As any of my friends could probably inform you (and they know probably too much), I have very strong opinions about the nature of sexual or “erotic” desire. What constitutes the best way of facilitating a sexual relationship differs from person to person, and my way is certainly not right for everyone (probably even averse to most people’s inclinations). Perhaps my sexual strategy won’t even be right for me, an untested virgin, at the end of the day. Needless to say, however, I certainly have my own ideas about how I would like to have sex. As one of my friends once wisely told me on the subject of consensual sex, “everything is good, but everything also has consequences.”
The activity itself and any roles played are less important for me than the person behind it and the safety of the act. The succession of stages in a relationship is key for many people—at what point is sexual activity initiated, and in what manner should it be continued? A good friend of mine and a researcher in this area once told me that relationships can evolve along a number of paradigms: sexual relationships, loving relationships, and friendships. It is possible for any of these broadly-defined stages to be a launching point for the others, and it is equally possible to be in multiple phases at the same time. People can start a relationship as friends, then become lovers, then become sexually-involved. Or they can also begin a relationship sexually, become lovers, then become friends, or friendships to sex to lovers; sex to friend to lover, or any other such combination. Furthermore, the possibilities become even more complex when we allow more than one category to be mixed together. People can get themselves into all sorts of situations.
According to my particular ideal, I would like to have sex with a man after falling in love with him, rather than falling in love while engaging in a sexual relationship. I plan to explain why I think love and sex should be intimately connected in a future, more philosophical posting, but for the sake of simple hypothetical argument let’s say that love and sex are two peas in a pod. How someone actually gets to the point of loving someone is a little trickier, and I certainly have no experience in this area. I have heard it argued (along stereotypes, of course) that men tend to value sex more highly in a relationship, and they tend to value it earlier in the progress of a relationship. Perhaps this is also true in my case, as one of my female friends, a very attractive and confident young woman, once told me that she was adamantly holding off “until the wedding ring is on the finger.” I myself have no such expectations of marital virginity or desire to wait that long. I’m also not as handsome as she is beautiful, and beautiful people can often get as much or as little sex as they want. The problem is, I fear, that less “beautiful” people are expected to have sex sooner in order to keep their partners interested, whereas more beautiful people are worth the wait and have more leverage. This may be a sad reality, but no matter who we are or what we look like, we do have the option to say, “No, I’m not doing anything until I’m absolutely ready.” It’s worth it, to live true to established beliefs unless our priorities independently change.
Alas, even my beautiful friend caved in, but notwithstanding a good year or two of a solid, loving relationship. A few months developing a relationship would probably be adequate for me, with the other person dating me exclusively for most of that time.
Long ago I extrapolated the figure of 6 months as the ‘ideal’ waiting time for sex after first meeting the person of interest. Another female friend once concurred, “six months sound just about right,” but watching others has shown me that it depends on the situation. I’m sure my body would like to have sex much sooner, and assuming a mutual romantic obsession the other person would probably want to initiate sexual relations sooner as well. Perhaps it would only be a couple of months, but that also seems rather soon. But then again, for some people it only takes a week or two, or even a night, before they find themselves falling hard for the other person and are ready to give in. Furthermore, where do we start the clock when a sexual interest evolves from a previously-established friendship?
My figure of 6 months is not a random allotment of time, as it is based on the maximum lag time between a positive HIV antibody test result and initial infection (most of the time it only takes three months or less). The assumption is, of course, that the person I am dating has not had sex with other people on the side for those six months (which is quite often a bad assumption for many people, but I certainly hope not for me). This too may seem a tad excessive, given the fact that I can protect myself from HIV through safer sex practices and insist on a couple of HIV tests. By ensuring the use of latex condoms with lubrication for virtually all sex acts and guarding fluids from approaching or coming into contact with orifices and mucus membranes (nose, mouth, eyes, urethra, anus, and any sores/cuts), I can readily avoid HIV infection. Starting out to have sex with a guy, I would definitely want any sex that could lead to an exchange of fluids protected in any case, so perhaps the full six months is not necessary. Mutual masturbation without direct genital-to-genital contact is also a reasonable option to safer, unprotected getting-to-know-each-other sex. At some point, however, I would like to feel comfortable having freer forms of sex where I wouldn’t have to worry about fluids coming into contact. This is probably where the six month rule is best applied, and I would walk hand-in-hand with my partner to be tested anonymously for HIV. I’ve also thought it a good idea to also get tested for genital herpes, an unpleasant , often asymptomatic, and incurable infection, although Herpes is relatively common, difficult to detect in its dormant phase, and sometimes expensive to test for. Furthermore, while HIV testing is a fairly standard request, Herpes testing is not, and asking a partner to do this would probably be rather insulting. Herpes testing is a good idea, but at some point, compromise may be necessary. It’s also important to keep an open mind toward partners who have similar requirements, and most of all, to communicate openly, unreservedly, and respectfully about sexual expectations and history.
STI testing further initiates the question, how much is too much compromise, and where do we draw a line between trusting and loving our romantic partners and our health? My future partner may be annoyed that I’ve asked him first to patiently wait and fall in love with me to have sex, then to get tested for STIs. Let’s say we go through all of that, and I have all the confidence in the world in him and he in me. How unprotected am I willing to be? After all, what if the seemingly impossible becomes reality: he cheats on me. It would be very difficult to know if this is happening. Getting cheated on in the gay community, with the greater prevalence of HIV, is a significant and serious affair. Furthermore, it may very well be a more likely scenario if he has lusty friends, exes, and former f-buddies hanging around; with the gay community being highly liberated in terms of sexual expression, he may yearn for his single past given the strict monogamy that I would require and maintain myself. From my perspective, I know that unfaithful husbands are the mode of HIV transmission to many a faithful and trusting wives. As my friend said (in my last posting), “there’s no room for romance when it comes to your health,” emphasizing that one must always prioritize personal well-being over romance. At the same time, in order for there to be any trust or romance at all, eventually you have to trust your partner in the bedroom, to be free and uninhibited in sharing yourself (if not, he may be more likely to cheat or look elsewhere). I’m not sure if it is possible to have it perfectly both ways. Like so much of life, it requires a careful juggling act, and perhaps some risks and concessions from time to time.
The sexual relationship that I describe is one centered on openness and love, but also one that is prudent and careful. Perhaps most of all, it involves two truly good, trustworthy, honest, patient people. This is why I think real love is needed for the best kind of sexual relationship, because it is Eros, passionate love, that most often motivates us toward the truly good. It is certainly possible to have safe, kind, and respectful aromantic sexual relationships, but love seems to make this kind of relationship much more likely and realizable. Furthermore, it is truly worthwhile to hold our ground and have the confidence to live by our own sexual philosophies in a prudent and respectful way. In my case, it will require a patient and good person who takes a truly distinct interest in me. I don’t think I’ve met him thus far, but I certainly know he’s worth the wait (and I believe I am too!).