An old-fashioned girl
July 21, 2009 4:46 PM   Subscribe

The last time I was single and dating, Ronald Reagan was president. Have recommended (and practical) safe sex practices changed in the last 25 years?

I am back on the dating scene after a marriage of nearly 20 years and a year of intentional celibacy. The last time I was having relatively casual sex was in the mid-late 80s when I was in college and hanging out at the women's center with its safe sex classes. This was the "no glove, no love," "wrap that rascal," and dental dams/non-microwaveable plastic wrap era. Fluid exchange was pretty much the promise-ring of my social circle, granted only after six months of monogamous latexed sex and a second round of testing (OK, we were kids who followed rules, but that was how it was).

That being the case, I could use some help on current expectations and practices. I can handle the "getting dates" part, but what supplies does the modern woman carry? What about getting tested & asking about a prospective partner's status - is this still a reasonable topic of conversation? Personal anecdotes welcome, along with links, etc.

Possibly relevant: I'm female, mid-40s, interested in both men and women in a wide age range, not insistent on monogamy, and kinky (no intentional bloodplay/piercing, and I'm hypercareful with unintentional blood). I'm in the US but travel a lot, so info on what's expected elsewhere is also good - particularly Europe and Aus/NZ.

Thanks in advance. Throwaway email: metafilteranon@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Lambskin is no longer acceptable.
posted by cloeburner at 4:52 PM on July 21, 2009


Stock up on condoms, careful with them fluids, ask to see test results, and you should be good to go. Your responsible attitude hasn't aged a day.

Now go have fun getting laid!
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:55 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whenever I'm going out with someone new, I make a point of getting tested. Whenever we start to get a little frisky, before anything can happen, I mention that I've gotten tested (for everything) and tell the person that I'd be happy to show them my results. I make sure to have them available if the person would like to see immediately and the discussion usually goes from there.

I think it's always easier to start off on the right foot with a new person and be candid and forthcoming with such information. After all, as a couple, you're already halfway there if you're tested beforehand. (I feel your pain--I was with my ex husband for 10 years and didn't have to think about such things, but knowing your status with proof helps lighten the load when the discussion arises).

Get tested BEFORE you start dating. No point in waiting until you're thinking about having sex; get tested after each sexual relationship ends, just to be sure, even if you both have been tested before. Don't go back and sleep with exes after the breakup without protection; just because you're fastidious doesn't me he or she was after the split.

If someone tells you there's no way they have anything, ask if they've ever snorted drugs. A lot of people don't realize you can get Hepatitis C from sharing a straw with someone else. There are a LOT of people who don't know this, in my experience.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]



Ditto condoms, tests, and no-semen-without-a-serious-conversation. But dental dams? I remember them from the college sex ed center, but have NEVER seen them used in a real life sexual encounter. My post-college experiences are all hetero, though, and maybe limited. Anyone else?
posted by kestrel251 at 5:40 PM on July 21, 2009


This was the "no glove, no love," "wrap that rascal," and dental dams/non-microwaveable plastic wrap era. Fluid exchange was pretty much the promise-ring of my social circle, granted only after six months of monogamous latexed sex and a second round of testing (OK, we were kids who followed rules, but that was how it was).

I'm just a few years younger than you, and I'll say that a lot of folks of your and my approximate vintage were NOT particularly careful. Oh, everyone talked the talk, but not so much walked the walk. Don't be surprised when the latex is suddenly considered optional in the heat of the moment.
posted by desuetude at 5:46 PM on July 21, 2009


Honestly I'm not as concerned about getting tested as I am that my partner seems as obsessed with I am about condom use. I recently was with a woman who demanded I get tested. I was like...I've never had sex without a condom, there is pretty much zero chance of me having anything. She demanded it, we ended up having a gigantic fight about it. I went to PP to get tested, and they were more or less like, why are you getting tested?

I think in the end, you sort of have to go with your best instinct. Can you trust the person that you are with? Personally I don't think demanding that someone get tested to have protected sex ends up working that well. I know that others will disagree. It hasn't been my experience. Condom sex is generally pretty safe. I think you have to accept that there is a risk with any sexual activity and you do whatever you can to minimize it, but also I think you have to live life.

I also feel like HPV is sort of a red herring. There is no test for it. It's more or less harmless unless it shows up on your pap smear, or in case you get warts. Both of which are treatable. So you need to do you pap smears every freaking year as a sexually active adult. And if you get warts you need to get them burned off.

