Is a Bisexual Lifestyle Healthy?

By Garrett Jones, part five

The HIV virus and AIDS has done for gay sex what syphilis did for straight sex more than a century ago: put the safety-factor right in the spotlight.

When the British government embarked on a post-war anti-VD campaign in the late forties, the slogan on all the big posters was Clean living is the only real safeguard.

It has to be admitted you are far less likely to pick up a sexually transmitted disease (STD) if your sex life is confined to solitary wanking and to sex with a single partner who is known to be ‘safe’, i.e. similarly restricted in his or her sex life. This was in fact one of the main non-moralistic arguments in favour of the old morality. You could hardly have a safer formula than ‘chastity before marriage and fidelity within marriage’ and you could add, for good measure, ’tis better to be safe than sorry.’

The argument has lost its cogency these days because so few people now practice the old morality. There are many reasons for this: far greater economic and social freedom for teenagers, the widespread availability of reliable contraceptives, the feminist revolt against the traditional expectation that wives would devote themselves to childbearing, a more scientific and less religiously based attitude to sex, a vast increase in leisure time, far greater mobility, a new perception of the non-reproductive significance of sex – and so on.

The result of all this is, quite regardless of whether or not one lives bisexually, most modern sexual lifestyles involve an increased risk of transmitting STDs.

The biggest risk for teenagers engaging in unprotected, heterosexual sex is, for men, NSU (non-specific urethritis), and, for women, chlamydia. These diseases are interrelated and have been described as “the commonest form of sex infection in Britain today.” [<>Dr David Devlin in The Devlin Report on Safer Sex, New English Library, 1987, pp. 132f]. If chlamydia is not properly and promptly treated, it usually results in a woman’s becoming permanently infertile. There is of course a wide range of other horrors lurking in wait for the unwary.

The good news is that the commonest kind of bisexual lifestyle can and should be a lot safer than promiscuous, heterosexual lifestyles – and is most unlikely to cause an unwanted pregnancy.

This is the style which involves just one heterosexual partner and only non-anal sex between male partners.

Within such a framework, on the gay side, probably a good deal of time is spent in mutual fondling and wanking. This is as non-hazardous as solitary wanking.

The same applies to whole-body contact, whether this be simply a close embrace or the actual fucking of one guy against the other, either prick to prick or prick against any part of the body surface or prick between the legs of the other. So long as there is no penetration and so long as no body fluids are exchanged internally, there is a very high degree of safety. Herpes and warts, etc, can be transmitted externally but a little discretion can usually avert visible hazards.

Oral intimacy is more problematic. Kissing is usually safe enough unless the kissing in question becomes deep mutual tonguing, in which case it is highly important there be no bleeding gums on either side and no contagious mouth infection. It is safest to restrict this kind of kissing to trusted partners with whom one is in, or intends to be in, a sustained relationship.

The biggest risk in non-anal sexual encounters between males is in oral-genital contact. Cocksucking (or, in my terminology, more usually prick-sucking!) is very popular and is very widely practised. The chief dangers are two-fold: [1] the prick one sucks may have been engaged in anal sex without thorough washing between times, something which is most likely to happen where men are in a an all-male and promiscuous venue; this is the most common means of transmitting a potentially lethal form of hepatitis; [2] fluids coming from the prick being sucked may be infected with HIV, which may then be transmitted to the person doing the sucking, a risk which increases if orgasm occurs inside the mouth and is further increased if semen is swallowed.

Some men are so aware of these dangers, either they refuse to suck another man unless he is a steady partner who is known to be safe or a partner who is happy about using a condom, which can be of the pleasantly flavoured variety.

In my experience, most men are a little less rigorous and prefer to exercise discretion along the following lines:

[1] They refuse to take a prick in their mouths if it is uncircumcised and harbouring smegma under the foreskin or if it has any visible signs of infection or of warts or any slightest trace of blood on it.

[2] They ask anybody who is not well-known to them if he engages in anal sex. If the answer is ‘yes’ and the answer to subsequent questions casts doubt on this person’s being safety-conscious, the price of a suck is willingness to use a condom.

[3] With anybody except a known and trusted partner, if orgasm occurs whilst the prick is in the mouth, the semen (or as much of it as possible) is promptly spitted out. This situation is avoided if at all possible, but some men cum – this is an Americanism which has a lot to commend it as it is brevity itself and is less ambiguous than come – so quickly and with so little warning an occasional slip is to be expected and is no cause for undue alarm if the earlier precautions have been observed.

In general, the type of bisexual lifestyle most commonly practised – just one heterosexual partnership and only non-anal sex between males – involves little more risk to health than a strictly monogamous lifestyle but confers rather more advantages, as the following chapter makes clear.

Before going on to look at the other likeliest bisexual lifestyles, a word should be said about finger-fucking. Many men who refuse anal penetration by a prick (either because of the health risk or because they fear the possible gender implications of getting hooked on this) nevertheless welcome anal penetration by a finger or fingers. The much more drastic practice of fist-fucking, which can, apparently, be highly dangerous, is something I have only read about; I have never ever encountered anybody who has experienced it himself or proposed doing it to me.

Those who enjoy being finger-fucked usually regard it as additional stimulation whilst being simultaneously wanked or whilst they are fucking against their partner’s thigh or prick. Many men draw the line at actual penetration by a finger, but do appreciate the pressure of a finger against the entrance to the anus just before they reach a climax.

