Polyamory (vs. Promiscuity), STDs and Safer Sex

Cheers Sexy People!

UnknownSo, let’s talk about sex, my poly and poly-curious peeps. I’ve noticed that sometimes people assume that if you identify as polyamorous, many assume that also means that you are promiscuous. CAN that be possible? Well, sure, but it is not always the case. There are as many ways to “do” polyamory / ethical non-monogamy as there are stars in the sky. Polyamory is first and foremost about having ethical, multiple, intimate relationships with everyone’s consent. Sex may or may not be involved, but often times it IS part of the relationship(s). There can be emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy or both at the same time. Infidelity or cheating is doing either of those type of intimacies behind your partner’s back.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference (and possible overlap) of polyamory and promiscuity. Here are some definitions that I found on the Interwebs (compliments of dictionary.com and wikipedia)

  • Promiscuous = characterized by or involving indiscriminate mingling or association, especially having sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis; indiscriminate; casual; irregular; haphazard
  • Polyamory = the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved; consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy. It is distinct from swinging (which emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational)

In the article “The Great Polaymory vs. Polyfuckery Debate”, Mistress Matisse writes:

“Polyamory has the word amor in it, which is Latin for love. So if you don’t love the other person, then what you are doing is polyfuckery, not polyamory. You’re just using the word polyamory to justify your promiscuous sexual activities. And you’re a dirty slut who is tainting my morally pure system of having sex with more than one person.”

Okay, they usually don’t say the “promiscuous dirty slut” part out loud. But it’s clearly implied, along with every other sex-negative shaming strategy in the book…

Read the whole article here:

I consider myself a very sex-positive person, partly because it took me quite a number of years to get here, since I’m a recovering Catholic as many of you know by now. I’ve had to retrain my brain, and then my body to accept my sensual, sexual side: embrace it, surrender to it, find joy in it without shame, loving that aspect of myself. It has taken alot of work, some therapy, reading many self-help books and finding satisfying and loving sexual partners that I trust enough to “let go” with. It’s a dance of the body and the mind I find, a dance that I quite enjoy participating in. As I like to say, sex is fun and pleasure is good for you. Squeeeeeeeee!

So with all of this potential sex going on, with or without satisfying emotional bonding and love, how is a sex-positive person supposed to protect themselves from STDs, and all those other icky things that can happen when you are having sex with multiple partners?

Well, as we all know, the only true safeguard against contracting a sexually transmitted infection or disease is abstinence. For the sex-positive, sensual person, abstaining from sex is not a viable option. The next best thing is of course, monogamy. Back when I was a serial monogamist, I would not have sex with my new partner until we BOTH got a full testing for STDs and both came up clean. THEN I would engage in sex with my new partner, and not before. This worked very well for me over the long haul. But hmmm, sexual non-monogamy… what’s a healthy, sex-positive girl (or boy or pansexual) to do?

Here are some options, things to consider, and ideas that have helped yours truly:

  1. Regular STD Testing: Myself, my husband and boyfriend get STD tested about every 6-12 months by our local FREE clinic. I bet there is a clinic near you that offers free testing. Find out! It’s your health and your responsibility to do so, both for your sake and those you love / your partners. At my clinic, they are starting to remember me, which is quite amusing… as is me teaching some of the nurses what the word “polyamory” is. It can be a fun and entertaining experience… also, free condoms! Which brings me to…
  2. Using Condoms and other Safe Sex Practices: Yes, of course, condoms are helpful and effective against quite a number of STDs, and should be used often and excessively. Use them correctly and preferably every time you have sex. There are also dental dams / female condoms. But please be warned that condoms are not 100% effective to prevent… anything! They can break, there are other bodily fluids being passed around, it simply isn’t 100% effective, so please understand the risks that you are taking. This leads me to…
  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: This is a polyamory mantra, but never is it more true than for safe sex. Your health may be party based on your ability to have this “uncomfortable conversation.” You have to have it, so get over it. Ask sexual history questions, and don’t just rely on the “I don’t have anything” answer. You need more information. When was the last time they were tested? Do they have paperwork to prove it? How often do they get tested? Have they ever had an STD in the past? How many other partners do they have? How many other partners do THOSE partners have? You need information and as much of it as you can get. Which also brings me to…
  4. Limit Your Number of Sexual Partners: Sure, non-monogamy / polyamory can be boatloads of fun and very rewarding. I find that if you feel that you identify as polyamorous, just having even two partners can be very fulfilling (and there are only so many hours in the day). If you are fulfilled and having great sex, do you really need to up the risk factor? Think very carefully before you do. It’s a numbers game here. Which leads me to…
  5. Please Don’t Have Bareback Sex Ever With a Random Person: Or depending on your situation, with ANYONE. Again, this is a numbers game. You are just “asking for it” if you engage in bareback sex with someone that you just met or don’t know when they were last tested, or that you don’t know that well, or who has other partners that you don’t know that well. Which leads me to…
  6. Learn About Being Fluid-Bonded in a Preferably Closed Relationship: Learn more about being fluid bonded if that suits you, just understand the risks you are taking. If you are in a closed polycule, and everyone has been tested and is clean, and you have the desire to be fluid-bonded with your partner(s) (I am not addressing pregnancy concerns here), then sit down and have a long conversation with your partners. And please…
  7. Don’t Abuse Alcohol or Drugs: This type of abuse is linked to sexual risk-taking and blackouts, and then who knows what happens with that sexy new person that you’ve been smooching with. KNOW what you are doing. Be aware. Be smart. Also, being under the influence puts you at risk for sexual assault. Don’t be stooopid, people (said with kindness). And lastly…
  8. Get Informed and Stay Informed: Have a question? Go ask a doctor or see your OB/GYN, search the Interwebs for some answers, get that question answered to the best of your ability. Be informed. Know your risks, and know your own body. One last warning…
  9. Remember That Anyone Can Have an STI / STD and Not Have Symptoms: Very important! There are many STDs that the majority of men and women have virtually no symptoms. Thus they can be good people with good intentions, and be unknowingly infecting their partners. Yikes!
  10. Comments? Please feel free to share in the feedback section anything that you would like to add here. We’re building a community here to help each other. Let’s do so with your poly and poly-curious peeps. Open up with your knowledge or experiences for the good of all. Sharing is caring.  :-)

