Drink and Be Merry: How to Party Safer

Photo credit: Moyan Brenn

Photo credit: Moyan Brenn

It is not simply enough to say, “Don’t have sex when you are drunk.” In real life, sometimes when people party it can lead to sex. No surprise there. Sometimes people falter. Thus it is better to be aware of these tendencies and adopt some basic protocol to help you party safer and reduce risks to your sexual health and well-being.

Even if you choose not to have sex when you drink, there are important party strategies you should know.

Here are key points about partying safer, covered by Yvonne Piper at Bedsider below:

  • Studies show that when people are under the influence of alcohol, condoms and other forms of birth control are discussed less and used less.
  • Another risk is that because drinking impairs your motor skills, there is a higher chance that you and your partner will use whatever method, such as a condom or diaphragm, improperly.
  • There are birth control options that are more “party ready”, such as the IUD and Implant. But these do not protect against STIs.
  • Sometimes condoms are provided at parties. Encourage this and bring your own.

This article is written by Yvonne Piper and originally featured here.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

So you’re at a party (or a bar, or a booze-fueled picnic in the park…you get the idea) talking with someone you like A LOT. It’s pretty obvious you want to hook up. There are details to sort out, like whose place and how are we getting there? Other important questions may or may not come up: How are we preventing pregnancy? How are we protecting against STIs? Unfortunately those important questions may be less likely to come up the more you both drink.

A disclaimer: I can’t reassure you that sex while partying can be 100% safe—in some cases the best decision is not to hook up at all. For one thing, when you’re under the influence it can be tricky to be sure both you and your partner are thinking clearly enough to communicate your desires and boundaries with each other. But I also want to be real here: sometimes people party, and sometimes partying leads to sex. For folks who occasionally find themselves hooking up under the influence, there are some ways to keep yourself safer.

Does drinking affect birth control?

Alcohol can alter your judgment. You may be willing to do things (or people!) you would not normally do when sober. This may include having sex when you haven’t negotiated birth control in advance.

There’s mixed scientific evidence about how alcohol impacts birth control use. Some studies show that when alcohol is involved, birth control is discussed less often and condoms are used less, even in established relationships. Other studies show that drinking is associated with more condom use for casual partners and that consistent condom users remain consistent even when under the influence. These conflicting findings may have to do with the fact that alcohol affects people differently.

Whether drinking changes your intentions or not, it can definitely mess with your motor skills. If you use condoms, spermicide, or a diaphragm—any method that requires set up right before sex—there is always a chance of human error. When you’re drunk, the chance of using these methods improperly goes up.

Not every method of contraception is affected by partying. Many methods—IUDs, implants, sterilization, the shot, the ring, and the patch—are perfect for partying as they are in place well in advance of the fun and you bring them with you everywhere. The down side to all these methods is they don’t protect you from STIs. Luckily, condoms are portable even in the tiniest purse or pocket and may be available at bars and parties.

Playing safer

Here are 8 practical ways to play safer when partying:

1) Make a plan when you are sober and stick to it, both for drinking and for sex. If your plan says absolutely no hooking up after drinking, you can still flirt and trade phone numbers with a new potential partner. If your plan clearly says you are done after three alcoholic drinks, alternate your boozy beverages with non-alcoholic drinks, like water or soda, to help the fun last longer. And, of course, make sure you have a plan for getting home that doesn’t involve anyone driving under the influence.

2) Something that may help with #1: whether as moral support or designated drivers, enlist the help of your friends to help you stick to your plan. Here are some tips about how to do this.

3) Condoms are always the way to go for STI protection, but consider a second party-ready method to help ensure that you won’t have pregnancy scares on top of potential STI concerns.

4) Speaking of condoms, don’t rely on a partner to supply them. Even if you’re not sure you’ll need one, even if you already use another form of birth control, carrying condoms—and always using them for STI protection—is a smart thing to do.

5) Don’t leave drinks unattended. Even though it’s flattering when someone offers to buy or bring you a drink, you are safer being in control of your drink at all times.

6) Female condoms can be inserted up to 8 hours before sex, so if you suspect you may be partying too hard to use a male condom, consider trying this.

7) If you find yourself having sex in a situation where condoms aren’t available, withdrawal is always better than nothing (especially if your partner has had practice).

8) Have some emergency contraceptive pills at home in case a condom broke or wasn’t used.

If you’ve had drunk sex, it might be worth reviewing: How much fun was it for you? Did you find you had a harder time getting off when drunk? Did you notice that you had less of your natural lubrication? How about your partner’s sexual function? How does it compare to hooking up sober?

Wish you partied less?

If partying is interfering with your work, school, or relationships and you’d like some support in playing safer, Moderation Management and HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol are good resources.

Be safe and have fun!

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

25 Ways to Build Intimacy and Why You Should

93- How to build intimacyThere are many definitions of intimacy and ways of being intimate. When it comes to sexual health, the degree of intimacy we willingly express impacts how we accept ourselves and how we share our bodies, minds and lives with others. In this article, Heather Corinna of Scarleteen breaks down what “building intimacy” means and looks like. In short, “building intimacy” is explained here as sharing more and more of ourselves and our lives, but also learning together how to do that in ways that are healthy and feel beneficial to everyone involved.

Here are key points to take away from the article:

  • Sex is a way to express intimacy, but it is not the only way. A better metric of a relationship’s integrity is how able we are to really be, or start being ourselves with someone else, and they us, even in ways we are different.
  • No one thing or activity feels intimate for everyone, or for any one person all the time or in every situation. But healthy intimacy always involves actively willing and safely sharing private, vulnerable parts of our lives, minds and bodies with each other, and having others share with us in ways we feel comfortable with. True intimacy must be reciprocal.
  • Healthy intimacy gives you and others self-acceptance and the opportunity to accept others. It offers a sense of freedom for personal growth and increases the capacity to be empathetic to others.
  • Codependency is not healthy intimacy because it lacks boundaries. Hallmarks of healthy intimacy are things like establishing boundaries, having choice, safety and care in our vulnerability, shared trust and open, honest communication. Those things are the opposite of what’s going on and intended within abuse or assault.
  •  Healthy intimacy teaches us to be both fearless and careful in all the best ways. Seeking out and taking part in intimacy is about choosing to take a positive risk to open up.

This article was originally published on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

ILLUSTRATIONS BY ISABELLA ROTMAN | thismighthurt.tumblr.com

intimacyAs a verb, to be intimate means to make known. Intimacy is about seeking or having closeness of some kind with someone. When we’re being intimate with another person, we’re letting them — or they’re letting us — get closer by inviting and allowing each other into places beneath the visible surfaces of ourselves; places we don’t show to just anyone, or places people can only really come into if we invite them.

