Lesley Garner
Lesley Garner
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Everything I've Ever Learned About Love

Safe Sex

There’s no such thing as a condom for the heart. Until there is,
there will be no such thing as safe sex. You can wrap your whole body
up in protective sheaths, you can fill yourself with barrier creams and
spermicides, you can have sex over phone lines and in cyberspace, you
can have solitary sex all alone in your own brain, but the sex that leaves
your heart and mind unscathed has not yet evolved. Until it does, what’s

We have AIDS to thank for the concept of safe sex. Before this
deadly disease arrived in our lives, there was a brief flashing point in
human history when, for the lucky few who had access to antibiotics and
effective contraception (particularly the pill), sex became relatively trouble
free. But only relatively.

In this brief historic period, sex required no forethought because
a woman on the pill was always prepared. And men didn’t have to think.
There was no remembering to carry condoms or fumbling with them,
thank the Lord. Nobody was afraid of sexually transmitted diseases, the
ones like syphilis that used to maim and kill people, because we had
antibiotics and we believed that everything could be cleared up with the right treatment. Even in this brief, relatively trouble-free interlude, things
went wrong. Girls still got pregnant by mistake. People got crabs and
herpes and worse. And the social pressure to have sex replaced the social
pressure not to have sex, and led to its own unhappiness and error. If we
had but known it, that was probably as near to safe sex as we were ever
to come.

This lull didn’t last long, as human history goes. As the threat of
AIDS was realised and governments panicked, advertising campaigns
urged people to put protective barriers between them to avoid deadly
infection. Safe sex was the only sex. The free exchange of bodily fluids
was over. The implicit promise of all this was that if everyone would
practise safe sex the world would be a less dangerous place, but the only
safety anyone thought about was physical.

There is no such thing as safe sex because sex is an elemental
power. It can be benevolent or it can be destructive, and you often don’t
know in advance which way it will take you. It’s not just that you might
catch something, like a disease, or that you might become pregnant when you don’t want to be, it’s that everything changes when things become
sexual, and the outcome of a sexual encounter is never predictable.

If sex were safe why would close friends hesitate to become
lovers? It’s because they know that sex changes everything, and that if
they get it wrong they might lose a friend and then lose a lover too. If sex
were safe why would sexual infidelity matter? Sex, in the context of
infidelity, is highly dangerous, the cause of despair and heartache, even
murder. If sex were safe why would whole families, even political
parties, even whole societies, feel affected by an individual’s choice of
sexual partner? Because sexual liaisons affect dynasties and inheritances
and politics and business. Sex isn’t safe. Sex is a matter of life and death.
Ask Romeo and Juliet. Ask Helen of Troy.

So there is no such thing as safe sex. There might be such a thing
as effective contraception, although nothing is 100 per cent foolproof.
There might be such a thing as effective sexual hygiene. But there is no
kind of sex so safe that it will leave your body, heart and mind untouched.
If it did, we wouldn’t want it.

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