8 Tips for Safer, Smarter Hook Ups

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

If you’re getting it on and the getting is good, here are some ways to keep it safe.

Hooking up or “picking up” is suppose to be a fun way to explore your sexuality. And there is no shame in experiencing pleasure for pleasure sake. But as with any exploration, there is a set of basic rules that can keep you safe- both emotionally and physically.

We’re sex-positive here, so we figure if you decide hooking up is the thing for you we want to provide you with ways to do it safely and keep a smile on your face.

Here are Besider’s 8 Tips for Safer, Smarter Hook Ups.

In summary:

  • Before you hook up, get tested and know your status
  • Think and plan ahead about birth control and STI protection methods. Come prepared with more than one condom and/or sex dam
  • Always meet in public first
  • Know your boundaries and be able to communicate them clearly
  • Have an exit strategy in place in case things don’t feel right

This article was originally published on Bedsider.

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Your friend wants to set you up on a blind date. Or you get a notification on your phone that you’ve got a match. Or you’re getting ready to go out, and that cute someone you’ve been talking to might be there. All situations that could potentially lead to fun; all situations that could potentially lead to sex. If a hookup might be in your future, here are some things to consider before, during, and after getting it on.

1. (STI) status update

Before you hook up, know your status for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Getting tested is a solid move because some STIs don’t show any symptoms, so you might not know if you have one—and leaving an STI untreated can lead to more serious problems. Here’s an extensive list of places to get tested for free, based on your location. If you use Tinder, you can take advantage of a new locator feature to find free places to get tested.

2. Birth control on lock

If you don’t want to become pregnant but you might have sex, make sure you are using a method of birth control that works for you. Some methods are more party-ready than others, so if drinking is part of the plan, consider methods that don’t require action right as things get steamy. And while you’re thinking ahead, toss some condoms in your bag for extra protection. (More on that in tip 6.)

3. Short and sweet, with a backup plan

Meeting someone new and not sure what to expect? It might be best to suggest date ideas that don’t require a long time commitment. Meet up for a drink or walk your dog together, and maybe have a suggestion in mind for a follow-up activity if things go well. On the flip side, if you’re really feeling the need to remove yourself from the situation, you can always text a friend to call you with an ‘emergency.’

4. Set your boundaries

Hooking up can mean sooo many different things. Think about what you are down for before you meet up with someone—if sex isn’t in the game plan, there are still plenty of ways to heat things up. Be direct about what you’re into and what you want. Communicating openly with your partner can help make your boundaries clear. (Bonus: It can also make sex hotter.)

A crucial note: if anything sexual happens that you or your partner don’t consent to, that is sexual assault. Here’s more information about sexual assault and what to do if it happens to you.

5. Sharing is (not always) caring

Yep, we’re talking STIs again. If you decide to take things up a notch, now is the time to whip out one of those bad boys you stuck in your bag earlier. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against STIs, so it’s worth rolling on a rubber even if you’re using another birth control method.

Remember you’ll need to use a condom or dental dam for any kind of sex—oral, anal, or vaginal—to make sure you’re covered against all STIs. Flavored condoms can be a great way to make safer oral sex more fun (and you can cut them in half to convert them into dental dams).

6. Safe travels

There are so many safety apps out there—some rely on friends to remotely track your journey while others automatically call the police if you are unable to interact with the app. But if you are feeling really sketchy about the trip, the best thing to do is spring for a ride.

7. Whoops

The condom broke. You forgot your pill. If there is a chance that a little swimmer has foiled your best intentions, that’s what emergency contraception (EC) is for. Most EC options work best if you use them ASAP, so it might be a good idea to buy some to have around before you need it. Or use our locator to find EC near you.

8. For next time…

It’s never a bad idea to stop and take stock. If your hookup was 10/10-would-do-again but you’re not looking for a relationship, continue to celebrate your no-strings-attached life. If the chemistry from last night has kept you thinking, maybe it’s worth reaching out to that person again. If this was one in a series of hookups that have left you feeling ‘ehhh,’ it may be time to evaluate whether what you’re doing is still working for you.

Be generous to yourself, make the choices that feel right, and remember that your choices shouldn’t define you. If you take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally, you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way, whether it’s embracing your single status, reveling in romance, or anything in between.

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

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?

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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

Why Your ‘Signature Move’ Doesn’t Work for all Women

Photo credit: Patrick McDonald

Photo credit: Patrick McDonald

It’s a common problem. Maybe mainstream sex advise magazines are to blame, but all too often people assume that those “5 Tongue Tricks” they read about in Cosmopolitan will work for every sex partner, every time.

