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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All in the Family

No, not the television show. Do you remember that one? Archie Bunker the bigoted, racist, stereotypical, hot-headed "father" of the family? I wonder what he would have thought of polyamory.

But, I digress. . .

I don't know how things are where you live but, where I live there is quite a good sized poly community. Or at the least, it is developing into a fairly large community. At the same time I'm often surprised at how small the community can be.

The other day I was talking with someone who has a fairly extended poly family. While trying to understand all the relationships, which resulted in a flowchart, we found a connection between our families that we didn't even realize existed. Initially I found this quite amusing but after some time pondering the connection I became mildly concerned. You see, the other family and I don't share the same views on sexual safety. From my perspective, they are a bit lax despite having some restrictive up-front requirements such as producing STD testing paperwork.

Let me step back and explain the scenario a bit.

Imagine a poly family with a core of of about 6 members. Those six members have all produced STD testing paperwork to one another and many are fluid bonded. Most of those six however have other partners which may or may not have produced testing paperwork, and may or may not be fluid bonded. Many have more than 1 other partner. Doing the math that family already includes upward of 15 people at the second level. Add another level and that number almost doubles. The perception within that family is that because paperwork has been provided by the core group, and by most of those who have fluid bonded, they are sexually safe. To a certain point I agree.

But here is where I disagree. STD testing as proof of safety relies on a static situation but, people are dynamic. That's to say if someone is tested then adds no new partners who have other partners then yes, they are probably quite safe. But as soon as anyone is added who hasn't been tested the paperwork from their last STD test is for the most part worthless. Add in the delayed presentation of some diseases and it would be quite difficult to even get retested accurately for several months. Even then, any confidence in safety would again require a static situation for those past several months.

Though I admire the core group for their insistence on paperwork it made me wonder if they are truly safe or placing faith in a process that is at least mildly logically flawed, in my opinion. On the other hand, they are probably safer than many out there so am I being overly cautious and pessimistic?

The question I was left with was this; At what point does an extended poly family become a concern? How big can it grow, and how many levels should be evaluated, when considering safety?


  1. I haven't been in this situation yet but I don't think you're being over cautious.

    For me, an extended poly family becomes a concern when not everyone has the same rules about being fluid bonded and/or the group becomes so large that I can't get to know everyone well enough to trust them with my life.

    Not all STDs are curable (and even the ones that are can still cause serious health problems if they're not caught in time.)

    I do tend to be pretty conservative about these things, though. Having a parent who has seen the worst of the worst as a nurse for the last 15 years can do that. ;)

    Hopefully other readers will chime in with their thoughts!

  2. The Preacher's Kid,

    Thanks for the comments! It feels good just to know I'm not being paranoid about things. The family I've mentioned seems somewhat arrogant about their sexual safety levels being above question.


  3. Here is an update on the family I wrote about. In an interesting twist of timing I was recently informed the family was exposed (possibly intentionally) to HSV-2.

    I feel this has quantified my theory that their approach to sexual safety is flawed. Don't misunderstand, I'm not gloating and I do feel sorry for them. At the same time it feels good to know that at least part of the time I'm evaluating the situation properly.

    Love well, and safely.

  4. Well, HSV-2 is annoying, certainly, but hardly dangerous (unlike rare cases of HSV-1). If they are careful, it is also not likely that many folks in that group will contract it.

    It is also unlikely that this is the first time any member of this network has been exposed to this, whether they know it or not.

  5. Greytweed,
    Interesting comment; If forced to choose I think I'd rather have HSV-1 (cold sores), than HSV-2 (genital warts). And I agree that this probably isn't their first exposure.
    But I hope I'm never forced to choose. And what was encountered by this group aside, because it could have been much worse, I think the point I was trying to make that their security policy is flawed was well made in the end.

    Thanks for the comment!

  6. I think I would need more information as far as this family's safer sex practices outside of the core group. Are they required to use condoms? Are they required to discuss past sexual history with their OSOs, including risks taken in the past and exposure to STIs? Is there a 'vetting' process?

    Personally, I trust my SOs ability to choose a responsible sexual partner and that they won't make a decision in haste and put everyone else at risk. (But then, casual sex isn't really something in which any of us like to engage.) Requiring ALL sexual partners to produce STI paperwork isn't necessary (or even practical) as long as other safety measures are in place. (I realize this is not fool proof but there is no guaranteed method, except abstinence.) It is the level of risk I am willing to accept.

  7. The Black Mamba,
    Re: the core group. . . as mentioned, the core group has other partners with which they may or may not use condoms. Those same partners may or may not have produced testing paperwork which is likely worthless as many of them have other partners. Discussions around sexual history, in my opinion, may make you feel better but don't mean much beyond getting a feeling for the other persons safety perspective.

    I agree that trusting your partners is an important safety precaution. At the same time, unless you have absolute trust in everyone down the line, or the line is quite short, it is more of a warm-fuzzy feeling than actual safety.

    As you said, abstinence is the only true measure of safety and I agree that everyone has different risk levels. For me, an extended family with 15+ members, many fluid bonded with multiple partners, is outside my risk tolerance level. My choice then is abstinence from that group.

    Thanks for the well thought out comment!

  8. This is absolutely ridiculous. First of all, condoms don't protect you from herpes of any kind. Secondly, condoms don't protect you from a whole whack of other STI's either, so please give up the sanctity of fluid bonding. Thirdly, people get STI's from people, not from casual sex exclusively. You may currently have a partner who has herpes and doesn't know and just passed it on to you despite all your "precautions". Your network may be increased to one larger than the discussed poly group with just one partner, who may even just simply lie to you about her history and/or current sexual network. You may have contracted HIV a couple of months ago and already passed it on to your partner despite having "clean" paperwork from this morning or ever having casual sex. Does that make you irresponsible? We're not talking about monetary investments here, risk tolerance doesn't work the same way.