Condoms, condoms, condoms. If you need to do it without condoms, you absolutely need to get tested. Anal sex is probably a bad idea in any sort of casual situation.
posted by sully75 at 5:55 PM on July 21, 2009


> Ditto condoms, tests, and no-semen-without-a-serious-conversation. But dental dams? I remember them from the college sex ed center, but have NEVER seen them used in a real life sexual encounter.
I've always thought that dental dams were some sort of complicated joke made up by sex-educators to let off steam. Y'know, like a snipe hunt or fetching a "left-handed smoke-shifter." Sending all those poor college freshmen into their first sexual experiences with some foolish token of their inexperience, only to be politely ribbed by their partner and told with caring bemusement "...you do know that those things don't really exist in the real world, don't you?".

I guess I'm sure that this might be me being ignorant of some real dangers (or to some sexual subcultures where this might be more needed), but I'd bet against it. Dental dams rank right up there with "carrying hand-sanitizer in your purse" on my scale of overreaction.

OP: Honesty and candor are always appreciated; and to alleviate some of your fears I'll tell you that (thankfully) it's not become gauche or anything close... at least in the circles I have run in. I think you'll be fine without changing a thing... (except dental dams... lolamirite??)
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 6:02 PM on July 21, 2009


as kestrel251 notes - i've never used a dental dam and to my knowledge i've never been with a partner who used a dental dam with anyone else. i'm bisexual and most of my sleeping around happened from late 90s to early 00s. they were a giant joke and used most often to fling across the room when they were handed out by the safe sex club at the local lesbian bar.
posted by nadawi at 6:06 PM on July 21, 2009


I really seriously doubt you're going to see dental dams out "in the wild". I've been been sexually active with both men and women for nearly twenty years and I have never had one handed to me in a sexual situation.
posted by crankylex at 6:08 PM on July 21, 2009


I make clear at the outset, even before any physical contact, that I only have sex with condoms and everytime. I'm female (45 years old) and carry condoms and lube on dates but only really expect to use mine when I host. If the guy isn't prepared with condoms when he hosts then he doesn't regularly use them and wasn't planning on using them on our date. That's a deal breaker. If however on the way to his place he mentions needing to go get condoms, then I'm cool, and I'll offer mine or we'll go to the store. And if we're on the way to my place and he inquires about condoms, I get super pleased (and extra turned on). If he wants to use a dental dam, that's cool, but I feel it is necessary. I also bring up testing early on but don't require printed results to get it on. I get tested for everything every 6 months. And expect him to also if we're going to be dating for a while.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:11 PM on July 21, 2009


don't have sex with people who refuse to get a pinprick in the arm to get tested to alleviate your fears but are totally blase about you getting warts burned off your genitals. if you can go for a yearly exam, they can get a blood test at their annual check up. i don't think unless you're doing porn or being exceptionally dumb about partners and protection that you need to test after and before every partner, but if you're sleeping around and expect your partners are as well, a test once or twice a year won't kill anyone.
posted by nadawi at 6:12 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Damn! Should be If he wants to use a dental dam, that's cool, but I don't feel it is necessary.
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:12 PM on July 21, 2009


I recently was involved in an unforeseen circumstance where sex was involved. To my surprise(and relief), that most excellent girl had some condoms on hand which helped perpetuate the activities of that night. So yeah. Condoms.
posted by prufrock at 6:17 PM on July 21, 2009


It's now possible to get specific separate tests for both types of herpes, HSV-1 and HSV-2. I like to keep up to date on both, and HIV as well.
posted by orthogonality at 7:11 PM on July 21, 2009


Female condoms are awesome. Expensive ($3 each) but the provide VERY good sensation, like nothing is there. Use lube, and on the inside before inserting, YMMV.
posted by limited slip at 7:20 PM on July 21, 2009


I honestly would not get tested for herpes UNLESS you have an outbreak. In that case I think you should get tested because you have a greater chance of passing it to a partner, and you can reduce that significantly by treatment.

If you don't have an outbreak, you may be a carrier, which, while useful to know, will force you to have a ton of really uncomfortable conversations. It's rare that people will electively test for herpes, and the knowledge is not going to help you, it will hurt you.

