7 Ways to Make Sex with Condoms Sexier

orgasmNational Condom Week 2015 is here! From Feb. 14th to Feb. 21st, we are celebrating by providing a new article every day by prominent sexual health advocates focused on condom use and education.

Pleasure is an important yet seldom discussed feature in condom education. As Lara Worcester of Condom Monologues argues, “There is a difference between knowing how to put on a condom and knowing how to use them well.” When you know what condoms and lubes you like, which condoms fit best, how to put one on in sexy ways, how to talk to your partner about condom use, your safer sex is guaranteed to be hotter!

This article offers some creative ways to spice up sex with condoms.

In sum, the main tricks to loving the glove are:

  • Communicate
  • Take turns putting it on
  • Practice
  • Be prepared
  • Be playful and have fun
  • Lubricant!
  • Be aware of condom sizes and experiment with different ones

Continue reading for a more in depth discussion on sexy condom use.

This post was originally published at Condom Monologues

BY CONDOM MONOLOGUES | CondomMonologues.com

I’m sure you know, or at least have heard of someone who claims that condoms make sex feel less good.  Condoms (and other safe sex tools) don’t have the best reputation.  It doesn’t help that we rarely see safer sex happening in media representations of sex that is hot, fun, or romantic.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As we discussed elsewhere, there is no solid empirical evidence to back up negative claims about condoms. Studies find that people who use condoms correctly and are used to using them tend to report greater pleasure with protected sex than those who go without protection.

This does not mean that people on an individual level do not experience problems enjoying protected sex.  There is a difference between knowing how to put on a condom and knowing how to use them well.  That is why it tends to be people who use them often and consistently that report greater sexual satisfaction.

It takes practice and know-how to feel confident and learn what feels good for you and partner(s).  Condoms can add a playful and sexy dimension to sex but, as with anything sexy, you need a positive attitude and a dash of creativity. In this post, we offer some ways to help spice up condom use.

Before we begin, the basics of condoms should be known.  Check out our user manual.  Once you understand these essential steps to condom care you can explore ways that may enhance sexual pleasure and make condoms a part of sex- rather than a disruption to it.

This post focuses on condom use for penis and sex toys, but some tips here can also apply to safer anal and vaginal oral sex using barriers including condoms, sex dams, cling film saran wrap, or latex/nitrile gloves. For more info on protective lesbian sex check out this sex column.  For specifically gay protective sex info, the Gay Men’s Health Charity is an excellent resource.

Introducing condoms to partners 

This isn’t something that should feel awkward no matter how casual or serious your relationship.  It can be as simple as just stopping what you are doing and handing over a condom.  Sometimes you won’t need to say anything at all.  Or, as suggested by Robin Mandell at Scarleteen, when you feel the heat turning up and sex might happen, take a quick break and retrieve condoms from wherever you keep them (ideally with easy access).  You can say something as casual as, “No pressure.  I just wanted to get these out just in case we need them.”

Condoms do not keep people from getting close- Silence does

Asking someone to use a condom is to show care for the well-being of you both. Communication really is key and talking about sex might mean explaining what you like, what’s your favorite position, or how to use condoms and use them in ways that work for you both.  Talking together about these things will cultivate intimacy and deepen your bond (not hinder it!), because you are sharing the responsibilities of sex and caring for each other.

Great sex is about sharing control  

As Heather Corinna explains, this is something that safer sex can help support.  Learning how to discuss condom usage and exploring sexy ways to put on a condom and what feels good together will make talking about other facets of sex a lot easier, such as how you’d like to try something new.  This also means that both people are making decisions and choices which are fundamental to both amazing sex and healthy sexuality.

Take turns putting on barriers

Related to the above- condoms can be a lot more erotic when one partner puts it on the other.  There are many ways to turn up the heat with a condom.  When done in a deliberately slow manner with some stroking, teasing, eye contact, putting on a condom can be exciting.

You can put the condom on together.  For example, one person takes the condom out of its package and places it over the head of the penis (make sure that you unravel it the right way down, not inside out).  The other person pitches and holds onto the reservoir tip of the condom as the other unrolls it down the shaft of the penis with one (or two hands).  This can also help ensure that the condoms is put on correctly.

Practice Makes Perfect

Learn how to put it on.  You can use the ol’ fashion banana, or the aid of a dildo or willing partner to practice how to unravel the condom.  It should unroll downward to the base without too much pulling or stretching.  If any exertion is needed to get the condom to the base then it is probably the wrong size.  Practicing by yourself will relieve any worry about losing an erection or the uncomfortable pressure of being judged on your condom skills.

Ladies and guys, you can always practice when you masturbate.  This will also help you learn your pleasure spots and what feels best with protection.  Or practice with your partner.  When the time is right, either you or the other can put on the condom, so it’s good for everyone to know how.  For many couples, this also helps to naturalize the process. It’s not about “making” a guy do something; it’s about something people do together for each other.

Be Prepared

One of the great advantages to condoms is that they are readily available for anyone to buy without a prescription or an age limit, and they are relatively cheap- even free at some health clinics like Planned Parenthood.  So equipping yourself with this contraceptive takes far less time, research and planning.

Also, it will help things run a whole lot smoother and greatly reduce the buzz-kill if you can reduce condom-hunting time.  So keep condoms (and lubricant) in a dedicated, handy place next to your bed where you are sure to find it.

Be playful

Keeping condoms in an easily accessible place is helpful, but that does not mean that it’s always best to rush through the process of putting one on. Great sex is to have fun with it.  When you introduce condoms have a sense of play.  And if things get awkward as you’re learning how to do safer sex, let yourself laugh about it.  This helps take the pressure off.

Buy some glow-in-the-dark condoms and leave your partner in suspense until the lights go out!  Or incorporate condoms into erotic foreplay.  Try slipping it on his penis with your mouth. If you are using gloves, get some props and play “Doctor”. Spice it up by carrying a condom with you in your handbag or pocket and discreetly show it to your partner to hint what’s on your mind.

Lubricant

This is really important. Especially, if you or your partners complain about reduced sensitivity, lubricant will improve sensation immensely.  Put two drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the latex condom before putting it on.  Even if dryness is not a problem for a person, lubricant that is made for condoms will lasts longer than the natural stuff.

Experiment with different lube samplers and flavors.

Know Your Condom Size & Experiment

Two points here.  First, make sure your condom fits well.  Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a condom that’s too small or too big is likely be difficult to put on, very uncomfortable, and much more likely to malfunction.  If you are not sure what will fit, check out our Condom Size Calculator or view this handy trick provided by Lucky Bloke (you’ll need a empty toilet paper roll).  If you experience certain discomforts, such as condoms being too tight, or too long, we have suggestions at our condom guide.

If you’re providing the condoms, it is useful to have a variety of types and styles so you and your partner can choose what feels right. Variety sample packs can be found online, and at some drugstores.

Second point, if you are in a longer-term relationship, you have the advantage to experiment with different types of condoms and lubricants together to discover what suits you both best and have fun while doing it!  There are many different styles of condoms out there from thin, to thick, to wider in certain spots, snugger in other spots, etc.  There’s variety in texture: ribbed, studded, contoured, pouched; variety in non-latex condoms; and there is plenty of variety in lubricants that can enhance sensation dramatically.  You could buy a variety pack of condoms to find the best ones.  Or make a date out of it and visit a sex shop and choose together (like this Condom Monologuer).

If we haven’t convinced you yet about the sensual side of condoms, take this with you:  Everyone needs to accept this reality.  If you’re sexually active and not practicing safer sex then you are likely to transmit an infection and/or get pregnant.  To prevent this from happening, to experience healthy fulfilling sexuality, you have to learn how to use protection.

condom ad condoms too tight

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

How to React when Your Hookup Says They’re on PrEP

hookup prep

Image from LTASex.com

The amount of people using pre-exposure prophylaxis (known as PrEP) in the US is increasing. A growing proportion of users are men.

PrEP is an antiretroviral medication to prevent HIV infection. A single pill taken once daily is highly effective at preventing HIV. PrEP prevents the virus from copying itself in your body after you’ve been exposed.

Since more and more people are choosing PrEP to take care of their sexual health, this means there is a greater chance that you will meet someone or hook up with someone who adheres to the drug. It’s important to know how best to react. Rather then freak out and cast stigma over him/her as a slutty HIV carrier, consider the following.

As Jerome Stuart Nichols, founder of LTASex, points out, a person who is using PrEP regularly is taking action and responsibility for their sexual health. Wouldn’t you rather share the bedroom with someone who is aware and takes charge of their sexual well being? Think about it.

It’s safer to have sex with someone who knows their status and manages it than with someone who doesn’t. It’s also a good sign that they are great in bed!

Here are five ways to react when your hookup tells you they are on PrEP.

This article was reprinted with permission from LTASex.com. View the original article here.

BY JEROME STUART NICHOLS | LTASEX.com

Like many other people in the last couple of years, I started taking PrEP — the daily pill that lowers one’s risk of getting HIV. Since it’s a new drug, I’ve been keeping up with the news and controversy surrounding it, and there’s been a lot. Perhaps most troubling to me, though, is the rise of PrEP haters. So, I thought I’d give everyone a handy guide on how to react when your hookup tells you they’re on PrEP.