Healthy intimacy involves intentionally, willingly and safely sharing more private, vulnerable parts of our hearts, minds, bodies or lives with each other, and having others share with us in ways we want and feel comfortable with. Intimacy asks for transparency (being open and honest), vulnerability (letting our guard down), trust, and a means of communicating or connecting. When we’re experiencing healthy intimacy, we’ll tend to feel accepted or accepting, known or more knowing, valued just as the people we are, not because we did something important or something that someone wanted, and, since so many of us keep so much of our inner selves reigned in tightly so much of the time, we’ll tend to feel a certain sense of peace or release by loosening those reins.

Intimacy is something that can happen in a brief period of time and can be built over time, so it becomes deeper, there’s more of it, or it’s something we experience more often. A truly shared intimacy involves both or all people involved sharing and being shared with. Shared intimacy requires all people involved be open and receptive, vulnerable, trusting and trustworthy, sharing and communicating together, not just one person.

One way to conceptualize intimacy is to think about it like the place you live. There are people you won’t even let in the front door. There are others you let in, but only in the living room or lobby. Others, still, you may let into your bedroom or another place that’s more private. Then there are people let into all those rooms and who you may let stay and even make spaces with you. You might also show some people where you keep things that are secret or of value to you and give them permission to access those things. Which people those are, and for which spaces, is something we should ideally have a choice about. When we do, those choices are rarely random.

Intimacy-Examples-1We’re usually selective about who we’re intimate with and in what ways. If and when someone lets us into some part of their private space, or we them, that’s an extension of trust. To honor that, take part in it in a healthy way, and have intimacy be something that’s beneficial for everyone, everyone involved has to be open to it, respect everyone’s boundaries, and treat each other with care. Trashing the proverbial bedroom, stealing food, or even just going into a room anyone hasn’t expressly invited us into in would disrespect all of that, and most often result in doors, validly, being shut and staying shut to whoever didn’t treat a house — be that house a heart, mind, body or an actual house — with care.

When some people say someone was intimate, they mean they engaged in sex. Sex is one way to be intimate and develop intimacy, but that’s not all there is to it, and sex isn’t the only way to be intimate. To say sex is all there is to intimacy is like saying eating only one thing at a restaurant with a thirty-page menu is knowing is all there is to the place. To say someone was intimate doesn’t tell us if they were sexual or not: maybe they engaged in sex, or maybe they were intimate in other ways. And to say someone engaged in sex doesn’t tell us if that even involved intimacy: often sex is an intimate experience for everyone involved, but not always. Doing or sharing any one things never means intimacy is a given: intimacy is something we experience (or don’t) through things we do or share, but no given share or way of sharing means we can be sure intimacy is what everyone involved has experienced or will experience.

Whether we’re talking about sex, or any of the many other ways we can be intimate, intimacy is a seriously subjective thing. No one thing or activity feels intimate for everyone, or for any one person all the time or in every situation. We all have different personalities, life experiences, opportunities, relationships, ways of expressing ourselves and boundaries, so it’d be impossible for us to all experience intimacy the same ways, or want to explore it in the same ways. We’re also not the same person through all of our lives, so will experience intimacy differently throughout a lifetime.

If and when we want to be intimate with someone else that means saying, doing or otherwise expressing something more hidden or private to or with someone else (or more than one someone else). How? In millions, probably billions, of ways.

What are some ways of being intimate or building intimacy?

Intimacy-Examples-3-Sharing our feelings with our words: our fears, joys, struggles; the good stuff, the bad stuff, the easier stuff and the hard stuff (intimacy more often develops from sharing the things that aren’t so easy).

-Sharing our thoughts, dreams, goals or ideas.

-Sharing touch or other ways of physically connecting, be that touch we and others consider and experience as sex, or touch we and others don’t consider or experience as sexual. Just letting someone into our physical space bubble is often an intimacy.

-Showing someone a part of ourselves — be it a body part, or a part of our life history — we do not feel proud of or think is awesome, so they can know more of us, not just “the good parts” that impress them.

-Letting someone into something we consider a more private or sacred experience, like taking a hike in our own secretly-discovered place, practicing an instrument the way we would alone with someone else in the room, meditating or praying together, or letting someone see us in our Yummy Sushi pajamas.

Intimacy-Examples-2-Sharing things we consider very meaningful and valuable: like a song that makes us weep because it really hits home, a childhood toy, a journal or lending out our prized lucky socks that seem to assure we pass every test.

-Delegating or sharing responsibility, especially with something greatly cherished and valued, like letting someone care for your child or pet, or doing a joint project with someone about something you really care about.

-Doing something in front of someone else we usually only do alone because we feel embarrassed about it otherwise, like going to the bathroom, dancing like a fool in our underpants in a way no one in their right mind would find hot.

-Telling someone things about ourselves or our lives we don’t feel so secure in; showing someone our fumbles, faults or flaws.

-Voicing something in the interest of getting closer, better understanding each other, or repairing something broken in our relationship, but which we know will be hard for that person to hear, and be something we will need to put in effort to work through for a while.

-Helping someone, being helped ourselves or asking for help.

Intimacy-Examples-4_0Intimacy isn’t only for pairs: two people can experience intimacy together, but so can three, four, five, ten, twenty or two hundred. People in support groups like AA or abuse survivor forums, jam sessions, families, poly relationships, intentional communities or in large events often experience or build intimacy. Certain kinds of relationships also don’t mean people are necessarily more or less intimate. Someone in a romantic or sexual relationship is not automatically more intimate in that relationship than they are in their best non-sexual, non-romantic friendship. How much intimacy has to do with how long we have known someone, or in what capacity, varies. We can experience intimacy with romantic or sexual partners, but also with friends, family, neighbors, caregivers or someone sitting next to us on the bus. We can experience intimacy with someone we’ve known for all our lives, or with someone we just met.

When I worked in abortion counseling, people often shared very personal, vulnerable things about themselves and their lives with me, even though we’d just met and were unlikely to ever see one another again. In big things that deeply impact many people, like natural disasters or cultural revolutions, once-strangers helping each other often experience intimacy. I had one of the most intimate conversations of my life with a stranger I was seated next to on a long flight. That’s important to bear in mind especially when you’re young. There are a lot of messages that suggest only time gives relationships value, and that real intimacy can only happen over time, so it can feel like many of your interactions or relationships aren’t as valuable because you haven’t often even had the chance yet for them to last over time, and a lot of our intimate relationships growing up are shorter, rather than longer.

Unsure what size

Intimacy that only happens briefly with someone, in only one way, and isn’t mutually built and deepened over time, is different than the long-term kind. When people intentionally build intimacy over time, it usually has more layers and depth, since people are also building trust, becoming more comfortable being themselves, bringing more accumulated life experiences, feelings and reflection to the table, and learning, together, to be intimate. But there are people who know each other — including within close relationships like families or marriages — for years, even a lifetime, yet never share much intimacy of any kind, so time alone doesn’t mean a relationship is more intimate (or valuable), or that intimacy will occur just because people stick around a long time. Intimacy isn’t only “real” when it’s the kind built over months, years or decades. Intimacy can occur and be something of real depth in a relationship that’s gone on for forty years or one that’s only four weeks old.

What’s So Great About Intimacy, Anyway?