Provided the finger(s) involved is(are) clean, nails suitably trimmed, and without any open wounds, there is virtually no risk of transmitting HIV this way. What can be transmitted is a lethal type of hepatitis. This is most likely to happen if a finger which has been used for anal penetration then grips the partner’s prick, which is then sucked shortly afterwards by him or by another person.

To safeguard against this risk, it is imperative to remember precisely which finger(s) have been involved in anal penetration and to keep those fingers totally out of play for the rest of that sexual session. For this reason, it is much safest to reserve any sex play involving finger-fucking (or even fingers against the anal opening) for the final stages of a session. Needless to say, the probing finger(s) need(s) to be thoroughly washed at the earliest opportunity to avoid contaminating food, etc.

There are two other main bisexual lifestyles, neither of them as widely practised as the one just considered and both a good deal riskier in various ways.

The first of these is scarcely a bisexual lifestyle at all since, although it involves sexual partners of both genders, the man is only performing as a male heterosexually; ‘homosexually’ he performs mainly, often exclusively, as a female. This kind of male is not really seeking sex with both genders so much as seeking the sexual experience of both genders within himself: when he is with another man, he adopts a ‘female’ rather than a typically ‘male’ role, his own genitals being relegated to a strictly subordinate role if they come into play at all. This is not true of the more widely experienced types of homosexual experience.

Obviously the main – and considerable – risk in this lifestyle is it involves anal sex in which the bisexual partner is on the receiving end – the riskier end. Ideally the malesex should only occur at a site where it is possible for both partners to wash scrupulously before and after the act. Since this kind of site usually implies partners who know each other well enough to be able to trust each other’s reliability regarding health, this is a further safeguard against the risk of transmitting or contracting the HIV virus.

Even so, the risks are so great and a bisexual partner has such a heavy responsibility towards his heterosexual partner, perhaps also his as-yet-unborn children, many men would now insist a condom always be used when anal sex takes place and great care be taken to avoid any risk of anal/oral contact, either directly or through the intermediary of fingers, throughout the proceedings.

The remaining bisexual lifestyle to be considered is much less well-defined than the others and therefore entails still greater risk unless commensurate care is taken.

One occasionally meets men who have no specific gender preference at all; they are equally open to sexual involvement with partners of both genders.

Although the sexual options of such men are wide open, they do in fact often channel most of their sexual energy into one central relationship on each side. Even so, they are likely to be open to the occasional casual encounter provided it does not threaten or detract from these central relationships. Whereas in the first lifestyle we considered any casual sex would be homosexual, here it could be either.

The only extra health risk this involves is, since heterosexual sex is almost always penetrative, casual encounters of this kind do involve a greater risk of transmitting STDs than non-anal sex between males. There is also of course the risk of causing an unwanted pregnancy. Both these risks can be offset by using a condom.

If the man concerned is cohabiting with a woman, and is possibly also the father of her children, sex with other women also runs the risk of causing jealousy in the cohabiting partner and invidious comparisons on his part. Whilst not a health risk in the conventional sense, such factors can obviously have consequences which are far from healthy.

Whether in order to avoid the risk of such upheavals or because of the conditions imposed by their jobs (like the need for constant travel or total unpredictability of hours), or simply because of their temperament, some bisexual men refuse to cohabit with any one partner and try to avoid any kind of relational entanglement.

It is this kind of lifestyle which entails the highest kinds of health risk since it usually implies promiscuity without any relational anchorage and without any gender barriers. Some men of this type are still highly responsible and meticulous about practising safe sex; others are not and are very definitely to be avoided.

Inevitably, a question about health raises the spectre of risk and infection. This in turn can cause things to get badly out of proportion.

It needs to be remembered sex in itself never generates harmful bacteria or viruses; it merely transmits what is already there. Similarly, the exchanging of body fluids internally only becomes hazardous if one of the fluids involved is infected. The degree of caution necessary, therefore, depends entirely on how well one knows one’s partners and what kind of activity is engaged in.

There IS a problem about anal sex, however. Unless great care is taken, any form of anal sex can cause bacteria to be transferred from the intestinal tract (where they are beneficial) to other bodily systems (where they can become lethal).

A programme in the ‘Horizon’ series, broadcast on BBC2 Television on 16 November, 2000, revealed that uncircumcised men are at much greater risk of contracting HIV than men who are circumcised. It had been known for some time there was a much higher incidence of AIDS in Africa in those tribes where males are not circumcised. Recent research has shown the underside of the foreskin to be more vulnerable to HIV infection than any other area of the body’s skin surface. It is therefore extremely important for men who are not circumcised always to use a condom when they engage in any kind of sex which is not absolutely safe. Circumcision is not in itself a guarantee of immunity to HIV infection, so even circumcised men need to use a condom whenever there is risk.

Heterosexual sex and non-anal sex between males, unless it is violent, causing physical damage, is a perfectly healthy activity in itself. Although some moralists hate to admit this, the deprivation of sex, or the banning of the kind of sex which the person concerned most ardently desires, probably causes far more ill-health than sex. I know, in my own experience, the few periods when my life has been shadowed by sexual frustration have been periods dogged by bad health of all descriptions, including TB, whilst the far more frequent times of sexual happiness have been times of great good health.

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