How my Polyamorous Boyfriend and I Navigated STIs
Our tiny three-bedroom apartment felt crowded with me, my boyfriend at the time, his wife, and her girlfriend all living there. The crazy thing is, most nights, there were even more bodies sleeping in our beds. In addition to the four of us, my boyfriend and his wife had other consistent partners that often spent the night. While I wasn’t dating anyone else, I still had plenty of lovers – pretty much anyone who had a big smile and a bubble butt.
I thrived on being part of this large, sex-positive, polyamorous community who were judgement-free and always down to try something new. I finally felt I had found “my people” who encouraged me to be my truest self. Living in stuffy ol’ Boston, that was a huge feat.
Still, there was one major issue that arose from sleeping with multiple partners: STIs. When one person tests positive, everyone has to go get tested and treated. STIs can spread like wildfire though a polycule (poly lingo for all the people who are in a relationship with one or more other members of the group). Even though none of the members in this 30-person polyamorous family were one to STI-shame, nobody wants to deal with the bullshit of having to go into a health clinic and take antibiotics if they don’t have to.
When I joined the polycule, I posed a major problem. I was coming from the gay world of PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), which is one antiretroviral pill you can take daily to decrease the likelihood of contracting HIV by 99%. Because I was on PrEP, my condom use was, for lack of a better word, abysmal. I struggle to maintain an erection while wearing condoms and have an even harder time finishing while wearing them, which is why I often opt not wear them, especially since I began PrEP back in 2015. My boyfriend tried PrEP, but was one of the unlucky people to have the rare side effect of acute pancreatitis.
That’s why I quickly shook things up the moment I entered into this established polycule. I was sleeping with men and women outside of the group and I wasn’t (often) wearing condoms.
While my boyfriend didn’t mind, seeing STIs similar to the way I did (as long as you’re on PrEP, worse comes to worst, you get a shot of antibiotics), it wasn’t just my boyfriend’s sexual health at stake. I had to keep all the other people in mind who could be affected.
That’s why navigating STIs became a big problem. Still, like grown-ass adults, we learned how to handle it. It’s possible to have sex with multiple partners with and without condoms in a way that’s both safe and respectful to you, your partners, and your partners’ partners. The solution extends past communication; it’s necessary to allow for slip-ups and you must be open to the sexual dynamic changing with each partner. STIs become an ongoing conversation. While that sounds like a “lot of work,” it’s really not. These conversations may happen often, but they’re short and sweet.
Prior to when I started dating my boyfriend, he and his wife were fluid-bonded, which is poly lingo for partners who don’t wear condoms with one another. When my boyfriend and I started dating, he and his wife actually started wearing condoms. When my boyfriend wanted to be fluid-bonded with me, I told him I would. It was something I really wanted to start doing with him, and it seemed appropriate given where we were in our relationship. Like I promised, I began wearing condoms with other sexual partners. Even though there were times I couldn’t get hard, I still refused to bareback. I had made a promise and intended to keep it… until I didn’t. About two months in, I got drunk one night and barebacked with another man.
I told my boyfriend the next day, nervous about how he would respond. I wasn’t sure if he would be upset because I wasn’t able to keep the promise I’d made to him. To my surprise he said, “Okay, well, let’s wait a few days, and then you can get tested. While we wait for the results, let’s go ahead and wear condoms.”
It was as simple as that. I realized that only part of my promise was to be fluid-bonded with him and him alone. The other half, inherent in my promise, was to not lie, and that was the far more important part. If I had a slip-up, – which I did – I just needed tell him. We’d then take the proper precautions until we knew it was safe to have unprotected sex again. If such slip-ups became an ongoing problem, then we’d address it. Either we’d go back to wearing condoms consistently, or we’d figure out a way to help promote condom use among me and my other partners.
When I worked in Provincetown for the summer and he was in Boston, we changed our sexual dynamic again. We decided to start wearing condoms since he was only going to visit every other weekend, and we’d be having sex with other folks more than with each other.
When I moved back to Boston after the summer, we both got tested, and when the results came back negative, we returned to being fluid-bonded, and I started wearing condoms with other partners again.
It really is as simple as that. We solved the problem by talking about STIs. The conversations weren’t difficult because we didn’t judge one another if, lord forbid, we “slipped up” or did contract an STI. Well, that, and getting tested often – I was going in every two months just to make sure everything was hunky dory. So was everyone else in the polycule.
When I was 16 my mom told me, “If you’re not comfortable enough talking about safe sex, then you’re not ready to have it.” How I defined “safe sex” was different than many of my partners, but that didn’t stop us from having sex. We just spoke about it, and never lied or judged if one of us tested positive.