A few weeks ago, I stood in a well-fitted dungeon, catching my breath in wonder as the fourth chapter of Koinonia took off before my eyes, like champagne from a well-shaken bottle. The crowd was the largest we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming, and the mischievous force of springtime was evidently strong in this one; the boudoir space rose, crested, and fell in an ocean of soft-lit silken skin.
For my Terrific Team ™, this meant an evening spent running from corner to corner, attempting to distribute gloves, condoms, and hand-sanitizer at the right moments – because the fact is, like so many of the habits that make sex conscious and creative, rigorous safer sex protocol takes practice.
My first encounter with the possibilities and practicalities of (close to) 100% safer sex protocol was through Barbara Carrellas, the gateway drug to so many of the things I love about my life and work. In her book Urban Tantra, you can read about her journey from the AIDS crisis in 1980s New York to sacred sexuality – a sacred sexuality that, inevitably, went hand in hand with all the necessary precautions for keeping everyone involved alive and healthy. A dash of unfortunate personal experience, and a number of conversations with friends and colleagues who had contracted STDs in neo-tantric spaces that gave little thought to safer sex, convinced me to take her hard earned wisdom to heart. It became my intention, when running sex positive events, to keep everyone in the room as safe as I possibly could. In this post, I hope to elucidate why this is so important to me, explain how our event protocol works, and close with a thought on the gifts I believe protocol like this brings to the exploration of sacred sexuality.
Because I am committed to creating inclusive sex-positive spaces, where everyone is as safe as I know how to support them in being – regardless of who is in the room, and the individual assumptions, practices, and health records they bring with them.
We live in a country where our safer sex education is focused primarily on lowering our teenage pregnancy rates. Add to this the fact that the method most recommended for preventing the spread of better-known STDs such as HIV and Gonorrhoea is using a condom, and many assume that the use of condoms during intercourse will just about cover them for everything that counts. However, there are viral and parasitical STDs such as HSV (genital herpes), HPV, and scabies that spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected area – infected areas that can extend beyond those covered by a condom. Two of the examples I mentioned are not currently curable, stay in the body for life, and can lead to complications such as cervical cancer and the necessity for caesareans in giving birth. And if you’re finding this depressing to read, then you can probably guess it’s not much fun to write about, and you’re getting an insight into why I’m so keen to keep my participants safe.
Ok, so what does our typical house protocol looks like? Since statistics indicate that most risk of contraction is attached to the genital area, we ask that no lovely juicy bits come into direct contact with anyone or anything in the room – beyond clothing/coverings belonging to their owner.
In practice, this means that:
- If you wish to sit your beautiful naked backside down on that lovely upholstered chair in the corner, that chair needs to be covered with something belonging to you.
- If you wish to indulge in some self-pleasuring (voyeurism is participation, after all) you need to be either wearing a glove, or use hand-sanitizer before touching anything in the room that doesn’t belong to you – including door handles, furniture, and other people.
- If you wish to play with someone else’s lovely genitals, you absolutely need to be wearing a glove, and to remove and properly dispose of that glove as soon as your play is ended.
- If you wish to get a taste of the deliciousness between someone else’s legs, their genitals need to be covered with a condom, a dental dam, or cling film before you do so (I recommend a little extra lube between the recipient and the dam/cling film – heightens sensation!).
- If you wish to play with penetration, you’ll need to do so either with a glove if you’re using your hand, or a condom if you’re using a toy or a penis.
Q: I’m here with my partner; we both got tested when we started dating, we’re fluid bonded, and we’re only going to be playing with each other. Do we still have to adhere to house rules?
A: You guys are clearly clued up – and we’re thrilled you’re attending together; we love it when couples feel safe to explore at our events. However, we still ask that, just for the duration of this event, you adhere to our protocol. Whilst you may love having your partner’s juices all over you, unless those juices are contained by barriers, there’s a risk of them spreading to the rest of the space (for example, if one of you goes to the bathroom to wash up, presumably you’ll have to use the door handle to get in there). Yes, the risk is minimal, but we’d still rather it wasn’t there at all. Also, top tip: playing together in a more restrained, even slow and teasing, way than usual at an event, and then taking all that pent up energy home with you, can be very hot indeed!
Q: I’m having scrummy snuggles with someone at the event; we’re both naked, and our genitals are rubbing against each other’s bodies, but we’re not touching each other’s genitals or having sex. Are we within house protocol?
A: Sadly, no. Don’t get me wrong, I love naked snuggles as much as the next person – probably more in fact – but remember what we said regarding certain STDs that spread via skin to skin contact; by rubbing your skin up against the genitals of your snuggle buddy, and vice versa, you’re both at risk. I recommend keeping some underwear on until such time as you consciously decide you want to start enjoying each other’s genitals – at which point, grab some gloves or other barriers, and enjoy, ahem, responsibly.
Q: Do I have to put gloves on as soon as I’m touching someone else’s genitals? What if I’m just lightly running my fingers over them right at the start of our play, and there aren’t any juices yet?
A: Yes, please do put gloves on. Whilst there may not be juices evident now, there may have been some present earlier on, or they may make an appearance at any minute – especially with all that lovely stroking you’re subjecting them to!
A word of reassurance
I know this can feel like a lot to take in when encountering this approach for the first time. And I know how easy it can be, when faced with what at first appears to be quite a complex set of rules, to lose heart, and decide not to bother – either to play at all, or to commit to keeping yourself and others safe. Such a strict protocol seems likely to impede your flow, get in the way of spontaneity, risk making you look silly to a new potential playmate, and so on and so forth. It’s easy to see this kind of protocol as a barrier to intimacy…
Unless you take it as a direct invitation into a deeper kind of intimacy.
Take the naked snuggle example in the Q&A. Some might argue that the great thing about naked snuggles is that they can be a slippery slope to all kinds of other activities. But quite apart from the aforementioned safety risks, if you’re attending a conscious sexuality event, are slippery slopes and fumbles in the dark really what you’re there for?
Now, say you are at one of our events; you’re having a lovely cuddle with someone new, and, true to protocol, you’re both wearing underwear. After a while, you realise you would quite like it if the cuddling turned to something more. Mindful of the protocol, instead of simply acting on this with no prior negotiation with your playfellow, you whisper to them that you would love to take things further, and you ask whether they might like to go somewhere more comfortable – figuring you can pick up the necessary safer sex materials on the way there.
And just like that, consent, choice, and communication – all vital aspects of conscious sexuality – are present in the space between you.
The need for extra tools to keep you both safe prompted you to have a conversation about where things might go next – rather than just diving in and hoping you both liked the results, and that no one would have any regrets in the morning. That conversation might blossom into discussing just what you would like to do next, how each of you likes to be touched, what boundaries need to be in place, etc. By being mindful of the protocol, you haven’t just ensured your mutual safety (and the safety of everyone else in the room to a degree), you’ve also given yourselves a chance to co-create something truly intimate, and much more likely to be pleasurable for both parties.
So next time you’re in a space where a house protocol is at play, or indeed whenever you’re connecting with someone new for the first time, allow this kind of safer sex practice to be a call to mindfulness, to communication, and to the slow and careful unfolding that leads to true intimacy, and profound deliciousness for everyone involved.