Everyone knows the rules, and no one follows them every time. But what do we really consider safe and unsafe when it comes to sex? What are the circumstances and rationalizations that convince the otherwise sex-educated that they can throw caution to the wind? And what do they do afterward — take plan Plan B, cross their fingers, have uncomfortable conversations — to clean up the messes they've made?
Here are fifteen people, ranging from the sexually audacious to the (ahem) anal retentive, on safe and unsafe sex.
“Every man says he ‘can’t’ use condoms.”
This year, several people I’ve slept with said they “can’t” use condoms. One guy said he’s allergic, the other guy said he’s too big, the third said he’d go limp. So I had unsafe sex with all of them. Each time, I vowed no more, but I always did it again. I feel very uneasy about it in retrospect.
“Whatever happens, happens!”
I had sex with a famous actor from a famous acting family. I was 25. I adored him as an actor, and we'd had dinner, and one thing led to another. We’re at his hotel room and I was so over the moon, and so naïve and shy, and so flattered that he was attracted to me ... that I didn't know how to tell him I wasn't on any birth control. I just thought, FUCK IT! Whatever happens, happens! He'd obviously done this before with many young ladies, though, so he'd just assumed if I wasn't saying anything, I had it taken care of. All went great, but then whole time during, I kept thinking, Am I going to get pregnant with HIS baby? Afterward, he found some sort of cool way to slip it into the conversation: "So, I guess you're on the pill...?" I told him, "I, um ... use the rhythm method!" He looked worried, but he had to leave for L.A., so that was that. The next morning, I told my mother what had happened. She called her gyno and we went in and got a morning-after pill. I got a call from this actor about three months later to say “Merry Christmas.” I just knew he was checking in to see ... did I get that girl pregnant!?
“What are condoms?”
“You ask me if I wear condoms because I have a really active sex life. My answer to you is: What are condoms?”
"I wanted to establish honesty."
I wanted to know my girlfriend's sexual history right away. I think it was equal parts curiosity and intelligence. Just because we're lesbians doesn't mean the awkward and terrible Have you been promiscuous, and how careful were you? conversation doesn't exist for us. Perhaps it's not as grave a situation, but sure, I wanted as much information as possible. I remember her telling me her stories, and she was so nervous — not knowing if there was a right or wrong answer. Like, did I want to hear that she's been around, or did I want to hear that she was super-pure? But really, I just wanted to know her. And I wanted to establish honesty. After we talked about our past experiences, our sex life was even better — we were both more comfortable and, like, playful, and "dirty," for lack of a better term, after everything was out in the open.
“It made me look like a whore.”
I was one of those girls who naïvely believed that safe sex meant anal sex. So I had anal sex a few times in high school – and felt fine, even innocent, about it. And then I met a great guy in college. He was basically repulsed that I had anal sex before “normal sex.” I thought I was being a prude by doing it “Greek-style,” as they say, but I was misdirected. The joke was on me. It made me look like a whore. Now I never tell guys about my anal sex past.
“He found a broken condom in the Chinese-food container.”
My junior year of college, the condom broke, but I didn’t know it had broken. Less than 24 hours after our encounter, I pulled down my underwear to find a piece of rubber inside them. I freaked out. I ran back to his place and he started digging through the garbage for the Chinese-food container in which he had disposed of the condom. He found it, and sure enough, there was a rip. I took a pregnancy test every single day until my period came.
“I still get sick to my stomach thinking of those AIDS tests.”
I had so much unsafe gay sex in my early twenties. I used to joke that I had the AIDS antidote in my DNA, and they should grind me up and feed me to African babies. I was weaned in fear, watching It's My Party and And the Band Played On, but too far removed from the gay ghettos to see anything firsthand. Still, any time I had unsafe sex, a crippling fear would settle in and I would rush to the free clinic for "the test" (and usually demanded the full battery of antibiotic shots, too, hoping that the powerful anti-STD drugs would at least help clear up my skin). I still get sick to my stomach thinking of that moment when that old queen calls you back into the room to give you your results. The pause. Then, the word: Negative. The rush of joy; the quick vow to never have unsafe sex again. And then the speech: a shame-filled warning about how you "might have gotten lucky this time, but you should be dead." After all that, I'd still make the same mistakes. I was partying my ass of those days, and too fucked up (slash self-sabotaging) to think straight in the heat of the moment. I'm sober and in a committed, monogamous relationship now and — contrary to my straight doctor's pleas — we don't use condoms. So I guess "unsafe" gay sex is all I've ever known. Even in marriage, our sex is considered "unsafe" by the medical establishment.