Intimacy-Examples-8We get to experience really being ourselves with others, not just showing or sharing the stuff everyone will applaud or approve of, the easy stuff or the ways we can comfortably be ourselves just anywhere, or with just anyone. What does that give us and others? Self-acceptance, and the opportunity to be accepting. More room to be more of who we are in the world; places, relationships and interactions where we feel more free to just be, rather than presenting or performing, or keeping certain parts of ourselves hidden or protected. A feeling of freedom: it’s freeing to be able to just be ourselves, rather than being at work all the time to please people, or to be the person someone wants us to be, especially when that’s not the person we are. It can feel less scary to make mistakes, because we know we have people who accept us no matter what, and who’ll have our backs if things get rough. That also makes us feel more able to take positive risks that can net us what we want in life. We get room to grow: when we have relationships and interactions where we start going deep, we get opportunities for personal and interpersonal growth. Over time, in relationships where we’ve built and keep building healthy intimacy, those relationships start feeling like a home: a place where we feel safe, warm and able to be at ease in ourselves.

Intimacy-Examples-6Being intimate with others can increase our ability to be compassionate, sympathetic and empathic with others, and when we get better at extending compassion to others, we also tend to get better at doing it for ourselves. Being intimate helps us learn how to be more patient and forgiving with and of ourselves and others. Healthy intimacy makes us all a lot better at coexisting with kindness, understanding and care.

In ongoing relationships, intimacy is what creates real bonds between us: we can only get truly close, after all, if we let each other get to know who really we are, not just the shiny bits or what we see just by looking. While a lot of people talk about the quality or integrity of relationships being about things like how long people are together, what level of commitment people make, or exclusivity, intimacy, how healthy it is, and how invested people are in it, is a better metric. How able are we, and do we feel, to really be, or start being, ourselves with someone else, and they us, even in ways we are different? How much room do we make for each other to have and respect the boundaries we need for intimacy to develop? How emotionally safe is it for us and those involved with us to be vulnerable; how much trust have we built and kept together? Things like this tell us a lot more about the quality of a relationship or interaction than if people are married or not, sexual together or not, or how long they’ve been together.

Reciprocity and Building Intimacy

Intimacy-Examples-7When we talk about depth with intimacy, or building intimacy, what we’re talking about is both sharing more and more of ourselves and our lives, but also learning together how to do that in ways that are healthy and feel beneficial to everyone involved.

Building intimacy — rather than more singular experiences of it — can’t happen all at once or fast: it takes opportunity, time and practice. Generally, we’re going to build intimacy with someone else by sharing smaller things first, seeing how that goes and how we, and they, feel about it, and then seeing if they, too, want to open up to us.

If we have the opportunity and choose to keep getting closer we’ll share more and more, or things that, to us, are bigger and bigger. We’ll make a commitment to each other, spoken or not, to keep working on getting closer, and to learning to get better at it. To build intimacy together, everyone involved has to actively participate, each making their own efforts, alone and together, to get closer, and go deeper, in ways that feel right for everyone.

If you’ve ever done some kind of stretching to help your body become more flexible, you know what it’s like to do something again and again, but to try to go a little deeper into those stretches, and open your muscles up a bit more, each time. If you’ve ever done stretches with a friend or partner, you know you’re both working together to help yourselves and each other to go a little deeper and more open. When you stretch together, you have to pay attention to you and the other person, being sure what feels like a good stretch for you also feels good for them. Building a healthy intimacy with someone else is like that: a shared effort to gradually go a little deeper, to become more open, all while staying aware we’re doing this with someone else, so we need to pay attention to each other, and learn how to emotionally stretch together in ways that feel comfortable for all of us.

How deep intimacy is or gets has a lot to do with how reciprocal it is, and the dynamics of how we’re intimate with someone else. If we share a secret with someone, we are seeking intimacy with them. If they react with indifference, are not really paying attention or engaging with us, or don’t actually want us to be sharing secrets with them, that’s a very different thing than when we have their full attention, when they’re invested in and value the way we are opening up with them, and they maybe share something big and secret back, or offer us acceptance and support.

Building intimacy has an awful lot to do with how we behave when someone is being intimate with us. Being accepting, compassionate, sensitive, respectful, holding and honoring everyone’s lines, and showing ourselves to be trustworthy and patient usually all play huge parts in how intimate people can be together, how healthy that intimacy is, and how positively everyone feels. The building process of intimacy is never just about one person, and isn’t a one-way, static transmission: it’s something circular, always moving and growing, and always about how everyone involved is behaving, not just one person. We can’t create or build intimacy with someone all by ourselves.

When It’s Not Happening (and Why Not)

Sometime things can get in the way of intimacy occurring, being shared or becoming deeper. Some common reasons intimacy doesn’t happen, isn’t reciprocated or doesn’t get built are things like:

Because it’s not wanted: If intimacy, or a certain kind of intimacy, just is not something we want at a given time, in a given situation, or with a given person, at best, it’s just not going to happen. If there’s pushing or other attempts to force intimacy, people can be truly harmed. Healthy intimacy is about people getting close because they want to, and by choice: it can’t happen or be healthy if anyone is forced, coerced, pushed or pulled. Healthy intimacy requires an invitation or request of some kind, and someone else accepting that invitation or saying yes to that request. Consent and consenting is just as important with other kinds of intimacy as it is with sexual intimacy.

A lack of communication: We have to communicate and share in some way to experience and develop intimacy, be that through language, touch, or some other way of expressing and showing our deeper selves. We, or whoever we’re sharing with, also have to pick up the other part of communication, so we’re really taking it in, holding that space, and otherwise playing our part being willingly receptive to sharing. If one person is doing all the sharing and the other person isn’t doing the same — or, when they are, they are not opening up more emotionally — we can’t really share, build or sustain intimacy with someone else. When you hear people expressing, or have experienced yourself, a partner, friend or family member has “shut down,” often what they mean is that that person is not longer doing the communication to build or nurture intimacy: they’ve shut the door on being close. We also may have barriers with communication because we don’t communicate in the same ways: maybe we speak a different language than someone else, maybe we’re sighted and they’re not, maybe we like to communicate through touch while someone else is averse to touch. In order to communicate with someone else, we have to find ways of communicating we share and all feel comfortable with.

Game-playing or posturing: Intimacy is about being real with someone else or with each other. So, if we’re not sharing how we really feel, what we really think, or just aren’t really being ourselves, we can’t be intimate. If we just go through the motions of things that can be intimate — like sex — but aren’t really being open, showing and sharing ourselves and who we are, or really taking in what the other person is sharing, that’s not intimacy.

Social anxiety, shyness, introversion or issues with trust: How quickly and in what situations a person feels comfortable or able to be intimate varies, and those who are shy, have social anxiety, are introverted or have had their trust betrayed will tend to need more time. There’s no one right pace when it comes to intimacy, nor any given situation or kind of relationship where everyone will feel equally comfortable. So, if any of these things are part of who we are, we need to be patient with ourselves, and ask others to be the same. If they’re part of anyone you’re interacting with, you’ll need to make a little extra room, and probably be more patient. That payoff is that when intimacy does start to happen and be built, people with these issues or personality types tend to open up one-on-one to a degree more extroverted, gregarious or more easily trusting people often don’t.