You can complain about the logic of that, but I think that's the way 99% of the population does it. I don't want to be the dope who electively tests for it, finds that I'm an asymptomatic carrier and then am forced to disclose this information. Basically, unless I have an outbreak, I don't want to know.
posted by sully75 at 10:08 PM on July 21, 2009


I came from a similar subculture as you, and 20 years later, I still have the same kinds of conversations I did then, though my sense of what "safe" means has changed based on research that's occurred in the intervening years. My feeling is that especially with queer women, we just didn't know anything about how HIV passed then, and we were being super careful, and as it turns out, we didn't need to be quite so careful.

So nowadays I usually have a conversation to get a sense of the other person's comfort level around safety, but I don't use barriers for the things I used to. Personally, I can kind of eroticise gloves and appreciate how they keep certain activities (anal penetration comes to mind) cleaner. So I often use them. I would never use a dental dam now though. There are zero documented cases of HIV passing through oral/vaginal sex, and getting chlamydia or gonorrhea that way would also be a challenge. STI transmission is a more likely with cock sucking, though HIV is unlikely to pass through this route. If I were to have penis in vagina sex, I would definitely use condoms, but its been a while since I had to think about that. I guess my default is to have a sort of hierarchy of activities, and I'll do the safest ones without a lot of negotiation, and progress to the more risky after I know the person better?

Anyway, I hope you have fun in your re-discovered explorations!
posted by serazin at 10:18 PM on July 21, 2009


I also feel like HPV is sort of a red herring. There is no test for it. It's more or less harmless unless it shows up on your pap smear, or in case you get warts. Both of which are treatable. So you need to do you pap smears every freaking year as a sexually active adult. And if you get warts you need to get them burned off.

I honestly would not get tested for herpes UNLESS you have an outbreak. In that case I think you should get tested because you have a greater chance of passing it to a partner, and you can reduce that significantly by treatment.

If you don't have an outbreak, you may be a carrier, which, while useful to know, will force you to have a ton of really uncomfortable conversations. It's rare that people will electively test for herpes, and the knowledge is not going to help you, it will hurt you.



Wow. First, Sully, there is a test for HPV. Yeah, it's a test that only works on women, but there is a test. Second, HPV is a little more than "just warts"; it can cause cancer. Cancer that will kill you. There is no treatment for the cancer-causing HPV (or, in fact, the other HPVs. The warts are treatable only insofar as a doctor can burn them off). If you're okay with being the cause of some woman's death, by all means, keep up that dreadful attitude.

As for the herpes statement, Sully. Jesus, I hope you're being sarcastic. If not, please get out of the gene pool and mark yourself as the sullied ass you are.

OP, safe sex is pretty much the same as what you knew in the 80's. There's lots of fun things to be done with gloves, lube, condoms, etc. Go out, have fun and don't stress about STDs overly much!
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 11:45 PM on July 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


I also feel like HPV is sort of a red herring. There is no test for it. It's more or less harmless unless it shows up on your pap smear, or in case you get warts. Both of which are treatable. So you need to do you pap smears every freaking year as a sexually active adult.

More or less harmless? HPV killed my mother, and she got Pap smears every year.

I'm about your age, OP, and I certainly remember dental dams showing up in the bedroom in the late 80s. There was a trick to getting a little suction bubble popped around the clitoris that made them a bit more fun, and once my girlfriend figured out that a garter belt both made the dam experience handsfree and made 19-year-old me nearly incapable of speech? Well. I didn't mind that awful dentist-strawberry taste quite so much.
posted by wingtippedhipster at 2:37 AM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


[few comments removed - please take answers that are just directed towards other commenters and not the OP to the metatalk thread in progress]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:22 AM on July 22, 2009


Nthing that I've never seen a dental dam in the wild.

With men, I'd probably find it odd to be asked for testing if we were going to use condoms. In my experience, testing is what you get when you want to to ditch the latex.
posted by desuetude at 8:04 AM on July 22, 2009


I think one complicating issue with HPV (and this I think is relevant to the OP as well as some comments here) is that it is extremely prevalent: estimates of infection rate in this country range from about 50% of the female population to about 2/3 of the total population. (I've seen estimates as high as 80% of the population - that stat is quoted in the final link I have here.) There are over 100 strains of the virus, and most are asymptomatic. Only about 30 kinds can cause either warts or cancer, and in most cases, the body rids itself of infection within a couple years, before any harm takes place. HPV tests are more effective than Pap smears at detecting cervical cancer, but they're expensive and are generally not recommended for younger women (since so many young women have HPV without having any problems.

