Enjoying sex and preparing for sex

Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s perspective.

Sex is the bee’s knees. In my view, it’s a natural human function to be enjoyed as much or little as we please with as many or few partners as we’re comfortable with.

It’s a good idea to enjoy sex healthily and safely. Being sexually active looks different for everyone. For many of us, anticipating sex with new partners comes with two brands of preparation: lifestyle choices that allow for sex when we want to have it and, for some, a self-prep routine before sex itself. Here I’ll explore both areas.

You may feel freer to enjoy both spontaneous and planned sex if you know whether or not you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends how often people should get tested for an STI based on certain factors, such as age, sexual orientation, and number of partners. For example, they recommend gay and bisexual men who have multiple or anonymous partners get tested every three to six months.

The way I see it, for any individuals indulging with multiple frequent partners, that recommendation might be the minimum. For your personal health, and for the health of others, it’s OK to go more often.

Whenever I enjoy a bout of promiscuity, I tend to go once a month. I’ve contracted an STI before and not shown any symptoms — so I’m very aware that it can happen. I prefer to get tested more often than not so my potential list of contacts doesn’t read like film credits.

To protect against STIs, doctors recommend condoms. They also recommend drinking three liters of water a day, but not everyone follows that advice either.

Notably, some STIs can be equally spread through oral sex. I’m no Ruth Westheimer, but I’ve noticed most people seem not to use condoms or dental dams for oral sex.

It’s good advice to use condoms to reduce the risk of contracting STIs, but they protect against some STIs better than others. For example, the CDC notes that they’re more effective against STIs that are passed through genital fluids, such as HIV, compared to STIs passed by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV).

When it comes to HIV, there’s another option besides abstinence or genital Saran Wrap to avoid transmission. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications are taken as preemptive measures against contracting HIV from potentially positive, detectable partners.

As of 2019, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends PrEP for all people at increased risk of HIV.

No matter how much I sing PrEP’s praises, I consistently encounter skeptics. Yes, PrEP has potential side effects. Chief among them the possibility of long-term effects on kidney function. However, responsible doctors who prescribe PrEP order kidney function lab tests as well as mandatory HIV testing every three months when renewing prescriptions to help ensure safety.

PrEP is generally marketed toward the queer community, but I’d argue that all sexually active people should consider it. Although the queer community is disproportionately affected by HIV, the condition doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. We could potentially, through PrEP and further medical research, eradicate HIV within the next generation — a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

When it comes to pre-coital preparations, douching is often routine for receptive partners of anal intercourse. Many health experts admonish douching enthusiasts, but I think we’re better served discussing how to practice douching in the healthiest and safest way possible — rather than trying to eliminate the ritual all together. (Because, in my opinion, douching isn’t going anywhere).

My modus operandi: the bulb-style douche.

(I personally find shower attachments reminiscent of spy interrogation techniques, but you do you).

When using a bulb-style douche, a lubricated nozzle helps to eliminate discomfort or scratching. Use body-temperature water or saline and absolutely no additives. Additives can actually dry out your rectal lining, among other issues.

I recommend using only a bulbful of water, or less, at a time. If you use too much, the water may rise beyond your rectum, infiltrate your sigmoid, and require more labor than you bargained for.

When squeezing the bulb, release a gentle stream with steady pressure. I recommend avoiding a white-knuckled clench, which can effectively power-wash your rectum like a crudely-graffitied alley.

Three to four rounds should be enough for the water to run clear, or clearish.

If douching doesn’t give you the desired results after several tries, move on. If you’re feeling squeamish about this, delay your appointment. If it’s not a deal breaker, venture forth proudly.

Anal intercourse presents a modicum of risk and your attempt to clean house, if you so choose, should avert any major snafus. For consistent issues, consider fiber supplements or dietary adjustments.

After you’re feeling clean, clear, and under control, you might find it’s a good idea to apply lubricant inside the rectum to combat any dryness.

Avoid douching too frequently as there is a potential risk of damage to the rectal lining, which could increase the risk of contracting HIV or other STIs.

Speaking of, whether or not your sexual organs self-lubricate, lubricants are a beautiful thing.

Finding which styles and brands of lube work for you can take some experimenting. Not everyone requires lubrication but figuring out if you do is essential. Nothing assails pleasure like waddling home with fissures because necessary lubrication wasn’t applied.

A word to all receptive partners: Stand your ground. It isn’t solely for pleasure, but for physical health. Any tearing in vaginal or rectal lining increases the likelihood of contracting or spreading an STI.

If my companion and I aren’t convening at my apartment, I’ll often carry a bottle of my preferred lube in tow in case they purchase a sub-par product or have none at all. To be clear, there are many instances where lube isn’t necessary or desired. Figuring out if it’s needed in a particular situation is good for your sexual health, and having it on hand gives you the option.

To have good sexual health, nothing outranks transparency with partners. This goes beyond sharing your STI status.

Discuss what you’re into. Do you have kinks? What won’t you do? Are you looking to experiment? These questions are more common within the queer community given that our genders and sexual orientations often don’t correlate with specific sexual roles.

However, everyone should get accustomed to this language. While it might feel easier to stay shielded behind phone screens, normalizing these exchanges face-to-face is good for all of us. Whether in the bar or the bedroom, it’s never too late to be a vocal participant in choosing your sexual practices.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a culture of indignity surrounding unashamed expression of sexuality. Shame is a leading deterrent in obtaining optimum sexual health. Until we each find individual language to squash shame and vocalize our needs and expectations, our sexual health is at greater risk.

This shame also festers outside of bedroom buddy conversations. There’s shame associated with too many things: getting tested, admitting to a doctor your number of recent sexual partners, and contacting former partners to inform them of possible STI transmission.

That latter shame is perhaps most interruptive to healthy lifestyles because if calls get neglected, STIs spread further. The fact that I’ve made more calls than I’ve received isn’t a sign that I’m patient zero for any infections I’ve had. It reveals that many feel shameful about making calls, neglect their responsibilities, and allow others to unknowingly spread an STI.

Everyone approaches preparation differently. I believe the best versions of preparation emphasize the health, safety, and satisfaction of both you and your partner(s). After all, you’re not having sex because you have to.

So, use your pill, condoms, douche, lube, toys, etc., proudly and safely. Let’s replace shame with transparency. Let’s indulge in the experience.

Read this article in Spanish.

Kenny Francoeur is a freelance writer focusing in queer culture, travel, and theatre. Other work of his can be found on The Advocate, Wolfy Magazine, and The Ensemblist. Kenny is also currently employed as an actor with the Broadway National Tour of the musical “The Book of Mormon”. Connect with Kenny on Instagram @kenny.francoeur or Twitter @kenny_francoeur, and check out his work at www.kenny-francoeur.com.