A lack of self-awareness: To share who we are, we have to have some sense of who we are, and do our own work in getting to know ourselves by ourselves. Much like it’s really hard to love someone else well if we don’t already love ourselves, it’s difficult to be intimate with someone else if we’re not intimate with ourselves.

A lack of time or opportunity: Sometimes we can experience intimacy in situations or circumstances where our time is limited, but it takes time for intimacy to become deeper, and we need to be afforded opportunities for intimacy. Again, intimacy is something most people will often need to do in baby steps, opening up gradually, not all at once.
Too much too soon, too fast, or without boundaries: Sometimes we or others might put ourselves alllllll the way out there without paying real attention to the other people involved and making sure they’re even open to that; that the ways we want to share are ways they feel comfortable with and want. Rather than a healthy, mutually wanted intimacy, what’s really happening there is an overshare, because we haven’t given the other person any real choice, space or time to digest our shares, or bring who they are to the table. An initial share-er with any intimacy is putting more out there at first, but the share-ee also has to be a big part of the picture.

Busted trust: If we extended trust of some kind to someone, and they broke or betrayed it in some way (or vice-versa), we may have been intimate with them before, but probably won’t be again, because they’re demonstrated it’s not safe for us to be so with them. In order to keep being intimate with someone else, or they with us, everyone needs to be and stay trustworthy.
It’s so important that when someone is making themselves vulnerable with us, we treat them with extra care.

There’s a readiness factor to intimacy, and not just when the shares are yours or only when the intimacy is sexual. We have to want to share and be shared with in the first place, and be able to handle our own, or someone else’s vulnerability. If and when we know or suspect there are certain things, or ways of being intimate, we don’t feel we can handle or react to well or with care, it’s best to set and hold limits with those things for everyone’s sake. It’s always okay to have limits, and to let someone know that we appreciate the way they want to be intimate with us, but it’s not something we want, feel ready for, or feel able to handle well. If someone doesn’t want or feel ready for a certain kind of intimacy, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have “trust issues,” or don’t like or care for someone else: but even when either or both of those things are so, they still get to set limits around intimacy, and those limits still should be respected. No one learns to trust or like someone by being pushed into a closeness they don’t want or feel ready for.

Some intimacies can be hard to react to well. We may feel shocked, disappointed, sad, scared, angry or freaked out in some major way based on what someone has told us, how someone is asking us to be intimate, or with how intimacy goes between us. We may wind up feeling more vulnerable, insecure and less accepting than we thought we would, and have emotional reactions we just were not prepared to deal with.

At least once in your life, and probably more than once, you’re going to louse this up and react poorly: everyone does. When we have very strong feelings or reactions, or our own big stuff gets triggered by someone else’s, it can be a sort of temporary blindness, where we’re just not seeing the other person and their feelings because our own stuff’s blocked them out. When we have big feelings, we can have big reactions, especially if we haven’t ever learned how to handle big feelings with someone else well.

When that happens, all we can do is what we can when we’ve been crummy or inconsiderate to someone else. We can first apologize, and do whatever we can to make sure the other person is okay; asking if there is anything we can do for them. Then we can each give ourselves a breather, be it for a five-minute walk alone or a week of our own processing, or going to other people in our lives for support. When we feel ready to come back to the other person or people calmly, a good start can be to take responsibility for our reaction, acknowledge it wasn’t okay, and make and honor a commitment to doing much better. After we check in with them about what, if anything, they want from us, we can fill them in on what we were feeling or experiencing and what we may need. We can talk together about how to do things differently, so that intimacy really works for all of us, feels safe, and so we can build some more. Sometimes, someone won’t want us to commit to doing better or talk to us more, because they just don’t want to be intimate with us again. If that happens, all there is to do with that is to respect it, wish them well, and move on.

condom ad condoms too loose

It’s a risk to put ourselves out there in an intimate way. When it pays off, and we get the benefits intimacy can offer us, it’s great. When it doesn’t, we or others can get hurt, and in some of our deepest places, where wounds can take a long time to heal. So, when we’re being intimate, we do want to choose with care: about who we’re sharing with, how and why we’re sharing, what we need for it to be safe for us and others, what we’re all open to and what we’re not, and if we feel we have the resilience to share, even if we might not get the reaction we want. If any kind of intimacy feels like it’s happening too soon, too fast, or we’re not sure it’s right for everyone, it’s a good idea to step back and slow down, only sharing as the pace feels right, and everyone is up to handling it and really wants to be part of it. There’s a good reason we don’t share certain things with just anyone, anywhere and in any given way: it’s just not always safe to do so.

Unhealthy or Not-Really Intimacy

Being close, or seeking closeness, is not automatically beneficial or healthy. There are ways to go about or experience it we know are healthy for most people, and ways we know usually aren’t. The first place most of us learn about intimacy is in our families: some family relationships are unhealthy or dysfunctional. Plenty of us grew up learning ways of being intimate or seeking intimacy that aren’t healthy. Interacting with each other isn’t something we’re born knowing how to do, but something we learn over a lifetime, so a lot of our earliest relationships — family, friends, boyfriend or girlfriends — may have or have had unhealthy dynamics when it comes to intimacy. Many cultural ideals about love or relationships have a lot of unhealthy stuff all tangled up in them, too. Any of that can make figuring out what is and isn’t healthy tricky, especially if what isn’t healthy has been our normal or seems ideal.

Healthy intimacy isn’t enmeshment, a term used to describe people or groups who can’t, don’t or won’t see themselves as separate or let others be separate from the pair or group. It’s closeness, for sure, but the kind that suffocates, rather than feels good: a kind of closeness we feel we’re mushed into a too-tightly-packed subway car. There’s just no real space between people, so we don’t feel a real choice in intimacy and don’t really a get a separate self to share — especially any parts of us that don’t fit with the group. When people are enmeshed, they can have a hard time even figuring out what their own feelings are separate from the other person or people’s feelings, or who they would be as a person if they were not part of the relationship or group.

In enmeshment, there are few to no boundaries, or only some people get to have them while others don’t. Privacy is often a serious no-no or cause for suspicion; relationships outside the pair or group, especially close ones, are usually unsupported. You may have experienced something like this in peer groups. If you were in or observed a group where you literally felt like everything about you had to be approved by the group, and experienced fear or anxiety about not conforming in any way because you knew or felt you’d be abandoned or rejected if you didn’t, you were probably experiencing enmeshment. (This is some people’s experience of all of middle school and high school.) Often, romantic love is presented as something where the ideal is to be enmeshed. But when it’s happening in reality — not in a novel, film, or for more than a few days or weeks — people in it will find it anything but ideal.

