Ethical Non-Monogamy & Sexual Health

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Ethical Non-Monogamy & Sexual Health

It may be awkward, but fostering open dialogue and honest conversations about STIs is important, and besides, Sexual Health wouldn’t be Sexual Health without talking about STIs, right? After all, the key to maintaining good sexual health is to take the taboo out of talking about it and destigmatise living with STIs.

With ENM dating (ethically non-monogamous), polyamorous dynamics, and open relationships on the rise, maintaining good sexual health is more important than ever as there may be more partners and, by extension, their partners to factor in when considering your own safe sex practices.

What is ethical non-monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM), also known as consensual non-monogamy (CNM), is an alternative approach to relationships where the people involved knowingly agree that they can have more than one romantic or sexual partner at a time. Everybody involved is aware and enthusiastically consents to the dynamic (because if not, then, y’know, that’s just cheating). Polyamory, swinging, open relationships or open marriages, being ‘monogam-ish’, and being in a throuple or triad are all forms of ENM relationships.

What is sexual health?

Sexual health can encompass an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing in relation to how you express your sexuality and any sexual activity you wish to take part in. This can include:

  • Respect for your right to have healthy relationships with equality and safety as core principles
  • Safety to express your own sexuality, including gender identity and sexual orientation or preferences
  • Freedom from sexual discrimination, violence, stigma, and coercion, both in and out of relationships
  • Having the right and the ability to access up-to-date and inclusive information and health care related to your sexual health — this includes counselling, treatment, and preventative health care like contraception

What are effective ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in non-monogamous dynamics?

If you’ve ever heard those playground myths of how you can’t get pregnant if you have sex standing up, or how you can’t get an STI if it’s your first time having sex, then you’ve already been exposed to some of the misinformation out there about sex and protection. Here are the facts on how STIs can be transmitted between people, as well as how you can prevent it:

  • Skin-to-skin contact without penetration, even if there are no visible symptoms like sores — viral STIs can ‘shed’, multiplying inside the body and then being released into the environment through the infected person’s skin, where they can transfer cells to an uninfected person’s skin. From here, the viral sheddings can enter through any openings in the skin, including cuts or orifices.
  • Oral and digital (hands and fingers) transmission — yep, your genitals don’t even need to touch each other in order to pass on an STI. The most common example of oral transmission of an STI is where someone with a cold sore on their mouth goes down on someone, but oral transmission can also occur when the uninfected person performs oral sex on someone with an STI, kisses them, then receives oral sex in return.
  • Unprotected penetrative sex — vaginal or anal sex without a barrier method like a condom can result in transmission, especially if there are any tears in the tissue of the vagina or rectum.
  • Using or sharing sex toys without cleaning them thoroughly between uses — when it comes to adult toys that everybody can use, we love getting bang for buck as much as anyone, but sharing sex toys needs to be done with care. In addition to sterilising toys, you can use condoms over them if you’re sharing with multiple people. It’s important to note that this applies even if you’re the only person who uses your toys. For instance, if you have an infection and use a sex toy, then recover from the infection and reuse the sex toy without cleaning it first, there’s a chance you can reinfect yourself. Sexyland has covered how to properly clean and store adult toys of any material in our blogs before, just in case you need to refresh your memory!

Use barrier methods

This one’s pretty straightforward: use condoms and dental dams as much as possible with all partners to prevent skin-to-skin contact. This applies to any adult toys that you’re using or sharing with partners too!

If you’re in a situation where there is a risk of an unplanned pregnancy, you can also consider other contraception methods, like the pill, IUD, implant, 

Be vigilant with STI testing (especially if you’re fluid bonded)

As of 2020 in Australia, about 16% of people have had an STI in their lifetime and tens of thousands of new STI cases occurred in that year alone (57,500 for females, 67,400 for males). However, it’s likely that the overall numbers may be even higher than this as there are several STIs that often don’t show symptoms, such as genital herpes and chlamydia. This can lead to someone with an STI remaining undiagnosed and passing their condition on to a partner without either person even knowing they’re infected. The risk of STI transmission increases further if you’re having unprotected sex with multiple people, or are partnered with others who are having unprotected sex with multiple people.

If you’re not using barrier methods like condoms, it’s recommended that you and any partners you plan to become ‘fluid-bonded’ with get checked regularly for STIs. Fluid bonding refers to partners who consensually decide to not use condoms, dental dams, and other barrier protection methods and exchange bodily fluids during sex, including vaginal secretions, ejaculate, pre-ejaculate or ‘pre-cum’, and saliva.

Many sexual health clinics offer free and confidential on-site STD checks, which can involve taking a urine sample or swabbing any active outbreak symptoms that may be present. At a minimum, all folks who are sexually active should aim to be tested at least once every 12 months, though many people whose sexual networks are more open (such as those in polyamorous relationships) get tested more often. This can be about once every 3–6 months, depending on whether they’ve started having sex with new partners and other risk factors, such as being a man who has sex with men, being involved in sex work, and so on. The most comprehensive testing procedures involve you get tested:

  1. Before non-barrier sex occurs
  2. Before the introduction of every new sexual partner
  3. After a sexual partnership ends

Communicate openly & honestly with all partners

Non-monogamous folks know communication with multiple partners requires more effort than communicating with one partner, and it’s not uncommon for people in ENM relationships to discuss sexual history and recent test results with each other before sex of any kind happens. Part of entering a non-monogamous dynamic is the consent required from all parties, and you can’t consent to something if you don’t know the full details!

It’s important to create an environment where everyone feels safe to reveal their truth and won’t be rejected or made to feel undesirable, no matter what that truth may be.

If you’re looking for inspiration on adult toys you can use in non-monogamous settings, Sexyland’s own Nora Jo (who is a polyamorous pansexual woman and partnered with multiple people) has written before on the toys she enjoys using with her partners. Alternatively, you can always chat to our Fun Specialists, either while shopping online or in one of Sexyland’s adult stores to find the products that help you live your best sex life happily and healthily.


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