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PQ 20.2 — Boats & Lighthouses: Collective Risk Assessment in Polyamorous Relationship Systems

·458 words·3 mins
PQ Series

20.2 How do I feel about me or my partner having sex with someone whose STI status is unknown? What do I consider “safer sex” under such circumstances?


“I’m going to camp soon, and there are going to be people there I might want to play with. So I wanted to talk about what you’re comfortable with,” she says.

She tells me who she’s interested in, who she’s thinking are possibilities. What their deal is. It’s a decent amount of detail.

The web has shrunk down significantly as of late, at least on my side of things, so it’s an easier conversation than it was six months ago. In a web there’s always a person who has the lowest risk tolerance, who has the strictest safety and testing standards. If they’re a mature, rational person, I usually lovingly call this member of a web The Guardian. They’re like the lighthouse that keeps everyone else from crashing into the rocks.

If they’re immature, irrational, adversarial, and especially if they’re dealing in double standards (i.e., they have an attitude something like, “y’all have to wear gloves for hand jobs, but me, I’m going to bareback people I just met”), I have been known to call such a person The Secret Sex Police.

It’s always contextual of course.

And it occurs to me as the two of us talk out over her upcoming trip that we’ve effectively become the new Guardians. We’re Co-Guardians of the web. And together we’re setting the terms for unknowns. If there will be leeway. And what that leeway will be.

Boats and Lighthouses

It’s something I haven’t seen discussed much in terms of polyamorous relationship systems.

In every web I’ve ever been in, there are people who gladly welcome these discussions. Who dig easily into the nitty-gritty of risk assessment. Who stay up to date on developments in sexual health. Who can speak about such things in a calm but sensible way.

And there are other people in the web who tend to look at that work and accept its conclusions as reasonable after the fact. Even more rarely, there are folks who question something and add to the strength of the collective risk assessment.

But it all matters. All of it matters to help us get home safely from the adventures we go on.

There are boats and lighthouses, and they all need to find a way to work together. To shed light where it needs to go. Navigate turbulent waters. Stay away from the rocks.


This post is part of a series in which I answer each of the chapter-end questions in More than Two with an essay. For the entire list of questions and answers, please see this  indexed list.


PQ 20.1 — Do I know my current STI status and that of all my partners?
·505 words·3 mins
PQ Series
PQ 19.6 — How do I feel about sex outside a romantic relationship?
·1534 words·8 mins
PQ Series
PQ 19.5 — How do I feel about group sex and sexual exhibitionism?
·649 words·4 mins
PQ Series