Because enmeshment is so all-engulfing, it often feels like connection, since we literally feel inseparable or like we can’t be disconnected in any way. Closeness is certainly happening. But it’s not a healthy closeness. When we’re intimate in healthy ways, we get to be ourselves with someone else, even when who those selves are, what they feel, or what they think or want to express doesn’t meet someone else’s needs or isn’t approved of. Healthy intimacy needs healthy boundaries, and healthy intimacy means people are sharing who they are, not only who others want them to be.

Codependency — which enmeshment is a type of — is also sometimes confused for intimacy. That’s a term used to describe people who become so dependent on someone else, they make their own selves and lives about that other person. Often, this happens because someone very much wants to avoid themselves, or being by themselves, rather than really getting closer to anyone, including themselves. Codependence is usually based in big fears of being abandoned or alone.

Codependent people need to feel indispensable, including with things other people really should be doing, and supported in doing, for themselves. People in codependent relationships often suffer from low self-esteem: they try and find esteem by taking care of the other person or people rather than themselves; by taking on the role of the rescuer. “They couldn’t live without me,” is something people in codependence tend to say or want. In reality, the person whose existence really hinges on others is the one working so hard to have others be dependent on them. The “help” people in codependence are often giving, whether intended or not, usually isn’t help at all, but is more often a kind of control or enabling. Someone codependent “helping” needs others to be or stay in crisis, because otherwise, they wouldn’t get to be needed: wanting to help is motivated more by their own needs than someone else’s.

When someone is codependent they will often feel a deep need to please others, rather than allowing themselves room to sometimes disappoint. Intimacy in codependence is often very one-sided. Poor boundaries, or a real lack of boundaries, are a hallmark of codependency. Getting closer to someone in healthy ways isn’t about making them feel like they can’t be separate or go away from us, or making them be dependent on us. Intimacy also is something we do not tend to do out of fear: quite the opposite, it requires everyone be at least somewhat fearless.

People’s motives in sharing intimacy aren’t always good. Sometimes people want others to be intimate with them so that they can exploit the vulnerability that person is showing them. This is a core part of what makes anything abusive or dysfunctional: when someone uses intimacy or vulnerability in a one-sided, predatory way, where their goal in getting closer isn’t to better understand, care for or deeply connect with someone, but to try to gain power or control.

Some people try and force intimacy or push through someone else’s boundaries for it. Intimacy isn’t healthy or beneficial when it’s forced, whether we’re talking about sex, reading a personal journal, disclosing trauma or insisting on knowing what genitals someone has in their pants. Healthy intimacy is choosing to open up, or have someone else open up with you in some way, because we want to. In healthy relationships or interactions, we always get to say no to sharing private parts of ourselves, or having others share with us, if we don’t want to or feel good about it.

Sometimes intimacy occurs in abuse or assault, or abuse or assault can feel like intimacy. Big secrets are often kept between people. People can feel or present control as help or trust. Some forms of abuse or assault, or abusive relationships, also involve things, like sex, voicing conflict or crying, that people consider or experience as intimate. And for sure, often someone being abusive is showing us a usually-secret part of themselves they most often will do anything to keep other people from seeing.

Abuse or assault are not healthy intimacy. Hallmarks of healthy intimacy are things like boundaries, choice, safety and care in our vulnerability, shared trust and open, honest communication. Those things are the opposite of what’s going on and intended within abuse or assault.

Healthy intimacy just can’t happen or be built in the context of something that isn’t inter-personally healthy, just like we can’t reach into a loaf of bread utterly covered with mold and get a piece that magically hasn’t been touched by any of it. As a simple rule of thumb, figure healthy intimacy is something we can only share or experience when it’s something everyone involved is freely and gladly willing to be part of, and when the interaction or relationship it’s part of is healthy.

Intimacy-Examples-4.5Sharing some parts of ourselves and getting close to other people can be scary. Sometimes it’s scary because we know or suspect it isn’t safe, or just don’t know yet it is safe. It might be that we don’t know if we can trust someone else (or that we know we can’t), or it might be that we aren’t sure we’re in the right space, or have all we need, for intimacy to be something that feels safe, and right, for us. What we want to share, or the way we want to share it can also be something where we are particularly vulnerable, or something where it feels like how it goes carries a lot of weight. Sometimes it’s scary just because sharing protected parts of who we are or what we can do is scary: but we want to try and do it sometimes because this is how we really bond with each other, and experience a part of life that’s often one of the richest things life has to offer.

Healthy intimacy teaches us to be both fearless and careful in all the best ways. Seeking out and taking part in intimacy is, ideally, about choosing to take a positive risk to open up in some way, because for all the unwanted or negative things we may risk when we do that, there are huge positives intimacy can offer us and others. We all benefit by deeply connecting to each other in healthy ways. Learning to be more and more of who we really are with each other, even in our most tender or loaded places; to be more accepting, compassionate, open-minded and caring. These are some of the very best things life has to offer, things that are usually some of the biggest parts of our growth and lives as people, both within our relationships and interactions and outside them.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award (2013).

ISABELLA ROTMAN is a Chicago cartoonist and illustrator from Maine who truly cares about your genital well being. She is the author of the queer and quirky sexual health book You’re So Sexy When You Aren’t Transmitting STDs and a recent graduate from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other than educational comics, Isabella’s art is usually about the ocean, mermaids, crushing loneliness, people in the woods, or sex. If any of the above interests you then you may enjoy her self published comics or blog ThisMightHurt.Tumblr.com.

What Is a “Beacon of Permission”?

Photo credit: Carol Jones

Photo credit: Carol Jones

When you’re hanging out, do you and your friends, peers, sex partners, etc., talk about sex? Not just about who is a good or bad kisser, or what certain people are like in bed. Rather, do you have heartfelt conversations, do you ask personal questions that lead to more healthy, informed choices in your’s and other people’s lives?

Not many people have this opportunity with others. It is more common, instead, to avoid sex conversations altogether. When sex educator, Kate McCombs was asked during a panel discussion, “What can we do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” McCombs response was, “To become a beacon of permission.”

What she means by this is to become a sound board with whom others feel safe to talk about sex and ask questions they might not otherwise feel comfortable discussing.

It is about intentionally creating a safe, non-judgmental, shame-free space to talk about sex in a health-promoting way. As McCombs wrote elsewhere, “It’s someone who acts as a beacon to shine light on the shame shadows that traditionally surround conversations about sex.”

This does not mean to talk about sex in some radical, edging or pop-cultural fashion. Key to Kate McCombs’ concept is that the dialogue must be honest, educational and healing. When people are more informed about themselves and their bodies they are better equipped to take care of themselves and the people they care about. If we approached personal sex conversations with less shame and sensationalism, and more honesty and open-mindedness, we can explore concepts of sexuality in more healthy, positive ways. It makes the world a better place for us all.

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

As is glaringly obvious, I love talking about sex.

For me, being a sex educator isn’t just about teaching about sex in a vacuum – it’s also about talking about it with others in order to normalize discussions about sexuality.