Call them a slut:

As in, “You big slut, good for you!” I’m so proud of you. It’s important to let people know you appreciate their expert slutting skills. It takes one intelligent and thoughtful slut to seek out PrEP as a way to prevent both of you from contracting HIV. There are plenty of people who won’t even look into it because of fear or misconceptions about it. So this person probably has a take-charge attitude, which can be very important in the bedroom.

Freak out:

Feel free to freak the hell out, because this is so freaking awesome! You’ve wound up in bed with someone who’s thought about the sexual risks they’re taking, which means they’re probably going to be super thoughtful and great in bed. Or, you know, you could play it cool. You might not want to seem too excited about this fantastic development.

Ask a bunch of invasive questions:

I mean, you’re in the presence of someone who obviously knows a little something about life. If you’re not exactly sure about what PrEP is, how it works or why it’s so freaking cool, this is the perfect time to get some answers. Plus, you’ll get to know them better and get a sense of how smart they really are, which will help you make a better decision about what kind of sex you want to have. If nothing else, you’ll spend some time getting comfortable with one another, which definitely will make for better sex.

Don’t use a condom:

Or do use one, whatever. You don’t have to change your plans because they’ve told you this good news. If you wanted to use condoms before, now you’ve got an extra layer of protection. If you weren’t going to use condoms, then you’ve still got that extra layer of protection. Even if they’re total fakers and not a part of the cool kids PrEP club, you’re still taking the risks you’re comfortable with.

Make sure to save their number (or favorite them on your app):

If the sex was good, you’ll be able to call them back and get more of it. If the sex was wack, you’ll know who’s texting when they hit you up at 2 a.m. six months later.

Also, since there are many STIs other than HIV, and, you know, shit happens, you’ll be able to notify them if something comes up on your end … or penis or vagina or throat. This isn’t really PrEP specific, just good hookup technique from one proud slut to another.

Go home and take a long hot shower.

I mean after all that hot and sweaty sex, you’re bound to need a shower, right?

condom ad condoms too loose

jerome stuart nicholsJEROME STUART NICHOLS is the creator of LTASEX.com and a generally awesome dude. With LTASEX and his musings around the web, he seeks to help people get the most out of their sex, love and life. Through blogs, podcasts and videos he offers unique perspective, advice on living and loving in the real world. When he’s not saving the world from a life more ordinary, he enjoys cuddles, video games, narcissism, fried chicken, managing his anxiety, crochet, and gardening. Follow him @NotJeromeStuart

When Sex Is Just A Bummer

Head in HandsHave you recently had a sex experience that was less than fulfilling? Sex bummers can put a real strain on your emotional well being. But as Heather Corinna explains, they don’t have to be that way. In this article, Heather offers new and helpful perspective on sex faux pas that can make you thankful for the experience.

Here’s a summary of key benefits that sexual bummers can provide:

  • Sex bummers can teach us more about what and who we do and don’t like.
  • Bummers offer clues for what needs to be changed and communicated better.
  • Bummers can help us improve our expectations as well as demonstrate what we need and want.
  • Bummers can build intimacy.

This article was originally published at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

Sometimes sex is freaking amazing. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s still mighty good. It’s little more than nice at other times, but as fine a way to have spent those twenty minutes as any other. Then there are times when it’s none of those things: when it’s an oh-well, an oh-that’s-so-good-oh-wait-now-it’s-so-NOT-ACK-STOP!, a WTF was that even? or even an OMFG-WHY-ME-WHYYYYYYY. And times when there’s little to no humour in a sexual disappointment or outcome at all, just some seriously rough feelings or difficult things to contend with.  

Everyone is going to have at least some of those times, way more than just once or twice. Sometimes, or in some interactions, relationships or phases of life, we may even experience sex more often being a bummer for us than being satisfying and awesome.

Maybe sex stunk because someone seemed to think trying to lick your eyeball was sexy, while you felt like they were coming at you with some kind of cannibal agenda they’d clearly kept hidden until now. For every single time one of you moved one way, the other guessed wrong and moved the same way, so all you both got out of sex was bumps on your head and a shiny new tube of Neosporin for where your lip got split by their earring. Your little sister walked in on you, or you shot a condom across the room while trying to get it on and your unstoppable laughter kept you from getting back into your sexy. You and someone else just may not be clicking: everything you do starts out being something one of you likes, and turns out to be something the other doesn’t. Maybe you just can’t get out of your head enough to stay in the groove, or get in the groove to begin with. Or perhaps you’ve become a new member of the statistically large group* who discover that a bed surrounded by candles more often creates smoke damage and a need for new curtains than it does romance.

Many sex bummers are silly or funny, so long as we have a sense of humor about them. Others aren’t, like being triggered during sex from previous trauma or abuse, or having someone you just had otherwise-amazing sex with open their mouth after and say something carelessly stupid that gets them the gold in the Douchebag Olympics. Sometimes people have a hard time being kind or patient with themselves with the learning curve of masturbation or sex with partners. Some people have sexual expectations and ideals that are clearly unrealistic, but they still have a very big, sometimes even religious, emotional attachment to those ideals, so being shown the realities can feel devastating. Being unpleasantly surprised by our emotional reactions to certain things — like having post-breakup sex you thought you were cool with, only to find out that you are in no way cool with it — can also be something we may need to cry out rather than laugh off. Some bummers are more challenging or emotionally rough than others.

We know that resilience is key in healthy sexual and personal development. Being able to experience and move forward from anything from a mere disappointment to a terrible trauma or tragedy is vital for being able to live our lives and find happiness in them. Being resilient is ultimately about having the tools and the desire to adapt to life and its experiences, rather than getting stuck or mired down under the weight of things.

Resilience is what’s asked of us when sex is disappointing, especially if we don’t want it to be chock full o’bummer evermore. Perspective is a big help with resilience, because it lets us know the real gravity of something. When it’s truly not a big whoop, it helps us to let it go more easily. Someone should be able to easily cope with not getting an erection or not reaching orgasm now and then, or finding out that a partner just isn’t into one or two sexual things they are. Those things are, indeed, bummers, but great tragedies they are not. On the other hand, struggling for years to reclaim a sexual life that was hijacked by sexual abuse or assault, feeling so unaccepted and unsafe in being queer that you never even let yourself love whoever it is you love, battling serious sexually-transmitted illness and its worst complications: that’s huge stuff we can’t (and shouldn’t) just brush off.

If we sweat the small stuff a lot, we won’t be able to deal with the truly hard and challenging stuff. When we learn to let go of the small stuff, so it’s not part of our stresses and strains, we have way more of our own emotional reserves to help us through the big stuff. And when aren’t sweating the small stuff, we’re far more likely to actually enjoy most of our lives, including our sexual lives, fumbles and all.

But isn’t sex supposed to be about pleasure?

Sex of any kind, be it masturbation or sex with partners, is primarily about seeking and intending physical and emotional pleasure. But seeking something out or intending it doesn’t mean we’ll always get or find that thing, or have it go as we expected or intended. Sex being about pleasure also doesn’t mean that every nanosecond we’re sexual in some way will be amazing, without fumbles or moments where things are only so-so. Like any other part of life, sex is something we’re likely to have a wide range of different experiences with, including how much pleasure we do and don’t wind up experiencing each time, and how much what we experience is or isn’t as we expected or were going for.

There are things we can certainly do to make it more likely we’ll experience pleasure with masturbation or sex with partners, including the most basic stuff we need to do to just be safely and soundly sexual with ourselves and others. We can all do consenting well, so no one is doing anything to the other they don’t want or aren’t okay with.  We can aim to please ourselves or each other, and put our all into that. We get to choose what we do with which body parts, and how we use them, how we communicate and how we listen and what we do with that information.

But there’s a lot about engaging in sex, alone or with partners, that is simply not entirely within our control. Always doing all of those things above that are within our control still can’t make it so sex is always fabulous. Doing those things, for instance, doesn’t always mean we’ll discover or answer what we or others really want just yet, that our intent to please will always result in pleasure, or the kind of pleasure we want, or that even open, rich shared communication will result in agreement, compatibility or all the orgasms all the time. Just because we are seeking out and can find pleasure and other kinds of awesome in sex and sexuality doesn’t mean we always will.

Same deal, different context: I’ve been making music since I was a kid: it’s one of my first loves in my life. It’s my happy place. Except for the times that it isn’t, or it is, but it just doesn’t make me as happy as I know it can, or doesn’t go the way I expected.

Sometimes practicing is pure bliss; other times it’s a total drag. Some days my hands work beautifully; other days, my fingers feel clumsy and I can’t sustain a pattern or rhythm to save my life. Playing with other people rocks when we all really get in the groove together. But we can’t always do that, so sometimes it feels more like work than play, and can result in hurt feelings or petty resentments. Sometimes I grab an instrument excited to play, but once I start playing, I just can’t get into it that day at all. Sometimes I break a string and don’t have an extra set (and once sliced my cheek open in the process of breaking one, just to add injury to insult), discover the piano’s fallen out of tune, or have a cold, so singing feels and sounds like a duck on its deathbed instead of feeling and sounding good. All of these things are out of my control, and all can totally tank what could have been an opportunity for me to play and enjoy playing.

