Latest posts for tag sex

She sits across the table from me. She’s been talking about how all her money went on walk-about in a shopping spree in Florida that she wasn’t invited to. Eventually the bank will give it back after the fraud report is processed. But for now, she’s stressed and upset.

Months ago I said I wanted to possess her. We have played with it in the bedroom a bit. I’m developing confidence that she’s offering real surrender, not just a desire to hear certain words while we fuck. I realize that if she were mine, I could help her. What we’ve been talking about is big enough that I could offer real support through that dynamic. Well, no time like the present. There’s some danger that I’ll get slapped or make a bad situation worse, but if I’m right I can lend her strength through that possession.

“Mine,” I say. She asks me to repeat it with my hand on the back of her neck. It helps. She has offered enough of herself that claiming her is calming. In that moment I become sure that this is something wonderful and big. That moment will bring her to desire to wear my collar.

Writing about our journey is hard. It’s intimate because there’s no way I can pull out the part that is just my story. In writing I’m facing the familiar challenge of exposing my own vulnerability. But I’m also sharing the vulnerability of someone who is mine to protect. I’m sharing something sacred to us both.

Yet in our story, there is a bigger story that is important to share. Surrender is big, and it is important to try and share that bigness to help others along their path. I hope that people who have never played with this aspect of BDSM can better understand what is going on. More than that, surrender is a window to the vulnerability and connection that is at the core of love. Even if surrender is not a tool you would use, I hope you can gain another perspective on the heart of connection.

So let us begin. Let us tackle surrender viewed through the journey she and I take.

Strength of Surrender

To surrender—to be taken, to be possessed, call it what you will—requires strength. You need to know your own limits and be prepared to voice them. You need to be ready to accept your desires even as they turn into “no,” something that is never easy. You need to face the vulnerability of sharing your feelings and desires.

When you surrender in a loving relationship, you are surrendering to someone who hopes to see you grow, who hopes to see the relationship thrive. To do that, they need to know your fears and feelings, even the ones that are hardest to share. It takes strength to face the vulnerability of being that open.

And then there is the vulnerability of the surrender itself. You are giving someone power over yourself, your body or both. To willingly do that takes strength. Consider the moment that opened this entry. She gave me the power to reach past her hurt and fear and calm her. That same power is frightening. What if I’m not there when I’m needed? What if I treat openness with disrespect?

Active Surrender

What I ask requires more strength still. Just as my goddess charged me, I charge her to surrender actively. It is not one surrender I ask for but an ongoing commitment, a surrender of a thousand yesses.

When it came time for me to put I my collar around her neck, I handed her a key. She can take it off whenever she likes; the interesting question is when she can put it back on.

We rejoice in each yes we find. Each one is an opportunity for greater connection, for a new way for our souls to touch.

So, if surrender requires such strength, why do people do it? Aren’t the people strong enough to surrender themselves strong enough not to need it? There are many answers to that question. For us, one of the biggest is that the surrender provides a window into greater openness. Through that we find connection and intimacy. And through our successful surrender, we find ourselves even stronger. Even if we think of surrender as just one of the lover’s tools, all those tools are there for us to grasp.

Coming back to our story, the months between my initial desire and that February moment where I claimed her to settle were not spent idly. We discussed strength and surrender. She spent the time learning; she found her own community different than mine. She’s spent that time building the strength she will need and preparing. I’ve spent the time working to understand her and to gain confidence.

Creature of Joy, Love and Pleasure

Surrender, like any tool, can be used to many different effects. One Saturday we returned from dinner and with obvious nervousness, she handed me a gift. I opened the box to find a collar that she hoped I would place around her neck. I was surprised. Unbeknownst to me, she had been researching collars since that day I claimed her to calm. She wanted to offer herself as a gift and she wanted to find a way of doing that special to me. So, she found a collar with a bow and made me an offer similar to the Christmas scene in my story “A Gift of Humanity”. Her offer was much bigger though, and she wasn’t sure whether I’d think we were ready for that. Nor was I, but we worked over the next days to crystallize our intent.

We built something beautiful. In wearing my collar, she commits to face the world as a creature of joy, love and pleasure. I commit to holding space to make that safe for her and to guiding her journey. It’s not an easy thing I ask. I ask her to view the world through the lens of love and to cultivate the joy and pleasure she finds. I ask her to grow in her skill at doing that. On an ongoing basis, I ask her to be mindful of the world to appreciate the love and connection in it.

The mindfulness, the focus, and the growth are all a challenge. It is a challenge she welcomes: it’s already close to her nature. She is already strong in love’s skills.

Together we will challenge each other—bring out the best in each other. For the challenge I have set myself in guiding her is also difficult. I am there holding space for her. I’m mindful of her success, her growth, and I honor her surrender. She shares the joy and excitement she finds; I work to appreciate what she shares fully. And of course, I’m there supporting her when things are difficult.

A lot of the time, holding that space is about being mindful and about the subtle approach I take. Sometimes, though, it's very concrete. I was bringing her to Beltane. It was her first pagan sex camp; she was nervous. What if she couldn't fine space to regroup and be herself?

“If you can get it there, I’ve got a tent you could use.” That “introvert tent” became far more than a bundle of fabric. It became a symbol of listening and coming up with real solutions to the challenges I’m asking her to face. Knowing that we’re a team and we will find answers has helped her believe in me—believe in us.

Sacred Love and Lust

Together we’ve committed to celebrate each surrender and each joy as a sacred step on the path of love.

As in everything, the mindfulness and focus applies. When she says, “I love you,” we work to hear it fully; it becomes part of our ritual to re-enforce and build love. It does not fade to routine punctuation in our discourse.

Similarly, we embrace the silliness and laughter we find. I’m proud of the work we do to keep things fresh and focused and to avoid routine.

There’s also the lust, and that is as much an expression of love as any word or laughter. She offered herself to be used. She wants to be taken. I accept her offer fully. I embrace the opportunity to explore our animal natures. It’s OK—great in our case—to let go of the civilized and possess her physically. She’s a mammal, warm, wet, and fragrant. Whether I have her pinned under me as I spread her legs wide, or whether a curt word sends her into her favorite position, ready for mounting, she is mine to claim. I mark her with my scent, fill her, cover her, and with a hand in her hair or on her collar, pull back her head so the world can here her joy.

As we gain confidence with our lust, we find deeper acceptance of ourselves. The other day we were talking. She shifts, and I find her nuzzling my hand. I reach to explore and discover she’s in position. “Are you? …”

“Yes!” she said. With just a shift of position and her head against my hand, she’s broadcasting her need. She embraces her slut with no shame, open and waiting. So submissive. Her nuzzles say “Please!” but she has surrendered to what I will do or not do. As I mount her, the musk of last night’s joining fills the room. The evidence that she is already well-used excites us further.

Each time we find lust, it’s another way we build our love and connection. Sex doesn’t inherently mean love, but we work to make it mean that. The surrender is a big part of it. She knows how big her offer is. Every time I use her, every time I take her, the physical is re-enforced by the big offer she’s making. I know too. By honoring her offer, both in accepting it and cherishing the priceless gift, I show that I value both her and what she’s giving me. Since the surrender is active, we both know that she is mine to take only because again and again she wants to give something that big, and again and again, I honor and value it.

The lust feeds back into everything else. It drives to our most basic emotions. However the connection we gain there helps us appreciate each surrender—each yes—from each moment approaching the world as a creature of joy, love and pleasure to each “I love you.” And of course, the sex is another opportunity for us to be mindful.

My Struggle to Accept

Accepting surrender this big has not been easy. Respecting people’s needs, consent and negotiations are critical to my love work. I wouldn’t describe myself as a feminist but in many ways my thinking runs close to feminist principles. I do not want to contribute to the oppression of women.

It takes a lot of trust of myself and her to use her with confidence. Possessing someone is inherently about taking some control of them. Whether it’s just marking them as yours in some way, or whether you shape aspects of their life, you are exerting power over them. I want this to be a relationship of love, so I take on the responsibility of using that power wisely.

Yet she needs to feel possessed. I can’t achieve that without using the power she’s given me with confidence. I need to believe she’s mine to use, take and guide. She needs to feel that belief. I can’t ask what she wants quite the same way I would without a power dynamic. I still need to know, and it still involves a lot of asking and her expressing desires. Doing that without breaking the dynamic is a new skill. Exploring her desires while enhancing the feeling of control is another skill, but I haven’t achieved that one yet.

