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A&U July Advice Column: Polyamory and Negotiating Safer Sex

July 18, 2013

From "Just*in Time," Justin's column in A&U Magazine, America's AIDS Magazine.

We actually know each other on Facebook and throughout the community, but I wanted to write you this letter in confidence.

My partner and I moved away to work on our relationship and now we are considering moving back to the area. After many discussions my partner is finally opening up to the idea of polyamory. I've been a polyamorist for a long time and my partner didn't like the idea of a third person in our relationship, but, now, since we have talked, he is open to the idea. Well, we have found a third, but there is a slight problem. He likes to bareback. Since we are all trying to keep each other HIV-negative, my boyfriend and I refuse to have unprotected sex with him. Let me say, he agreed that he will not have unprotected sex with me or my boyfriend because he doesn't want to hurt us in any way. He is HIV-negative and only has bareback sex with guys who tell him that they are undetectable, and he gets tested every six months. I understand that may lower the risk of HIV transmission, but I'm still feeling kind of funny about it.What should I do? Any advice is greatly appreciated.
-- PC

As a polyamorist myself, I feel first we need to describe what polyamory is to our readers. Polyamory is the practice, desire or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Okay, so are we all on the same page? Great!! Now back to you, Mac -- I mean, PC. The fact that you and your partner are agreeing to this makes me feel happy because it means that the lines of communication are open. A lot of couples go through this and suffer permanent damage from either party not being able to convey the kind of love they want. Okay, he is having unprotected sex with guys who tell him they are undetectable. So, you know they could be lying just to have sex, right?

I would advise him of that and make sure he gets tested every three months and not six months; to me, early detection of any health issue is key to survival. I suggest having a sit-down talk with him, your boyfriend and yourself. This will give you the opportunity to talk things through with all parties represented. Communicate your fears and concerns with the issue; after all, HIV isn't the only STI you would have to worry about. Now, if you can deal with him having unprotected sex outside of your relationship, okay, but, if you are still feeling funny about it, then there could be a molehill that could have the potential to be a mountain of a problem. Remember: Polyamory is a serious relationship among individuals who must honor each other with perfect love and perfect trust. My husband and I are polyamorists and protect each other and other people. We have been open and honest with each other from the very beginning about what and who we want. There are others (who shall remain nameless) who are not as honest, but we are always continuing to explore different avenues of love. Judging others because they are getting the love they want will not get us anywhere. Having an open dialogue will let us learn and teach us how to protect ourselves from HIV and other STDs, no matter what kind of relationship we are in. Being polyamorist does not spread HIV. Having an honest relationship will allow that polyamorist relationship to remain strong and defend itself against STI/STDs -- but only if all parties are honest. We need that strength because we still live in a society that looks down upon polyamory in some respects. Let me know what happens!

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