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Sanguinary Safety

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by Sarah Dorrance

No matter what you do, there are certain things about yourself that you simply cannot change. Mortality is one of them. Nothing will make you immortal, or invulnerable.

If you are in an alternative lifestyle that comes into frequent contact with other people's blood (e.g. vampirism, extreme BDSM, blood fetishism) then it would behoove you to remember this fact. You can die. At some point in your life, you will die. Moving the date of your demise forward is dumb. Therefore, you need to protect yourself against diseases which can be transmitted through blood, which can kill you. It's that simple.

The simplest thing of all is to never come into contact with the blood of other people. What you aren't exposed to can't hurt you.

However, if you choose to engage in activities which involve human blood, there are safety precautions that you can take. What will cause dangerous contact with human blood? Drinking it. Getting it into a cut or abrasion somehow. Getting it near a bodily membrane is unlikely to expose you to HIV, but it might expose you to certain forms of hepatitis, and to a host of non-lethal but miserable viruses if they're going around (of course, if you're going to get the flu, you can get it much more easily from less risky contact anyway). I'll talk about this more later in the article.

Right now, I'd like to offer some pointers in avoiding infection in general.

  1. Never, ever drink from someone who you cannot literally trust with your life. Drinking from strangers is a really bad idea. You don't know where they have been.
  2. Test yourself for HIV and other STD's every six months. If possible, have any new partners tested. See the results of the blood test before you make contact with their blood. Be aware: HIV is at its MOST CONTAGIOUS when it is in the incubation the first few weeks of infection, when there are not enough antibodies to show up on either an ELISA or a Western Blot. That's right. This means that you have no absolute way of knowing whether or not your partner is clean. See point number one.
  3. If you drink blood, never do so if you have cuts or sores in your mouth area or in your throat. The sore spots are what leave you open to HIV infection. It's better to be safe than sorry -- even if all you have is a burnt tongue from a hot piece of pizza, avoid contact until it's healed.
  4. If you actually suck on small wounds (please tell me they got there via cutting or piercing, not via biting, which is really unsanitary) do so gently. Hard sucking actually damages your mouth, which leaves you open to infection.
  5. Always use latex when with a new partner, if you are not exchanging intimate fluids. Latex is your friend.

There is some good news to report, at least: drinking blood is only about as risky as fellatio. This means that it's somewhat risky (due to the fact that many people are not aware that they have bleeding gums or sores in the mouth) but it's not nearly as risky as unprotected anal penetration. Remember, the risk lies not in the behaviour, but in the ease with which you can be exposed to blood-to-blood transmission.

I haven't yet gone into the specifics, though. Some of the things that I will mention might not be your cup of tea. I want to cover as many bases as possible, though, so I think it's important that I make an attempt to be exhaustive, even at the risk of causing discomfort.

If you drink blood, you open yourself to bacteria: salmonella, e coli, etc. There's more of a risk of this if you drink animal blood, because chances are that if you drink from a human it will be somebody in your own area who has acquired the same exposures and resistances as you, and if you're traveling in Mexico or Bangladesh or something you're probably not going to drink from a local there. However, if for some odd reason your partner has contracted a bacterial disease, you can count on getting the bacteria in your bloodstream, too. This is not necessarily the end of the world. Most of us take in a certain amount of bacteria every day, and only get sick when the level of salmonella exceeds our tolerance. Want to build your tolerance? Stop using antibacterial soap. Americans, at least, have a Lysol fetish right now, and all it's doing is reducing our tolerance of bacteria while killing off all but the strongest, nastiest, most resistant germs. This isn't good. Don't be part of the problem.

Have you considered the safety of your partner? I think I mentioned before that biting is a bad idea. The human mouth has tons of germs in it. this can cause infection. Biting is also usually quite painful. Be considerate and use something more sterile than your teeth. Use a razor blade (disposable, plain with single or double edge) or a lancet, or, if you have taken phlebotomy courses or have been trained in piercing techniques, needles. Never re-use a sharp; throw it away after use into a lidded container. Oh, and before you drink, make sure you have used some mouthwash to kill the germs in your mouth; but don't brush or floss, because this can cause your gums to bleed, and of course you don't want that. (Cinnamon mouthwash tastes better than mint. Listerine doesn't go with blood at all, alas. Since hard alcohol is a sterilizer, you might opt for swirling brandy or Scotch in your mouth instead.) Drink gently. After you are done, clean the wound and put a bandage on it. [Sanguinarius note: I personally think Listerine tastes disgusting, and I prefer to use Scope.]

By the way, while we're on the subject of caring for your partner's safety, never, ever cut near an organ, a vein, or an artery. Don't cut deeply. You should only be cutting as deep as the average shaving nick. I recommend shallow marks on the back, the top of the chest, or the top of the upper thighs. Vitamin E oil reduces the chance of scarring.

Some of you might want to add blood to alcohol, in order to sterilize it. You think that will keep you safe? Think again. Yes, it will take care of most viruses (I've never heard of anyone getting chicken pox from shared communion wine) but the really dangerous viruses, like HIV, are too small to be affected and they will survive being dunked in alcohol.

So much for blood drinking. How about blood contact that results from other kinds of contact? "Edge play," "rough sports," whatever you want to call it -- if it draws blood, safety precautions must be taken.

My advice is to never re-use a toy on anyone else after it has come into contact with blood. Blood should be used as a sudden warning: "Beware. From now on, this toy can only be used on me. It is mine. It is meant for no one else." If the toy can be soaked in a solution of 10% bleach and 90% water for at least ten minutes without being ruined, or can be autoclaved, forget my advice, but things that are made out of leather or wood won't survive such treatment. Take that any way you like. But never use a blood-marked toy on another person once it has been blooded, if it cannot be sterilized as well as cleaned.

I will end this sharp little lecture with two common sense reminders.

First: the human stomach can only handle the equivalent of two shot glasses of blood before the blood curdles and makes you sick. You can increase your tolerance, of course, but you shouldn't need to. Think about it.

Finally: people who perform some sort of bloodletting must be prepared for the worst possible scenario. There is a slim chance that your partner will lose too much blood, or for some other reason, will go into shock. (I presume you've already had the big discussion about physical limits; part of establishing trust is finding out if your partner has any barriers to bloodletting activity, such as hemophilia). Know first aid. It's cheap to take a course -- sometimes even free -- and it could save a life. Be responsible. Be caring. Be prepared.

Drinking or sharing blood is one of the most intimate activities that a couple can engage in. It says, "I trust you so much that I can place my life in your hands. Our relationship is so important that it's more important than my own need to stay free of risk." This intimacy does not have to be blind or stupid. It's beyond tragic when such a close sharing is ruined forever by a fatal illness that could have been prevented. Don't be a statistic.

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