Several things along the way have reminded me how big and deep our connection is. Her cat died. I spent a lot of time holding space and comforting her. She was mine to settle and protect.

Somehow she let me know she was ready to be mine in another way. I was surprised she wanted sex. I had to suppress a part of myself rebelling at taking pleasure in my sub after she had suffered a loss just because she had given me access to her body. That’s not what was going on, though: she wanted this. We coupled, and I watched with joy as our joining became an act of healing. I still marvel at the gift I’ve been given where her surrender is deep enough to be meaningful even while facing loss.

I think the biggest single realization for me happened a couple of weeks after that. Masturbation has always been important to my love work; it’s been a physical anchor for my relationship with self. If someone is mine, I want that to be a part of how they honor their possession. I asked her to play with herself for me, and it became clear that her physical connection with self didn’t work the same way as mine. We discussed it after. She told me that while she didn’t get the value I was hoping she would, I could still ask her to do it for the value I got. I recoiled from the idea of using her without regard for her pleasure. She stopped me, and over a long conversation, I was reminded that she gets value in offering herself. Sometimes she’ll do things for me and because she values surrendering to me. I realized that to fully honor her surrender I will need to ask her to do that sometimes. I don’t need to invent things I’d like her to do. I need to be mindful of her needs and desires and meet her in a loving relationship that is pleasurable for both of us. But if I turn away from desires too often and deny her that chance to surrender to me, I can damage our relationship just as surely as if I do not keep her needs in mind.

I concluded I wanted us to focus on other things and at least at that time I did not ask her to adopt a masturbation practice. Since then, I have found things where I asked her to surrender to my needs. She said that outside of our dynamic she would have declined, but from what we’ve built together she found a yes.

The rewards of facing my growth are worth it. I think fondly of one case where I was able to accept her fully. One morning I returned unexpectedly early from a trip. I knew she was missing me, and I decided to surprise her. I told her that if she came over and showed me she was the slut I knew she could be, I’d ravish her before heading into work. I met her at the door for a brief safety check to make sure nothing had happened while I was away to take her to an emotional place I didn’t expect. As it turned out, she didn’t earn her ravishment that morning. In its own way, having the challenges be real adds to the depth of the experience. We both walked away with our love and connection rekindled, and I know she felt very possessed that morning.

I know that there’s difficulty ahead with the non-physical aspects of our dynamic. Right now the challenge there is exploring exactly what that means. We have the base: approaching life as a creature of pleasure, love and joy. We’re still learning what it means for her to be my creature of pleasure, love and joy. I look forward to facing that growth.

Writing this has helped me appreciate what we have. I hope that some of the deeper patterns—the ones that transcend any single relationship—show through.

It’s been more than a year since I took up the mantle of sacred lover. I’m not sure which of the underlying ideas is more incredible. Love can be learned and taught. Or that you can approach someone as a lover and in a short time (a few hours) build enough of a connection to help them grow and to find a story worth sharing.

Incredible or not, this is my calling. I’m good at it, and I have successes to share. At times over the last year I’ve been filled with the joy of serving Venus, building her temple as I imagined when I first started walking on this path.

Teaching Love

There have been a number of times when I’ve had the opportunity to truly teach love. Take last night. A friend is approaching someone new in her life. They want to explore kink together. My friend has worked mostly as a bottom, but she wants to be prepared to top in this relationship.

Topping is hard, doubly so when you’re approaching someone you value who you are just getting to know. Confidence is key. You need enough confidence to try things and to move on when some of them inevitably fail.

We hoped to work on confidence and skill. However we were at an event where we knew no one. Play was permitted but not particularly encouraged. My friend was nervous.

If I’m teaching topping and only two people are involved, I find I spend most of my time being the bottom. Someone gets more out of me guiding them through how to play with me and my body than they do from me playing with them. However, I started by topping. I could use BDSM and ritual elements to build connection and confidence. I took her to a place of safety and strength where the nervousness had faded away. Interestingly, blindfolding her brought a feeling of safety: she could focus on me rather than the unknown.

I used my time as top to demonstrate some things and then let her restrain me. It was wonderful. There was a lot of teaching and suggesting on my part, but we maintained the connection of the scene. Even while giving pointers on safety, checking in, things to try, and general encouragement, she brought me deep into sub space. Definitely one of the better scenes of the year.

After, I was overflowing with happiness and accomplishment . I had helped someone gain the confidence they needed to be the lover they wished to be. I had helped her open doors. Venus filled me; I gave thanks for an opportunity to serve her.

Earlier this year I helped out someone close to me. We had an opportunity to attend a ritual of transition. I thought the ritual might be really helpful for her, but she arrived only hours before the ritual, unsure how vulnerable she could be. I worked to create safety and to encourage openness. We succeeded. It is wonderful to hold someone you love, supporting them so they can do the work that is before them.

Connecting Quickly

Those examples were people I already knew—already had a connection with. I’ve had at least two cases where I’ve quickly built the connection to do love work. I told one story in Singing of the Chalice and Lash. Someone new joined our community. I helped her feel welcome; she helped guide me through healing I needed.

Another case is more personal. I reached out to someone I met and built a strong connection with them. It was rewarding to be reminded that I’m good at at connection.

Passing in the Night

The previous examples all involved a lasting connection being built.

This summer, I found myself playing a strange mashup of Cards Against Humanity with Truth or Dare. I won or lost a round and and god a dare: “The winner of the round will have sex with the loser for seven minutes.” So, I found myself challenged to have sex with a man I’d never met before. I could say no (consent matters) but as I thought about it, I’d like to be the kind of person who can choose to have sex with someone they met across a card table for seven minutes. That isn’t inherently Sacred Lover work. However being someone who can open up quickly and be comfortable quickly serves me well on my path.

So, I found myself facing a man I’d hardly talked to before, masturbating each other as we introduced ourselves. Neither of us were cheapened by the experience. Just as I can be strong in declining advances, I can take the same strength with me in sharing my body widely as the slut I’d like to be. I know that intellectually, but choosing to share myself like that is new enough that living that strength has great power. We connected in not being cheapened and in being able to decide that it was great to just reach out and play with each other.

Apparently we helped break the ice. When we returned our focus to the group, the game had broken down because after our lead, several others had elected dares from the more adventurous collection. Opening the door for others to feel comfortable being vulnerable certainly is Sacred Lover work.

He asked me to take him to the fire as a date. I did. We were cuddled on my blanket. Again we played with each other. He sucked me; he hadn’t done that often. However, after a while we realized we needed each other, not the sex. I needed validation that I could connect and follow this path. He needed reassurance of his beauty and desirability regardless of how his gender transition progresses. He enjoyed the pleasure his body brought, but like all of us, he wanted to be more than that. In the sacred circle, beneath the night sky, we gave each other what we needed.

I can do this. I can open to people and help them as lovers whether the connection is long or short. Love can be learned, taught and practiced.

And Yet

And yet, I don’t have a community. I don’t have a good mechanism to find people to help. I don’t have others who follow this path to draw strength from or to share the effort of trying to create something self-sustaining. My success at sharing stories is limited.

I do not complain; I ponder. How much of the original vision is valuable yet unrealized? How much needs to change?

I celebrate that the core is something that is possible and that I’m good at.

My first novel is now posting. Lover's Shadow returns to the universe of my previous novellas, a world in which openness, love and passion are necessary to survive the terrors of the night. I return to Lady Ashley six years after we last saw her. She has put her joy and insatiable sexuality to work guiding the surrounding communities to find the passion and connection they need to survive.

Watching the characters unfold on the page brings me joy. Everyone needs to be able to let down their guard and be as open and vulnerable as they can be. Few could do that all the time. So, I've spent a lot of time exploring how people find safety and a little bit of space between the openness. Late in the process, the nobles truly fell into place, balancing the formality and distance that allow them to make hard decisions of life and death against the moments of deep connection necessary to survive and teach. Finding that balance and the tricks of language and emotion to express it allowed me to grow as a writer.