Sex is a lot like that, for most people, often as much of the time as it is all they want or expect it to be. Because of the bonkers-high expectations that get placed, or we place, on sex, it can be harder to see it the way we would similar things that we seek pleasure in, but just don’t find sometimes, whether that’s about playing music, eating cupcakes, getting a haircut or falling in love. But just like other things that don’t go as we wanted have a potentially positive value, the same goes here. Today’s sex bummer could result in next month’s victory dance if you let it.

Using Bummers for Good

Besides furnishing you with some dishy content for your memoirs, there are other hidden upsides to sex that isn’t great….

Continue reading the full article at Scarleteen.

Unsure what size

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).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

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.

How Not to be Disappointed on Valentine’s Day

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and chances are (for whatever reason) you are excited for it, dreading it, or don’t care about it at all. Whatever your expectations, this message from Bedsider is for everyone. It is a great reminder that you should acknowledge all the love you do have in your life.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with this exercise and you will not be disappointed:

  • List 88 things that you love and are grateful for in your life- from your grandma to your favorite jar of peanut butter.
  • Love doesn’t have to come just from romance, but can be experienced through many other outlets too.
  • Don’t take it all so seriously. Love includes things that amuse you, make you happy and entertained.
  •  Don’t forget to include yourself on that list!

This article was originally published on Bedsider.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Are you in love? Broken hearted? Coupled up? Singled out?

Doesn’t matter. This message is for you regardless of your romantic status. You can avoid disappointment on Valentine’s Day by remembering this one thing: Love is all you need.

What? Did you expect a different sentiment? Did you want us to get our snark on and rage against the onslaught of chocolate hearts, peanut butter hearts, marshmallow hearts, candy hearts that say “Marry me,” hearts on cards, hearts on underwear, flowers, lingerie, diamonds, proposals, and love songs? Well, we considered it, but this sugarcoated holiday is nearly impossible to avoid. So we’re going with a tip that’s more realistic. (Don’t worry. We’ll unleash the snark on Groundhog Day right when you least expect it.)

Here it is again: Love is all you need. No, really. It is.

Because right now there are probably at least 88 things you can list that you love. That’s 88 things that make you feel grateful, amused, comforted, happy, excited, entertained, lusty, fortunate, or effin fabulous. And maybe some have to do with romantic love, but there’s probably a ton that don’t. And that’s what you can focus on to avoid a sucky Valentine’s Day.

Because the truth is, love doesn’t have to be taken so seriously. You can love the hell out of your favorite t-shirt or pet hedgehog or the little old man who runs the corner bodega. You can love your grandma or your iPhone or that cute guy on the show “Chuck.”

And while some of these things can’t give you a card and say, “I love you,” back, they can bring you pleasure and make you feel alive. And that’s really all you need to have a good Valentine’s Day. Or any day for that matter.

Don’t wait for someone to make you feel loved. Don’t feel bad if you see a flower delivery that’s not yours. Pay no attention to all the PDA. Who cares if you stay in. Who cares if you do or do not have a boyfriend right now. Focus on everything you do have. Focus on what – or who – you love. Surround yourself with that, celebrate it, and be thankful. That’s the trick to making this day feel lovely.

And this goes without saying, but that never stopped us before: You better include yourself on that list of 88 things you love!

We heart you.

Unsure what size

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

Sexuality: WTF Is It, Anyway?

Photo credit: Cobalt123

“The Circles of Sexuality are an altering flux of different parts working together.” Photo credit: Cobalt123

Sexuality is made up of various working parts, all of which are fundamental to being human. It involves a vast array of experiences including family and peer relationships, dating, physical development, emotional development, sensuality, gender, body image, media, and so much more. That is why it is such a difficult term to define. What one person deems important to their sexuality will be different from another person.

So how can we understand sexuality in a way that is inclusive to people’s diversity?

One way to think about it is what some sex educators call the Circles of Sexuality. Heather Corinna explains in detail how this model works.

Here are key points she covers in the article below:

  • There is no one-fits-all model. Definitions are not fixed and change dramatically over time as we learn more about about people’s sexuality. If this model doesn’t resonate with you, this does not reflect something wrong with you; rather there is a problem with the model.
  • Think about the Circles of Sexuality as an altering flux of parts. Each of the five circles can change from the size and position in which they overlap. For example, one person’s sexuality might be more influenced by their experience with reproduction, while another person will see their sexual orientation as more important. And it’s not just between people that this varies, but also across one’s individual life.
  •  Sexuality is made up of any or all of the following: physical, chemical, emotional, relationships, identity-based, intellectual, and sociocultural. Read below for a comprehensive explanation of each.
  • For more information about sex and sexuality, check out Heather Corinna’s book, All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book.

This article is originally publish at Scarleteen

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

WTF-sexuality-v2The term “sexuality” can be used a lot like the word “sex.” They’re both terms we say and hear a lot, but which often aren’t clearly defined, or even defined at all. We can take for granted that everyone, including ourselves, knows what terms like this mean, a heck of an assumption to make with something that covers a lot of really important things and can feel as murky as Lake Erie.

So, what is sexuality all about? You might say it’s about our bodies or our hormones, about our feelings and our relationships, or about touching and being touched. You might think it’s about doing or engaging in one kind of sex or any kind of sex, or about wanting, seeking out or experiencing certain kinds of pleasure. You might say it’s about parts of our identity, like our gender identity or sexual orientation. You might say it’s about reproduction: about making babies (or not). You might say it’s about our desires to be close to — or far away from — other people in ways we define or experience as sexual, or about feeling horny, lusty, tingly, mingly, hungry, itchy, twitchy or whatever words you use to express a strong feeling of “I can haz sex NOW, plz.”

If any one of those things were your answers, you’re right. If all or most of those things were your answers, you’re even more right (and may not even need to read this article at all: go get outside for a change, wouldya?). Sexuality is BIG. Mount Everest big: that’s why trying to scale it without a guide or two doesn’t go so well for most people. It’s a lot bigger than it can look and certainly a lot bigger than it’s often presented by most places and in most ways we see it presented. It’s complex as all get-out, both because it’s so big, and also because it’s about everyone, and as a whole people, we’re all incredibly different so something that’s about all of us is always going to be seriously complicated, not simplistic.

As with anything this big, there are a lot of ways we can talk about what sexuality is and can be. There’s no one exactly-right model when it comes to defining sexuality: we’re going to talk about it a couple of ways here, based on where we’re currently at with definitions in comprehensive sex education and sexology, but if neither of them feels right to you, that probably means these models just don’t fit you well, rather than meaning you’re wrong. Models or definitions of sexuality can and often do change over time, especially as we learn more and more about everyone’s sexualities. Even in just the last 50 years, the way we talk about sexuality and the models we create for it have changed a lot: in the next 50 years, it may change, too.

Sexuality, as we know so far, is a mix of many different things in varying proportions: things that are physical, chemical, emotional, interpersonal, identity-based, intellectual, social and cultural, and that mix is different for, and unique to, everyone. Sexuality also isn’t something that is technically “adult,” or something that pops out of the blue when anyone reaches puberty or a certain age: no one isn’t sexual one day, then the next day, suddenly is because they’ve reached a certain age, had sex with a partner or sprouted hair in places they didn’t have it last month. Even though the sexualities of people tend to vary when it comes to age and development — infant sexuality, for instance, is a very different thing than adolescent or young adult sexuality, which can be a very different thing from the sexualities of people in their 60s or 70s — it’s been with all of us in some way from the day we were born, and maybe even before, believe it or not.

Sexuality: Key Ingredients for a Very Adaptable Recipe

What can sexuality be made of? Any or all of the following:

The physical: The development, health and function of what are considered our internal and external sexual organs and reproductive systems and our unique experiences with that development, health and function, our brain and nervous system (the biggest drivers of sexual arousal and function), and the whole of our bodies. The experience of our senses — of hearing, tasting, touching, feeling and seeing — are also part of our sexuality, even though they are part of our whole lives and life experience, not just our sexualities. The experience of our sexual responses and something often called “skin hunger,” the human desire to be touched. Advocates for Youth points out that teens and young adults often experience less touch from family members than they did as children, and so people often don’t recognize how big a part just wanting to be touched can play when it comes to young people and their developing sexuality.

Another part of the physical aspect of sexuality is information about our sexual anatomy, and our experiences with and of reproduction and our reproductive systems, of our reproductive and sexual health are also part of the physical part of sexuality, as well as playing a role in other parts of our sexual whole, including the chemical, social and cultural.

The chemical: AKA, hormones. Hormones take the blame all too often for hasty or poor sexual choices: choices there seem no other way of accounting for, as in “Those dirty hormones made me do it!” Hormones are not anything close to all of what our sexuality is — nor are they things that can make people do sexual things against their will or are a sound scapegoat for poor sexual decision-making — but they can certainly play a part. “Sex” hormones include testosterone, a big chemical libido driver for everyone, and estrogen, but there are also others which take part in sexuality that you experience even without sexual activity, like progesterone, adrenaline, serotonin, vasopressin, oxytocin (which is a real thing, but has been the source of many a myth), dopamine and endorphins. When people talk about sexual chemistry, some of what they mean is how we do or don’t neurochemically respond when it comes to sex and sexual feelings, something — unlike our sexual behavior — we don’t have any control over and often may not even have much awareness of.

