After a delay due to illness (the nasty cold had turned to an ear infection), here at last is the next installment in my in-progress Agreements Workbook. This is Tip #6: Keep Emotional and Physical Safety Agreements Distinct.
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6) Keep emotional and physical safety agreements distinct
Have you ever heard of someone putting this into their “Safer Sex” Agreements: “No falling in love”? In my experience, it’s pretty common, especially for those whose relationship structures tend more toward swinging or open than polyamory. However, although it’s tempting to attempt to mandate emotional safety via safer sex Agreements, it turns out to be extremely difficult if not impossible to do. Safer sex is primarily about logic and science, cold hard facts, and things that can be measured. You either used condoms, or you didn’t. The test is positive, or it’s negative (usually). The heart, on the other hand, is notoriously capricious. Heart-decisions are most often emotionally based, and don’t respond well to logic. You can’t be a little bit pregnant, but you can be a little bit in love. And it’s really difficult to “back up” in a relationship, once two (or more) people have fallen in love. At the very least, it’s a recipe for drama and lengthy nights of processing.
Conversely, bacteria and viruses aren’t much impressed with how much in love you are, or whether you think you’re “fluid-bonded” or not when you kiss another lover right after going down on someone new. While there’s some evidence to support the idea that positive intentions do positively affect the immune system [refs], the evidence isn’t really strong enough to substitute “wishing really hard” for using condoms and knowing the testing status and risk tolerance of yourself and your partners.
Because of how ineffective emotional Agreements are in Safer Sex, and vice versa, and because of the difficulty of actually enforcing Agreements that mix emotions and epidemiology, my suggestion is usually to avoid making such Agreements in the first place. Instead, create separate line items for emotional issues and epidemiological ones, and if necessary, create separate documents for safer sex vs. emotional safety.
Now might be a good time to review Tips #2a, b & c on having Clear Standards and Consequences [p. ___]. In particular, make a note of whether something uses objective or subjective standards for success. If the standards are all subjective ones, chances are this Agreement belongs in your Relationship Agreements, rather than your Safer Sex ones. If you’d discuss it with your physician or a clinic worker, that’s probably a Safer Sex Agreement. If it’s an Agreement you’d make with your kids, or a platonic housemate, then it probably belongs in your Relationship Agreements instead. If it involves latex or plastic on human or toy appendages, it’s probably a Safer Sex Agreement.
Note that there are some areas that overlap, particularly in the matter of pacing new relationships. Human bodies are chemically and hormonally based, and having sex often triggers chemical cascades that nature intends to cement relationships [refs, e.g. Alchemy of Love and Lust] … at least long enough to get kids conceived, born, and to about their 2nd birthday. [refs, e.g., Sex At Dawn.] However, biology is not destiny, and while the heart is difficult to regulate, behavior can be tracked and modified. So especially in these “grey areas,” try to make your agreements about behaviors, not about feelings, and you’ll find them easier to track and measure.
You can see some examples of various sorts of Agreements in Appendix B, including some that (mostly) separate out Emotional Safety from Safer Sex, and some that don’t. Be sure to check out a bunch of different Agreements, to see which ones resonate for you, and which don’t.
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[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]
Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.
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