I just read an excellent article about polyamory. The article discusses how every poly relationship is different, and how polyamorists come out to their friends, but generally not to the world. People who identify as polyamorous get it, but the whole idea and practicality of it must be explained repeatedly, whenever they come out as poly. “People have a problem with the idea that I can have my cake and eat it too.”
One particular point jumped out at me as a common reaction to polyamory. To quote the article, “the idea of sexually transmitted diseases due to multiple sex partners is one of — if not the most — talked about topics with those who are uninformed about poly.” I have gotten that reaction myself. A few weeks after I explained my poly network to a good friend, she came back and said, “I’ve done the math.” I expected her to comment about the time component to poly, and wonder how, perhaps, my boyfriend’s wife manages her two full-time and one part-time lovers. But she continued, “…if one of you gets something, how quickly it would spread.”
My poly network consists of 8+ people. It is true, an STI could pass fairly quickly between us…but we are also acutely aware of that fact. This was the first relationship I’d entered where I was explicitly asked if I had been tested recently before anything physical happened at all, and then we proceeded to practice safe sex. The thing that distinguishes polyamory from cheating is openness and honesty. If everyone is aware that their partner(s) have other partner(s), they will have an extra sense of responsibility to be safe, and make smart decisions when it comes to sex.
I, and polyamorists in general, am more aware of safe sex protocols and more informed about STIs than most. In my case, I grew up with a mom who taught sex ed in school, and along with that, taught me sex ed at the dinner table in high school, as she recounted her lessons. I am sometimes horrified with how little some of my friends know about STIs. The poly and sex-positive community in general is much more aware of STIs than the general population. It is knowledge about the STIs, an understanding of safe sex methods, and an overall awareness of the situation that makes me comfortable in polyamory. I’ve actually heard (though unfortunately can’t remember the source) that rates of STIs are LOWER in the poly community than in the general public. Take that!