The Light of Passion universe lets me write sex with confidence. At first the sex scenes might appear unrealistic. There's very little fumbling around trying to figure out what people want, and much less wondering about the results after. For a lot of people that would be unrealistic, but I'm writing about people who care about love and sex and who spend time learning to be good at it. These people exist in the real world: I meet plenty others at events focused on love and sexuality. My sex, and the sex I listen to or talk about at these events feels a lot like what happens in Lovers Shadow. People approach sex as a way to learn and teach as part of their connection. The sex may not work, but it is an opportunity to figure out what to do better next time. It's silly and messy and comfortable.

Sharing that is one of my biggest motivations for writing. I hope you'll walk away with a greater sense of how much power you have as a lover. You and those you join can decide how you'll approach the experience and what you'll take away. You can decide what's gross or what's fun. Together, You can decide whether doing something will grind you down or give you strength.

We spend a lot of effort today focused on the idea that you are never obligated to have sex. Consent matters. I believe that with all my heart. However, I also believe that if you want to, you can say yes. Lovers Shadow is a reminder that no matter how many times you say yes, no matter how often and with whom, your value is not reduced. There can be strength in saying no, but there need not be weakness in saying yes. It is your choice.

The world building has been fun. The population is low; resources like land and raw materials are abundant if you have the means to exploit them. Technology that lets the low population go further is highly valued. How does that affect things? How does war and conflict work in a world where at least within a community, connection and love are essential?

Writing Process

I had no idea how much work would be involved. The first draft came together fairly quickly. Since then, there has been a huge process of improvement and revision. Back in July, I thought I was ready for beta readers. However, one of the first comments I got from an experienced writer was that my characters were all flat. I was horrified, because most of the point of the story is to explore how the characters change. It turned out that the section he was reviewing was particularly bad, but there were situations where feelings were not adequately explored throughout the work. I ended up restructuring the story, starting at a different point. I think it is much improved.

The detailed revision process has also been interesting. I learned a lot more about grammar and style. I spent a lot of time working to tighten the language and improve wording. That's particularly true of the introduction.

I'm releasing the story serially. Even now, I'm making one last fine tuning pass over the parts not yet released.

Response So Far

So far people seem to like it. A lot of readers who start go on past the first chapter. I've seen a lot of interest in earlier stories in the series, even though Lovers Shadow stands on its own. I'd love to hear what people think.

As always, pointers to my stories are here.

In this last post in the series, I'd like to discuss communicating about STI risks with lovers and potential lovers. That communication has been one of the greatest relationship communications challenges I've faced. Talking to others, experiences are similar: communicating about STI risks tends to be filled with fear and uncertainty; disagreements tend to lead to strong feelings of hurt.

A lot of different goals are mixed together:

  • Describing current practices

  • Agreeing on practices

  • Discussing medical information

  • Convincing someone to change their practices

In addition, many different feelings may emerge, including:

  • Fear of choosing between openness to a particular sexual activity and safety

  • Fear of being forced to accept an undesired restriction

  • Fear of disease

  • Fear of seeing a lover hurt

  • Shame around wanting openness or safety

  • Feelings around not understanding the risks

  • Powerlessness

  • Disappointment

  • Anger

Choices I've regretted

I've approached the discussion of STI risks a number of ways. I'd like to start out by discussing some of the options that led to the most pain for me.Over time, I've found that boundary negotiations are another area where respecting individual agency and individual needs is important. I may be building a relationship with someone, I may even be building a life together. However, I'm still an individual with my own needs. The struggle to share, to do things together rather than respecting that everyone involved is an individual can lead to a lot of hurt.

Not a Negotiation

That's most obvious when I've tried to approach STI communication as a negotiation. I've come to believe that negotiation serves no place in boundary discussions. By that I mean that boundaries are not something that we agree to in our relationship.

I've found that trying to negotiate and agree to boundaries results in lots of negative feelings. You're seeding part of deciding what makes you safe to someone else. Except you can't really do that: you can seed agreement about whether you'll be safe, but if whatever you agree does not actually match your own needs, you feel trapped.

The situation can get particularly uncomfortable when negotiating how to face a particular new lover. Imagine I've found someone new who I'd like to approach sexually. When my existing lovers have concerns, it is easy to feel that they are focused on their own needs rather than fairly balancing my desires in the new relationship: it is hard for anyone else to appreciate that value. However, my existing lovers can easily feel upset if they think I'm focusing on the new relationship rather than their safety.

Unfortunately, no matter how well you understand boundaries ahead of time, sometimes a new lover brings up issues that have not been considered. There may be a corner case, or there may be a difference in how to interpret information. Regardless of the underlying details, I've found that this is a case where deciding as a group leads to a lot of negative feelings.

I understand this may seem counter-intuitive.

How can you have relationship-level commitments around boundaries without turning boundary discussions into negotiations? For myself, those commitments mostly seem to come down to a commitment on both sides to work through the issues until people's needs are met and the commitment is satisfied.

Avoid Medical focus

In my experience, focusing on medical information or research is another deep pit of frustration, hurt and disappointment. As I discussed in the second post, there's a lot more to safety than medical risk. Even when people agree on the medical facts, they may have different risk tolerances or care about different threats. It's easy to disagree about how much confidence to place in a particular study or how to interpret the results: even the "facts" are not always clear.

Mixing medical discussions with other discussions can be particularly problematic. For example if I say that I disagree with a particular study, it is easy for someone to hear that as disagreeing with conclusions they drew from the story even when that is not the case. They can feel insecure because they need their boundaries respected. However if I am silent, they may be surprised when my reasoning is different later.

Recently I started a new job. I started in the middle of a pay period. With semi-monthly payroll, there are several correct options for how to prorate pay. I was confused by my salary. I asked about it.

I ended up agreeing that the method they chose to prorate the pay was valid, while disagreeing with some of the conclusions they had drawn about it and some of their reasoning about implications. I tried to make it clear that we'd left the conversation about a concerned employee and were geeking about accounting and HR issues. Two days into the discussion, the third time I reiterated that point, it finally made it through. "O, this is no longer an employment issue?" "No, not at all. We've been chatting about accounting for days; you answered my employment question with your first message."

As an employer, there are strong reactions to a question about whether you are treating your employees reasonably. Your reaction to that will be very loud; reassurances and distinctions about scope of discussion can come across very quiet.

Sex is bigger than any pure employment question. I've never managed to successfully communicate a reaction to a medical discussion while giving reassurance that I respect someone's boundaries, no matter how they are chosen.

How I Approach Communication

I'll note up-front that communicating about STI risks is still very much a work in progress. I have had some really promising discussions in 2015, but they have never been put to a true test. I've managed to have very compassionate, connected conversations where I discussed some significant changes in how I was approaching my tolerance of risk, opening up what I'm open to. However, I have not yet made decisions based on those conclusions that would be inconsistent with previous approaches. I have not yet seen whether this works as well as I hope when a new lover comes into my life.

That said, the main thing I've been doing is trying to meet in the strength of love and approach the issue with compassion and respect for everyone's needs. I've had huge success and growth with that type of open communication in other contexts.

Start with Compassion

I think it is important to start with compassion on both sides. If someone has expressed discomfort with something I'm considering, I can let them know they are valued and that I care about our relationship and understanding them.

It really helps to hear support as I approach new lovers from my existing lovers. It helps to give my existing lovers support and to let them know they will be heard.

When difficult decisions are made, receiving understanding from all sides (and offering that understanding) helps a lot.

If I'd find reassurances or understanding comforting, I can ask for them. I don't need to wait until those important in my life magically realize I'm vulnerable and reach out to me.. I keep forgetting this last point.

Clear Goals

I have found having a clear scope of the conversation and clear goals for what I'm hoping to accomplish is valuable. Am I stressed about some question seeking emotional reassurance? Am I considering a behavior change and seeking input on how that will impact someone? Am I communicating with a new lover to understand their practices and see what our needs are? Making that clear up front has been helpful. I've also found that if the goals or scope changes, taking a break (even if just to get up, go to the bathroom, and resettle) really helps.

I do have medical discussions, but I try to keep those separate from discussions about behavior or specific lovers.

Accept Needs Might not Match

I start by accepting that my needs might not align with those of my lovers. I'm not a bad person if I'm not able to give my lover something they want (either a sexual experience or a reassurance of safety). My lover is not a bad person if they cannot give me something I want. We are not bad people if we find ourselves facing hard trade offs.