As suggested by wingtippedhipster above, the consequences of HPV can be severe - deadly - and that must be taken seriously. One perspective to consider though is that while HPV is usually the cause of cervical cancer, it is also an endemic infection in our population, and cancer screening may be more effective or even more possible than HPV prevention.
posted by serazin at 8:21 AM on July 22, 2009


The most interesting recent addition to "the talk" that accompanies an HIV test was when the guy mentioned that it is now recommended that one not brush or floss one's teeth for the two hours preceding sexual activity that might transmit something orally.

That was news to me. And of course, now I've become a bit paranoid about tooth brushing. BUT WHAT IF HE CALLS?!

That's the most recent change I've noticed.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:17 AM on July 22, 2009


With men, I'd probably find it odd to be asked for testing if we were going to use condoms. In my experience, testing is what you get when you want to to ditch the latex.

I would dispute this—I have had partners ask me for, and I have asked partners for, test results before having condom sex.

Although I do think this is an area where there is a large variety in people's comfort level and expectations, and so it does not surprise me that people don't do this as well which is why, more than anything else, the important thing is that you have a conversation about this before you get frisky.

Also nthing the fact that dental-dams are an object of mythical sex-ed lore, and not something that you are likely to encounter "in the wild".
posted by dyslexictraveler at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2009


dyslexictraveler, I probably should have stressed more clearly that not being asked for test results in the presence of latex was strictly my personal experience -- I was just providing anecdata. I don't think that it's necessarily odd behavior in general.
posted by desuetude at 9:59 AM on July 22, 2009


It strikes me that there are a whole range of opinions when it comes to whether you should or should not get yourself screened for anything, whether you should be tested even if you plan on using condoms, etc.

There's a point to be made that using condoms is always a good plan -- but even if you're using condoms, if you would just plain feel better being tested for things anyway, then that's reason enough. If you would just plain feel better if the guys you contemplate sleeping with be tested anyway, then that's also reason enough. I came of age at a liberal urban university during the late 80's, so I had safe-sex material practically beamed into my brain on a daily basis - I considered it all, considered my own habits, considered what I was and was not comfortable with, and made up my own mind. Maybe having an information-only talk with your doctor or reading up at the Gay Men's Health Crisis web site about "what constitutes safe sex", considering it, and then deciding what you are and are not comfortable with would be the best way to go.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


I haven't used a dental dam since the early 90's, and gloves...well, I keep my nails trimmed very short, and if it is only a few fingers, I don't worry about them. However, that is discussed before it becomes a possibility. The necessity of sitting down and discussing sexual histories hasn't changed a bit. Nor has making sure you've got your own condoms and lube on hand (so to speak).

I didn't know until recently that there are good vaccines for Hep A and B now. My NP had me get them, she feels better, so do I. Hep scares me more than HIV, actually.

In my experience (US only), kinky folks are a lot more educated and likely to be careful as a matter of course.

Sounds like you'll be just fine. Have fun!
posted by QIbHom at 10:46 AM on July 22, 2009


Another "never ever seen a dental dam in the real world" here. Though I hear you can ah, cut up a condom and use one for such if you needed to. They used to have this woman with herpes come to speak at my college and she had her husband use gloves and a dental dam, but that's as much as I've ever heard about for use.

HSV and HPV are hard to get tested for, mostly because most doctors/people blow it off and act like it's no big deal. Uh, for some folks it ends up being a big deal. A severe outbreak or cancer would be, and just because the person you boinked with herpes doesn't have outbreaks, doesn't mean that you won't have a huge one. Technically you can get tested for herpes without an outbreak, but getting someone to do it for you is difficult. (I believe this has been covered in some other MeFi thread though.)

What it really boils down to for you is, don't let the dude talk you out of making him wear a condom, but that's probably all the protection you're going to get during sex these days. Anything else is Just Not Done.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:39 PM on July 22, 2009


HSV and HPV are hard to get tested for, mostly because most doctors/people blow it off and act like it's no big deal. Uh, for some folks it ends up being a big deal.

Sure, but unfortunately, the tests for both of these are considered pretty unreliable. Unless or until you have an outbreak, you really can't be sure about your status - you can have false positives or false negatives. So while it's theoretically a good idea to be tested, doctors "blow it off" because a blood test isn't really agreed to be useful information. I've gotten the "complete work-up" of STD tests before and have always been told that it's not really worth doing these tests unless you have active symptoms.