Far too often, people feel uneasy talking about sex. And I don’t mean sensationalized, pop-culture sex. There’s a lot of that talk happening. I’m referring to genuine, sincere discussions about sex that lead to healthful, mindful choices and meaningful connection in people’s lives.

Some people might avoid sex conversations altogether, while others might make jokes to mask their discomfort. I’m all for finding the playful, humorous sides of sex, but I recognize that laughter can sometimes be an indicator of embarrassment or shame.

Many of us – not just professional sex educators and therapists – have the unique desire, knowledge, and skills to become what I call “beacons of permission” in the world. By “permission” I mean permission to have honest, educational, and even healing conversations about sex. Many people who describe themselves as “sex positive” or “sex geeky” fall under this category.

Does the following sound familiar? Many of the sex-positive folks I know describe themselves as always being “that friend” to whom others could turn when they had sexual questions. That sort of unofficial peer education is a manifestation of that permission-giving.

When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, I often become the sounding board for sex and relationship questions and (occasionally) whispered confessions. Nearly all of the sex educators I know describe having similar experiences.

This is what being a beacon of permission looks like: by communicating that you are a safe person with whom to talk about sex, you create spaces wherein people can explore ideas that have been marinating for days or decades.

Not all conversations about sex are equal. Most people notice that sex occupies a significant percentage of the airwaves. From “sexting” moral panic, to the recent sexual exploits of a B-list reality TV star, the media is full of sex, but it’s very rarely explored in a way that leads to better understanding of sexuality.

I suspect that some people may become so over-saturated with the sex alarmism and titillation that permeates the media that they may find it more difficult to hear messages that are actually educational, useful, or health-promoting.

Not all conversations have to be serious. I think it can be deeply cathartic to laugh about sex (see “Burritos and Ball Jokes”). But I think that bringing greater intention to the conversation – intentions like “shedding light on a taboo topic” or “reducing sex-negativity” – can go a long way in shaping our understanding of what it means to talk about sex.

So when an audience member at a panel I was on asked, “What can we as sex geeks do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” I lit up. I responded by describing this concept of being a beacon of permission and intentionally fostering meaningful dialogue.

I suspect that people are hungry for this kind of meaning, so when a safe-space creating, sex-positive person enters their lives, they’ll usually take the opportunity to engage. Whether you would consider yourself a “sex geek” or not, I encourage you to become a beacon of permission to others.

I argue that in order to reduce sex-negativity, the world needs to start by having more of these safe spaces. I’m grateful that it’s my job to help facilitate them.

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kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

What Does Sexual Consent Look Like?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

When it comes to sex, consent is essential. As JoEllen Notte of the RedHeadBedhead.com writes, consent is to sexual play as a doorbell is to a home. We do not question the validity of houses having doorbells. And yet, the topic of sexual consent generates heated debate.

What does consent actually mean? What does sexual consent look like? Do I have to sign a contract with my partner about everything we do together before we take our clothes off?

This confusion is not surprising. Movies typically portray sizzling sex scenes without any talking. The characters are so in sync with each other that communication seems unnecessary. In the article below, JoEllen points to ways in which “enthusiastic consent” is the brunt of media jokes that poke fun at anti-harassment activists as out-of-touch, over-the-top PC mood killers.

How did we get to this political climate around consent?

According to JoEllen, it all begins from a faulty model taught from a young age: The “no means no” model.

In this clever piece, “I Got Your Consentlandia Right Here“, JoEllen runs through the flaws and harmful effects that longstanding approaches to consent have had in our media, our legal system and our personal well being. Then she demonstrates practical ways that consent takes place and how it looks in different contexts. When you’re done reading, you’ll never think of consent as a drag again.

Here are key points to take away:

  • “No means no” perpetuates the stance, “They never said no”, as a valid response to sexual harassment and rape charges.
  • The new model, “Yes means yes”, implies collaboration. Real consent happens only once there is an active, voluntary “yes” or “F*ck Yeah!”.
  • Consent is an on-going process that requires constant communication.
  •  “Yes means yes” allows for no confusion, no mind reading, and much better sex!

This article was originally published at theRedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

The topic of consent has been weighing heavy on my mind this last week. I’ve watched people wrestle with it, spring into action around it, snark about it, debate it, discuss it and even mock it, dismiss it and reduce it to a meme. A conclusion that I’ve come to (a conclusion that I’ve come to many times before) is that most people— even the ones who want desperately to help— don’t really get consent. The fact that the topic breeds debate and frequently causes people to get angry (“What, do I have to fill out a form before I touch someone now?!”) is actually absurd because when it comes down to it, consent is just about not violating boundaries. That shouldn’t piss us off. We’re not outraged that houses have doorbells rather than coming with the assumption that we can all just walk on in, right? Right. But somehow when you suggest to people that they may want to ask before stomping all up into another person’s space, there is backlash. So how did this happen?

Think back to how you were taught about consent. Odds are you weren’t really. You were more likely taught about “no”. If you were born with a vagina, you were probably taught to be careful because people might rape you and you should say “no” or, if you were born with a penis, you were told that “no means no” and if you hear “no” then you should not proceed because, rape¹. What has happened here is that you learned a couple of things:

  1. One partner should charge ahead until they get the red light from the other.
  2. Listen for a cue to stop, rather than a cue to start.
  3. If you don’t hear a “no”, you’re good to go.

This model has proven disastrous in myriad ways. From lawyers who argue that unconscious victims weren’t raped because they didn’t say the all-important “no”, to people who have no idea how to communicate sexual needs because everything we’ve been taught is based in negatives (i.e. what DON’T we want), to the general pattern of blaming victims not rapists because, obviously, they didn’t “no” hard enough, to the fact that no one knows what the hell “yes” looks like, to this bizarre idea that if we ask people if we can touch them before we touch them we will never touch each other again/it will be super-awkward and not fun.

Folks, it’s a steaming pile of horse shit. All of it.

Seriously.

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit consent obsessed and, while consent is not always about sex (in fact, a lot of what we’re talking about applies to most non-sexual situations and, ahem, communities), I’m happy to report that my own life got way easier, more comfortable, more fun and, frankly, sexier once I figured this consent business out….

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

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JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

15 Warning Signs He Doesn’t Support Your Contraceptive Choices

Image from Bedsider.org

If any one of these warning signs relates to your experience, you are not in a balanced, healthy relationship.

Some of the warning signs may seem extreme (like “Do you find him poking holes in condoms?”), but the fact is that these things do happen. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) one in five young women say they have experienced reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when one partner forces the other into sex without contraception.

Even more common is facing a partner who dislikes condoms and tries to convince the other to have condomless sex (read our post for the best lines of defense against excuses not to have safer sex).

As Lynn Harris points out in the article below, such an interaction is ultimately about one person having power over the other. It is the opposite of a healthy, loving and respectful relationship.

Here Lynn Harris offers tips on what to do if your partner is showing signs of disrespecting your contraceptive choices. Ultimately, it’s not about the birth control. It’s about another form of control.

