Bottoms Up: Kinky Safer Sex As A Single Sub

Feature image via shutterstock.

Before I ever dared to voice that I might be submissive, I thought it would be the easiest thing in the world: just give control to someone else and call it a day. I’m learning that there’s actually a lot more negotiation involved, and it’s a lot more fun this way. Unfortunately, the way I learned this wasn’t gentle.

I got my first STI shortly after I ended my first kinky relationship. I was a newly single sub, casually sleeping around with about three people who were also casually sleeping around. We never used protection. The person I was at that point in my life didn’t really care about precautions in sex.

So when I slept with a top who didn’t use a condom when she strapped up, I didn’t protest. When I was given the privilege of pleasuring a dom orally, I didn’t ask her when she’d last gotten tested. STIs seemed like something that could happen, but not to me. When my campus ministry offered free STI tests, I went so I could get a “I got tested today!” sticker, Instagram it, and remind my friends and followers about the importance of knowing their status. I was sure that I knew mine.

Two days later, a doctor told me I had chlamydia. I heard the blood pounding in my ears. A tiny part of my brain kept telling me that good people didn’t get STIs, and that I was now bad and dirty; even though I knew that wasn’t true. Then I was afraid — terrified. What was chlamydia? What was it doing to my body? Why didn’t I already know more about it?

How would I tell people?

The doctor on the phone was cold; dealing with a scared 20 year old who chose not to use protection wasn’t high on his list of priorities. “Call your university’s health center. You’ll need to sign a release form so that we can send over your test results and you can get some antibiotics. Do you have any idea who you may have contracted chlamydia from?”

My mind was blank. A big part of being single early on for me was sex with whoever I wanted whenever I wanted, no strings attached. But while I’d taken care of myself emotionally, I hadn’t taken care of myself physically. When I was in a relationship, my partner and I got tested together regularly — a habit I’d gotten into — and were monogamous. We never talked about whether or not we’d had STIs because we knew the answer. Being single and sleeping around meant that my risk of contracting an STD greatly increased, but I still wasn’t talking about it with partners. Getting tested is a habit I’m glad I started, because it ended up being more important than I ever thought it would be. After all, everyone thinks that they won’t be the one to get an STD until they are.

After getting off the phone with the doctor I had the daunting task of contacting all of the people I’d slept with in the past six months and telling them, “Hey, just so you know, I contracted chlamydia, maybe from you, and also may have given you chlamydia depending on when I got it, so you may want to get tested.” Each conversation was embarrassing, and each person I talked to told me they didn’t have chlamydia and didn’t know how I’d gotten it. One of them had to be lying, or as clueless about their status as I’d been about mine, which reminded me of something that I’d forgotten: tops and doms are neither saviors nor perfect. They do not absolve me of responsibility to take care of myself.

Chlamydia taught me that I needed to advocate for myself if I wanted to be a single sub who slept around. I don’t want to break a scene unless I absolutely have to. I know that when someone tells me they’re going to fuck me in the ass if I don’t stop being a brat, I’m not going to say, “Can we talk about STI status and protection first?” Which means that we need to talk about STI status and protection before a scene begins.

To try to counter the stigma of STIs, I talk about having had chlamydia openly and honestly. My status and that of my partners are a big part of the discussion. Even with regular testing — unless it’s after every single sexual encounter or within a long-term monogamous relationship — it’s hard to know your up-to-date status. I get tested about every four months now, but my partners may not have been tested at all. We can still have fun and keep our bodies safer.

But status is only part of the conversation. What will we be doing, and how? For instance, I will use dental dams but prefer not to — they taste strange to me and make me feel less in control of what I’m doing — so if oral sex is on the table, my partner and I negotiate how we will proceed. Will bodily fluids be exchanged? If I’m doing a scene in which someone plugs and spanks me, I have different concerns than one in which I’m being roughly fucked and denied an orgasm. Being submissive doesn’t mean I can’t voice those concerns.

Kink makes safer sex exciting too, because there are ways to have an awesome time with someone in a power dynamic interaction that aren’t sex, but can be sexual and sexually fulfilling. Tying me up naked? Check. Trying out that new crop? Check! Kink gives me the space to be sexual with people I want to play with but don’t want to have sex with, and also lets me explore in non-sexual ways. I’ve even found that sometimes sex is better after a play partner and I have spent time exploring our own brand of dominance and submission together. The safest sex is no sex, but a lot of times that’s unreasonable. With kink,I still get to explore sex and submission, but I’m not putting my body at risk in the same way.

Kink still carries risks, and I take care to keep myself safe in non-sexual play, too. Thinking about the internal health of my body has made me think more about things like safe words and whether or not my partner and I are participating in risk-aware consensual kink. That means that I don’t go into a scene not knowing what the risks of playing are. It means that I take the lead in discussing my safe word and my hard limits. It means that before I give the gift of vulnerability and submission, that I make it known that I am in charge of how my body is (mis)treated.

This sort of negotiation is what allows me to be able to walk into a scene and know that while I may be physically hurt, I won’t be harmed. I am in charge of keeping myself healthy, and sexual health is a part of that. For a time, I expected dominants I slept with to make all the decisions for me, even about protection. But that was taking matters of my safety out of my own hands, and that’s not what being a sub is about. At the end of the day, who I sleep with and how are my decisions, and protection and safety are my responsibility.

Getting an STI was a wake up call for me to put in the work to keep myself safe. Now that I am, I get to enjoy submitting even more because I know that not only I have taken steps to be safe, that together my partner and I have done everything we can to make our experience as exciting and risk free as possible.

Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 242 articles for us.

22 Comments

  1. I had the same worries every punk kid has about how to make nitrile gloves sexy. Then the very worst-but-not-the-worst thing happened to me, and I had a cleaning with a hugely attractive dental hygienist. You just can’t flirt with someone who’s at work, and who’s work is putting their fingers in your mouth to carefully examine your gums for half an hour. I’m sure there’s a law. But you don’t get to decide if you enjoy how warm their hands are through the gloves, that’s your own thing now, you get to carry that into the future. On the bright side, Safety!

  2. Alaina! This column was wonderful. But somehow it is hard for me to read a column about sex from an author whose avatar is them as a little kid, ya know? I feel like grown up topics call for a grown up pic! 🙂

    It could just be me, I could just be a weirdo.

  3. Like Rachiie A, I would love more articles and resources about safer sex in queer couples (specifically couples with two – or more, I suppose – vaginas).

    When I dated dudes, it felt simple – put on a condom. Now, though, it seems more complex. I have specific questions that my doctor doesn’t seem to know the answers to. Like:

    *Is washing a toy with soap and water between using it on each partner “reasonably” safe in that it cuts back mostly on sti transmission? Or should I always be sanitizing it with the dishwasher or using a condom on it? (Talking about vaginal toys only).

    *what should I know if I don’t particularly want to wear gloves when using my hands? In what cases should I always wear gloves? I assume if I had a skin tear of any sort on my hands, but like last week, I had a paper cut. Does that count? What about a torn cuticle? How small is small enough not to worry?

    *how common, actually, is sti transmission in a couple with vaginas who do not have vagina-vagina contact? More common than I assume, maybe? Which stis should I be sure to be tested for during my annual given that I generally only sleep with other people with vaginas?

    Ok lol I just said “vagina” a bunch of times. Any queer nurses in the Autostraddle mind hive who want to answer these for me? Or does anyone know a good site?

    (Vagina.

    Sorry, had to)

  4. Thanks for this article. I feel as though we don’t talk about safe sex in same sex female relationships because there’s this misconception that it’s harder for a woman to transmit an sti to another woman.

    That obviously is incorrect.

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