This is in part easier, because there's no sexual activity that I have to be able to do with any person. Sexual connection is important, but between masturbation and touching someone else, I can reach any level of sexual connection i might wish to approach. I'd rather not be limited to that: I value all sorts of sexual expression. However I know that if the only way for my lovers and I to meet everyone's needs is to limit what we do sexually, I have not limited the depth of sexual connection possible.

My value in a relationship is not defined by how I fuck. If I decide that in order to be safer, I'm going to stop a particular activity with someone, the value of our relationship is not diminished; the value of our love is not diminished.

Even if you do value some particular sexual activity, I'd urge great caution in associating that activity (or performing that activity without protection) with a greater level of intimacy and love. Where will you stand if disease, age, or injury takes that away from you?

Instead, I have my boundaries, and as part of respecting me, you respect them. You have your boundaries, and as part of respecting you, I respect them. Because we value each other, we work to find ways we can connect within those boundaries. That respect, that working together, and finding the most connection we can with activities permitted by our boundaries is the intimacy I most value.

How this works in Relationship

What I'd really like to capture here is how through compassion and meeting in strength, we can meet the needs both of everyone involved and our relationships.

Imagine I'm in a relationship; sexual connection is an important part of that committed relationship. I'm considering approaching a new lover and I'd like to talk about it.

I might first start by reaffirming the value I place in the existing relationship and in our commitment to sexual openness. I'd seek reassurances from my existing lover that they value me reaching out and connecting with others. We start from a position where we individually feel valued and we feel the value of the relationship.

Then I'd listen to my lover's needs and share my own needs.

I'm in a position of strength. I could sit there and say "If you don't like what I'm doing, that's your problem." I won't do that. It's not because we've negotiated something else; it's not because there isn't a level at which I have given up that option. It's because the relationship is dynamic; the relationship is successful when each member works to maintain it. I will do my part to figure out how my needs can be met while meeting their needs, just as I trust them to do their part.

I am prepared to accept them taking distance, and may reassure them of this. Part of respecting their needs in this situation is respecting their choice if they choose to cut off some form of contact. I expect the same sort of respect in whatever needs I have that lead to them feeling a need to take that distance.

It's been my experience that because we have these options, because we have that respect, we are less likely to make those painful decisions. It's easier to give up the opportunity for some form of connection with a new lover when it is a choice freely offered me, chosen to preserve the relationship I value, than when that choice is forced or demanded.

My conversation with the new lover is likely to be similar although perhaps less complex. I'll reassure them that I am interested, that I hope for connection. I'll ask for reassurance they value my existing relationships. I'll reassure them that I will not judge them based on their practices. This isn't about them being a bad or a good person. It's not even about them being safe or unsafe. It is about what we're comfortable doing given our respective practices, history and testing. I'll ask for the same lack of judgment in return.

Then we'll discuss the details, and approach each other in ways that are consistent with both of our needs.

In the last post, I explored the role of feelings in managing STI risks. I talked about why even getting testing can have complex feelings associated and shared some of the experiences that helped me learn what my feelings are.

This post is the most challenging to write because I have less to say here that's generally applicable. As I discussed at the beginning of this series, the process of thinking through things yourself and coming to grips with your own feelings is critical; I can't give someone else the answers. There are many assumptions that go into a model of risk probabilities; even more so than feelings such a model will be individual. I have shared my specific assumptions and specific analysis with those closest to me--those who need to understand what risks I'm taking. If you'd like to see my specific conclusions and model, I do have them written up, and I'd be happy to talk about whether I feel comfortable sharing. If I know you well enough to have confidence that you'd take it as input into your own process and that you can think about statistics enough to understand the many limitations, then I would almost certainly be comfortable with that.

Once I got to a point where I thought I understood how I'd react if I did have to face an infection, I started trying to model activities I might engage in. For me, the final result was a spreadsheet representing a numerical risk model. On one tab I can enter assumptions including things like how sexually active I expect to be and assumptions about the population I fuck in. Another tab gives a variety of statistics about risks under those assumptions. In my first post on this topic, I pointed to an article discussing why this sort of modeling is dangerous. Certainly, there are a lot of limitations to any model, and a model is only as good as its input. However, I think this helps with a number of questions I have.

First, I wanted to see if my practices were consistent. For example I'd hate to be spending a lot of effort (or giving up opportunities) to avoid a consequence in one way, but run a relatively high risk of the same consequence because of something else I was doing. I'd also be suspicious if I found myself spending a lot of effort to avoid a relatively low-cost consequence while vulnerable to a high cost consequence.

I wanted to be able to understand the relative risks of various activities related to the threats I had identified. For example I've always wanted to develop intuition for whether unprotected oral sex was more or less dangerous than protected vaginal sex with regard to threats that matter to me. Ultimately I wanted to develop a set of practices for my behavior. My hope is that if I follow these practices, I will feel that I've treated myself with care, regardless of the actual outcome. To do that I want to have an intuitive feel for how likely risks are.

Understanding risk numbers at an intuitive level is hard. One in ten thousand seems like a low probability. Sometimes it is. If there were advances so that our probability of death from cancer was one in ten thousand over an entire lifetime, the medical community would be filled with joy. Even so, tens of thousands of people alive today in the United States would still be expected to die of cancer. However, if my probability of getting shot on the way to the store was one in ten thousand, I'd know many people killed on the way to the store, and shopping death would be one of the more likely ways I'd die.


Here are some things I pondered when putting together assumptions for the model. As I mentioned in the first post, one thing I was looking for while researching was statistics on the chance of transferring an infection through a particular activity.

Infection Frequencies

The way I'd heard a lot of people talking about safe sex approaches, I'd assumed that the biggest factor in risk mitigation was what protective strategies you used. I've come to the conclusion that while safe sex approaches such as condoms are certainly valuable, I end up caring a lot more about how common infections are than I expected. Even perfect use of condoms doesn't always work, and other methods and drugs have failure rates high enough that I need to consider them. (I admit needing to look more at the Truvada studies, although I'd imagine a lot of participants combined Truvada with condoms.)

If I'm going to consider infection rates in the community, I need to consider the affects of testing. For myself, I'm comfortable insisting on recent tests before engaging in a lot of sexual activities. So, the question becomes how likely are infections in the set of people who claim to have recent enough tests and claim not to be infected? A lot of factors can influence this. People might lie about their testing status.

People might be infected since the last time they were tested.

With HSV there are additional complications. Absent an outbreak, tests can tell you what strain of HSV you have, but not where. As I've mentioned, I don't buy the presumption that HSV type 2 is genital and HSV type 1 is oral. Making that assumption is an example of one of those cases where I'd be throwing away a lot of opportunities while still exposed to the risk. So, I need to make assumptions about how I decide whether I am at risk of genital HSV when someone tests positive for some strain of HSV but has not had recent outbreaks.

I'll flag one unpleasant truth about population statistics. Race (and presumably economic class) matters in infection rates. I have no idea what to do about that; for myself I've decided to ignore the issue, but that's an area where I can see difficult decisions.

Unless I assume very high probabilities that someone will lie, testing significantly reduces infection rates in the population of people I'll interact with sexually. For me that had more of an effect than I expected.

Number of New Partners

I'll discuss the general question of independence of events in a moment. However, there's one specific case I'd like to call out. What fraction of my interactions are with new partners matters a lot. If I have a hundred interactions in a year with a hundred new partners, then it's reasonable to assume that the probability that my partner is infected is independent for each of those hundred interactions. However, if I have a hundred interactions spread across 5 partners, then my overall probability of getting infected will be different because the conditional probability of getting a particular infection given a partner who does not transmit that disease is zero, and my interactions are not independent with regard to that conditional probability.

Independence of Events

More generally, when looking at probabilities you need to consider how events are related. There are all sorts of ways things might be related:

  • If cumulative exposure matters to the probability of getting infections, then more interactions with an infected partner may produce a even higher chance of infection than expected.

  • One infection can make it more likely that you'll get another.

  • A subsection of the community might be more inter-dependent than usual in ways that skew infection percentages

Acute Infection Period, Viral Load, and Asymptomatic Shedding

There are a lot of reasons someone might be more or less infectious than average. At the beginning of a viral infection, someone is likely to be much more infectious.

With HIV, if someone's viral load is low, research suggests it is a lot harder to spread the virus.

With HSV, we believe it is much harder to spread the virus when it is in a dormant period and not being shed from the skin.