This article by Lynn Harris was re-posted with permission from Bedsider.org

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Alice’s boyfriend really didn’t want to wear a condom. “You don’t know how good it feels without one,” he’d say—over and over—or “I can’t come with one,” recalls Alice, 23, of Seattle. “He’d been able to before, so I should have realized that was bullsh*t. But he’d slowly talked me into it.” When she finally let him go without, she says, “I was like, ‘Fine, if it makes you shut up about it, go ahead.’”

That was the day Alice conceived her son, now 4. But don’t call it an “unplanned pregnancy.” It wasn’t just that Alice’s boyfriend liked the feel of condomless sex. He wasn’t in denial about the consequences. Alice hadn’t planned the pregnancy, but her boyfriend had. Guys like him want to get girls pregnant. As Alice now knows: “He really wanted a son.”

As I noted in a previous article for The Nation, and others have noted, stereotypes about women being the ones to “trick” their partner into pregnancy are extremely misleading and potentially destructive. Experts have put a name to the phenomenon of reproductive coercion, where it’s men who force women into sex without contraception. According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF), one in five young women say they’ve experienced pregnancy coercion; one in seven say a guy has sabotaged her contraception. Though other abuse may not be occurring, it sure as heck might: women who have been abused by a boyfriend are five times as likely to be forced into not using a condom and eight times more likely to be pressured to get pregnant.

Guys like Alice’s boyfriend hide birth control pills or flush them down the toilet; they sweet-talk, threaten, even rape. Why? Not because they’re dreaming of booties, blankets, and Daddy-baby yoga. “It’s about one person controlling another,” says Leslie Walker, M.D., chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital. (Talk about control: experts say some men force their girlfriends to get pregnant—and to have abortions.) It’s the ultimate form of control: of your body itself and—if you have a baby, or get an STI, some of which cause infertility—of the rest of your life.

Reproductive coercion happens to teens and adults, rich, poor and average; any race or religion; women in long-term relationships, hookups, and in-between; women like Anya Alvarez, 21, who was having sex with a guy she’d just started seeing when she spotted her NuvaRing on her rug—which, needless to say, was not where she had put it. Yep: he’d yanked it out. “He said he’d done it to other women and they didn’t mind,” she says. Even in a new relationship, or something you wouldn’t call a relationship at all, you need to be careful.

Red Flags

“One clear warning sign: a partner who doesn’t support your using whatever contraception you want,” says FVPF senior policy director Rebecca Levenson. “Even if it’s subtle, like weird-supportive, it still gets him what he wants.”

  • Does he refuse to wear a condom? “That’s near-universal with reproductive coercion, and can start on sexual-date-one,” says Heather Corinna, founder and director of Scarleteen and author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College.
  • Does he equate birth control with cheating? As one woman (“Erika”) reported to the FVPF: “He said the pill made women want to have sex all the time, and that I’d cheat because I wouldn’t need to use a condom.”
  • Do you go behind his back to get contraception? “Erika” snuck to a clinic for the pill. “For a year, I made sure he never saw them,” she says.
  • Does he say things about hormonal birth control (Pills, implants, IUDs) like (MYTH ALERT!!!!). “Those make you gain weight, which you struggle with. I love you so much I wouldn’t want you to do that”?
  • Does he threaten to hurt you if you use contraception—or consider abortion?

There’s also sweeter-sounding baby-making talk. “It can seem like he’s trying to express commitment or get serious,” says Corinna. “Only people who love you want to make babies with you, right? Wrong. Some people want to create a family for the best reasons. Others want to control you, make it harder for you to leave, or create new, smaller people to control. The folks with the good motives will not ever pressure or trick you.” Does he:

  • Say things like “If you have a baby we’ll always be connected” or “If you really loved me you’d have my baby”?
  • Refer to sperm as mini-hims? Alice: “My boyfriend would congratulate himself for sending in his buddies to get the job done.”
  • Say someone who uses contraception doesn’t love their partner? Or contraception keeps people from being close?
  • Talk about pregnancy or parenthood without including your needs or your body?

New guys may deploy all sorts of lines. Check your gut; don’t take a chance. If something sounds off to you—like “I had a vasectomy” or “I smoke pot so I’m infertile”—it probably is.

And some actions say it all:

  • Do your pills keep disappearing?
  • Does the condom keep “breaking”? The third time this happened to “Libby” in Illinois, her boyfriend admitted he’d removed it. After that, he began raping her without one.
  • Have you caught him messing with your birth control or poking holes in condoms?
  • Does he break his promise to “pull out”?
  • Does he sneak off the condom (NuvaRing, etc.) during intercourse?
  • Does he physically force you to have sex without protection?

What to do?

If even one of the above sounds familiar to you…one is too many. Steps to take to protect your health:

  • If on date one refuses a condom—“ground zero for safer sex,” says Corinna—kick him out.
  • If sex suddenly feels different, check the condom.
  • Consider contraception you can hide, or that’s tough to sabotage, like Depo-Provera or IUD. (Note: This alone does not prevent STIs.)
  • Get tested for STIs (see our post on how easy it is to get tested). Some are symptomless, but can do future damage. Talk to a health care provider. If it doesn’t make sense for you to leave the relationship now, you can at least try to prevent STIs or pregnancies.
  • Imagine a healthy relationship. No pressure, no tricks; just love, support—and, if you’re ready, sex that feels right. “If a female patient whose partner refuses condoms says, ‘They don’t feel good for me, either,’ I say, ‘That’s because he’s not sharing a real, intimate relationship with you,” Dr. Walker explains. “It’s not about the condom.”

condom ad condoms too tight

bedsiderBEDSIDER is an online birth control support network for women operated by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy. Bedsider is totally independent (no pharmaceutical or government involvement). Honest and unbiased, Bedsider’s goal is to help women find the method of birth control that’s right for them and learn how to use it consistently and effectively, and that’s it.
Find Bedsider on twitter @Bedsider

Why Changing the Meaning of Consent Is Good

Image by Condom Monologues

Image by Condom Monologues

BY LARA WORCESTER | Condom Monologues

**trigger warning: This post references sexual assault and abuse.

Condom negotiation is often framed in a very particular way: a lady convincing a guy to wear the condom despite all his excuses not to. This very limited view overlooks (or simply reduces) the meaning of consent to an action that only happens at a certain point during sex. A contributor on Condom Monologues shared how her permission and safety was derailed while her sexual partner assumed absolute consent.

“I know fundamentally I cannot give consent without feeling safe. One time during sex (however safe I felt) the guy took the condom off without telling me. He figured, once we got this hot and heated there were no cues that I was saying “no”. I feel guilt sharing this story because I know people will judge me for having sex with this guy even after his display of Jerk-Assness; even after he breached my consent.” – a Condom Monologuer

Experiences like this are rarely represented in daily media. And yet, her story explicitly illustrates a fundamental component of consent that activists have been pushing for years: consent is an ongoing process.