The emotional & intellectual: Our feelings, values and ideas about sexual development and sexual changes through life, body image, gender identity and sexual orientation issues, sexual desires and fantasies, sexual activity with oneself and/or with partners, sexual relationships and sexual self-image, the ways those may drive us sexually, and the way we feel about sexuality and sex as a whole, not just our own. How we may or do feel sexually attracted to others and how they may or do feel attracted to us is another piece of the emotional and intellectual, and our sexual fantasies are part of this, too, as are our sexual ideals: what we feel sex and sexuality are supposed to be or should be, either for ourselves or for everyone. Our gender identity and our sexual orientation are also big pieces of the emotional and intellectual aspects of our sexuality, as well as part of the social and interpersonal, cultural and physical parts of sexuality.

Feelings are a part of our sexuality in every and any sexual interaction or desire. Sometimes we’ll hear people say they’ve had or want to have sex “without feelings,” but the only way we could do that, really, is to cut our heads off. While we may not have, be open to or experience the same kinds of feelings in every sexual interaction, when we’re alive and conscious at all, emotional feelings are always some part of the picture. We can’t magically turn them off during any part of life, including with sex and sexuality.

The social and interpersonal: Your sexuality in the context of your relationships — sexual partners or potential partners, but also friends and family — and the influences those relationships have had and have now on your feelings about your sexuality, your sexual wants and needs from others, and your sexual choices with others and your ability to make them. This includes experiences with taking the emotional risks we do whenever we expose or express ourselves sexually with someone else: what has happened to us, for instance, in sharing sexual feelings or interest, or in being out about some part of our sexual selves. How others have expressed themselves sexually to us, including when we weren’t expressing ourselves sexually with them, also plays a part here.

This piece is about what, if any, sexual relationships with others a person wants, seeks out or experiences, but also about all kinds of other relationships that tend to play a part in our sexuality, like the relationships we had and have with family members and friends. How all the people we are in any kind of relationship with treat or react to our sexuality is also a piece of this and the cultural aspects below.

The cultural: None of us can live in the world without being influenced by it. How the rest of the world — including our peers, local and larger communities, your government, the media — views sexuality, and all the parts of our sexuality, like our gender, our bodies, or the kinds of sexual relationships or experiences we have or want, is a part of our sexuality, as are our feelings, attitudes, and conformity or resistance to those views. How the world or some in it view our sexuality when it isn’t even ours at all, but only their idea of it is also part of cultural influence on our sexuality.

In other words, this part is about what messages about sexuality we get overtly and covertly, what we feel or experience our culture allows and disallows, idealizes (says is good or right) or punishes (says is bad or wrong), what our culture tells us to feel comfortable with and tells us to be afraid of, the effect and influence it has on us, consciously and unconsciously, and where and how we and our own sexuality, sexual identity and ethics, body image, gender identity, orientation and relationships fits or doesn’t within cultural attitudes towards, approaches to and presentations of sexuality. To give you one easy example, a lot of the words, the very language, and the approaches you’re reading here are, themselves, cultural: someone from a very different culture or cultures than my own may write or conceptualize all of this very differently.

You might have noticed a lot of overlaps with things in each of those groups above, and for good reason. That’s because we can’t really compartmentalize those things much: we can’t really put them each in tiny little boxes where everything always stays neatly in each box. One model for defining and explaining sexuality that’s really helpful, and illustrates that overlapping well, is the Circles of Sexuality model, designed by Dr. Dennis M. Dailey. There are a lot of versions and explanations of this model, but the one I like best is from the Interagency Gender Working Group , which is what our version of the circles here is adapted from.

What’s Inside the Circles of Sexuality
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Sensuality: “Sense” is the key part of this word: we’re talking about your physical senses and your awareness and experience of them. Sensuality also involves our awareness and experience of our bodies as a whole, including our body image, and our experiences, if any, of physically exploring the bodies of others, and not just with certain kinds of sex, like intercourse, recognized as capital-S Sex. Sensuality is about pleasure: seeking, exploring and experiencing pleasure, both as something we may receive or have, and as something we may give others or share with others.

Intimacy: Intimacy is a word sometimes people use as a euphemism for sex, like by saying someone was “intimate” with someone else to mean they had some kind of sex with them. Intimacy is certainly a part of the whole of sexuality and often part of people’s experience of sex and sexuality through life, but when we say intimacy here, we’re talking about the ability and desire for emotional closeness with other people, and as a part of sexuality, not as the whole of it. That can include sharing, caring, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability. Emotional intimacy may not always occur with every sexual experience, and when it does, it doesn’t always look or feel the same way for everyone, or with every experience — including for two people sharing a sexual experience together at the same time — nor happen to the same degree for every person or with every sexual experience. When and if we seek out sex with other people, we are usually seeking out intimacy, even if it’s not the same kind of intimacy every time, or the same kind of intimacy someone else may be seeking. We’re usually all looking to share something in which we’re close to someone else in some way.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: This is about a person’s feeling, sense or understanding of who they are when it comes to their gender — their feeling of being a man, a woman, neither, both, or a different way of experiencing gender altogether and the ways they express those feelings — and when it comes to what gender of people, if any, they feel sexual desire about: who, based on (or not) gender, they feel sexually attracted to, whether or not they seek out or have the opportunity to be in sexual relationship with or not. Sexual orientation — our sense of being queer or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual or asexual, and so forth — and gender identity are obviously involved with each other, because they both have to do with gender, but one doesn’t automatically determine the other, and how linked they are for each person can vary, as can how big a part they play in a person’s sexuality.

Our biases, stereotypes or fears can play roles here, too, just like they can in all the other circles. In other words, ways that we think about other people or ourselves when it comes to gender or orientation — just like ways we may think of others when it comes to ability or disability, race or ethnicity — can also play a part in our sexuality. If that’s tricky to get a grasp on for you, a good example of that is the idea some men have that that only gay men want to engage in receptive anal sex: many men of all orientations may have the desire to explore that or know they have enjoyed that, but those with that bias can find the bias plays a part in their sexuality around that activity, either making it something they desire but don’t do because of homophobia and that makes them feel bad about their sexuality, or something they may find even more exciting, or taboo, because of that fear or bias. Ravishment fantasies can be another example of that, as can people using pornography that turns them on, but where doing what they’re watching is something they’d feel disgusted by in real life. Sometimes things people feel most afraid of, or repulsed by, can be things that turn them on a lot.

Sexual and Reproductive Health: One’s capacity or ability (or lack thereof) to reproduce, feelings about and experiences with reproduction, and the behaviors and attitudes that play a part in sexual health and enjoyment. This includes the information we have about sexual anatomy, sexual activities, reproduction, contraception, STI prevention, and self-care, among others and the messages that information has given us about all of those things. This circle is also about our experiences of sexual wellness or illness, and how they influence our sexuality and sexual desires or experiences. Healthy sexual relationships are also a part of sexual and reproductive health.

Sexual behaviors and practices: This is one of the easier pieces to grok: it’s about what we or others actively do sexually to enact or express our sexuality; about who is doing what when it comes to their own body parts and/or those of a sexual partner or partners, sex toys or other objects. This part of sexuality won’t always be a “do” or “have done” for everyone: some people may want or desire certain behaviours or practices, but not engage in them, or not yet engage in them, for any number of reasons, whether that’s about lack of opportunity or ability, fear or something else. Even if someone doesn’t or hasn’t yet actively done something sexual, the behaviours and practices they are interested in or want often play a big part in their sexuality. This also isn’t just about sex with partners: masturbation is part of this, too. What we do not want to do sexually can also be part of our sexuality and how we experience it, too.

Power and Agency: Power is the ability or capacity to do something, and can also be about strength or force, or the ability or capacity to exercise control over oneself or others. Agency is a sociological or philosophical term that addresses a person’s capacity to act: what a person has the right, ability or power to do. How much power or agency each of us has in general and in specific situations varies a whole lot, in really big ways — like based on what power and agency we may or may not have in the world based on how rich or poor we are, what color we are, what our gender is, how our bodies do or don’t work — and then in smaller, more situational ways, like in one given relationship.

Power and agency play a huge part in all aspects of sexuality, in the healthy stuff and the unhealthy stuff, which is why this version of the circles puts it right in the center. We can experience power and agency, and have them influence our sexuality from a “sense of self-worth and understanding of one’s [sexual] preferences and values, which enables a person to realize sexual well-being and health.” We may or may not have, or may have or feel varying amounts of power or agency to influence, negotiate, decide, consent or decline when it comes to sexual experiences. We or others may also use power or agency to manipulate, control or harm others in our sexual experiences, too.

Not everyone’s sexuality or the way they express it is healthy, and what’s emotionally healthy or isn’t tends to have a whole lot to do with power and agency. If we feel and use whatever power and agency we have when it comes to sex to care for ourselves and others, to seek out mutual pleasure and well-being, and it comes from an emotional place where we give ourselves and others high value and worth, then chances are good we’re using or enacting our power and agency sexually in healthy ways.

On the other hand, people can also sexually use — or more to the point, abuse — power and agency to do others harm. For sure, sometimes people can use power and agency to try and influence others sexually in ways that aren’t about trying to do harm — or being so self-centered that one doesn’t even consider the other person, which makes doing harm very likely — or trying to control them, like flirting, which is usually harmless even though it is about trying to influence someone else around sex. As well, some people bring powerplay into their sexual lives in ways that in another context would usually be about doing harm, but where consent and mutual pleasure are present and prioritized, instead of dismissed or discounted, like for people who engage in consensual, mutually wanted BDSM activities.