You'll be making some assumption or another about this. Perhaps you'll decide that this can all be factored into averages. Perhaps you'll try to explicitly account for it.

How long does it take to detect an Infection?

If you're like me and you would choose different behavior when facing a partner who had an infection, you probably want to think about how long it would take to detect an infection. Especially given acute infection periods, it probably matters what sort of testing schedule you're looking at for yourself and partners.

HSV and the Yearly Risk Rates

Studies I've seen discussing the risk of contracting genital HSV give results in your percentage chance per year of contracting the infection with an infected sexual partner. They don't give a chance of contracting the infection from a particular sexual interaction. That's problematic because it makes it hard to adjust for frequency of sexual activity or number of partners. I ended up having to make the assumption that the chance of getting genital HSV is independent of the number of partners I had. That assumption is clearly false.

Unfortunately it's quite difficult to do any better than that. HSV spreading is very dependent on asymptomatic shedding. That varies by person and throughout the year. So it seems like it would be quite difficult to get a per-fuck chance that meant anything. This is a great illustration that a lot of the assumptions you make will be necessitated by incomplete information and will decrease the accuracy of any model.

What Can I Use it For

After looking at all those assumptions, it's easy to see that the value of any model is going to be limited. However, I've found it very helpful for reasoning about order-of-magnitude risks. I was able to compare risks of getting diseases to other health challenges I will face as aging and based on how I felt about those potential challenges answer questions like "Would a 1% lifetime risk of that be acceptable? What about a 10% risk? Do I need to keep things under one in a thousand?" Thinking about how many people I'd know with a condition if a lot of people I knew had a one in a thousand chance or a 1% chance also helped. With that I was able to come up with lifetime risk tolerances I tend to think accurately represent my feelings.

I think the sort of work I'm doing is good enough to let me reason about how far my practices diverge from those lifetime risk tolerances. That's been amazingly useful to me.

It's also been helpful to think about what activities I care most about. I've also been able to reason about how much of my partner's sexual history I need to know and about how comfortable I am interacting with partners who use different practices.

I've also found it helpful to reason about how important I think condoms are and about how comfortable I'd be with multiple partners where I chose not to use protection. I'll say that I think safe sex is another area where we spread fear and shame. I've continued to use condoms for penetration, but I'm a lot less afraid of doing something else than I expected to be. I'm also very strongly defensive of people who choose not to employ safe sex measures. I do think it's worth investing the time to become comfortable having great sex even when you use protection, because that seems like a wonderful skill to have. However, in an attempt to protect those who did want to establish safe sex boundaries, I think we've chosen to shame those who choose differently. I don't think the science supports that shame (like any science possibly could). For myself this is a case where exploring STI risks has helped me be comfortable fighting that shame, while still fighting for people's write to establish their boundaries.

Beyond that, I don't think the modeling work I've done would have much use. I think it would be very dangerous to apply it to find the risk of specific situations rather than general trends. It certainly wouldn't work to apply something this simplistic to estimate how a community would change over time. Even so, it helped me understand my needs and factor medical information into what is a very important set of feelings.

That is of huge value to me.

Partners with Infections

I haven't talked about how I'd approach a partner who had an infection. I've faced that with regard to genital HSV. However, even that is fairly rough and raw. This is an area where I have more growth to do, and where I am uncertain of what to say. Empathy, respect and love are important. As far as the decisions or how to make them? I suspect others involved in this discussion have far more to say than I; I'll listen not speak.

Looking Forward

In the final article in this series, I'd like to talk about communicating about STI risk and precautions. That communication has been one of the most painful areas of interaction as a lover. None of the important relationships in my life have escaped pain from that communication. Even so, I've worked to improve, and learned some things I'd suggest considering along the way.

In the first post in the series, I discussed framing the problem, some thoughts about researching STI risks, and my thoughts on threats I'd like to avoid.

That post sparked some interesting discussion on Facebook. I learned that Truvada (an HIV prevention drug) is far more effective than I suspected and it may help with genital HSV prevention. I'd like to thank my friends for those two pointers. I'm still digesting and have not examined the studies in question.

When reading those comments I was initially quite discouraged. Despite having tried to think carefully about this issue, I'm missing critical findings that can significantly reduce HIV risk. I briefly asked myself whether I should just close my mouth and let others speak.

That was just a momentary reaction. My friends were eager to share their knowledge just as they were happy to read and think about what I have to say. Also, I'm not here to focus on medical facts; a good part of my point is that the medical issues are not the hardest ones. Still, when balancing health vs intimacy, it's very easy to feel a lack of confidence, even after a long time of trying to build strength. This is particularly true in our shame culture where taking risks in order to connect and have sex is shamed as dirty or slutty. I'm particularly frustrated that somehow we've gotten it into our culture that a drug might be bad if people felt safe enough to be more sexually adventurous. It's not just the politicians saying this; even the researchers being interviewed about drug studies all spread this particular shame. I don't know if they actually buy into that or feel it is necessary to continue their funding. For myself, I'd be delighted if people reached a level of safety where they could be more physically open.

Why Feelings?

So why do I focus on feelings? My goal in exploring STI risk is to come up with a set of practices that balance my needs for safety and intimacy. In the moment, I don't want fears about safety, shame or similar to get in the way of me opening as a lover. Later, I hope I will not regret my choices. When something goes wrong such as a broken condom or a lover getting an unexpected test result, I want to approach the situation from a place of strength rather than a place where I'm being controlled by fear or anger. I may feel fear in some cases, but there is a huge difference between the fear you can work with as you understand your needs and the fear that drives panic. Even in the unlikely event that I get an infection, I hope to value the intimacy and growth I gained rather than falling to anger with my past decisions.

Not getting sick is at most a secondary concern in all that. I'm concerned about being happy, living with integrity, and respecting myself.

In essence, to understand whether my practices are adequate, I'd like to understand how I'm going to feel in the future if there is some live-changing event like getting an incurable STI. It turns out knowing that about yourself is tricky. What I'm discussing here is how I've tried to come as close as I can to knowing that sort of thing.

Accepting Risk is not Accepting Risky Behavior

You can't understand your feelings without changing them. Especially when we approach fear and anger and work to accept and honor these feelings, understanding our needs, we are very likely to feel less afraid and angry. Going down this path I've become a lot less afraid of getting an STI. If you think the fear is what stops us from getting STIs, then you might think that facing this fear is dangerous because it opens up risky behavior.

First, the fear isn't stopping us. Many educators have tried pushing abstinence-based sex education plus a huge dose of fear of pregnancy and disease (along with shame) down the throats of their students. Yet these same students end up fucking, pregnant and sick. We have needs related to intimacy, and many of us have a desire for physical connection. When we do not take these needs into account, we tend to lose respect for our own decision process. We tend to act. We may feel shame and guilt in the moment. We may be disappointed in ourselves. But we often act; later regrets do not roll back what has happened.

In contrast, I'm not particularly afraid when I think about taking heroin or meth. I'm quite sure I'm located in a community where it would be easy to get either. Instead, I feel mild confusion about the idea. The confusion is mild because I know that I'm just not interested in taking them; it's not going to happen. I think about those particular drug abuse risks with no fear for myself because I understand the risks, have balanced my needs against those risks, and value having a productive life far more than the effects those drugs would have for me.

Pregnancy works that way for me. I strongly desire that any kid I father be an active choice. Having considered the risk and adopted practices I believe are adequate, I rarely fear pregnancy risk.

However, working through your fears does involve trusting and valuing your future self enough to change. In other areas, when I've considered my fears, I've decided to take on more risk. To a large extent my fears were effective in stopping risky behavior because I valued my needs enough to promise myself to face the fears, working to keep that promise. I deferred several decisions until I had balanced my needs. Sometimes I decided to engage in more risky behavior; sometimes I decided consequences were things I wanted to avoid.

Bad Outcomes may not Indicate Bad Decisions

My friend talks of watching televised poker tournaments with frustration. Whenever a player makes a decision that works out well, the announcer praises the decision. However, the announcer and audience can see all the cards. He is frustrated when a player makes a decision unsupported by the odds. Perhaps there's some hint the player has that gives them extra information. Often, though, the player is just lucky.