The fact is, everyone is different. As Kate McComb writes, there is no universal best way to please all women and all men. The way you kissed your ex may not be the right way to kiss your new sex partner. This becomes a problem when one is not sensitive to what their partner likes and not open to learning new ways of pleasing the other.

That is the main point in sex educator, Kate McComb’s piece. We all must unattached from specific pleasure tactics and actually communicate with our sex partners about what turns us on. And if one person doesn’t know what they really want or like? Read Kate’s article for great advise on how to be truly present and sexually delight your partner.

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

I was having Sunday brunch with a friend in a Midtown café and she was telling me about her latest Tinder date. After sharing the basic details of the hookup, she got to the part where things went south – and not in a sexy way.

After some sexy making out and getting undressed, he pulled out the dreaded “signature move.”

In this case, it was some weird tongue choreography that was clearly rehearsed and not, as she put it, based on her “directions.”

It was a sex technique he probably read about once and, since it worked on one woman, he assumed it worked on all women.

Suffice it to say, she did not enjoy it. In fact, the exact word she used was “meh.”

I’ve heard similar stories from other women in my workshops. They have partners who are attached to a particular pleasuring tactic that “worked on the last girl” and aren’t sufficiently open to new ways of operating. Besides being super tacky (PSA: don’t bring up an ex’s sexual response in bed with a new girl), it’s ill informed.

In the sex ed workshops I teach adults, I often get questions about the “best way” to stimulate the G-spot or to give a blow job. The true but less-satisfying answer is that there is no “best way.” Human bodies are wired differently and even though we have the same basic parts, the way we like those parts stimulated varies tremendously.

I suspect years of seeing magazines with “10 Ways to Wow Your Woman” headlines have only reinforced the signature move. Additionally, mainstream porn and popular movies alike depict sexual behavior in a very narrow fashion. Variety isn’t depicted, so people don’t realize that variety is the only thing that’s really “normal.”

The only way to know what truly delights someone is to ask and listen fully to the response. It’s certainly OK to have some techniques – in fact, it’s great to have a toolbox of pleasuring techniques to draw upon. It’s just crucial that one technique doesn’t eclipse all others, especially in the face of constructive feedback.

Just as one size never fits all, one move does not delight all genitals.

Instead of rolling out some fancy strategy, ask for directions and be present for the response. And if they don’t know what they want? Suggest exploring different sensations together and see what feels good.

In addition to enthusiastic consent, good sex requires two things: good communication and the awareness that only your partner is the expert on what they like sexually. They are the sexpert on what delights them, just as you are the sexpert on what delights you.

When we reduce sex to a series of signature moves, we discount the variety of pleasure and preferences humans can experience. If you want to be amazing in bed, replace your signature move with delicious communication and erotic curiosity. It’ll make sex more adventurous and, most importantly, mutually pleasurable. It’ll also give her something to smile about, rather than commiserate about at Sunday brunch.

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

The Golden Rule to Healthy Hook-Ups

Photo credit: Carolina Ponce

Photo credit: Carolina Ponce

Girl meets boy. They become friends and soon enough, they are hooking up on a regular basis. No love, no commitments – they only do it for the purpose of having sex!

Casual sex has been portrayed in contradictory fashion throughout history. It’s deemed a mortal enemy of love and commitment. People who engage in it are often put down, punished or shamed. At the same time, casual sex is also represented as proof of sexual liberation. As a result, when someone feels like it’s not a good fit for them they might feel stigmatized and fear being perceived as prudish or sexually repressed. It’s a double edged sword.

So how do we reconcile this? Is hooking up unhealthy or healthy?

Sex educator, JoEllen Notte highlights a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggesting that it’s not so much whether you have casual sex that impacts your mental health, it’s why you do it.

This article was originally published on RedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

"Sex that is casual? Shocking!" Image from redheadbedhead.com

“Sex that is casual? Shocking!” Image from redheadbedhead.com

You may have noticed that in the last couple of years there have been a bevy of stories about hook-up culture, online dating, friends with benefits and the general shift from the assumption that everyone should be engaging in “rings and babies dating” to an acceptance that a whole lot of folks are engaging in what could be described as “fuck buddy dating”. Hot on the heels of this discussion has been another conversation. A very intense conversation. A kind of scary conversation. A conversation about how all of this is very, very bad for everyone.

