That headline’s not as appealing as “Let’s Talk About Sex,” is it? How do we communicate about sex and sexual health? How did you learn about sex and sexual health? Was it the often awkward birds-and-bees discussion with your parents or guardians? How thorough was this conversation? Did you explore risks beyond pregnancy? Was there a discussion about STIs, how they’re transmitted and shared? Did you hear the chatter of older siblings or adults, with no clue what they referenced with their sexual slang?
How do you express yourself or your needs to your partner today? Do you know what you like? Have you explored yourself? Yes, I’m asking whether you have given yourself a successful orgasm — you know, masturbation. This is truly how we learn what feels good, what’s stimulating to us, by touching ourselves. For some, how to say no to a partner is the most difficult issue, due to potential embarrassment on one or both sides.
When we begin a new relationship, it’s steamy, hot and exciting. The butterflies, being tongue-tied, nervousness, the gentle hand-touching and the first kiss. Before the first kiss, do you ever discuss the kiss? No, right? It’s the gazing into one another’s eyes and getting closer before the lips meet. The kiss may be awkward, mushy, wet, and so on; was it amazing? Of course, because it was what we’d been thinking, daydreaming and fantasizing about. Of course it was perfect.
A few months pass and the sex is still going well, two to four times a week. But is there something missing from the physical connections? Is there something you like sexually that concerns or embarrasses you, thinking that your newfound partner may not like or have experienced it? How do you mention your sexual fantasy, desire or kink? Is there something about the sex you’re having that, due to an earlier lived experience, makes you uncomfortable?
Talk about it. It’s important that we can mutually enjoy our sex life with a partner.
There may be something for you both to try and share with one another that neither of you has experienced. Let’s be honest, if you don’t like something, you need not have to do it right. How do you say no to something that your partner wants to try, but that you’re not comfortable with?
Let’s take anal sex as an example. Women routinely ask me how to address this sexual albatross with a partner. Men or people with penises especially can derive satisfaction from receptive anal sex, because the prostate is there, and when manipulated or stimulated it can cause arousal and orgasm. (Some men only learn this after turning fifty, during their very first prostate exam. But I digress.)
Anal sex may not be pleasant for females or people with vaginas who lack a prostate gland. How then do you say “no” to a special-occasion backdoor rendezvous with an anally excited partner? You can say, “I don’t like anal sex.” You can give specifics if you choose: simply saying that it’s not something you like is okay too. Let your partner know your position on whatever it is that you dislike.
How do you have the talk? When do you talk? My recommendation: name your need, write it down on paper, look at it, reflect, and practice articulating it. If you don’t know how to express your sexual health needs, practice! Practice saying it alone in the car while driving and rocking out to your favorite tune.
Practice in front of a mirror, with your pet. If your need or request elicits an emotional response in yourself, I want to stress the need for practice before that discussion. Take some of the power out of the action, kink or desire by literally practicing saying it. The more you say it, the easier it will be when having the discussion with your partner.
Then, having practiced what you are to say, when you do sit with your partner to have the talk, it will be easier, and you might be surprised how easily the conversation goes. I hope you surprise yourself.
Now that you know what you need to say, you’ll want to find a time that works for you both, where you can sit comfortably and have an uninterrupted conversation. Express yourself. Try and use “I” statements when discussing your needs. It’s also important as a partner to show appreciation to our partner. Do not forget that discussing your intimate needs and desires is also a suitable time to ask your partner whether there is anything that they like or enjoy that you haven’t tried.
If you’re someone who has unresolved sexual-health trauma from your lived experience, get some support to work through that. It is possible. If you have physical damage, there are therapists and exercises you can do to strengthen and rebuild your pelvic wall.
You may not have had any control over how you learned about sex, but you are 100% in charge of how you do it moving forward.
This is Hedda Fay encouraging you to express yourself to yourself and your partner. If you can’t speak to what you need, it may never be fulfilled! Remember, when out exploring the sexual landscape, take protection.
Hedda Fay, the Community Outreach and Program Manager of Northland Cares, answers your questions about sex and sexual health.