The converse happens all the time. We are unlucky, and we question our decisions. I worked at an online banking company. Every morning we had a root cause meeting. After determining a sometimes accurate cause of the previous day's problems, we would make some procedure change designed to reduce the risk of that problem. Typically we failed to ask the question of whether the problem was likely enough to avoid in the future. We might debate the relative costs of solutions, but if there was one solution proposed, we would not debate the cost of that solution against accepting the risk. It was a given we were going to make some change.

Asking what you can learn from an experience is valuable.

I'm sad when something bad happens and people jump to "I'll never do that again." Sometimes, when you face your feelings after an undesired outcome or get new information, you realize you want to balance your needs differently. When I realized that condoms break in the real world (it's not just a theoretical statistic) and worked through my feelings about my practices in reaction to that, I made some changes.

However, I've found huge value in considering the possibility that sometimes when you accept risk, consequences happen. I try to think about the joy and happiness I find in my behavior and think about what I'd lose by adopting different practices. I spend the time to separate disappointment in the outcome from regret leading to a desire to change my future behavior.

Play as you Go

I've talked about how getting to the point where I am has been a decade-long process, presumably with more changes in the future. I've talked about how I've sometimes deferred decisions until I could face and work through my fears.

I hope that you find practices that lead to happiness while you grow. I did. At every point along the way I've balanced my need to grow as a lover with my desire to be safe. When I've deferred decisions about safety until I understood my reaction to risk, it's because I could do so without sacrificing my growth as a lover. When I needed decisions faster, I worked to make them. Sometimes this involved loving with more fear in the moment than I prefer as I faced the unknown.

I could not have grown in my approach to risk without the parallel growth as a lover, actively open to his sexuality.

Experiences that Shape

I'd like to share a combination of experiences that helped me understand my feelings. Some of these come from things that actually happened; some from thought experiments. My hope is that you can find things to think about from your life and thought experiments to run yourself. I'm nervous being open. Perhaps you've found this all very easy and you're wondering why I spend my life in what seems to you a haze of fear, self-doubt and uncertainty. Realistically, I know I'm not alone in my fears (even if there are lucky folk out there who face significantly less uncertainty): I've met enough lovers in the strength of love as they faced their own fear related to this.


I became sexually active late in life. As I approached vaginal and anal sex for the first time, I decided to get testing.

I quickly began to face fears and doubts. It wasn't clear what tests to get. There were debates about anonymous testing.

I realized that for my testing to be useful to another lover, I'd need to get tested for the infections they cared about. Similarly I would want them to test for the infections I cared about. Without actual agreement on what tests to get in the broader community, I could easily face the situation where someone had gotten tested and I'd be telling them they got the wrong series of tests. Back then I didn't know how to say or hear this without it coming across as a judgment. Should I compromise what I was looking for, or should I demand that my lover face the frustration and fears of testing again to get the tests I needed.

You'd think that you could just go somewhere and request a set of STI tests of your choice. If you're in California, that's apparently reasonably true. Here in Massachusetts, there are certainly places where that is true. However, you can't walk into a place like Quest diagnostics and get tests: you'll need a doctor's order before they'll test you. (There is a website that will get some doctor to go order tests for you without asking any questions though.)

You'd think that Planned Parenthood would be good at this. You can call them up and they are happy to make an appointment to give you an STI screening. They are quite inflexible on what they test for and it's surprisingly inadequate. I think they wanted to run two or three tests for me, although the battery seems to change over time. They told one of my lovers she didn't need a syphilis test: "that's a gay disease."

Getting an HSV test can be particularly hard. People go around saying that the test is useless because it doesn't tell you what strain of HSV you have; if so, find a better provider as the current recommended tests are type-specific with good sensitivity and specificity. You may be told that the test is pointless because you probably already have it and because you weren't going to do anything different if you do. You'll be told that the test will not tell you where in your body you have HSV unless you get an active outbreak tested; this is true. HSV testing in treatment is complicated; I can see practices under which you don't care about your HSV test results. However, I can see cases where you do.

You may get complaints about the cost of the testing you request; I've particularly gotten this when I ask for HSV testing. You can get a home test kit for $200 that will give you results for a full eight-panel in real time. That price is retail packaging; if your doctor complains about cost tell them to get over themselves.

I found that exploring my fears and frustrations about testing helped me understand some of my reaction to the broader situation. In the past I've written about the value of compassion when talking to partners about testing. I think those prior comments apply well here.

Unexpected Test Results

Typically when I've gotten tested I expect all tests to come back negative except for tests where I've received a vaccine.

I remember sitting there the second time I ever got tested. A nurse walks out with my lover angrily orbiting; she had gone in to get tested first. The nurse strongly suspects that I have given my lover some bacterial infection; my lover is angry about me cheating in the hospital waiting room. I know what I've done and the probability that my lover has gotten anything from me is really low. It turns out when all the cultures are processed no one had anything; a latex allergy can irritate a cervix similarly to an infection.

I learned a lot. You may not get compassion from medical professionals when you need it most. The whole experience was very judgmental with high pressure to accept antibiotics for an infection I turned out not to have. I learned that CDC guidelines are very different for testing facilities where your doctor expects compliance than for those where you might not return.

I learned that every time you get a test you should be prepared for any answer the test can give. Later I learned that tests do actually give inconclusive answers or indicate systemic failure. One lover had to try for an HSV test three times because of various process failures.

What if I get Something

That got me started thinking about my reaction if I got an infection. I felt dirty when I was accused of having a bacterial infection. I didn't like that and decided to work to feel differently.

How would I feel if I ended up having to take a pill every day for the rest of my life? What if I had to take an ever-changing series of drugs like those used to fight HIV?

I had a relatively recent breakthrough when I got to a point where I got past shame related to sex enough to compare STIs to other diseases. I imagined HSV and compared it to the various chronic discomfort I can expect to face as I grow old. I found thinking about the struggles I've watched people go through facing cancer very helpful in thinking about HIV.

However there is a social cost. For most STIs, especially including HSV and often HIV, the social impact is greater than the medical impact. How would I feel facing the rejection of potential lovers? How would I feel facing moral judgments both from potential lovers and others who learned I had something? How would I feel letting others have that much power over my life?

A Lover has an Infection

Going and telling all my lovers about the bogus bacterial infection before actual useful results came back really sucked. It was good to practice that conversation. I learned it's very hard for people not to focus on the risk to themselves. Such conversations can become judgmental, hurt and frustrated easily. Facing that while you are worried about your own state is hard.

I decided that for myself, I want to be ready to face that before taking any risk. I've often found that preparing to face others reactions is one of the longest steps before I am comfortable with accepting risk. However, being able to face these sorts of difficult conversations with strength has been quite valuable. I think that if I had taken less time preparing to be strong in this way, I would have regretted several of my choices.

STI conversations and disconnects in views about risk-taking has been a significant stress on multiple relationship's I've had. I think that such a disagreement contributed significantly to at least one relationship failure.

Facing situations where my lovers have had an infection or taken risks I'm uncomfortable with also is difficult. I try to think of STI risks in terms of what activities am I comfortable with, not who I'm comfortable with. If someone has an infection I don't want to acquire, it may change my practices with them and the activities I'm comfortable with. However, there's a lot of great sex that is very low risk. Even so, I've had things fall apart because of a disconnect here.

Looking Forward

In the next post I'd like to explore how to take what we learn about our feelings and turn it into information about what risks are acceptable. My approach works for me. However, I'm an engineer, comfortable with modeling problems and using math to think about the universe. That part of my approach is likely less generally applicable than the rest of what I have.

Throughout my life I've struggled to balance my desire to be sexually open with the risk of a sexually transmitted infection. Contemplating sacred lover work brings a new emphasis to this struggle.

I've finally reached a point where I have comfort with the approach I'm using. I feel like I've understood my feelings and met both my need for safety as well as my need to be sexually open. I'm planning to write four posts discussing some of the process I've gone through. This post frames the problem, discusses research and threats. The next explores feelings.

No Quick Answer

My hope was that I could assemble information and present it so that others who had similar goals could save effort. Increasingly though, I'm coming to the conclusion that approaching STI risk, like so many aspects of personal growth is a path we must each walk.

