Being alive and engaging in the world around us involves inherent risk, whether we drive a car, eat at a restaurant, or have contact with someone who might have a cold. There is not a way to avoid every risk. Even staying at home and locking our doors is not enough to eliminate all risks, and it’s not very much fun!
Engaging in our environment and building relationships carries so many benefits that most of us are willing to take risks each day but, consciously or unconsciously, we can weigh our risks and benefits to help us determine which risks we are willing to take and which we are not.
Being sexual with someone also carries risks—risk of rejection, of unwanted pregnancy, of contracting a sexually transmitted disease/infection (STD/STI) or even a simple cold. Being sexual also can provide many physical, emotional and spiritual benefits, including physical fitness, emotional bonding, and a feeling of spiritual connection. Here we will examine some of the things you can do to assess your own risks and benefits so that you can enjoy the benefits important to you while decreasing your risk of contracting an STD/STI, having an unwanted pregnancy, or being coerced into sexual activity.
Decide on Your Boundaries
It’s not possible to make an accurate, generalized statement about the “ideal” number of partners or the “best” choices to make about condoms or other barriers. There are risks and benefits of any sexual choices, just as there are risks and benefits of almost any other choices we make, from driving a car to dining at a restaurant. There may be no “best” way for everyone, but there probably are some choices that will work better for you and your partner(s) than others.
When deciding on their boundaries, people may consider such things as religious beliefs, cultural standards, personal desires and comfort levels, the type of relationship in which one is involved, the level of trust, communication and commitment within a relationship, the physical, emotional, spiritual benefits of sexual choices, the physical, emotional and spiritual risks of particular sexual choices, and the emotional perceptions of actual physical risks.
A Few Questions to Consider
- What are your reasons for choosing to have sex? What are the “benefits” you are hoping to enjoy? (Physical health benefits? Pleasure? Emotional connection? Fun? Spiritual connection?)
- When and how often will you be tested for sexually transmitted disease/infection (STD/STIs)?
- When and how often do you want your partners to be tested for STD/STIs?
- Which sexual activities are you willing to try? Which are you unwilling to do? Which might you be willing to try in some situations and/or with some partners but not others?
- What barriers do you want to use? Under which circumstances?
- What barriers and other precautions do you want your partner(s) to use when being sexual with others, if you are in a sexually non-monogamous relationship?
- Are you willing to risk a possible pregnancy? If not, what method of birth control will you use?
- Do you have a plan of action that you intend to follow if, in spite of precautions, you are faced with an unwanted pregnancy, or an STD/STI?