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Risk-Aware vs. Safe Sex: Revolutionizing Our Mindset Around Intimacy

There’s no such thing as safe sex. Discover how risk-aware sex keeps you safer in the sack without sacrificing pleasure.

Photo: Vika Glitter via Pixabay

Ever since high school, the phrase “safe sex” has been drilled into our brains. I’m sure you remember well-intentioned adults telling you about the importance of condoms and regular STI testing when you’d have preferred to be listening to anything else. 

Well, it turns out the whole “safe sex” schtick isn’t the right way of looking at things as there’s no such thing as completely safe sex. But before you panic, let me tell you how you can replace the outdated safe sex model with the better method of risk-aware sex.   

Safe Sex Can Be Anything But

The problem with safe sex isn’t about how we’re told to have it. Condoms, when used properly, massively cut the risk of experiencing many STIs and unplanned pregnancies. And getting tested regularly is the responsible thing to do if you’re sexually active. 

The real problem with safe sex is that it implies there’s a risk-free method of sex. It tells us that if we use a condom, we’re good because we’ve chosen safe sex over risky sex. 

Only the world isn’t that binary. All sex has some risk involved. According to the CDC, condoms have a “typical use” failure rate of 13%–that’s more than 1 in 10! 

The safe sex worldview closes our eyes to the risks. It means we don’t think about the other stuff we can do to prevent things from going wrong. 

Choosing safer, risk-aware sex is more than a semantic change. It’s a mindset shift. It means accepting that there are risks and taking responsibility for reducing those risks where you can. It requires:

  • Honest and Direct Communication

Having clarity about sex with your partner is essential for mitigating risk. Ensure you’re on the same page before embarking on a steamy soirée. 

  •  Risk-Awareness 

This might seem obvious, but it’s more than just knowing the risks. It’s about considering your tolerance for those risks, knowing your boundaries, and making informed decisions as a result. 

  • Informed and Enthusiastic Consent 

The bedrock of all healthy sex, full consent is just as important here.

Risk-Aware Sex and BDSM

If you’re having kinky sex or you’re into BDSM, then being risk-aware becomes even more important. The introduction of toys or bondage, for example, also means new ways of catching STIs and more complex expressions of consent. 

The Safe, Sane, and Consensual (SSC) framework was the mantra amongst the BDSM and kink communities for a long time. But like safe sex, it implies there’s a way to entirely avoid risk when practicing BDSM.

More recently, some better frameworks have evolved, which can be really helpful for thinking about risk-aware BDSM, and there’s plenty that vanilla folk can take from them, too.

  • CCC(C) (Caring, Communication, Consent, and Caution) 

This emphasizes empathy, clear communication, informed consent, and safety awareness in BDSM sex.

  • RACK (Risk Aware Consensual Kink)

This focuses on acknowledging and accepting the inherent risks in BDSM play, underpinned by informed and enthusiastic consent.

  • PRICK (Personal Responsibility, Informed Consensual Kink) 

This highlights personal responsibility and informed consent, ensuring all parties understand and accept the risks involved in their kink play.

Whether you’re having kinky or vanilla sex, doing your due diligence and having open and honest conversations are essential. And no, reading 50 Shades of Gray is not due diligence. 

Learning to Love and Lust in A Risky World

The world is full of risks, and sex is no different. It’s just like when you’re driving. You wear your seatbelt because it makes you much more likely to avoid harm in a crash. 

But you also know that’s not the end all and be all. Rather, you drive carefully, obey speed limits, and service your car regularly. Because you know there are other risks, you watch out for them, and you drive more safely as a result. 

It’s not a choice between the blissful ignorance of safe sex or tense sex where you’re always on edge worrying about the risk. 

In fact, sex based on open communication, informed consent, and knowledge gathering regarding understanding and mitigating risk is the best sex of all.

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