However, managing risk is not really a question of science or medicine. When we're lucky, science can give us a good answer to the question of "What is my risk of consequence x if I do y?" We're left deciding which consequences we care about and how much risk we're willing to accept. That's a really hard question of self-empathy. We're understanding our needs and negotiating between our desire to do things and the pain of our future Schrodinger's self facing some consequence. If we do our best job, when we face a consequence some day, we'll say "ow, that hurts, but the risk was worth it."

doing that for myself stretches my capacity for introspection, communication and self-love. I will not commit the hubris of pretending to know someone else that well.

As an example, in this last round of introspection, I realized that I actually have fairly good confidence that I know how upset I'd be if I contracted oral or genital HSV. Gaining this confidence is one of the things that has been a slow and involved process. Because of that and many similar things, I cannot usefully share the answer I've found for myself. However, I can describe the path I've walked in hopes that others may find value in understanding it.

Read and Research

Throughout the process, I've been reading what I could find about STI risk. Sometimes reading with curiosity, sometimes with frustration. Unfortunately, we just don't have as much data as would be helpful in evaluating this risk.

I recommend avoiding material that tries to evoke fear. Fear is the mind-killer. While fear can alert us to something we need to consider, fear leads to bad decisions around sex just as in other aspects of life. All too often I've seen teens and adults make poorly considered decisions. They are afraid and unable to carefully consider the risks. As a result, they become frightened as sexual beings. When love and desire eventually demand action, the lack of understanding combines with an inability to escape fear; decisions and actions lead to regret.

I recommend looking for material that helps you understand what risks you face and helps you make decisions about this risk. I don't find material that focuses on telling me what I should do or tells me what activities are safe useful. Part of embracing the strength of love is the idea that our needs matter. If our needs matter, then no one can give recommendations about what our practices should be without considering our needs. It's much more helpful if they give us the information we need to make our own decisions and to gain strength as lovers. I cannot think of a single activity that is so risky that no one should "do it," regardless of their needs and desires. On the other hand, things I do regularly would be too risky for someone with different needs.

Here are some resources I've found particularly helpful:

  1. CDC guidelines on treating STIs. I don't have the current set bookmarked, but they aren't too hard to find.

  2. Sexually Transmitted Diseases by Lisa Marr. I particularly like the discussion of communication and the discussion of HSV (Herpes). If I'd found this book back around 2000, I could have saved myself years of frustration.

  3. this article on HIV. Also includes a great discussion of pitfalls in using statistics to evaluate risk.

  4. Bibliographies in any source you find valuable

  5. Fact sheets about infection rates in areas where you'd like to have sex.

I'd like to anti-recommend the discussion of disease in Joy of Sex (and for that matter other than the excellent discussion of smell, anti-recommend the entire book).


Here are some observations that seem common to many people's exploration of STI risk.

  1. The most important factor in whether you will get an infection is whether the people you interact with sexually are infected. Condoms and other "safe sex" approaches are valuable but have high enough failure rates that I find myself needing to think a lot about frequency of infection in potential partners.

  2. That said, condoms (and female condoms) do significantly reduce risk. Also, there's a lot of very-low-risk sexual interaction possible with hands, words, or simply being together while you and your lover masturbate yourselves.

  3. HSV is often the hardest disease to approach. It's neither curable, nor fatal. Many people don't find a significant medical impact from having it, but there can be a huge social impact. Facing HSV risk has been a hugely frustrating decade's work.

  4. Caring too much about HPV is a pit I'd recommend avoiding. There is a vaccine; that's the only effective measure to impact HPV spread we have. Scientifically we can't even agree about whether the infection clears. It's easy to spread, we don't have much we can to prevent spreading it besides the vaccine. It's very common but can lead to cancer. However, with regular medical care, we're good at treating things that might become cancerous. Focusing on HPV is a good way to feel powerless and frustrated.

  5. This doesn't quite belong here, but it should be said somewhere. If someone is telling you to use a dental dam for protected oral sex, you've probably met someone who doesn't enjoy oral sex much, or someone who is trying to torture you. I've made that work for my lover, but AAAARGH! tongue burn and lack of pleasure for both sides. For myself, female condoms are the answer. I'm told (but have no personal experience) that plastic wrap can be great. It's important to get the right kind.

Unknown Threats

For a long time I was trying to adopt practices that would be effective both against today's infections as well as things that might pop up. I was trying to make sure in many cases that my goo didn't interact with their goo. That may be a valid strategy for some people, but I've decided to abandon it and focus on specific named threats.

I found that it was really hard to reason about unknown threats. So long as I was willing to be very careful and demand that my lovers, all their lovers, and so on, were really careful things seemed to work.

However, I had no way to answer a lot of questions that were important to me. How much should I care if my lover wants to be more accepting of risk than I am? What can I do when approaching a potential lover who uses different practices? How big of a risk am I taking when I relax my practices?

Unknown threats are by their nature hard to quantify. That leads to a lot of fear. I found that I was focusing on this fear, unable to answer questions that were important to me, and had no confidence that my practices actually provided any protection.

So, I started focusing on specific threats.


I sat down and identified the consequences I was trying to prevent. Here is what I came up with:

  • Pregnancy. While this is not an STI, it's worth thinking about in the same context. I'd particularly recommend deciding whether you trust condoms alone as a sufficient defense against pregnancy.

  • HIV

  • Gonorrhea

  • Chlamydia

  • Syphilis

  • HSV. Many people consider oral and genital HSV separately. A lot of discussion seems to equate type 1 HSV with oral and type 2 HSV with genital. My understanding is that new genital HSV infection rates are reaching the 50% levels, so I'd recommend against equating type and location.

  • Hepatitis. Note that there are vaccines for Hep A and Hep B, but not Hep C.

There are many other threats to consider. I could think more about the fungal and yeast threats as well as parasites. For Lovers Grove, we may end up caring about some of these

I then ranked my threats. In tribute to the fear culture. of 1984, I ranked threats as doubleplusunwant, plusunwant, and unwant.

A lot of people seem to focus on a couple of threats as part of reasoning about their practices. For myself, most of my effort is spent thinking about pregnancy, HSV and HIV. If I did much with blood play Hep C would require significantly more reasoning. At the end of the day I check back and make sure the conclusions I draw about HSV and HIV are sufficient to address other threats.

Looking Forward

I mentioned that ultimately this discussion is about self-empathy and meeting our needs. Understanding my needs and facing my feelings is something that has taken years. I don't know if that can be compressed, but I plan to share the types of experiences that have guided me. Perhaps thought experiments can help you gain an understanding more quickly. I'll also talk about testing. "Testing belongs with feelings?" you ask. O, yes, yes it does.

Chuck and I were visiting Austin for the holidays. After sex, I was describing a fantasy that was going through my head. I was thinking it would be nice if we got to a point where Lovers Grove was popular enough that we could set up sacred lover work to do while traveling. Perhaps we'd have a discussion on our site ahead of time where people could openly describe some of the work they'd like to do. We could meet with a few people who had commented, and if things worked out, actually get together as sacred lovers.

"Why do we need to wait?" Chuck asked. He pointed out that we could go look at the personals on Craigslist and a couple of other places. We could start this immediately.

I had a fairly strong negative reaction. trawling Craigslist felt dirty. That couldn't be something sacred. I sat with my reaction and began to examine it. Thoughts like "Am I really that desperate for sex?" ran through my head.

Clearly this wasn't desperation; I was still recovering from an orgasm, lying next to one of my lovers. It became clear that we both had strong feelings and we began to talk about intent.


We were looking for someone who wanted to grow and to help them grow. Since we were having strong reactions to the idea of getting together with a stranger in a city we rarely visit, it's likely that anyone we met would be having reactions at least as strong. A good chunk of the growth on both sides would probably simply be working through the shame and fear inherent in the experience. We'd be saying to our selves and the lover we met that it can be sacred to have desires and to reach for them. If you want to be with a stranger, that's fine. If a stranger passing in the night can help you grow as a lover, there need not be shame in embracing that.

It was likely that anyone we met might discover at some point in the process that they weren't interested in such a hookup after all. There's huge growth in becoming comfortable with no as the answer.

The idea of meeting someone and helping them gain comfort in being open about their desires and working without shame to explore their desires thrilled me. I took joy in thinking of showing someone that even in that type of hookup they could be treated with dignity and respect; I would take joy in creating a safe space for vulnerability and openness. Yes, the thrill was sexual, but it was also the deep thrill of sharing the joy and wonder of the world with another.

We explored our feelings and found that we shared the intent.