Studies came out telling us that people who engaged in these hook ups were unhappy. Articles came out bemoaning the death of dating, courtship and romance and in general people agreed that this was all very, very bad.

But what if they were all very, very wrong?

When we start to really look at some of the “concern” we see some interesting patterns. Studies set out to prove that casual sex is damaging and (voila!) did! Angry writers who don’t enjoy casual relationships themselves writing scathing indictments of the practice of hooking up because, clearly it is threatening their way of being. Suddenly these “facts” start to look a bit skewed. Are there voices coming from the other side? Perhaps even (gasp!) neutral voices?

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

 

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

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.

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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

18 Signs of a Sexually Healthy Adult

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

Photo credit: Mario Klingemann

What does healthy sexuality look like?

As we’ve talked about before, sexuality is a complex mix of things in varying proportions for different people- things that are physical, emotional, interpersonal, cultural and more. Thus it’s difficult to pin down in one all-encompassing definition. That is why The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) developed a list of behaviors that encapsulate what healthy sexuality can look like.

There is one word you will see a lot on this list. Affirmation, which means the declaration that something is true. In other words, to express and experience sexuality in healthy ways is to positively uphold and support yourself for who you are.

This is not an exhausive list (there are many things one could add). If you find that there are some things missing here, it does not mean something is “wrong” with you. It simply demonstrates how sexuality is extremely diverse. This list is one model (of many) to help explain how healthy sexuality is cultivated.

This article was originally published on KarenRayne.com

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

4th of July Parade

And here is a picture of a young adult – tell me your opinion – is this adult exhibiting Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult? Why or why not?

Children and adolescents gather information from watching the adults around them. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (http://www.siecus.org/) has compiled a list of Life Behaviors of a Sexually Healthy Adult. Reading this list, I think an adult (or child, or adolescent) who is exhibiting these behaviors is healthy in more ways than ‘just’ sexually. What do you think?

A sexually healthy adult will:

1) Appreciate one’s own body.

2) Seek further information about reproduction as needed.

3) Affirm that human development includes sexual development, which may or may not include reproductive or sexual experience.

4) Interact with all genders in respectful and appropriate ways.

5) Affirm one’s own sexual orientation and respect the sexual orientations of others.

6) Affirm one’s own gender identities and respect the gender identities of others.

7) Express love and intimacy in appropriate ways.

8) Develop and maintain meaningful relationships.

9) Make informed choices about family options and relationships.

10) Exhibit skills that enhance personal relationships.

11) Identify and live according to one’s own values.

12) Take responsibility for one’s own behavior.

13) Practice effective decision-making.

14) Develop critical-thinking skills.

15) Communicate effectively with family, peers, and romantic partners.

16) Enjoy and express one’s sexuality throughout life.

17) Express one’s sexuality in ways that are congruent with one’s values.

18) Enjoy sexual feelings without necessarily acting on them.

Source: http://www.siecus.org/pubs/guidelines/guidelines.pdf

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rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

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.

Breaking The No Condom Habit

screen-capture-5It is not uncommon for people to falter. Practicing safer sex every single time can be a challenge for some. One reason for this is feeling insecure about initiating condom use. How can you shore up an assertive and sexy way to lay down the condom rule?

Basic courtesies in sex may feel unfamiliar because there simply is no discussion about it in our standard sex education or popular media, which is why we highly recommend this article by Robin Mandell of Scarleteen. It unpacks from where these nuanced communication difficulties stem. The author gets straight to the heart of why it is so important to take responsibility in managing your sexual safety. She offers great tips on how to incorporate condoms as a normal part of sex.

Here are some stellar points to remember next time you feel uneasy about introducing safer practices:

  • Taking care of your body and your partner’s body is smart and sexy!
  • Stigma around STIs has twisted safer sex practices to seem like an unsexy act of distrust. This is complete ignorance! It is about caring for each other’s health and what’s wrong with that?
  • No matter who your partner is, you can say “no” to sex if the person refuses to use a condoms. Because after all, to refuse or complain about such a thing is not respecting your sexual boundaries. Now THAT is unsexy.
  • Talk about STI testing and safer sex practices with all your sex partners. Using condoms is something that can come into casual conversation.
  • Practice how to put on a condom yourself and be prepared with your own stash of safer sex tools.
  • Condoms also make oral sex fun and safe.

The original article was published on Scarleteen

BY ROBIN MANDELL | ReadySexyAble.com

This question was posed to Scarleteen.