I am going to share a link / website with you that gives some pretty thorough information about STDs and even in particular, how it relates to being polyamorous. Please know that none of the information on that link, or here in this blog post are being given by a person who is medically trained. I’m just a poly girl trying to make it in this world, and trying to share information and my experiences. Nothing more. I do like this statement on the below link that I will highlight here:

Do not assume that everyone you’re involved with shares your level of concern about STDs and safer sex. You need to talk about it with your partner and potential partners.

So, have fun, express your love, enjoy yourself. Just be safe, mah people.

Here’s the link / website I promised with more information about safe sex practices, STDs, condom effectiveness, and being safe living a polyamorous life:


Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)


4 thoughts on “Polyamory (vs. Promiscuity), STDs and Safer Sex

  1. Thanks so much for writing about STIs in the poly community. One observation, though. I can nearly guarantee you that you aren’t being tested for everything at the free clinic. Tests for herpes are almost never included in STI testing panels without active evidence of an outbreak or concomitant HIV infection. Doctors and the public health sector don’t include herpes tests because it isn’t the standard of care for the general population.


    Now, many free clinics will do blood draws for HSV antibody tests, but you often have to insist, and there may be a charge for the tests (even if the rest of the tests are free) — remember even public health officials don’t generally like testing for herpes. The Western Blot is the gold standard of blood tests. If you’re lucky enough to live in Seattle, they’re much easier to get (at UW). If not, you generally have to ding positive on one of the other blood tests and can then request confirmation by Western Blot which involves shipping blood samples to Seattle for testing.

    Herpes is a touchy subject in poly circles. I know — I have it. My chances of rejection by a partnered poly man are much greater than from a single one. There is a lot of fear and misinformation out there. The more people who are involved with a potential love interest for me, the greater the chance that any one of the circle will veto any involvement with me. This is even the case among couples who claim no veto power.

    Even with all of that, I have a wonderful three lovers (all of whom remain HSV-2 negative, btw) and a wonderful sex life. Since stigmatization of people like me is so prevalent in poly circles, I’m just putting this out there — know your status. Make SURE that you’re getting tested for herpes along with your twice-yearly STI screening. This is the honorable thing to do in so many ways — it gives all of your lovers and potential lovers important information about your health. If you show up positive, steps can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. And if you find yourself hesitant when confronted with a potential lover’s HSV status disclosure, it would be highly inappropriate to reject them out of fear without knowing your own status.

    Let’s keep having this discussion on our poly blogs — knowing is half the battle, right? ;)

    • Thank you very much for taking the time to post your thoughtful and informative reply. Yes, it is true that my clinic does not test for EVERYTHING, but I figured each clinic would be testing for different things, so each individual has to do their own due diligence to double-check what they are being tested for, and would find out once they found their clinic. As an example, my clinic tests for:


      …and that’s it. I actually happen to be going to my OB / GYN to get a full scale workup this week, and that will include Herpes.

      Thank you so much for sharing your situation and story here. That was all very interesting and helpful to know. I am all for decreasing stigmas about pretty much ANYTHING! And ABSOLUTELY yes, let’s keep having all of these discussions and thanks again so much for participating and sharing what you know. Have a fantastic day!


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