The One Rule

12/10/2013 03:22 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017


My husband Dirk and I have just one rule in our relationship: "Never bring home anything you don't want to share." It works on all sorts of levels. For example, if Dirk meets someone he thinks is hot and wants to hook up with him, I'm always invited to join them... or I can say, "No thanks, but you boys have fun." I'm extended the same courtesy. It fosters a sexual openness that is both liberating and exhilarating; as long as I feel included, I'm not jealous at all.

There's more to the One Rule, though, and it pertains to sexually-transmitted diseases. We have an open relationship, and on top of that we both work in the adult film industry. The bottom line is that we're having sex with men other than just ourselves. And shit happens.

A few summers ago I started dating an amazing man. We were inseparable; our chemistry was great and we had lots of fun. We also had lots of sex, and despite the fact that we'd each recently tested negative for every STD known to man, we always used a condom: He'd lost his first boyfriend to AIDS and was adamant about being safe.

Fast forward a little over four months. Winter was approaching, and there was this big holiday fundraiser that I was really looking forward to taking him to. The day before the event I got a very strange voicemail from him. His quivering, quiet voice said, "Hey, it's me. I can't come to the party this weekend. I don't even know if we can be together anymore. Bye." Needless to say, I freaked. Things had been going great. I called him back, shaking as I dialed. When I spoke to him, he was choking back tears.

He'd tested positive for HIV.

I hadn't slept with anyone else since we met. He told me he hadn't either, and I believe him; he's a man of unimpeachable character. But about a month before he met me, he had hooked up with a guy who didn't disclose his status. As always, my ex had insisted on using a condom. He still doesn't know how he caught the virus. Perhaps the condom leaked or tore, or – I prefer to think this didn't happen, but who knows – perhaps the other guy pulled off the condom intentionally at one point and my ex didn't notice. In any case, he'd unknowingly taken a full load of HIV-positive spunk, and naturally had no reason to think he needed post-exposure prophylaxis. When we started dating a month later, we each got tested for a full range of STDs including HIV, and the results all came back negative. Even though HIV tests can take up to 12 weeks to show a positive result, my ex had every reason to assume he was negative. That's how I learned a very important lesson: Never assume anyone is negative... not even yourself.

I had been in a serodiscordant relationship for four months and didn't know it; the only reason I'm HIV-negative today is that my ex and I always used condoms, even when we thought we were both negative. Now he's on medication and undetectable, but the experience has been horrific for him. He experiences nausea and terrifying nightmares because of the drugs. He pays thousands of dollars a year in medical expenses just to keep the infection at bay. And the psychological challenges he faces due to AIDS phobia, including people who consider him "unclean," are enormous. For a time he withdrew from the gay community entirely. When we were a couple, we were suddenly far less social than we had been, and he was exhausted a lot of the time because of the nightmares. While our relationship didn't end because of his HIV status (we parted amicably two years later for other reasons), I can definitely say it was a huge stressor.

My ex-boyfriend didn't consent to having unprotected sex. Nevertheless, it happened... with life-altering consequences. Many gay men, however – especially younger men who did not witness the devastation of the AIDS crisis first-hand – are now choosing to have unprotected sex, thinking that HIV is a manageable condition and thus "no big deal." Bareback sex appears to be normalizing within the community, and certain elements of the porn industry in which I work even appear to be glamorizing the practice, eroticizing it as something exciting and hot.

Anyone you ask will tell you that sex without a condom feels better than sex with a condom. Some people don't like to bareback, though; I've known tops with a "quick trigger" who prefer to use a condom because it slows them down a bit, and I've known both tops and bottoms who are so concerned about potentially transmitting STDs to their partner that they can't climax without using one. But the guys who do bareback – or are thinking about trying it – need to ask themselves this vitally important question: Is momentarily enhanced pleasure worth putting themselves and their partners at risk, even if that risk is a minimal one? It's a very personal decision. For some people, the answer is never. For some, it's always. And for some, it's "only with my partner" or within a trusted circle. It's up to each and every one of us to determine what constitutes acceptable risk, and recognize the potential consequences of our decision.

My point, though, is that you can never really know your partner's status, or your own for that matter. Now that I know first-hand what HIV can do to a relationship, I believe more strongly than ever that unprotected sex is simply too great a risk. That's why my husband and I always play safe even though we're both negative. After all, we don't want to break the One Rule. There are some things we definitely do not want to share.