CuriosityCat asks:

I am 20 and sexually active. I don’t have a long term partner but have had and do have various partners. I have an IUD so I’m protected against pregnancy, however I know condoms are still hugely important. My problem is that I am completely stuck for what to say to make a man put one on. At the moment, it’s just getting carried away then really kicking myself later. I have to be more diligent with this, but please- do you have any advice for laying down the law? A non awkward, but still sexy way of asserting myself?

Robin Mandell replies:

In a sentence: you could just take one out of your bag, hand it to your partner, and say “Here, put this on.” Or, “Let’s get a condom on first.”

Or, if you want to keep the touch between the two of you going without a condom-stop, how about, “Why don’t I slide this on for you.” Remember, you can put a condom on, too, and some folks find making putting condoms on part of sex, rather than having them be an interruption, sexy, playful and fun.

It really is as simple as any of that, yet I know it can feel a whole lot more difficult. Especially when you’re not yet in the habit, so it feels out-of-place instead of typical. Once condom use and insisting on it is your normal, it really does feel a whole lot different, and can be very easy to be totally relaxed about. Bonus: when you’re relaxed about it, your partners will tend to be too, so there’s likely to be no muss and no fuss.

There are a few things I’m not sure of, in answering this question: Are these partners friends? Strangers? Something in between? Do you have some type of ongoing sexual relationship with them, just single encounters, or does it depend on the partner? Answers to these questions may impact how you negotiate condoms, but they don’t have to have any impact on whether they’re used or not. Where these sexual encounters take place can also affect the mechanics of how you incorporate condom use in a way that feels comfortable and still sexy for you.

No matter who your partner is, though, or where you are, using a condom really can be a hard limit for you, hard in that if a partner refuses, you can take that sexual activity off the table, instead opting to engage in other sexual activities that don’t pose the same kinds of risks. And that doesn’t have to be paired with any drama or ultimatums (nor should it be.) It can be as mellow as, “Yeah, I wanted to have sex, too, but I need condoms to be used for that. If you don’t, that’s cool, but not when it comes to sex with me. You’ll need to find someone who is okay with that, then.”

It can be tough to say “no” to something you really want, or to say “no” to someone you really like or are attracted too, but this is your health we’re talking about. Theirs, too.

Taking care of your body is sexy as far as I’m concerned, and doing things that show you’re caring for someone else’s body is also sexy in my book.

The huge stigma society has built up around STIs and STI transmission, plus the very real dangers of some STIs, has made safer sex practices seem like a chore, or like the unsexy part of sex. There’s even some cultural weirdness around just being caring about ourselves and other people when it comes to sex, which is pretty strange for something that’s supposed to involve our humanity.

Really though, any action that ensures people’s health and safety, whether it’s checking with someone to make sure they’re okay with a given sexual activity, readjusting positions to avoid a sprained knee, or, using barriers to make sex safer, can feel like a natural, normal, typical part of sex. Just like, say, “Does that feel good?” can.

The fact that we don’t see these safer sex negotiations often happening in media representations of sex — such as in movies, or how-to articles in popular magazines — doesn’t help matters; thus, basic courtesies in sex can feel strange and unfamiliar to us, or we might feel afraid that our partners will be turned off by them. Of course, it’s not like someone feeling turned off now and then will end the world or anything, and that’s bound to happen for one reason or another sometime, whether it’s about asking for condom use or about doing something sexual in the exact same way the ex who broke their heart did. Partners– or us — experiencing a buzzkill now and then is also a typical part of sex in our lives.

Regardless of how casual — or not — a sexual relationship is, it’s still okay to, and advisable to, discuss safer sex practices with partners. Using condoms is something you can introduce in casual conversation, even using a buffer like: “I was reading this article about sex the other day, and….”

It’s also important to remember that in addition to making genital intercourse safer, condoms also make oral sex safer. Many STIs can be and are transmitted through oral sex–such as chlamydiaherpes, and gonorrhea.

It sounds as if up to now you’ve mostly been concerned with preventing pregnancy. It might be helpful to review STIs and their modes of transmission. It’s also worth noting that for STIs transmitted primarily through skin-to-skin contact condoms offer less protection.

Regular STI testing is super-important for any sexually active person, too, whether they’ve had multiple partners or have been in only one monogamous relationship so far. But because one of the markers of STI prevention has been found to be limiting partners, it’s especially important for people who have multiple partners to be tested consistently. It’s also pretty important to discuss STI testing with partners; if you don’t feel comfortable discussing this, or don’t feel as if you are getting a straight answer when you ask about it, it’s even more important to practice safer sex with the assumption that they haven’t been tested or haven’t been practicing safer sex in the past.

