Sex talk
Speaking of Risk

Simon Sheppard,

There are those of us who crave risk – daredevils who skydive, climb mountains, race stock cars. And many a man likes his sex to have a dash of danger, too.

Since the advent of the HIV epidemic, "high-risk sex" has become synonymous with unprotected fucking, and certainly, few erotic activities have consequences as potentially dire. But there's a whole bunch of erotic hazards out there, and not all of them can be resolved by using rubbers.

Plenty of people put themselves at physical risk by indulging in activities that carry a danger of various diseases – not just barebacking, but rimming, blowjobs, and the like. "Is giving head without a rubber perfectly safe?" says one guy who's into going down. "Of course not. But no one I know uses condoms for oral sex anymore, and really, the risk of getting something incurable is small."

Like that fellow, many of us engage in sexual risk/benefit analyses, whether we do so consciously or not. As another man points out, "Just letting a stranger into your home for sex can be deadly. But driving to the dentist can be, too, and tricking is a lot more fun."

Some like their assignations to be tinged with the thrill of peril. Sure, having sex in a park or public restroom is dangerous, but that hasn't stopped many men from doing so. In fact, the edginess can add to the spice. And drugs or drink can push any sort of scene to the brink.

Then there's emotional risk – whether falling for the wrong man, cultivating self-destructive crushes, or staying in an emotionally abusive relationship. Self-imperiling behavior among gay men is often attributed to the lack of self-esteem that homophobia can cause. But part of it may be hardwired into the human animal, the same thrill-seeking impulse that makes roller coasters so popular.

When guys are into dick-hardening danger, just saying "Just say no" may not work, and so, many HIV experts and substance abuse counselors have adopted the goal of "harm reduction." If you're the sort who simply can't resist temptation, those experts urge, then make informed choices to keep yourself as safe as possible. If you're going to ride a sexual roller coaster, at least make sure your seatbelt is fastened tight.

Then, too, there's the adrenaline rush provided by well-planned kink scenes or consensual SM play. Body and soul may get pushed to the limit, but it's in a controlled environment where real damage is extremely unlikely. It may be no accident that the popularity of leathersex, with its well-managed risks, has seemingly boomed since the very real danger of HIV hit the scene.

There are, certainly, some risks beyond the reasonable, things like an HIV-negative man getting fucked without a condom when his partner may be infected. And guys who engage in criminal carnality might think they'll never get caught, but plenty of them do. Worst of all is behavior that puts someone else at risk without his full knowledge and consent. As one counselor puts it, "Moral relativism is all well and good, but when it comes to sex, as with the rest of life, some things are just plain wrong."

Research indicates that some people just naturally crave more intense stimulation than others, and, for them, defying the odds can be a big thrill. One man's "foolhardy" is another's "fabulous," and certainly, nothing in life is risk-free. But compulsively suicidal sex is cause for therapy, not celebration.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion

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