What is safe sex? Does it even exist? And if it doesn’t, how do we protect ourselves from the consequences?
From a young age, and increasingly younger it seems, we are educated on safe sex. That is, we are taught about contraception – how it works and the myriad options available. Condoms, Implanon, the pill, Mirena and so on. The full gamut of reproductive inhibitors so that we don’t fall pregnant ahead of time, and so we don’t contract a sexually transmitted disease. But all these contraceptives have something in common: they are not foolproof. Using even the most robust contraceptive still leaves us open to a one or two per cent chance of pregnancy. The odds of pregnancy or disease obviously increase when we fail to properly use the contraceptive.
Does that constitute safe sex?
What’s with that term anyway?
I understand its use in the context of STDs and consent. Sex is not safe if there’s the possibility of contracting AIDS, for example. Sex is not safe if one partner has not given consent, or is a minor. But we also use this term around pregnancy, because unsafe sex can result in pregnancy. It makes it sound like a crippling disease, as if our lives will be put in jeopardy as a result. Of course, pregnancy is anything but.
Mothers and fathers tell us that life with babies, with children, on the other side of pregnancy, is a wonderful sea-change. They wish they’d done it sooner. They extol the benefits, ones immeasurable by charts of wealth or success, but felt in the swelling of the heart and the joy in mere moments shared together. Their perspectives are altered. Their definition of safe sex may have altered too.
Whether we like it or not, sex is the vehicle for procreation.
Sex results in babies. Babies that become children that become teenagers that become adults that propel humanity forward, not only to maintain population growth but also to reach new heights in science, medicine, adventure, philosophy, ingenuity, philanthropy, creativity… Can we agree here that it is “safe” for sex to result in pregnancy?
It seems to me that safe sex happens when we are at peace with possibility.
We are consenting adults, agreeing to an expression of love that – while it may be only a minute possibility thanks to modern contraceptive options – just might result in a child. Perhaps we don’t sit at the end of the bed and have a sober chat about that one per cent chance that we may become parents nine months from now, but we nod our head to untameable life – that even modern technology cannot 100 per cent suppress. We nod our head to sex that cherishes the safety of all members: him and her – and potentially another.
And then, the unthinkable happens.
Inevitably, just a handful of us are going to make up that one or two per cent. The ones who, for all their conscientious planning around contraceptives, fall pregnant anyway. Somehow. It was safe sex, with a result that doesn’t feel very “safe” at all. Suddenly life is flying around your head like an angry swarm of bees. Yet, around fifty per cent of women will experience an unplanned pregnancy. And that one little word connected to this journey will bring you the greatest help and comfort right now: “safe”. What is safe for you, for your partner and for this new bud of life forming within? They are the questions to ask. And just as we learned at school, or at the dinner table in an awkward conversation with mum or dad, that “safe sex” is a holistic consideration, so too is safe pregnancy.
Safety is key, and defending it is a responsibility and a privilege.