“I don’t have sex with dirty guys.”
Condoms give my lady parts a rash. So if a guy is willing to have sex without it, I’m totally game. In my mind, I don’t have sex with “dirty” guys, so usually I don’t worry about anything.
“Is your crotch on fire?”
A guy I was dating came over to my apartment, and we were fooling around and about to have sex. He didn’t have a condom, so he ran across the street to my local bodega. I guess he wasn’t paying attention at the checkout because he rushed back with, like, cinnamon-flavored condoms. Neither of us realized what he had bought. We started having sex and after five seconds, my vagina was on fire! Everything down there was BURNING. I stopped him and he was like, “Dude, is your crotch on fire?” His was, too! We whipped it off him fast and started cracking up. It was so funny. Then we fucked with nada.
"I Blew a Guy Who Slept With a Woman Who Had HPV."
I was about to blow this nice, cute guy I met a bar and he says, "Wait, wait, slow down, come back up here…" and I was thinking he wanted to last longer or something, but he wanted to tell me that he had an experience with a woman not long ago, and she had HPV, blah, blah. I was annoyed. Horrible timing and in the slight chance he contracted HPV from this woman, the chances of him passing it to me (another woman) via oral sex, seemed like nothing to seriously worry about … or so Google says. I went down on him because I wasn't nervous at all. The STD felt too insignificant and somehow "far removed." He went down on me for like, an hour, after; it felt insanely good. It turned out to be a one-night thing, but his little confession had nothing to do with that.
"He had B.O., no money, and a small dick."
The first time I had “casual sex” was on vacation in London. He was a handsome stranger I had met at a café. We hooked up later that night and I — very deliberately — got drunk and fucked him. I wanted that “casual sex” experience at least once. The sex wasn’t good. He had B.O., no money, and a small dick. I bought a Plan B pill the next day. Then I walked around Portobello Market with the worst cramps of my life. But at least I didn’t have to worry about getting knocked up by some pseudo-bohemian Brit.
“I get my period after unsafe sex.”
I have a ton of unprotected sex, but nothing bad has happened, ever. I tend to get my period right after. It’s like God saying, “All good!” One of the guys I have regular sex with is this geeky, overeducated banker. We don't use protection, but he pulls out. He's pretty boring, so we usually drink a great bottle of wine and get to it. Shockingly, he's great in bed. We've never, EVER discussed condoms. The suggestion was never even on table. I think he's one of those book-smart-but-street-stupid people. But I find him sweet, and like I said, he's a great fuck. If something happened to me, like pregnancy or a disease, I'd just deal with it. I'm not worried.
“Turned off by his extreme STD-phobia.”
This older man I was dating made me get tested for everything, head to toe, before he’d even go down on me. My tests came back clean, like I knew they would. I told him about my lab results, but that wasn’t enough. He wanted to see it in writing. My girlfriends said it was nice to be with such a sexually conscientious guy, but I was insulted. I was so turned off by his extreme-STD-phobia that I didn’t want to fuck him again anyways.
“We abstain when she has a flare-up.”
My girlfriend has herpes, something she got from sex with an ex many years ago. When she first told me, I wasn't really turned off. I was already so in love with her. And, the more I've researched, including speaking with my doctor, I realize it's really not a big deal. We just have to be careful, and abstain from sex when she has a flare-up. I think it’s much more common than people realize; the stigma has got to go because it’s nothing, really. As far as I know, I haven't contracted anything from her.
I got pregnant with a condom and while on the pill … So I have no idea how to define safe sex.