But sexual violence like rape, molestation and incest, sexual harassment, forced prostitution, withholding sex as a way to try and manipulate harm or control (rather than declining sex because it isn’t wanted), sexualization: these are all some things that come from an emotional place of devaluing, or not having value for, oneself and others, and about using power in ways with or around sex that are not healthy, neither for the person doing them or the people that person is doing them to. Power and agency is also in the middle of all of those other circles because how much power and agency people have, and what they do with power and agency, as well as how they are impacted by it, is connected to all of those other issues.

Phew! It’s a lot to think about, we know. And there’s more.

It might help to look at a model like that one and figure that the size of those circles might not all be the same for each person. For instance, one person’s sexuality may be very influenced by reproducing or their experience with reproduction, while it may have little to do with someone else’s. Some people’s sexuality may not have yet involved, or may not ever involve, engaging in sexual behaviors with themselves or others; one person’s sexuality may involve a lot of intimacy, while someone else’s may not. And of course, how a model like this — and the size of the circles and the places they connect — looks for even one person may be very different when they’re 15 than it is when they’re 55. Our sexuality does not stay the same throughout our lives, so how it looks and feels, and what parts of it seem bigger, and which smaller, will often shift quite a few times in each of our lives.

Sexuality is a lot like an ecosystem: one change to one part of the system usually impacts other parts of it, and one tiny shift in one place can sometimes change the whole thing quite radically. And just like with ecosystems, the same shift in one system won’t always have the same impact as it would in a different one: the great diversity of people, our lives and experiences — and all of those pieces we’ve been talking about — means that sexuality is also greatly diverse.

Even the language we or others use to describe our sexuality tends to reflect the kind of vast diversity we’re talking about when it comes to sexuality.

When someone uses words to describe their sexuality, they may mostly or only use terms about sexual orientation and gender identity, like heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian or queer), bisexual or pansexual (queer, bi, pan, omni), asexual or questioning; or terms like cis gender, femme, butch, fey, trans, agender or genderqueer, or stick to terms about chromosomes or how people are assigned sex, like male, female or intersex. Or they might use words that talk more about their sexual behaviours or practices; about what they actively do sexually or find arousing in terms of sexual activities, like kinky, vanilla, foot lover, oral sex fangirl, pictophiliac (someone aroused by visual pornography) or arachibutyrophiliac (someone aroused by the sensation of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth: shared primarily to give you the most winning Scrabble word of ever).

Some people use terms that are about a sexual role they like to play, like bottom, top or switch. Some people may include their reproductive status or experiences in their terms for their sexual identity, like if they’re a Mom or Dad, or if they’ve chosen to be childfree. Some may use words that focus on the kind of relationship they are in or want. Some people feel that one word describes, or should describe, their sexuality, like “male” or “straight,” while another person feels like a word like that is way too broad to be useful or feel like it says anything at all about their sexuality. Of course, some people may, and do, use more than one of those kinds of terms based on what their sexuality feels like and how they identify with it. Someone might define their sexuality or their sexual selves as a trans-femme-lesbian-vanilla-Mom, for instance, while someone else may define themselves sexually as a hetero-kinky-poly-dude. Some people may not use any terms at all.

Too, one thing that trips a lot of people up is trying to figure out how to separate their sexuality from all the other parts of themselves and their lives; where sexuality ends and everything else begins. When I did our version of the circles, I made the text in them bleed outside the circles for a reason. I did that because often, we’re not going to be able to draw very clear lines between our sexuality and the rest of who we are, what we feel and the lives we live. Sometimes it is clear-cut: sometimes we can identify things, situations or feelings that very clearly don’t incite or involve our sexuality in any way. We can sometimes do the same with some things we know are a part of our sexuality, and seem to only or mostly: like things that we find very sexually arousing, but find totally boring, ridiculous or offensive in any other context.

Just like with models for sexual response, you get to come up with your own if you don’t read or see a model that sounds like it really works for you. Sexuality itself involves some things we can’t control or direct — like our life histories, our feelings and our attractions — but for the most part, a lot of our sexuality, and certainly how we define and direct it, is very much a Choose Your Own Adventure.

One person’s sexuality, experience or understanding of sexuality can be radically different from another person’s, but that doesn’t mean one person is right and the other wrong, or that one person has a sexuality and the other doesn’t.

Like anything made of people and our collective lives and experiences, sexuality is hella diverse, and while some sexualities (or more accurately, the way some sexualities are expressed or acted out) are physically, emotionally or interpersonally healthier than others, there’s no right way of having one; no one sexuality that is the default, or the way sexuality “is,” while others are deviations, derivatives or “perversions.”

While it’s important for any of us who talk about sexuality to define what we mean when we use that word, sexuality is really something we’re often best defining on our own, for ourselves, and understanding as something that, while it has a lot of common threads among all people, is tremendously individual and unique. If it were anything but as diverse, varied, big and complicated as it is, people would have gotten bored with it long before now, and no one would ever come to a website like this one.

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).

Sex and the Plus Size Gal

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

A world that sets narrow standards of “beauty” has a real impact on how we evaluate our bodies and value ourselves. It also directly impacts how we feel when dating or experiencing sexual pleasure; sharing an intimate bodily experience with another is a serious exercise in self image.  As Elle Chase (a.k.a. Lady Cheeky) states in this article, women of all shapes, sizes and abilities have internalized negative attitudes towards their bodies from childhood.

As someone who once struggled with body shame, Elle shares how she overcame the negative narrative in her mind and transformed it into loving acceptance. This led her down a path of renewed sensual discovery and enjoying her sexual body to the fullest.

Here are some key points of advice Elle offers for how to feel more confident sexually:

This is tailored for plus-size women in particular, but it can apply to all people who want to improve their perception of self.

  • Confidence begins with accepting positive messages about yourself. Feeling sexy will result in others finding you sexy.
  • Transform the negative self-talk. Begin with small gestures like telling yourself, “This is the way I look and that’s that.”
  • Find inspiration and support by reading body positive resources and listen to stories from others who have overcome their body shame and embraced their sexual being.
  • Indulge in body positive porn that features real and large women enjoying hot sex. Elle offers a list of recommendations below.
  • Remember: Personality, confidence and acceptance of one’s sexuality is what makes someone attractive. Body shame functions to hinder one’s ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. One gains no benefit from negative self-talk.

This article is posted on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

I happen to live in Los Angeles where being over a size 8 is a felony. This can be depressing when I am searching for a cute bathing suit or a stylish pair of jeans in a city that considers the ‘norm’ a size 2. At those times I like to remind myself that the average dress size for women across America and the UK is a size 14 and that a size 2 is more an aberration than the norm. However, it’s disappointing to note that at size 14, those average women are also considered “plus size”, labeling them in a category that, in this media ridden age, might send a woman’s ego to the back of the proverbial bus. This size stereotyping (especially in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and New York City) can compound the list of reasons why single “plus size” woman are intimidated by dating and sex.

I have found that a lot of my single friends complain they can’t find a nice guy or even a good lover. When I suggest online dating, taking a class or going to events to meet a guy, I almost universally hear “maybe when I lose some weight” as the first excuse not to engage. It seems that no matter what we look like, women are always first to dissuade themselves from dating by knocking their perceived physical shortcomings. This kind of dysmorphic thinking doesn’t discriminate it seems, women of all shapes and sizes do it. Though being a “plus sized” woman has its challenges, dating shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, as a plus sized woman myself, I had to get past my own mental lambasting and take a leap of faith, even though at the time I still hated my body. It’s not easy to do but it IS possible.

When I made the decision to start dating again after my divorce, I had to examine my history with my body image. My whole teen and adult life I was lead to believe, through society, other women and some really immature boys, that my body was “less than” because it had more lumps, bumps and curves than the women portrayed in television, film, advertising, fashion magazines (including Seventeen magazine which can be horribly destructive to a young woman’s ego) and the like. Add to that the unconscious conditioning I received from my well-meaning mother and I was set up to fail.

I thought about all the women this kind of conditioning affects, as most women do not have “perfect” bodies and have even less perfect body images. It was interesting to me that regardless of size, all the women I knew loathed portions, if not all of their bodies. Not only does this affect quality of life in general, it substantially affects a healthy sex life. So what can we, as women, do to begin to accept the parts of us that we have heretofore shamed ourselves into hating?

