Why I Find Safe Sex With Men Much More Difficult Than With Women

Why I Find Safe Sex With Men Much More Difficult Than With Women
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Recently, a man told me he wanted to sleep with me.

In my line of work, this isn't particularly unusual. I'm a sex worker, deriving the bulk of my income from a combination of pornographic performance and professional domination. When your job is to give the convincing appearance of being sexually confident, desirable, and perpetually sexually available, men -- the preeminent consumers of my content and services -- often feel entitled to that access.

It's a wonder I came out as a queer woman before I realized how terrible this sort of onslaught can be -- whether it's innocent conversation turned invasive with lewd propositions, running commentary on my body parts, erotic predilections, and the tenor of my voice when I climax, or even threatening letters should I not immediately respond to an email. For whatever reason, many men seem to throw acceptable social boundaries out the window when it comes to sex workers.

Not only do straight folks and LGBT people have different ways of hitting on their favorite porn stars, but the two communities possess and promote contradicting perspectives on safe sex. And that makes having safe sex with men so much more difficult.

Safe sex is cool in the LGBT community

In the LGBT community, being safer-sex savvy makes you one of the cool kids. It makes you more desirable as a friend, fuck buddy, or partner, and helps legitimize you as an ethical, intelligent individual. In mainstream society, however, straight folks are still told that safe sex is tragically uncool. That it is somehow less connective than fluid-bonded sex, that it dulls sensation, and is inherently non-erotic. Combine these sentiments with the societal disease I see as fragile masculinity, and you have a population of men (though of course not all) who feel entitled to unprotected sex... and a population of women being pressured into having sex that isn't as safe as they would have originally liked it to be for fear of hurting men’s feelings.

These misconceptions are so pervasive that when faced with a potential sexual scenario with a man, even my logical, experienced, queer-as-fuck sex educator brain reverts back to its vulnerable adolescence and believes them.

Over time, my desire for people operating within a rigged system faded

My waning desire for men over the years is not unlike what happened to my love of stand-up comedy. When I was a kid, I used to wait until my parents had gone to sleep to sneak downstairs and turn on Comedy Central specials. But as I matured, so did my understanding of patriarchy and oppression. When you finally realize you're surrounded by a system designed to keep marginalized communities poor, quiet, and complacent, the tools employed by many stand-up comedians -- sexual objectification of women, profiling people of color, stereotyping LGBT individuals -- stop being so hysterical.

So too is it no coincidence that the farther I drew myself into the loving, supportive, protective arms of sex workers, feminists, and queers, the farther I felt myself growing from my desire for men.

And yet, I couldn't shake men entirely

The problem is, I didn't want my desire for men to wane. I had consistent sexual and romantic relationships with men throughout my teens and early 20s, and even as I came into my queer identity I still sought their companionship. But as I became more culturally and politically conscious, well, good men became harder and harder to find. 

While I've been fortunate enough to work with a few genuinely ethical men on a handful of porn sets (men I'd personally hand-picked to perform with me) it's been more than four years since I've had any consistent intimate contact with them outside "the office." Considering how heterosexually slutty I was in my formative years, even acknowledging this feels alien.

Which brings me to the man of the hour. Let's call him Aaron. Technically, I pursued him. I'd been in what I affectionately refer to as a "dick drought" for some time. I have several incredible female and transgender partners, but my life is one best enjoyed balanced, and I'd been craving the masculine energy so enjoyed in my youth for far too long. So, with blessings from my partners, I approached a friendly acquaintance who I knew to be "safe."

"That guy -- not the scores of clueless men sending me dick pics emblazoned with the caption, "U like?" -- that guy got to have sex with me."

A guy I was attracted to, yes, but also one who had earned solid allyship status in the LGBT community and possessed an intermediate understanding of feminism. A guy who didn't balk at mention of my sex work or my polyamorous relationship configuration. A guy who had never spoken to me with anything less than the upmost respect and care. That guy -- not the scores of clueless men sending me dick pics emblazoned with the caption, "U like?" -- that guy got to have sex with me.

... At least, that's the plan.

As an extroverted, sexual woman, I consummate most relationships fast

I have an extrovert's "if you see something, say something" approach to babely people. It normally doesn't take me more than a few hours to consummate a relationship of mutual sexual interest. Yet it's been almost two weeks since Aaron and I agreed to a FWB arrangement, and I can't for the life of me figure out what I'm going to do with him.

