Am I the only one comparing “opening up” social spaces to the process of connecting with new partners?
As we talk about opening our businesses and homes to more people, I keep thinking about my experience in consensual nonmonogamy and how those skills have prepared me for this moment.
For instance, when I’m in a relationship and I want to add sexual and/or emotional intimacy with new people, I discuss it with my current partners. We assess levels of risk for various forms of contact, who is more vulnerable, and what kinds of protection could be used – being honest about the pros and cons of these measures and what sacrifices we’re willing to make. We talk about the emotional risk of adding new partners, and how we could manage that.
Partners understand that keeping our agreements affects everyone involved in our polycule; when one person is exposed to a new variable, we all share that risk.
I’ve met people spanning a wide spectrum of risk aversion. There are those who wear gloves, use dental dams, forbid kissing and of course wear condoms, and may still require recent STI testing documentation from a new contact. Then there are large groups of people who present their bill of health and commence sexual play with little or no protection. At the far end of the spectrum are those friends hooking up with strangers with no prior conversation and using zero protection, sometimes in places where this partner is scarcely visible and drugs are involved.
Safer Social Contact
The only way to guarantee freedom from risk is abstinence. When we engage others sexually, we assume risk, no matter how much precaution we take.
Similarly, when we share space with other people, we assume some risk of contracting COVID-19, no matter how cautious we are. Yet, we can still take measures to mitigate our level of risk, such as wearing masks, keeping physical distance, observing symptoms, etc. We may decide to bring a new person into our quarantine pod, by vetting their exposure and agreeing to keep everyone abreast if we interact with new people.
You could call this “safer” social contact, similar to safer sex.
We’ve all been talking about opening up the economy and what that might look like. What kinds of protection can we wear, and who is willing to wear it? Which of us are willing to take more risk, and who else in our lives do we expose by doing so? What are the risk levels for various populations, and who needs additional consideration?
In other words, we are making social agreements. Then we each choose whether or not we will keep those agreements. When one person decides to cross these agreements in order to get what they want, they increase risk for other people who may not have chosen such exposure.
Does a mask feel like a face condom that I’d rather not wear? Sure. However, I wear it anyway for the sake of public health, to uphold our agreements. I resist the temptation to eject myself out of town and expose rural areas to my city level of risk. I choose not to invite guests over for backyard dinners, despite my yearning for the intimacy of friendship.
As we follow these advisories, we gather more data as to how well they are working. We continue to learn about the routes of spreading this infection, how this will impact the economy over time, and what risks we are willing to take in response to these interconnected variables.
In the meantime, please wear your face condom.