For ideas on communication strategies, check this out.

I’m not sure what your concern is with making the effort to use condoms. A few of the reasons we sometimes hear are: It feels like an interruption to the sex. The guy says he can’t feel anything/can’t orgasm/can’t whatever wearing a condom. One partner or another says they don’t have anything, so condoms really aren’t necessary.

In spite of all the sexy, apparently romantic notions about sex, engaging in sex with another person, no matter what the nature of the relationship is, is inherently going to be awkward sometimes. Sticking bodies and people’s deep stuff together closely is kind of awkward, after all. That’s part of the fun of it, as we negotiate the random whims of our bodies and minds to hopefully find mutual pleasure and fulfillment. That said, while stopping to put a condom on can feel like a blip, it doesn’t have to be an awkward blip.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Learn, with the aid of a banana, dildo, or willing partner, how to put a condom on yourself. Like I already mentioned, for many partners this helps the process blend into the sexual experience more. That way, too, you can understand that condom use also isn’t about “making” a guy do something: it’s about something people do together for each other.
  • When you get the sense that sexual activity could happen, take a quick break from what you’re doing and pull condoms out of your purse, nightstand, or wherever you’ve been keeping them. You can say something like: “No pressure. Just wanted to get these out just in case we want to do something where we need them.”
  • Just stop what you’re doing and hand them a condom. Sometimes, you don’t even have to say anything at all. I know it can feel awkward, but the more you do it, the more natural it will feel. The more whatever it feels, the more whatever you act about it, and the more whatever a partner often will, too. Many of us have things we need or don’t in order to be comfortable with sex, or anything else, and those just become part of the deal.

As to whether condoms reduce sensation, they really don’t have to. At least not any more than say, the birth control pill can change how someone taking it experiences sex: sure, there are some differences, but they are most often small ones. Yes, they feel different than when condoms aren’t being used, but no, they don’t have to be a mood-breaker or sensation-blocker.

Two tricks to getting condoms to feel good and comfortable are to put a couple of drops of water-based lubricant inside the tip of the condom before putting it on, and to make sure the condom fits well. Condoms aren’t one-size-fits-all, and a condom that’s too small or too big is much more likely to create big sensation differences than one that fits the wearer well. If you’re providing the condoms, you might find it useful to have a variety of types and styles on hand so your partner can choose what seems right to them. Variety packs can be found online, and at some drugstores. be sure to include some thinner condoms, too: sometimes people think they need the thickest condoms or they will break, when in fact, breakage rates are no different for the thinnest condoms, and a thinner condom means less change in sensation.

If you make using a condom a requirement for engaging in specific sexual activities, the choices will become to either engage in that activity with a condom or to not engage in it at all. You really don’t need to fall for the claim that condoms ruin everything. They don’t hurt, and, if the fit and style suits the person, they shouldn’t significantly reduce sensation for most people. Then too, orgasm never has to be associated with one particular sexual activity, though I know it often is. If a partner balks at using a condom for intercourse, for example, because he has difficulty reaching climax while wearing a condom, that doesn’t make intercourse impossible. It just means that another activity, such as manual sex, will need to follow if he wishes to reach climax.

Unless you know for sure that someone has recently been tested, and you trust them to report the results accurately (or have seen the results report), it’s safest to engage in sexual activities in ways that protect yourself. The absence of symptoms is not a clear indication, as many STIs are asymptomatic (without symptoms) for a long while.

In short, you can get partners to use condoms by providing the condoms yourself and being relaxed, confident and firm in your conviction that sex just also means condoms.

condom ad condoms too loose

ROBIN MANDELL is a healthy sexuality and disability rights advocate based in the Washington D.C. area. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies from Queen’s University in Canada and a Professional Writing Certificate from Washington State University. Over the years, Robin has amassed extensive experience working with people at vulnerable times of their lives, both as a crisis hotline worker and a sexuality and relationships education advocate with Scarleteen. She’s discovered that disability issues receive significantly less attention in academia and social justice movements than they’re due. She has developed a passion for starting dialogues on sex, disability and accessibility, and has come to the realization that, as much as she just wants to be like everybody else, she can use her visible reality as a blind woman to start these dialogues. Robin blogs on disabilities, sexualities, and the connections between them at ReadySexyAble.com and has published articles on various sexuality and sexual health topics at Scarleteen and Fearless press

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

What Is a “Beacon of Permission”?