Rebecca Jane Weinstein, Lawyer, Social Worker and Author, was told by her grandmother at nine years old that no man would ever love her because she was fat. So started Ms. Weinstein on her journey of figuring out her womanhood on her own. She relates her pilgrimage to satisfying sex in her book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth. I asked Ms. Weinstein what her advice would be to plus-sized women who are trying to feel more confident sexually. Here is her answer:

“In interviewing the many large sized women I have about body image and sexuality, I have found a common thread. When a woman feels sexy, she projects sexy, and men (or other women) find her sexy. This seems almost simplistic, and it is, in a sense. Perception is everything, particularly self-perception. What is not simplistic is coming to that realization and then internalizing those feelings. Women seem to find that place in themselves two ways. First is personality. Some of us are just lucky to have an inner core of confidence that has no clear genesis. It just exists. But even women who aren’t so lucky to be somehow born with the “I feel sexy” gene, seem to be able to learn to feel sexy. The key is listening and believing when you are told you are attractive and that someone is attracted to you. So often we are told such a thing, and every available evidence supports it (like there is a person lying next to us in a bed), and yet we don’t believe it. We must overcome that disbelief. It is not easy when all the societal messages tell us fat is not sexy. But those messages come from disreputable sources – mostly people trying to sell us stuff. They want us to feel badly about ourselves so we will buy diets and cosmetics and clothing and medical procedures. Those people are liars. The ones telling us the truth are sharing our beds and our hearts. It is them we must believe. And the truth is, even if there is no one giving those positive messages, telling ourselves works too. When you feel sexy, you project sexy, and others find you sexy. It’s not so important how you get there, but that you get there.”

She’s right.

I had a lover once with whom I had some of the most erotic, connected, exciting and sensual sex of my life (some of our exploits are detailed on my erotica site www.smutforsmarties.com) and I was considered plus-sized at the time. Though I felt confident that he wanted me, I still didn’t feel comfortable in my body. Still, before our first tryst I panicked about how he would react to actually seeing me naked. Would he still want me when he saw my overflowing stomach and flabby thighs? I was terrified.

When we first got together I was so ashamed of my physique that I kept my nightie on thinking “maybe he won’t notice my fat.” Though, in contrast to what the little devil on my shoulder was whispering in my ear (“you’re disgusting,” “you should be ashamed to think he wants you”,) my lover couldn’t have been more effusive and complimentary about how seduced he was by my body. He continued to sincerely voice how attracted to me he was, yet I kept that nightie on for two months until I “believed” he was really yearning for me. What in the world did he have to do to get me to believe him? The answer is “nothing.” The issue was with me and my own narrative about my body. I used the shame and the humiliation I took on from others’ opinions about body size during my childhood and young womanhood to inform my ability to receive full pleasure in the moment. What a shame.

Later on in our relationship, figuring a bigger gal was his bag, I brought up the subject of a woman’s body type and asked him if he had always been attracted to plus-sized women. For me, his answer was revolutionary. My lover explained that body shape or size had nothing at all to do with his attraction to a woman. To him, a woman’s physical appeal (among other things like chemistry, personality, intelligence, etc.) was based on how sexual/sensual the woman was. He continued, that when a woman felt she was a sensual being and was confident about her sexuality, that it drove him wild. “I could be lying in bed with a supermodel but if she didn’t own her own sexuality I would be completely limp,” he said. Furthermore, the men he knew in his life felt the same way. He continued by saying that those same men were often frustrated with the fact that women in general don’t own their bodies and often let it get in the way of “letting go and enjoying the moment.” Again, revolutionary to me. I thought back to when I was praying he wouldn’t notice my fat and thought “Wow. If I were just able to let go and take in that he was having sex with me because he WANTED to and was ATTRACTED to me, I would have enjoyed myself so much more.” The change needed to start with me. I needed to give myself a break. If it was true that he found me physically attractive then it was equally true that other men would as well. It was clear, I needed to start accepting my body as is, otherwise I would be living a lonely existence waiting for the day I would be happy with my body … and that day will never come. This was evidenced by my smaller framed friends who had a litany of complaints about why men wouldn’t find them attractive. Again, the unrealistic body dysmorphia rears its ugly head no matter WHAT you look like.

Pamela Madsen, who wrote the book Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner says “If you work on embracing who you are – every single day just like a religious practice – things will change in your world.” I completely agree. No more negative self-talk … ever.

So here’s the deal … I’m not going to tell you to look in the mirror and say affirmations that you’re beautiful and sexy or tell yourself “I love you the way you are;” that’s too big a jump. What I AM telling you is that if you can’t muster up something nice to think about yourself, at least say something factual and neutral like, “this is the way I look and that’s that.” It’s accurate and at the same time makes you accept yourself the way you are. Once you have that under your belt move on up to “I look pretty good today” etc, but wait until you believe it. The point being, you are never to put yourself down. And if you can’t compliment yourself, then at least say something objective, something you can believe.

The next step would be to start to become more comfortable in your body sexually … as it is right now. Whether you’re plus-sized or not, I highly recommend you read the aforementioned book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. She’s plus sized, smart and has the experiences to back up what she preaches. Her book will feed you stories of women (and men) who feel the same or worse about their bodies and will inspire you. Reading the stories of how others achieved their positive body image and started enjoying sex will help you get used to the notion that there are other people out there (perhaps even larger than you are) that have found their inner sex gods and goddesses.

There are also a plethora of body image and sex positive websites at your fingertips. One of my favorites is Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’ website www.dodsonandross.com that has a wonderful DVD called Bodysex Workshop. This DVD teaches women not only how to feel good about their sexuality but shows REAL women with REAL bodies “taking care of business” (if you know what I mean.) Other validating websites to check out: I Feel Myself http://www.Ifeelmyself.com which feature women from all over the world masturbating to orgasm. It’s liberating watching women of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds enjoying the sexual pleasure that is their right. Pamela Madsen’s blog offers Pamela’s words of wisdom on the spiritually based “sacred sexuality movement” and body image.

If you are feeling frisky, even the porn world has something to offer. The multitude of amateur porn online also affords us the opportunity to watch women who look like us engaging in hot sex. There are even porn sites dedicated to plus sized nude models like (my favorite) London Andrews and very popular plus sized porn star Kelly Shibari. There’s also “feminist porn” (also known as women’s porn or couples porn) brought to us by pioneers in the field like Candida Royalle, Erika Lust and Tristan Taormino. This type of porn is made by women for women (and men) who enjoy a more sensual story and a focus on the woman’s pleasure as well as the man’s. Checking out this kind of porn might make you feel more a part of “the club” than traditional porn where the focus is mainly on the man’s gratification while they screw thin women with fake boobs (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that).

Poor body image doesn’t have to be debilitating. Your sexuality is part of who you are as a woman and human being and the plus sized woman should take steps to start empowering herself as an erotic, sexual being … every woman should, really. If we can divorce our self-loathing (while we work on it, of course) from our sensual selves, then dating or sexual expression doesn’t have to be tied into body image and as a result, we can work on accepting ourselves while at the same time experiencing sexual pleasure.

Since I have accepted my body “as is,” not only have I had no problem finding men that find me and my body sexy, but I’ve been allowing myself to have some of the best sex of my life. I have come to understand and believe that sexual pleasure is not just meant for the “beautiful” and the “hard-bodied,” it’s a natural enjoyment that is your right as a human being. So take back that right. Ignore the messages from people, agencies and corporations trying to make you feel “less than” and take back control of what is inherently yours.

elle Sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase is best known for her award-winning and highly trafficked sites, LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) and SmutForSmarties.com, which have both garnered multiple awards, including LA Weekly’s Best Sex Blog 2013. Elle’s focus is on positive body image, reigniting sexual expression and better sex after 40. She speaks nationally at universities, conferences, and teaches workshops about all things “sex.” Currently, she is hard at work on a book based on her popular workshop “Big, Beautiful Sex”. Find Elle on facebook.com/TheElleChase and follow her @TheElleChase or @smutforsmarties.

Reacquainting With Condoms After 11 Years On The Pill

Switching to condoms as one’s only birth control at 30 years old can be a dramatic shift in mindset from the comfort of quick-fix Pills to latexy shopping adventures with a partner. Here, Rose Crompton from the Condom Monologues collective shares her dramatic contraceptive story that spans over a decade, told in 1000 words.

Here are some things she’s learned along the way:

  • Throughout life, every person should take the time to reflect and re-evaluate their contraceptive choices as their body changes.
  • There is important knowledge about condoms that’s not taught in sex education, such as the importance of fitting and experimenting with different brands and types. There are condom sampler packs to guide your discovery of the best condoms for you and your partner(s).
  • If there is an opportunity to shop for condoms with your partner then you should. It can be like an extension of foreplay!
  • Shopping online provides way better selection and price.

This piece is originally published here.

BY ROSE CROMPTOM at CONDOM MONOLOGUES | CondomMonologues.com

“Which ones should we get?” I asked my boyfriend. Well, he’s a man and he’s the one that has to wear them, so naturally I assumed he’d know best. “I dunno,” was the mumbled response. I’d not been “hat” shopping in over a decade. For nearly 11 years I was on the Pill and in three monogamous relationships, for the majority of that time, so ‘safe’ meant not getting pregnant.

Standing there, facing a wall of johnnies, there were three main changes I noticed: the packaging of condoms 11 years on was nicer, there were brands other than Durex available, and the price was higher. No wonder the supermarket kept them in security boxes. Ten quid ($16) for 10 condoms, so a pound a fuck essentially, and me and my boyfriend fuck a lot. Giving up the Pill was apparently going to cost me in more ways than I expected!

That said, coming off the pill four months ago was one of the best decisions I’ve made and I’d like to state that this was what was right for me, not what every woman should do, although I do think every woman should take the time to stop and re-evaluate their contraceptive method as their body changes.

The biggest question I’ve faced since is what contraception should my partner and I use instead?