This storyteller’s candor is a bold response to a “consent culture” that has made significant gains in recent years to legally redefining the term, particularly on US college campuses. Just this May 2014, the White House launched a website to inform students of their rights and guide schools on how to prevent and deal with sexual assault cases. The initiative also redefined consent as a “voluntary agreement” in which “silence, or absence of resistance does not imply consent.” This means that the government has finally dropped the problematic “no means no” model- an approach which implies that sex can happen as long as no one says “no”.

What is replaced with this new definition is “yes means yes.” In other words, real sexual consent happens only once there is an obvious and enthusiastic “yes”.

This is a big win for activists who are cultivating a “consent culture” that push hashtags like #ConsentIsSexy or market condom packages that read sobering messages like “My Dress Does Not Mean Yes.”

Catchy slogans are useful and have made great waves. However, the nuances of sexual relationships can get lost in their wake. Consent becomes reduced to an absolute end, with no discussion of the process or means, not dissimilar to how condom negotiation is taught in sex education as I mentioned earlier. In reality, however, consent is not isolated or all-encompassing. It is an on-going, never-ending process in which all parties must engage.

What the “enthusiastic yes” model does is shift the perspective to emphasize consent as a collaborative navigation. When consent is understood as fluid, experiences like the one shared at Condom Monologues, can be acknowledge without victim-blaming or shaming. Promoting consent in this way abandons the myth that we have to be mind-readers and just know what pleases the other. It reinforces the requirement for considerate communication. After all, isn’t that what human intimacy is all about?

For great sex tips on how to navigate consent and talk with your partner, read more from Elena Kate of Rad Sex.

LARA WORCESTER is co-founder & editor at Condom Monologues, and a Lucky Bloke contributor. She’s a published social researcher with a Master’s in Gender & Sexuality studies and has worked with various HIV/AIDS organizations including Stella and the HIV Disclosure Project.

Could Enthusiastic Consent Improve Your Sex Life?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

For years feminist activists have fought for a more comprehensive definition of sexual consent- one that emphasizes an enthusiastic and active “Yes!”

Most of us have been taught that “no means no”, which is necessary in some circumstances. However, critics argue that this model reinforces the idea that sexual activities can take place only until there is a “no”. The problem with this is that it validates grey areas of victim-blaming if the person never spoke up nor told another to “stop”. The alternative model, “yes means yes”, makes it clear that consent is an agreement for something to happen. But there is a lot more involved than that.

In this article from Bedsider, E.B. Troast establishes what’s involved in this alternative definition of consent and offers insightful tips on how we can communicate and practice with our sexual partners.

By the end, you will understand what great sex actually involves! Here are key points:

  • Identify your desires and your boundaries.
  • Don’t try to be a mind reader. Considerate and honest communication is key.
  • Co-operative discovery is what all parties enjoy.
  •  Think of sexual engagement as a journey that require planning and communication in order for everyone involved to be fulfilled.

The original article was published here.

BY E.B. TROAST at BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

When it comes to sex, consent is key! But we often skip over the talking part to get to the fun physical part. Movies usually show sex without talking—the partners are just so in tune with each other that communication becomes unnecessary. Alas, that’s usually a fantasy. But what does communicating consent look like?

If you had sex ed in school, you probably learned about “no meaning no” and may have even practiced refusal skills. Being able to say and hear “no” is essential, but it doesn’t help us communicate about the real reasons many people choose to have sex: pleasure, desire, and connection. Enthusiastic consent is a way to communicate your desires, learn about your partner’s desires, and be proactive about consent.

What makes enthusiastic consent different?

People often think of consent as one person asking (or doing) and the other person saying “yes” or “no.” Enthusiastic consent is different. Enthusiastic consent is both partners talking about and deciding what will happen in a sexual encounter. It’s like planning a road trip together—you talk about where you want to go and what you want to see, rather than detailing the exact turns to get there. This goes beyond yes/no questions, focusing on communication about wants and desires. In enthusiastic consent, all people involved move towards desired activities with mutual enthusiasm.

Unlike other sex skills like putting on a condom, consent is rarely taught. But it takes practice! Here are 4 tips to improve your enthusiastic consent and communication skills.

1. Know what you don’t want… and what you DO want!

Knowing your boundaries is essential. Your boundaries may change from day to day and partner to partner, so check in with yourself. Thinking about your own boundaries before anything sexy starts to happen with a partner may give you greater confidence to tell that partner what you are not interested in doing.

It’s equally important to think about what you DO want. Thinking about your own desires can help you identify what is a “yes, please!” If you’re not sure what you want or how you like it, research! Spend some time with yourself and get to know what your body likes. Then you can have show and tell with a partner, guiding them like a pro. You may also want to check out various forms of erotica, which can be another source of inspiration about desires.

2. Start talking

Don’t expect to be a mind reader in the bedroom—or to have your mind read by a partner. The only crystal ball that will show a partner the way to please you is communication. Clear, honest information is key.

This does not have to be a business-like conversation that happens before sex. Telling your partner your desires—whether it’s the first time you’re having sex or the thousandth—can be a real turn on. You don’t have to discuss all your wants before things get steamy; after all, you may find inspiration in the heat of the moment. A desire can be seductively whispered into a partner’s ear or growled as you pull your partner close. “It would be so hot if you got on top” will let your partner know what you want and provide the opportunity for your partner to decide if it’s something they want too.

3. Forget compromise—find the mutual yes!

Compromise is when someone gives up something they want or accepts something they don’t want. Compromise about sex may lead to feeling pressured, resentful, and even regretful. Saying yes just to please a partner, or because the partner said yes to you last time, or because saying no feels risky has the potential to lead to more harm than good.

Enthusiastic consent is based on finding the mutual yes. This means that both partners say what they like and what turns them on, and together they can find the overlap. Try things like:

“Where’s your favorite place for me to touch you?”

“I love it when you ______.”

“I have a fantasy—can I tell you about it?”

4. Plan the journey, not the route

Think about what you want from the experience—how you want your partner to feel, what type of experience you want to have… Is it about having fun? Strengthening love? Creating a connection? Seeing how many orgasms you can both have? If both people are in line with what they want from the experience, they are more likely to feel satisfied in the end.

Just like a road trip, there might be some planning and communication that happens before and after the adventure. Checking in about STI status, recent tests, other sexual partners, birth control, relationship stuff, and what happens after can ensure that you both know what to expect and feel safer throughout.

Enjoy the trip

Changing the way we communicate about sex can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding to learn enthusiastic consent skills. We may be good at reading our partners and figuring out what they want, but we will never really know what secret, delicious desires they’ve been hiding until we invite them to share, and we share our own. Through getting to know what you want, communicating about those desires, and finding the mutual yes with your partner, you may be surprised how much more pleasure you can find together!

E.B. Troast has been providing sex positive, non-judgmental, inclusive sex education in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years. She works with Planned Parenthood and San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI). E.B. may have the best job in the world, because she gets to spend her time learning and teaching about her favorite subjects—sex, sexuality, health, and pleasure!

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