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"Those of us who survived learned and it's important that we remember the lessons we've learned. I'm not going to go into all the details of safer-sex but I will emphasize the need for it. Simply put, play with every partner as if they were infected."

Healthy SM
by Jack Rinella

SAIDS has put a whole new dimension on sexual activity. Just when effective birth control and modern medicine gave us a way to avoid unwanted pregnancy and cure sexually transmitted diseases, it reared its ugly head. So ended free love.

Gay friends died left and right, while many, many survivors embraced either safer-sex or no sex as a lifestyle. Fifteen years later, medical advances are beginning to change AIDS from terminal to chronic. We're all breathing easier as the plague becomes more and more manageable.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that it's over.

I became a leather man just after AIDS had begun to do its worse. As we look around today, it's obvious that AIDS decimated the gay leather community. It's most likely that it wasn't leather activity, per se, that is responsible. The "good old days" of the '60s were filled with unprotected sex, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, and unsanitary practices that would have killed most anyone.

Those of us who survived learned and it's important that we remember the lessons we've learned. I'm not going to go into all the details of safer-sex but I will emphasize the need for it. Simply put, play with every partner as if they were infected. Never share toys that aren't sterilized between uses, never do anything that transfers bodily fluids between individuals, and don't endanger your health with immune-suppressive activity, such as drunkenness and drug abuse.

What then are slaves and masters to do?

My "Expectations and Regulations" spells it out this way: "Once the slave is the master's property, the master will be responsible to keep him as healthy as possible. The master will want to keep his property at full value and so will not command or treat the slave in a way that jeopardizes or diminishes his value. A healthy slave is a valuable one."

Not everyone looks at it this way, of course. We frequently see ads that seek "HIV negative" slaves or hear talk about using condoms only "until your slavery is permanent."

In both cases, there is the as yet unspoken, but all too obvious, idea that there are conditions within which safer sex practices can be ignored. That kind of thinking only leads to eventual tragedy.

I will except married heterosexual couples in a monogamous relationship, but other than that there is no reason to exchange bodily fluids.

I can hear some of my gay friends shaking their heads that I don't include monogamous homosexual relationships as well. There are those who say that two HIV-negative men can get it on safely without being "safe" or that two HIV-positive men are already infected so there's no use in playing safely but I disagree with both opinions.

It's a matter of common sense and "risk management." I don't think we can eliminate all risk. The only completely safe sex is no sex, just as the only completely safe kind of travel is to stay home. If you do that, then you can't blame your accidents on traveling. They will happen. On this planet death is the only way out. That doesn't mean, though, that we ought to be courting death or doing things that make it more likely to occur.

I exempted monogamous married couples from the bodily fluid restriction only because procreation is something they may want to do. Unmarried persons probably aren't going to breed, so they ought to keep their fluids to themselves.

HIV-positive partners run the risk of introducing variant forms of the virus into each other's systems. In as much as HIV mutates easily and therefore can adapt in order to survive various antibodies and drug therapies, we need to eliminate the possibility of introducing new strains of the virus into anyone's body.

Care doesn't mean abstinence. In fact, there are endless erotic possibilities in SM. The vast majority of leather activity is safe, and even the most kinky practices can be made safer with a bit of forethought. The over-riding considerations are cleanliness and the use of barriers against the transmission of fluids.

Keeping ropes, slings, whips, gags, dildoes and the like clean is a perfect job for any slave. There's nothing expensive about soap and water. Rinsing insertable toys in bleach (diluted in water in a ration of one to ten) is highly recommended as well.

Leather toys may not stand up to washing like a butt plug would, but there are ways to disinfect them as well. See "Leather And Latex Care: How To Keep Your Leather And Latex Looking Great," by Kelly Thibault, (ISBN 1-881943-00-3, Daedalus Publishing Co.)

Returning to the idea that "A healthy slave is a valuable one," brings us to considering the possibility of conflict in the master/slave scenario. What happens if a master wants to fuck his slave without a rubber or if the slave wants it to happen?

There are those, I'm sure, who will say that the master has a right to fuck in any way he desires. I understand the sentiment. Rubbers diminish the intensity of the action. They can be a distraction from the heat of the moment. Some men can't stay erect when they put a rubber on. In spite of those possibilities, condoms prevent infection and thereby save lives.

It's a matter of getting used to them. Try different brands, sizes, and kinds. For a long time I relied on the free condoms distributed at the bars. They work well and it was easy to grab a handful as I was going home.

I had problems with them, though, in as much as very often they were too tight, so tight in fact that more often than not, when I had an orgasm in one, it would be painful. I found ways to avoid that. For one, I would rip off the condom and shoot my load elsewhere and safely. Interestingly, many bottoms enjoyed the sight of my jism squirting onto their chests.

Later I tried a larger size of condom and found they delivered greater pleasure, eliminating the disagreeable tightness. It's a matter of trial and error. Often, too, it's a matter of just getting used to them.

By and large it all goes back to being responsible.

There are a great many aspects to leather sex: pleasure, authority, sadomasochism, love, dominance and submission. You get the idea. None of them removes the need to be responsible.

Responsibility is a major attribute between SM players. Without it, the master/slave relationship, or any relationship for that matter, quickly deteriorates and ends. It's a two-way street, too.

The master is such because he accepts responsibility as part of his role. The slave accepts that his master is responsible, though he or she still retains self-responsibility as well, even if only to insure that the master's property remains healthy and of great value.

As master I pass some of my responsibility on to my slave. He is required, for instance, to clean the toys, to buy the condoms, and to put them on me. In the heat of passion a responsible master might have to remind his or her slave to get a rubber. It's all part of a healthy relationship and keeping it that way.

Copyright 1996 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact

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