So, basically I think most doctors would agree with Sully75.
posted by mdn at 8:33 AM on July 23, 2009


Yeah, mdn, I don't know about most doctors. What I do know is that a friend of mine at work found out that he had herpes because he gave it to one of the six (SIX!) girls he was sleeping with at the same time (and she was being faithful to him, because she thought she was his girlfriend).

He'd never had an outbreak or any symptoms. However, she became ill pretty quickly with all the flu-like symptoms and lesions after some particularly rough sex.

I was staying at his house at the time waiting for my new place to be ready for me to move into, and I have to say: watching him freak out, take her to the doctor, pay for her medication and then slowly but surely go through all his other five current flings and ask them if they had anything wrong was truly depressing. He still isn't sure who gave it to him or how long he'd had it... but he quit sleeping around with girls he met at his band's gigs shortly after that.

I'm sure the doctors would have told him not to bother getting tested, right? Because, you know, he'd never had any symptoms of anything and assumed that he was ok.

A few people have shared stories of getting HSV infections even without symptoms and while using condoms here.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2009


But Unicorn, I'm not arguing in favor of irresponsible sex. I'm pro condoms, pro honesty, pro communication, and pro getting regularly tested for any STIs for which reliable, affordable tests exist. However, HPV and HSV are viral infections which are both a) endemic in the population b) difficult to prevent even with condoms and c) difficult to reliably or meaningfully test for. They're almost impossible to test for in the absence of symptoms actually, because something like 2/3 or more of the population would test positive to a blood test for either virus. Existing blood tests are not particularly meaningful for either virus, and they are expensive tests, which is a significant factor for most of us.

In my sexual relationships, I choose to be as honest as I can about my history and current sexual practices, I use barriers for certain activities that have a high risk for transmitting disease, I get tested now and then for HIV, I'm vaccinated against Hep B, and besides that, I accept that the risk of possibly contracting HPV or HSV is the price I'm paying for being a sexually active adult. In other words, I reduce my risk as much as I can without giving up my sexual life. I think that's a perfectly legitimate risk for me, as an adult to take, especially given than I'm honest and direct with my partners about this.
posted by serazin at 8:38 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry I stand by what I said. Yes, HPV causes cervical cancer. However, it's highly treatable, if you keep up with your pap smears. The kind of HPV that causes genital warts does not cause cervical cancer. Men can't get tested for HPV.

I had this conversation with a prospective partner and she flipped out when I said I wouldn't get tested for HPV. But the fact is, I can't. And the other fact is, if you are sexually active, particularly if you have multiple partners, it's going to be your responsibility to get pap smears. If you want to have zero risk, you are going to need to abstain. There's not much I can do about it.

So I'm not going to take myself out of the gene pool and I think maybe you should get your facts straight on that one.

Regarding herpes, I worked for a city community health center for 3 years. I worked for excellent GPs. We sent out herpes cultures on people who were showing signs of active lesions, but rarely if ever did anyone elect to have testing (the one time that people would was when they had a partner, past or present, who had an outbreak).

If you think that there's something wrong with me because I don't elect to have a herpes test, um, well, 99% of the sexual population hasn't had one, so your problem is bigger than me. As far as I know that's pretty modern public health protocol so I'll stay in the gene pool, thanks.

My condolences wingtippedhipster, regarding your mom. I'm confused how she died of HPV, but regardless, I'm sorry. I would imagine she died of a cancer caused by HPV. I'm sorry I said it was harmless, that was insensitive. However I stand by the idea that testing for HPV is a red herring, and that yearly paps are going to be a necessity for sexually active women.

All of this was supported by a recent trip to Planned Parenthood where the NP was sort of like, why are you getting tested???
posted by sully75 at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2009


From wikipedia:

Although it is possible to test for HPV DNA in men,there are no FDA-approved tests for general screening in the United States or tests approved by the Canadian government, since the testing is inconclusive and considered medically unnecessary.

And regarding Herpes.

Again, I stand by what I said earlier. I think it's the reality of being a sexually active adult, as other posters have mentioned. I'm meticulous about condom use, 100% honest about things to a point that I don't think many people are, but also realize the truth about the risks. I think to think that you can get tested to the point that sex is 100% safe is delusional.
posted by sully75 at 8:33 AM on July 24, 2009


« Older OKCupid strikes again   |   Knock me out with some cheap sunglasses Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.