Photo credit: Carol Jones

Photo credit: Carol Jones

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

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

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

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

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

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

As is glaringly obvious, I love talking about sex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsure what size

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

Before You Stop Using Condoms….

before you stop using condomsIt is very common for couples to start off the relationship using condoms and then, as the relationship lasts, their reliance on condoms decreases until perhaps they wish to stop using condoms altogether. But there are some steps to take in order to make this transition away from condoms a healthy one. In this article from Bedsider, Jessica Morse lists things to consider and explains how to follow through when taking condoms out of your sexperience. Prepare to take yourself to a health care provider.

In summary, here are important points to consider if you plan to stop using condoms:

  • Condoms and internal (or “female”) condoms are the only form of protection against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  • Many STIs do not show symptoms all the time. It’s worth taking a trip to the health clinic and getting a full-screen STI test. As well as making sure you or your partner’s Pap smear is up-to-date.
  • Depending on your test results, follow through with the appropriate waiting time until the next test and/or complete your treatment.
  • Have discussions with your partner. Is pregnancy a risk? Which birth control method should you use?  Are you quitting condoms in order to get pregnant?

This article was written by Jessice Morse, MD, MPH, and was originally published here

BY BEDSIDER | Bedsider.org

Condoms are great— they’re available in almost any drug store or clinic and they protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). More than half of U.S. couples use a condom when they have sex for the first time, and over 93% have used condoms at some point.

The number of couples relying on condoms tends to go down as relationships last longer, so it’s safe to say a lot of couples start off using them and then switch to another method of birth control when they become exclusive. Starting a new method of birth control (maybe one that’s more effective for preventing pregnancy than condoms) doesn’t have to mean forgoing condoms. Doubling up with condoms and another method is a great option for many couples. But if you and your partner have been using condoms and want to stop, here are a few things to square away beforehand.

Get your test (GYT)

Male and female condoms are the only methods that can protect against STIs. That includes the ones that can easily be treated—like gonorrhea and chlamydia—and the not-so-easily treated—like herpes and HIV.

Just because neither of you have bumps or rashes doesn’t mean you’re necessarily in the clear; STIs can be there without you even knowing it. So even if you’re pretty sure you don’t have an STI, you should both get tested for common infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. You may also want to ask about a herpes test; your healthcare provider will usually ask questions to figure out if it makes sense to test for that too. It’a also a great time to make sure your HPV vaccine series (3 shots!) is done and your Pap smears are up to date.

All of these tests can be done without a physical exam:

  • For chlamydia and gonorrhea, you just need to provide a urine sample. Yup, it’s a simple as peeing in a cup.
  • For HIV, syphilis and herpes, it’s a blood test. That means providing a small sample of blood at a lab or clinic.

Then just a few days of awkward waiting and you’ll have your results!

Drumroll, please

Once you get your test results, you may have a few more steps to take before it’s safe to stop using condoms.

Positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis
These STIs can all be cured with antibiotics. You may take pills, get a shot, or both. The treatment depends on the type of infection. You may be done after one shot, one pill, or a week of pills. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you get tested again in the coming months to make sure the infection is cleared up. If you have any symptoms or concerns after you’ve finished the treatment, talk to your provider and decide what to do.

Positive for HIV, herpes, or hepatitis
These STIs can’t be cured, but they can be managed with medicines that reduce the viral load (the amount of the virus in your body) and a partner’s chance of getting the same infection. Although the medicines reduce the chance of giving the virus to a partner, they don’t guarantee it. That means that you’d need to talk to your partner about how you both feel taking this chance without condoms. (If you decide to keep using condoms, you’re in good company. About 10% of U.S. couples of all ages rely on condoms.)

All clear

If you’re both in the clear, you can have the “let’s stop using condoms” conversation.

If you’re not ready for kids yet: This is a good time to talk about what other method you want to use for pregnancy prevention. Obviously whoever is using the method should have final say, but it might be nice to have both partners involved in the decision. You can also talk to your healthcare provider to help you figure out which method is best for you.

If you’re quitting condoms in order to start trying for a baby: It’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider a few months ahead of time. Even for women without health problems, there are some basic things you can do to have a healthier pregnancy. For example, taking prenatal vitamins prevents certain types of birth defects. Your provider can also give you good tips for how to increase your chances of getting pregnant. Good luck!

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