you mentioned, the FC2 is a versatile barrier method which has many benefits including:-  It can be used vaginally, allowing a woman to control the use of contraceptives and provides increased external protection –  It can be used anally (with or without without the ring) and provides additional external protection-  Due to it’s increased external protection, it can be used for oral sex (when used vaginally or rectally)-  It is the ONLY method of barrier protection that can be used regardless of a man’s ability to have a full erection

      Aiden Fyre

  2. VERY well said, and thank you. It still dismays and disappoints me that so many “sex positive” organizations are so poorly educated about STIs. 

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