Long term, that’s still a frustrating debate I’m having with myself, my partner and sexual health advisers. For now though, my chap and I are only using condoms and that is how I found myself: Standing in Tesco adding ‘condoms’ to our weekly, big shop shopping list.

Just call me Goldilocks

After much deliberation we went for the clichéd ribs and dots for her pleasure style. You have to start somewhere. They were good, but not quite right. If we’re being honest (and I think we can be here) too much dotting and ribbing can lead to chaffing.

Thankfully, there’s more to safe sex-life than that one style and so the hunt began online to try something new. Scouring the sites we found a ridiculous number of options. Without wanting to sound too Disney about it, there was a whole new world opening up before my eyes. Previously my experience of condoms had been whatever was free and easy to grab from the GP or sexual health clinic as they were only ever used briefly when there was a Pill glitch.FlyingCarpetCondomsAnim

Now though, scouring the various sex e-tailers, there was this whole exotic, rubbery, latex fantasticness that had the potential to be a lot of fun. Maybe shopping for condoms would be a great, new, sexy part to our foreplay?

We came across an American brand called One and they had an interesting pack called Tantric with tattoo style patterns and extra lubrication. Oh, they sound fancy and you can never have too much lube, so we ordered some.

It wasn’t long before the boyfriend and I found ourselves back online, looking for something different the next time. We “um-ed” and “ah-ed” over the various boxes, brands, descriptions, shapes and textures for nearly as long as we’d spend trying to pick a nice bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Obviously, sex is a shared experience and if there is the opportunity to choose together, then you should. Like with any aspect of sex you should both get enjoyment out of what you’re using. There aren’t very many things that we put on our bodies that are as intimate as condoms. It’s going on his most sensitive area and in hers, so when it comes to condom shopping it’s important to find some rubbers that you’re both gonna’ love. Generally, that means experimenting.

Getting comfy with condoms

Through shopping around, I’ve learnt more about condoms in the last four months than I ever learnt at school, or was bothered to listen to after that, because they just weren’t relevant to my life. It’s a bad attitude to have, I know. It’s shocking how the “fit and forget” or pill-popping culture we have today means it’s easy to overlook the humble condom. Especially when you’re in a relationship that uses one of the aforementioned methods.

It’s been a re-education: I’m aware now about the importance of fit and how that effects sensation and minimises the risk of breakage, the safest way to take them off to avoid any ‘accidents’ and I’ll admit that I’m still perfecting my roll on method (anything billed as ultra thin is definitely the trickiest).

The biggest adjustment (and I don’t reckon I’m the only woman who’s come off the Pill to feel this) is becoming confident with the idea that condoms can keep me safe. Not from STDs as that’s not an issue in my relationship, but of pregnancy. A lot of people my age and a bit older seem keen to use Fertility Awareness Methods and the pull-out method, but for many of them pregnancy wouldn’t be so much of a disaster. For me and my boyfriend, it certainly would be.

Making the move from the pill to condoms is scary. Anything you get fitted, implanted or swallow every morning has a success rate of approximately 99 percent. Sure, there are some side effects, but you’re willing to put up with them because it’s a shared ideology that now we have these methods, why bother with condoms that have a slightly lower success rate at all if your aim is to not get pregnant?

Living with that mentality for over a decade, then changing what you use and your body changes too, is a lot to get your head around, but it is doable. On the plus side, not only has it led me to take another look at the whole contraceptive menu – not just what the GP would prefer me to use – but it’s made me and my partner look again at correct condom use and I don’t think it’s a bad thing for any couple to do that no matter how long they’ve been together.

This monologue was written by Rose Crompton (@RoseC_Liec). Monologues are independent stories. The opinions shared are the author’s own. Go here for more monologues.

 

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES Affirming safer sex and sexuality one story at a time… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships.
Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue. Share your story

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.

Why, What, How to Talk to Your Sex Partner

Photographer Jaded One

Photo credit: Jaded One

No matter how much you study up on sex, without communication your relationship is sunk! Sexual communication isn’t easy and what we see in the media is rarely useful in terms of real-life scenarios. Scarleteen is here with comprehensive pointers on communication as a whole, and specifics on what to look for in productive sexual communication.

This article is meant to help you navigate the challenges of talking about sex with sex partners— from how to talk and to what to look for in the talking. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Clear sexual communication keeps both partners physically and emotionally safe.
  • Before engaging sexually with a new partner, look at how you communicate with them about other things.
  • Pick emotionally safe and neutral spaces to talk about sex.
  • There are several keys to productive dialogue- don’t miss the list below!
  • If you feel like you don’t feel comfortable communicating with someone, consider holding off on partnered sex with them until you do.
  • If you start with open communication and keep talking, it will get easier and more comfortable.

Read the original article at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

You can read everything from the Kama Sutra to The Joy of Sex, watch porn vids until your eyeballs fall out, have a ton of sexual experience or psychically channel Mata Hari or Casanova, but if you don’t know how to openly communicate with your partners, with your words, chances are neither you nor your partner are going to have really healthy, beneficial and satisfying sexual experiences, especially in the long-term.

Communicating clearly and well about sex and relationship issues, before and after you become sexually active with someone — the whole works, not just when whispering sweet or saucy nothings into a lover’s ear — not only puts you in a place where you can have satisfying sex and sexual relationships, short and long-term, and feel good about them, it helps keep everyone safe and sound both physically and emotionally.

If you have a car, you know that you’ve got to keep a pretty good eye on the oil in the engine: if you run out, no matter how great of shape your car is in, it’s not going to keep working, and may well explode in your face. Solid communication is the oil that keeps the engine of your sexual relationships running smoothly.

How to Talk About Sex

Talking with your partner about sex isn’t just about asking what one person has or hasn’t done before, wants to do, or about what gets everyone hot under the collar. Talking about sex with a partner also involves discussing what pace you’re comfortable with, your sexual health and your partner’s health, what you want or need to be comfortable engaging in a given sexual activity, how you masturbate, how you feel about your body, what feels good and what really doesn’t, safer sex and birth control, your sexual ethics and beliefs, relationship model negotiation, the works. Good sexual communication means you are creating and maintaining an environment in which you and your partner(s) can really talk openly about sex — in and out of bed — even when what you have to say isn’t very sexy or isn’t what the other might want to hear. It means being able to say no and having no be accepted and easily respected without pressure to say yes: it means being able to say yes knowing it doesn’t mean you or they have to say yes every time.

It’s no big shocker that talking about sex openly and intimately isn’t very easy. Most of the media around us doesn’t portray sexual discussion realistically or wholly: we’re shown either only the super-fantastic earthshaking stuff or Very Big Problems, not all of the shades in between that make up most of our sexual experiences. Most of the talking about sex we see in the movies only happens when people are having sex, and tends to consist of little but monosyllables or the standard “That was great,” after sex is done. And it isn’t just teens who have a tough time with sexual communication. Many adults in long-term sexual partnerships don’t have the hang of it, and plenty still prefer to avoid sexual discussions rather than practice them. A rare few of us grew up in households where sex was discussed healthily and openly. Good sexual communication generally requires more than a single word response. For a lot of people of all ages, honest and open sexual communication is brand new terrain.

Before you become sexually active with someone, take a look at how you communicate with them about other things. Are you able to talk openly and freely about your feelings for each other, about relationship models, time management, previous romantic/sexual relationships and peer and family relationships, and deal with crises? Are you friends: do you talk like friends? If not, it’s wise to take a pause and evaluate if that partner is a smart sex partner for you yet: after all, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about needing a little more time together (or a little more space) or what’s going on with your family, it’s going to be a serious challenge to talk about wanting to be touched more here or there, to need to change how the two of you are practicing safer sex or birth control, or about having a yeast infection. If daily communication, especially about things which are very close to your heart, doesn’t feel pretty easy just yet, work on that first, or consider that that person may not be an ideal partner for you.

Look at your own existing sexual communication in other parts of your life. Are you able to discuss sexual issues with your friends or your physician with a decent level of comfort and honesty (even if things sometimes feel a bit awkward)? Can you use language for sexuality – like the correct words for your sexual parts, or real terms for sexual activities – comfortably?

If you’re already at those points, then you’ve got a great foundation for sexual communication. You can lay it down from the onset – before you have any kind of sex at all — just by saying something like, “Before we have sex together, I want us to aim to always talk about sex honestly and freely, even when it seems weird. I feel like that’s important for both our physical and emotional safety as well as so that we can have really great sex.” Just making your intentions clear like that opens the door, allowing both you and your partner permission to talk about sex with maturity and be honest when you do.

Want to try on a few basic conversations one might have with a partner or potential partner that are pretty common, just to get an idea of how we can have them, and how hard it really ISN’T? CLICK HERE, and have a look at how some varied talks about sex with a partner can go.

Those sample conversations don’t have to be literal scripts for you, and my vernacular may not sound like the way you and your partners talk: I’m 37, and you’re probably not. “Gag me with a spoon,” and “Like, totally, that’s grody to the max,” were part of my teenage lingo: thank christ, they’re probably not part of yours. But the basics remain the basics: sound sexual communication is all about being honest (even when it feels awkward or embarrassing — but, if you’re going to be naked and/or sexual with someone things are going to be awkward and embarrassing sometimes, no matter what), being forthright and open (which anyone can do while still being kind to the other person), owning your own stuff (and the other person being able to do the same), and accepting that sometimes, because we need to communicate important things, sex might not seem so sexy for a bit, and we may even shelve sex we were going to have in exchange for talking about it. Even if that seems like a bummer at the time, I can guarantee you that it’ll mean the next times you DO have any kind of sex, it’s far more likely to be emotionally, interpersonally and physically better.