Never mind that my last few pornographic interactions with men involved me either strap-on pegging them or making them endure exquisite amounts of pain -- things that I know Aaron to be explicitly not interested in. He identifies as "vanilla"; and frankly, that's exactly what I'm looking for.

Ever since I allowed myself to fantasize about him, my daydreams have been surprisingly mundane for a notoriously kinky pervert such as myself. Him pressing me up against a wall before carrying me to a bed. Me straddling his lap, grinding into him, and getting him hard before reaching in his pants and wrapping a hand around him. Him eating me out while using one muscled arm to pin me down. In no time at all, I'd sufficiently worked myself into a fantasy frenzy. Mostly I think about giving him a blow job, since that specific sex act (with that specific genital configuration) has been largely absent from my recent exploits.

"Ever since I allowed myself to fantasize about him, my daydreams have been surprisingly mundane for a notoriously kinky pervert such as myself."

Even today, safe sex isn't celebrated -- except in LGBT circles

Therein lies the rub. Per my current relationship negotiations with my two committed partners, taking safer sex precautions with outside hookups is mandatory. Yet despite how fluent I am in safe, consensual, ethical sex, I've never given a blow job over a condom, or used a nitrile glove to give a penis a hand job. It's just not hot to me.

Like most millennials raised in the US, I wasn't ever provided with comprehensive sexual health education. At my high school, students were spared even the awkward and simplistic "condom-on-a-banana exercise" in favor of a complete academic void. I figured sex out young, and entirely on my own, through a combination of internet research, discussions with my other sexually active friends, and my own intuition. So while I learned how to give and receive pleasure, I was significantly un-savvy about safer sex.

Even if we do receive factually accurate education around implementing safe-sex materials like condoms, gloves, and dental dams in our youth, we're not socialized to eroticize those materials, which is why implementing them consistently across the board has proven so difficult. Kids absorb the messages that safe sex isn't sexy, and then carry those sentiments into adulthood. If you're going to encourage people to wear plastic trash bags over their junk while they're rubbing them together, you better work hard to sell them on the experience.

As such, my entire sexual repertoire with men has been a fluid-bonded one. I've always initiated informed discussions about sexual history and current status before sealing the deal, and I've always used condoms to protect against pregnancy -- but otherwise, I've never restricted my activities with men.

"The safe-sex materials were an acquired taste, certainly, but I learned to love them in the same way that I learned to love female and transgender bodies."

Safe sex in queer communities = more sex

I started getting smarter about safer sex around the same time I came out as queer in my early 20s (it's really motivating when you know that simply educating yourself could actually lead to MORE sex!), and so when I had my second sexual awakening, it came hand-in-hand with a new sociocultural safe-sex curriculum. I learned how to have sex with vulvas by putting nitrile gloves on first. I was taught to roll condoms on any dildos, vibrators, or butt plugs, and I was introduced to the practical application of a dental dam for the first time.

The safe-sex materials were an acquired taste, certainly, but I learned to love them in the same way that I learned to love female and transgender bodies. Now, I can't even fathom hooking up with another queer person within prioritizing the implementation of safer sex.

So why the persisting difference?

In short, misogyny and the AIDS crisis. Men within the LGBT community tend to be less misogynistic than everyday, heterosexual dudes due to a combination of feminism, progressive ethics and politics, toxic masculinity affecting these queer men as they became adults, and many more highly personalized reasons. This means that feelings of entitlement over others' bodies aren't so prevalent.

The LGBT community is therefore more open to clear communication, more fluent in grief and making space for and processing each other's trauma, more committed to strengthening the connection with a sexual partner in a way where we might make sacrifices instead of only thinking of ourselves and our own pleasure prerogatives (i.e., "I don't want to wear a condom, babe -- I can't feel anything if I do!").

But while I don't foresee a significant change around safer-sex attitudes happening in the straight community anytime soon, I do see a powerful, energized, intersectional feminist movement shaking the country right now. And as gender roles continue to diminish, love takes on many additional forms, and we learn to listen to each other more, eventually there should be shift to finding safe sex to be the same as hot sex.

As for me? Prioritizing safer sex with men requires some rewiring of both my brain and my desire. Lucky for Aaron, I’m up for the challenge.

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Andre Shakti is a professional slut devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their clients, and not taking herself too seriously. She wrestles mediocre white men into submission and writes about sex work, consent politics, queerness, and non-monogamy for Cosmopolitan, Harlot, MEL, Thrillist, and more. Follow her on Twitter @andreshakti.