Safer sex and polyamory

Dating two people who have a history together is going to trigger some anxiety within you. Maybe you’re not jealous — you’re just normal.

I have a long-term partner, M., who happens to not be very comfortable thinking about me having sex with other people with a penis. He likes my new boyfriend, L., very much; they get along really well. It's all good, everyone is in a happy place this far, but M. specifically asked me to not talk about sex with L. to him as it makes him uncomfortable - and of course I respect that!

Now L. and me had a broken condom about two weeks ago and I was not sure whether I should tell M.. He would be very, very (!) upset. Not because of fears around STDs but because of the sheer thought of frankly knowing there was a different dick in me than his. And yes, he knows it's kind of ridiculous, and he's working on that.

Now we've all been tested recently, including L.'s wife, and we're all clean.

I trust him, and at this point, we're a "closed system" if that makes sense, the 4 of us.

What you said about not having to be too afraid concerning STDs actually helped me a lot already. I will talk to M. about this, but would be extremely grateful for any ideas/input that you might have concerning his insecurities and how to handle the in this situation.

Thank you for writing to me and clarifying your question. I’ve responded below and if it’s all right, this will be on the column in a few months:

I think you meant your partner M is uncomfortable thinking about you having sex with other people who have penises, from the sound of the rest of the letter. I want to say that I’m imagining you’ve and he have faced a lot of judgment about this. There is a lot of shit talking about a “one penis policy” within polyamory communities and I understand why. I have seen many situations where men in heterosexual couples say awful things about their partner and how unattractive they now find them as a way to open the relationship and then try to enact this policy on their partners because they don’t see women as a “threat”

While I absolutely do understand the push back against it, I do also feel like there is a lot more complexity there. I found myself more emotionally relaxed when my partners dated people with penises than I did when they dated people who had vaginas. Not necessarily because I didn’t see people with penises as a “threat” but because it was harder to compare myself directly with them. So, M’s feelings about other partner’s with penises may not be coming from that place and knowing that may help him deal with some of those feelings. Not to mention, he may remain uncomfortable with hearing details about your sexual activities with anyone, and this is very understandable. Sometimes people don’t want to hear the details — and that’s all right.

However, you’ve rightly pointed out that, even if everyone is tested and everyone is “negative”, it’s still important to disclose a potential STI risk. I feel like you can disclose that there has been a potential STI risk exposure without getting graphic or into details. I would approach M with something like, “I realise we have not yet discussed how you wish to be informed about any STI risk exposures. We’re all tested and everyone has tested negative and we are a ‘closed’ system currently. I also realise that you feel uncomfortable thinking of the complexities of me with other people who have penises.

“In light of that, what would you prefer? If there has been a low STI risk exposure but it’s been within a closed system with no new risks known, I can not tell you if you would prefer since there is nothing you can do about it and it’s unlikely to have caused any problems and you feel it would cause you anxiety. Or, I can tell you there has been a risk exposure regardless of whether it’s new or low but not give you details of what specifically has happened, but just say there has been an exposure so we both know to get tested and be vigilant about any body changes. Or I can tell you specifically what happened so you know all of the details and can manage things around that. Which would you prefer?”

At the end of the day, he has to trust that you’re always doing what you can to limit your exposure to STIs in the same way that I’m sure you trust him to limit his exposure. As I said in the Q&A, all sex comes with risk. Skin to skin contact, as all sex has whether you use a condom or not, risks HSV 2 & 1, HPV and other STIs. There is only so much you can control in this life. If your partner M is super anxious about STIs, an option is to use the maximum protection with each other (even only having sex through boxers to limit skin to skin contact and with condoms) and then individually you can do more of what you’re interested in with other partners.

Definitely see what he prefers and also think about what you prefer. I’d also suggest reading more about STIs on websites like Scarleteen. Even though it’s meant for teenagers, it has good accessible information about sexual health and STIs that might help you deal with the anxiety around risk. It’s likely that you might still have some negative concepts around STIs floating around in your head that increase anxiety and in my experience, learning more does help out a lot.

I hope that helps and good luck!

Subscribe to Non-Monogamy Help

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.