Where to have a talk? Pick emotionally safe, neutral spaces to talk about sex in. Often, it’s best to talk about sex in-depth when you’re not in the middle of having sex, when no one is naked (since most people feel more vulnerable that way), and when you’re not in an environment which can make it feel like having sex is more important than talking about it. Obviously, too, talking about sex between two people very personally isn’t a conversation for when you’re in a big group, hanging out with friends, or in the busy halls at school, where even the walls tend to have ears.

Suffice it to say, there will be times that it either feels just fine to talk about sex while in bed, and times when it’s also unavoidable. For instance, if you’re setting a limit on what you want to do in the midst of your partner starting to do that activity without asking, you need to set that limit right there and then. Or, if you two are laying around after sex and strike up a conversation about your sex life and it feels safe and comfortable for you to have it then, then no problem.

Check out some general themes we usually see in productive and communicative sexual conversations:

  • “I” statements. In other words, “I feel that…” rather than “You make me feel like…” Or, “When you do X, I experience Y,” instead of “You do Y to me.” “I feel ready for sex,” not “My friend Joe is having sex with HIS girlfriend.” When you’re speaking for yourself and about yourself, frame it that way. Even if you are calling out a partner on their behavior or actions, people tend to stop listening when an expression sounds more like an accusation.
  • Acknowledge the awkwardness. In so many ways, anything sexual between people IS awkward, and talking about it often is, too, especially when those conversations are being had for the first time. You can let a lot of the air out of the balloon just by saying that you feel awkward, and by being okay with that: it helps make it okay for your partner to feel awkward, too.
  • Same goes double for accepting that sex talk can be loaded. As a longtime sexuality educator – completely outside of my personal life – I’m acutely aware that people can fly off the handle pretty easily when talking about their sex lives, and that most people are pretty hypersensitive about sex. That’s unsurprising: sexuality is very personal, it makes us feel very vulnerable and exposed, and there’s an awful lot of pressure in the world to be sexually perfect, no matter how unrealistic that is. Prime the pump (as it were) and make sure your partner is in the right headspace to have a discussion about sex at a given time, just by asking if they are, and if they’re not, just make clear you need to soon, and would like them to let you know when it is a better time for them. Reinforce care for them by letting them know that you love and care for them and that you like being with them: you just want things to be as good between you as possible. Be aware of their personal sensitivities and insecurities and speak with kindness. “I think maybe your penis is too small,” for instance, is not a sensitive thing to say (and probably not even the real issue). “I’m feeling like this would feel even better with something fuller, maybe your hands?” is a serious improvement. “I’m having a hard time working out the difference between our reality and what I see in porn,” is far more accurate, sensitive and productive than “Why can’t you do what everyone in porn does?”
  • Watch your language.Part of communicating well (whether you’re talking about sex or something else) involves using terms which both people know the meaning of and are comfortable with. You may hit roadblocks to productive sexual communication if, say, you’re talking about “tea bagging” or “fingering” and your partner has no idea what you’re referring to (hint: when you say tea-bagging and they ask if you prefer herbal or black tea, they don’t understand you), or if your partner calls your genitals a “pussy” or a “prick” and those terms seriously turn you off or are gross to you. Be sure that when you are talking about sex, that you do so without making too many assumptions, and with care to what language you are using to express yourself; be open to making changes or clarifying in order to better that communication. Ask about what words work for your partner; tell them what words and language feel best to you. Everyone also has different levels of comfort when it comes to pillow talk — talking about sex during sex. Some people may like a partner to “talk dirty” during sex who either isn’t comfortable with that in general, or who is comfortable with that, but not yet. Plenty of people have a hard time — or just don’t like — talking about sex during sex, for the effect of heightening arousal, in general. Again, these tend to be matters of compatibility, and by discussing them — even in advance of sexual activity — even partners with some divergence of opinion can often find middle ground that works for both of them.
  • Make sexual communication an ongoing process. In other words, don’t expect one talk about one thing to be the only talk you’ll have or to net instant results. Most people tend to need time on their own to mull talks about sex over, since partnered sex can be so complex and sometimes tough to sort through, and a lot of the time you won’t have “The” talk, you’ll have a series of evolving talks about any given issue. As well, folks may not want to have a six hour gab-a-thon about a sensitive or emotionally loaded issue. It might be better to talk a bit about something one day, then suggest you go do something mellow and unloaded and talk about it more in a few days.
  • Expect the Best. If you walk into a sexual conversation anticipating that it will go poorly, it’s much more likely to. You’ll probably be more timid than you would otherwise, won’t do the best job of really stating your case, and may be less likely to be honest. If, instead, you walk in with the expectation that what you have to say is productive and important, and your partner can absolutely handle talking about sex (and if they’re having sex, they’d better be able to talk about it, too!) and listening to you, you’re more likely to communicate well and most honestly, and your partner is going to hear your confidence and trust in them in your voice.
  • By all means, accentuate the positive. Unless you’re talking with someone who is being abusive or is not minding your boundaries, when you have an otherwise positive sex life with someone, you can make them feel at ease and secure by being sure that even in areas you may be being critical, you’re also acknowledging the good stuff. For example, let’s say that you really enjoy sex with your partner, but their utter lack of communication makes you feel clueless as to what to do to be sure they’re enjoying it too. To keep positives in there, you might say something like, “I love being with you, and I love how you give me clues about what you like with your body. I think things could be even better, though, if you could also tell me, with words sometimes, what you like or want.”
  • Don’t ditch your sense of humor. Obviously, there are some conversations in which humor just isn’t appropriate – like when a partner is seriously stomping over your boundaries, or a partner needs to talk about previous sexual abuse with you. But in a lot of conversations about sex, it’s fine to have moments of lightness, and it’s helpful to inject a little laughter to help everyone feel more comfortable.

There are some people who strongly feel that any kind of talking during or about sex kills their buzz. Trouble is, we just HAVE to talk about sex at least sometimes, and if we’re really fully present with sex, then talking about it shouldn’t be a huge bummer. Someone who feels that way may also not be in the healthiest headspace: maybe talking kills things for them because they’re trying to pretend something is fine when it really isn’t. Maybe they’re trying really hard to avoid being vulnerable or close (in which case it’s mighty silly for them to be having sex, which is all about that), or want the sex they’re having to be more about a fantasy than the reality. Maybe they don’t want you to talk because they don’t want to leave you real room to say no or have a say. Maybe they’re really just not ready for sex with someone else, because being able to communicate is a big part of being ready.

If it feels to you that sexual issues cannot be discussed by you or your partner — either because you don’t feel ready, or because you think talking about them will spur on anger, upset, jealousy or massive insecurity — then you might want to wait for partnered sex with that person until you both do feel able to talk more comfortably, and have more practice doing it outside of bed, where any conversation tends to be a lot more loaded. Suffice it to say, if it feels patently unsafe to ever talk to your partner honestly about anything to do with sexuality, that’s just not a safe person to be with sexually at all.

Often, it also takes a few tries — and sometimes more than that — before we meet someone whose needs and wants are compatible with ours, or can work with a partner to find middle ground that works for both people. Because of that, it can be tempting to try and let things go unsaid we really need to be talking about, like limits and boundaries that aren’t being respected or communicated, wants or needs that aren’t being met, relationship models we know we can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just going too fast. Resist that temptation if it happens: you don’t want to set patterns or precedents for things that aren’t okay with you or aren’t working for you, because that makes it even harder to work them out in the long run. Put your limits and boundaries onto the table as soon as they come up. Even if it’s difficult, awkward, or feels risky to do, it’ll be a lot easier to set limits earlier rather than later, and taking risks to better understand each other is always a healthy risk to take with a good chance of delivering something positive and healthy.

Once you have some basic solid communication practices and dynamics down, it’s just a matter of basic care and feeding: if and when you do start having partnered sex, you’ll keep talking to one another, all the time, and it should become second-nature to always be communicating, sharing ideas, feelings and experiences without trying too hard. It’s not unusual, when you first start having partnered sex to go without heavy verbal communication for a while, because it’s new (and that newness can make things so exciting that even sex that isn’t physically so great is made better by the rush of something new), because you’re both caught up in all the things that feel good, and because things that aren’t yet as you like them, will just take more time. But over time, not only are you likely to need to talk more, you’ll both probably want to talk more, too.

Partnered sex is one of those things that tends to get better the longer you do it with someone, but part of why is communication that increases over that time. So, communication is important, but the sex you’re having also doesn’t need to feel like a lecture series to be healthy. You’ll probably find – as most people do — that when you start from a place of open communication, and keep communicating regularly and as needed – just opening that door not only makes communication become easier and easier over time – and when you get good at it with one partner, it tends to get easier with other partners over time — those regular habits will allow you to have more times when body language and monosyllables do you both just fine, and all the better than they would have if you didn’t have great verbal communication, too.

(Adapted and expanded from S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College)

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).

 

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
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