You Can't Find Love on Craigslist

Of course just because something would be sacred and valuable if it worked out doesn't make it reasonable to explore. What's the probability that we'd find someone interested in growing? It's ridiculous to expect that you can find meaningful growth from an ad placed in a casual pickup forum, so it's ridiculous to try and provide that growth. I was wasting my time.

Fortunately, I'd seen this trap before. Whether I chose to act or not was a magical expression of my will. I want to live in a world where we encourage ourselves to strive to grow. I never want it to be silly to reach out there and openly state our desires. I never want it to be silly to desire to reach out and help others, no matter where they've shown the openness of their needs. Yeah, our probability of finding someone was low. However, I wanted to focus my magic behind the intent of making this work something valued rather than something even I would instinctively avoid. The search alone was important enough that it seemed worthwhile.

Differences from Lovers Grove

There would be differences between this work and how we plan to approach things in Lovers Grove. If we found someone, there would be safety concerns to work through. We hope to be able to do our own medical testing at Lovers Grove. We'll control the space and have better approaches to physical safety. Even so, the risks of meeting a stranger were easy to manage.

The Search

Chuck and I discussed and with great delight realized we were on the same page. Chuck and to a lesser extent I spent significant time looking over ads and profiles over the following few days. Very quickly we found an interesting match. She wanted to be topped by two men. She approached her desires with openness and joy. Chuck and I felt we both had a lot to bring to the situation. We believed we could help her understand the value of surprise and intent, help build confidence and strength.

Negotiations got reasonably far. We didn't end up meeting, probably in significant part because she found someone who was a prospect for a long-term relationship while we were talking.

Chuck and I grew from the experience. We found there are people out there we could help even in the constrained circumstances of a trip. We gained more experience in how we will approach our grove's work. We gained confidence and pride in what we're doing, facing down some of the lingering fears.

We were never told, but I think the experience was valuable for her as well. She learned that you can reach out and be met with respect and care. I hope that helps her as she approaches her new relationship.

There were a couple of other potentially interesting ads and profiles out there, but at least on this trip we did not end up getting together.

I'm proud of what we did. Part of me still thinks it's silly to be proud of trying to hook up with someone for a casual encounter. However, part of being a Sacred Lover is believing this work has value. I truly believe that; when I consider how growth can ripple, there's no question in my mind that touching people, helping them live in the strength of love is worthwhile.

Never Dirty

I'd like to close with one slightly related work. In the beginning of this post I talked about how it felt dirty. While I still run into shame when approaching sexuality, I reject that. I don't think it would have been dirty to approach a casual hookup so long as we were honest and respectful. Even if we had just wanted more sex, that would have been fine, although it might not have been grove work.

Of course rejecting that shame is all well and good, but it doesn't make the feelings go away instantly. Telling this story helps fight that shame.

For me, December is a time to contemplate sacrifice, the flip-side of love. "Demon Bride," my second story, is this year's offering in that contemplation.

I'm quite proud of my work. The erotic and narrative elements intertwine nicely. When I first read Passionate marriage, I remember feeling a little uncomfortable at the description of the "oral sex night." Dr. Schnarch described a moment where trying oral sex for the first time ended up being a pivotal moment in the relationship of a couple. At the time, I wondered why he needed to focus so much on a sexual event, scattering references to that experience throughout the rest of the book.

The answer is that sometimes a sexual interaction just is that important. The following summer, I masturbated for the first time in front of a large group--not coincidentally in a Venus ritual space. That erotic moment is also one of the key moments in the narrative of my life: I'm a person who has the self-confidence, courage, and comfort to do that kind of thing. I am able to step into a situation where that sexual openness is both welcome and sacred. Having faced the fear of doing that, many things seem insignificant in comparison. I still find myself referring to "the masturbation ritual."

I think my characters have found that. The narrative comes to a crux at the erotic moments. They will look back on their sexual experiences and see how in those few moments they grew and changed. I'm glad: venerating sexual expression as a first-class tool along our life journeys is an important goal I have.

Ultimately this is a story about trying to meet in the strength of love when our needs cannot be met. What do we do when we understand our lovers, they understand us, but there is no way we can meet our needs while helping them meet the needs they have conveyed. Do we turn away from each other with respect, honoring what we had as we go our separate ways? Do we find some way to change and grow honoring who we were while becoming someone who has different needs? Do we deny our own integrity or that of our lovers, turning away from our own needs or asking them to turn away from themselves?

It's also a story about sacrifice. The Lady Lucinda, Demon's Shadow (the title character) owes a lot to C.S. Friedman's Coldfire Trilogy. The magic and world are very different. However, like Friedman's Hunter, she is haunted by the choices she makes, facing the world across a chasm of understanding. As I've discussed when exploring love, sacrifice seems a necessary consequence of love. What is the right answer when we face the costs of our love? It's rarely obvious.

This is also a story about embracing our primal nature. I've taken joy around the ritual fire connecting with my animal nature, with fear, with the struggle to live, even with the darker aspects of the cycle of life. I'm pleased that I've found a way to bring that forward and share it. I think I've even learned and grown from the experience of that sharing.

At another level, I'm happy because writing is fun. I'm improving my verbal facility and wit. I'm enjoying greater facility as I drop myself into the minds of complex characters, watching them grow, change and sacrifice as words scrawl across the page. I'm finding that I have greater clarity in approaching empathy with unusual situations. One of the best parts is that embracing creativity breeds greater creative ability. I haven't found so much joy inside myself since I moved away from my parents' house and evenings jumping on a trampoline, lost in the meditation of physical movement while my mind wandered its inner scapes.

Give Thanks!

This summer I was talking to a priestess of Aphrodite about the Sacred Lover work. Particularly we were talking about offering to work openly with people who came to us. She said that one thing that stopped her is her concern about what would happen if someone approached her who she just couldn't connect with sexually. She thought it might be crushing for someone approaching Aphrodite because they were lonely to be told no.

One possible answer she gave was to trust the gods not to bring people to us who we cannot work with. I don't have the experience with Aphrodite, but that's definitely the wrong answer for Venus.

A lot of Venus work is focused around the joy of accepting and valuing your desires. Over and over again, I've been challenged by Venus to accept my desires and to want the things I want with all my heart. I've been encouraged to be open about my desires, to celebrate them, and to strive for them. This has been wonderful work; I am more confident, I am more comfortable admitting what I want, I have much less shame and fear in my life.

Yet there's a flip side to being open about our needs and desires, especially when they impact others. Those people might not share them. Learning to accept rejection when we are open about our desires is an important part of being able to meet in the strength of love and it is the hardest kind of Venus lesson I've experienced. It's a lesson I face often.

At the beginning, I pictured her sitting there, denying me what I was hoping to achieve to teach a lesson. At my first Beltane, I think there may have been some of that: once I reconciled myself to the idea that it was wonderful to accept my desires even though none of them might come about, suddenly all sorts of connections and experiences started to happen. Perhaps it was just that happy people are easier to connect with. Once I accepted that it was great to desire even if I was not able to achieve my desires I was a lot happier.

These days, I'm more certain that Venus is there encouraging me to value my needs and draw strength from them. They are a valuable part of me even if they prove impossible to achieve. She will support me in having them and accepting them because that is its own strength. It still hurts to be vulnerable and then later face rejection.

I cannot imagine our work as Sacred Lovers being any different. Valuing our desires even when we find them difficult to achieve is a huge lesson in fighting shame. So, I expect we'll have our share of people who Venus sends to us to learn this lesson. Our job will be to connect, to help them be open to their desires, and to show that we honor and respect their desires. Then our job will be to turn around and say "However, we cannot help you with that." Sometimes it will be because we don't connect with them in the right way. Sometimes it will be because they are not ready. Sometimes they may desire something that we cannot do for legal or other reasons.

However, every time we say no, we need to find a way to say it in a manner that enforces the value of the desire. We hope to find away that they can see they have grown as a lover, taken a step forward, even though they were vulnerable and faced rejection. That is going to be really hard. Often we'll be able to find something we can provide that is valuable to them and that they can see helps them grow towards their desires. However, I think we'll get more than sufficient practice selling no as a wonderful growth experience.

This aspect may be the most frightening part of Sacred Lover to me. I see the value, I have some ideas. However it will be really hard work, and my skill will matter to many I interact with.