When we hear about risk, especially in the context of sexual or romantic endeavors, experiences or choices, it’s often framed as some kind of Very Big Bad — like risking HIV or other STIs, an unwanted pregnancy, abuse or self-harm, or the downfall of all civilization — and like something only about scary stuff, which exists in some kind of vacuum where risk-taking is never about anything healthy or positive and should be completely avoided at all costs.
Risk, the reality of what risk can be, and why we take risks in the first place isn’t so one-dimensional. A risk is, most simply, anything that has the potential to lead to some kind of loss or unwanted outcome; something where an outcome is uncertain, a gamble, that can be different than what we expect or want. If we take a risk, it’s something we usually do or consider with the aim of getting or experiencing something positive or wanted.
We can’t live risk-free. To try and get or experience things we want, things that benefit us or others, even to just do the most basic things we need to to take care of ourselves, we often have to risk things we don’t want, which may be unwanted or negative, or risk not getting or experiencing what we do want.
Risk is involved in something so seemingly mellow as taking the bus to get to school or work, eating lunch or putting up a new profile picture online. We risk falling down in order to stand up; we risk getting turned down for a job or by a college if we apply. If we want to come out, we may risk nonacceptance, judgment, emotional conflict, and even violence, but we probably risk those things because we hope to gain positives like acceptance, understanding, being able to be seen as who we are and a greater ability to live our lives more freely, safely and openly and with more love in them. We risk rejection when asking someone out because our hope is they’ll go out with us, and to make that happen, someone’s gotta ask and take that risk. We risk all the many things sex with someone else can put us or them at risk of because we hope to experience the positives of sex, the good things it can bring us or others. The notion of risk as being about nothing but bad, or as only about the risk itself, just isn’t sound.
Read the rest of this new, in-depth guide to evaluating risk and making decisions which involve risk — including a handy-dandy cribsheet with some tools and practices — at Scarleteen here.