Thursday, June 24, 2010

Respect and responsibility: A consensual non-monogamist's perspective on sexual health

Ah, yes, swingers and consensual non-monogamy in the news again. This time the headline is that swingers over age 45 are at higher risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than other groups, according to a Dutch study.

The study does bring to light the issue that swingers are an invisible group. Healthcare providers assume that if you are married/partnered you are presumed monogamous, in which case the onus is on each individual to take control of her/his health and request regular STI testing.

Unfortunately, depending on how judgmental your health care provider is, this can be a smooth process or a harrowing, embarrassing one. It should always be the former. All health care providers should create an environment in which any and all steps to ensure our health are met with acceptance and zero judgment. If you are met with judgment, move on to a healthcare professional who is mature and open-minded.

Just like the groups about which healthcare professionals make assumptions, the study compares demographic groups. Like any other demographic group as used in the study, such as "young," "gay," or "bisexual," "swingers" vary on the continuum of sexually responsible to sexually irresponsible.

This demographic grouping could include "married." Most adults engage in sexual activity and I wager that there are married partners engaged in NON-consensual non-monogamy, i.e. cheating, that don't use safer sex practices. By definition, they are irresponsible to their partners through their deceit and betrayal.

Creating a judgment of sexual behaviors based on with whom and with how many without taking into account the nature of the relationship is simply sex-negative and closed-minded.

A sex-positive perspective allows for sexual behavior that is enjoyed with safer sex practices regardless of with whom or how many partners. Just as we each have the right to decide for ourselves who our partners are and how many are appropriate, we each have the responsibility to respect ourselves and our partners by have informed conversations about our partners' sexual health and practicing safer sex.

Clearly, dealing in a mature, tolerant way regarding sexually open relationships is still beyond the capacity of our culture, as noted in the first line of this media coverage via The first lines we read:

"As well as skeeving us all out, swingers — couples who regularly swap partners at organized parties or clubs — may have rates of sexually transmitted infection (STI) that are higher than those in high-risk groups, like female prostitutes, a Dutch study found. Middle-aged swingers, over the age of 45, were particularly vulnerable to disease. Moreover, the authors of the study said in a statement, swingers, who by definition get around a lot, 'may act as an STI transmission bridge to the entire population.'"

We are then treated to the...ummm...thoughtful wrap up of the issue: "Overall, according to the survey, the average 45-year-old makes love once a week for about 22 minutes, in a bedroom, with the lights off. It may not be the most exciting model around, but it probably beats the hell out of getting the clap." mainstream media coverage is this sex-negative and makes erroneous assumptions and generalizations of swingers' behavior. That's the portrayal in mainstream media of consensual non-monogamy in 2010. Clearly, there is much consciousness-raising and progress to be made ahead of us.

We all have the right to our sexual happiness and health. A positive sexual life, with whomever and however we choose, is an integral part of the healthy whole person. The reality is people who respect themselves and their lovers take preventative measures to preserve their health whether they are married, partnered, single, gay, bisexual, heterosexual, swinger, polyamorous or any combination of the above.

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