I really hope you read your inbox often because my partner and I are having a hard time processing some feelings about our newly ‘’non-monogamous’’ status. We both like having sex with other people together and separately, and we have recently discussed being ok with us having sex with other people, apart from one another. She seems to be ok with it without having any reservations about it, me on the other hand- I have been straight up about not wanting her to go down and have unprotected oral sex because we had a pretty big STI scare last year with a play partner. I am still trying to work through this problematic way of thinking, “scare…and, STI”, I know that fundamentally those two words shouldn’t be synonymous, but I can’t wrap my head around being ok or “just dealing” with having gonorrhea.

I’m poor and don’t have good access to healthcare and statistically, I am already projected to have a short lifespan anyway (poor, uneducated, queer, brown, fat, disabled cis-woman). I don’t want her going down on people because I am scared of contracting something, she says I am “picking and choosing”, and not “letting her” go down on folks. In the past I have expressed really wanting to go down on folks and taste as many as I could, that was before almost getting an STI, after the scare- the paranoia over contracting an STI has trumped the desire to eat hella pussy. So yes, my desire has changed and so I am not comfortable with her going down on folks. Why am I wrong? I don’t know how to deal with this. Am I being controlling?

I would seriously appreciate your feedback.

This one is a really difficult one and as someone with a compromised immune system who has a history of being extremely paranoid about STIs, I totally sympathise with you on this one.

Ultimately, you cannot actually control anything she does. That’s true for anyone with any partners. And forcing her to agree to something which is going to create resentment is pointless because, if she wants to do something that badly, she’s either going to not do it and feel irritated with you about it or she’s just going to do it anyway.

Without knowing what other types of agreements you have around sexual health and protection, it’s hard to know if you’re “picking and choosing”. One of the things I’ve had to come to grips with is the fact that herpes and HPV are both a risk, whether you use protection or not. And these are things which could have a potential to impact your life. Without access to healthcare, they threaten you just as much as any other STI. And, short of not having sex, there is very little you can do to protect yourself against them.

I could also mention that there is very little known into the risk of STIs and oral cancers… but the thing is, I don’t think thinking about everything that could be is really helping you here. But I also kind of feel like you know that. But it helps to really remind yourself of this. When I first became fluid bonded with my domestic partner, I was extremely nervous about my partner sleeping with new people. My brain had this belief that newer people more “more dangerous” somehow, even though people who he had slept with before could easily be with more “new” people than any other “new” person. Being confronted with that didn’t get rid of my paranoia — I’m still scared — but it helped me put it into context.

The only thing you can do, sort of trying to remind yourself that there are any numbers of STIs that could be contracted through different forms of sex and that the best thing you can do is remain vigilant and budget for getting yourself tested twice a year as well as reminding yourself that most STIs are curable and might be a slight trouble but not life threatening, is try to mitigate your own exposure to your girlfriend. Which sounds bad, but what I mean is that if she would like to go down on whomever she likes, then maybe she needs to use dental dams/condoms with you and you need to use dental dams/condoms with her. As less fun as that might seem, that’s really the only way to mitigate your own risk and exposure.

This doesn’t have to be forever. Perhaps you can do this for a few months until you feel more comfortable venturing out and then maybe you can decide you stop using dental dams/condoms with her and then maybe lose them all together. But it’s up to you to decide how to manage that.The only other option is to force yourself to sit with the discomfort and paranoia, cope with it and allow it to happen and then pass and find out you come out on the other side just fine.

That said, your partner, for as unfair as she may feels this is, could be a little bit more supportive towards you and your feelings. Maybe you are being paranoid, but so what? You have a legitimate reason to be afraid and even if your fear may not be “logical”, we’re not purely logical beings. You need the space to have your feelings, be afraid and she needs to be supportive of that and willing to comfort you rather than dismiss your fears.

It would be controlling to tell her what she can and can’t do with others. Just as it would be if I demanded that my partner only sleep with people they have known for awhile. You may have very different feelings about STI risk, but there are compromises you can make to meet in the middle and ways you can limit your own exposure that will allow her to do what she’d like without you having that extra anxiety.

Therapist comments

My girlfriend’s boundary might be of use to this person. Here’s how it works: we all expect each other to ask about testing history with everyone we have sex with. If we don’t/can’t OR that person’s answers seem sketchy, we are to use barriers, even for oral. If we ask and everything seems safe, then we should still use barriers for penetration. If we have unbarriered penetration or oral in risky situations (didn’t ask or it was risky), then we use barriers with her for everything for 6 weeks and get tested. Assuming test is clear, we resume unbarriered contact with her.

It’s one of the best, cautious safer sex boundaries I’ve heard of, personally or professionally. In short, it allows us to choose what we do and allows her to use barriers if she’s not comfortable with the choice we made.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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