The three kinds of sexual risk tradeoffs

In my 10+ year experience discussing this issue, I find there are roughly three kinds of people, according to their chosen sexual risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff:
  • The reckless. These are a small minority who don't care about consequence, at all. They might engage in behaviors such as unprotected receptive anal sex from strangers. These behaviors spread serious diseases, such as HIV, and make all other STIs more frequent.
  • The practical. A significant proportion of the population chooses what they consider a reasonable risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff. They don't expect to go all their lives without a cold sore, but they still care about their health. People in this group will avoid risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex with strangers; but they are willing to let down their guard if they have reasonable evidence that their sexual partner is safe, such as recent negative STD test results.
  • The anxious. A substantial proportion of the population is extremely concerned about any kind of sexually transmitted infection at all. In the minds of people in this group, getting herpes is nearly as bad as HIV, and they will go to the same lengths to avoid it. While it would make sense for people in this group to be monogamous, a fair proportion of polyamorous people are of this type. A person in this group might be unwilling to forgo condoms not only until they have reasonable evidence that their partner is safe, but until they have positive proof that this is so. A non-monogamous person in this group might be concerned about the sexual behavior of their partners to the point of intrusiveness. They might be extremely uncomfortable if their partner doesn't use condoms with someone else, even if they always use condoms with them.
As you might expect, I find myself smack in the middle of the "practical" group. Here's a response I wrote today to one of the "anxious".
It sounds like you are an extremely risk-averse person, which you have the right to be. Many people on here are like that. However, it does sound like this makes you incompatible with people who are more practical in terms of how far they think it's worth going for safety, and what risks they will tolerate in exchange for what reward.

As one of those people, I would personally find it frustrating to have an intimate relationship with you. You have the right to be concerned about all the things you are concerned about, but if this concern was directed at me, I would find it more than a little burdensome.

Based on my conversations with people who shared your concerns, I don't think it's easy to change someone like you to be like me, nor is it easy to do the opposite. To be true to your values, a person like you needs to limit their exposure primarily only to other people who you believe are like you.

If your goal in life is to make it to the finish line without acquiring a cold sore, then you will need to severely restrict your potential intimate hookups, and all your partners need to do that, too. You must sacrifice many promising opportunities, and exclude a lot of people you might like, in exchange for avoiding that cold sore.

For those of us who think the value of life is in the experiences one has, and the relationships one forms, and not so much in the nuisances one avoids, your sterile approach does not make so much sense. This does mean that you can't be intimate with us without violating your values; but I would like you to respect that this only means we're incompatible, not irresponsible. We are responsible within our value system, in which it makes sense to pursue a different risk vs. sacrifice tradeoff.


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