Note: This is a handout I wrote for a presentation I did at the New Culture Camp. It is about kink, and it is aimed at vanilla people. I have had a few requests for something like this in the last few days, so I thought I might re-post the handout to help you beautiful people out!
Usually I do workshops in Scene Negotiation for kinky people. This is because it’s really important to talk carefully through scenes before you play them out if you are planning to do something involving kink. However, this same idea can be very helpful for vanilla folks as well. Healthy communication is a positive addition to any lifestyle.
So first, why do we find it so hard to talk about sex? Not all of us came from oppressive households where the topic was taboo. Some of us came from open households where our parents discussed the topic with us, right? And yet, everyone struggles at first to communicate their needs to their partner.
There is a lot going on there of course, and we could do an entire workshop on the topic of sexual repression in society. Suffice to say, even when it is a topic that you feel safe discussing at home, you are often shamed for bringing it up in public. It’s completely okay to discuss your back injury at work, but not your struggle with impotence (even though they are both medical problems). It’s fine to talk about being in a community play, but not okay to talk about wanting to roll play being kidnapped by aliens with your partner (even though both are practicing acting skills).
It is this line that we as a society have drawn which has taught us that sex is private. You shouldn’t talk about it. You should keep it to yourself. You should be embarrassed.
I am not saying that I advocate talking to your co-workers about sexual fantasies. Obviously that would make for a really strange environment that not everyone would be comfortable with. I’m not sure if changing the world is required. However, since we all grew up in the world, we do need to learn to change ourselves so that we can lower that taboo against talking about sex when we are with our partners. It may be uncomfortable at first, but like everything else, practice makes perfect!
Let’s start by realizing an important truth: No one can read our minds. That means that no one can know what we want until we tell them. Oftentimes we run into the problem of desperately wanting our partner to do or say something that would make us happy, but they don’t know because they can’t read our minds. And sometimes, we can feel resentful that they don’t do the things we want, even though we haven’t told them what they are. This is understandable, but it is also unfair. That’s why it’s important in a healthy relationship to learn to understand your own needs, and then to learn to communicate them to the person you are with.
Figuring Out What You Want
The first step is to figure out what matters to you. This is a big step, because we are all individuals and so we all have different ideas about what is important. In order to effectively communicate with others, you must first look inside yourself and determine where your limits are. That way, you will be able to let other people know. There are several key things that you should determine for yourself when it comes to sex.
Let’s go through a list.
1. Do you wish to be monogamous?
This is a question that requires a lot of thought. If you want to be able to have sex with other people, then you also have to be comfortable with your partner having sex with other people. That can be difficult for some people, and so if you think you are curious about polyamory, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your partner and make sure you are not looking for an excuse to “cheat,” but instead have a legitimate interest in both of you perusing loving relationships outside your own.
Good questions to ask yourself:
* How would I feel if my partner went out on a date and I was at home alone?
* How would I feel if my partner developed feelings for another person?
* How would I feel if my partner decided another relationship was more valuable to him or her, and therefore moved me from the primary position to a secondary position in their life?
* What rules would be have in place to ensure good communication ?
Note: It is okay if you decide to be monogamous. It doesn’t mean that you are not open-minded and interested in sex. Just make sure that you are making a conscious choice to be monogamous or polyamorous. Don’t let yourself be pushed or coerced into anything that you are not comfortable with.
2. What is your comfort level when it comes to STDs?
Some of you may have grown up before this was a big concern, so let me start by telling you that HIV is a big deal, more aggressive strains of Herpes are going around, and there is also an untreatable strain of Chlamydia that has developed. This means the days of just taking a pill if you get something are over, and STDs are a real concern.
Personally, I prefer to exchange STD tests with potential partners prior to having sex with them. This is not a guarantee of safety since some things can take time to show up on a test. However, it is an added layer of safety that helps me to feel more comfortable with new partners.
Now, this is not always possible for me. My partner and I occasionally attend orgies. In those situations, I have to realize that I am taking a risk, and that there may be terrible consequences. We have decided in our relationship that we are okay with occasionally taking this risk if we are attending a sex party together, and we do try to minimize our risk by using condoms. It is still dangerous because many STDs can be spread by skin-to-skin contact. However, we don’t engage in orgies very often, and we feel that an occasional risk is acceptable for the same reason that we are willing to drive cars and fly in airplanes. Sometimes risk is required in order to have fun, and each person must decide for themselves what they consider to be acceptable risks.
Good questions to ask yourself:
* Have I considered all the possible consequences?
* Have I decided what risk level is acceptable to me?
* Have I decided on a plan to make sure that my risk level is met?
3. What kind of sex do I want to have?
Some people are very uncomfortable with oral sex. I have found that comfortable levels actually vary widely about a lot of things. In the kink community, we like to talk about “hard limits” and “soft limits.” So for example, you might be completely uncomfortable with the idea of anal sex, but only a little uncomfortable with oral sex. Hard limits are the things that you will communicate to your partner as unbreakable. You refuse to consider doing those things, and you do not want to be asked or have them try to coerce you into them. Soft limits are the things that you may be okay with sometimes, such as a blowjob on Valentine’s Day.
Good questions to ask yourself:
* What you are hard limits?
* What are your soft limits?
* What are things you are unsure about?
4. What are your fantasies?
Most people have things that they fantasize about, but that they have never done before. Or, perhaps they have tried them before with an ex, but don’t know how to broach the subject with their partner. Fantasies are a healthy part of life, and there is nothing wrong with trying new things that you and your partner may enjoy.
However, please remember that sometimes you have a fantasy, but it might not be a good idea to actually do it. An example might be a gang bang. Maybe the fantasy excites you, but in reality you would be sore and unhappy, and your partner would be hurt. So be honest with yourself about which fantasies you actually want to play out, and which ones are just for fun. You do not have to act on every idea that goes through your head.
Questions to ask yourself:
*Are you sure that you are comfortable with this?
*Are you sure it is fair to ask your partner for this?
*What are the things that could go wrong, and are you willing to accept responsibility for those things?
So, now that you have asked yourself some really important questions, you have a better idea of what you want and what you are comfortable with. Great! Knowing yourself is important and some people go their whole lives without ever looking inside themselves and exploring their dreams and desires. You are already ahead of the pack!
Remember that there are always different things that each person needs to consider, so take some time to reflect/meditate/thought diagram or whatever you do to make sure that you haven’t missed anything. For example, I excluded the complication of children and pregnancy because it isn’t relevant to me. My son is grown, and I am no longer able to have children. In addition, my husband has had a vasectomy, so I don’t have to worry about him getting any of his girlfriend’s pregnant. Therefore, this isn’t a concern in my universe. But your universe may be different. So make sure you haven’t missed anything before you move on to the next step, which is to communicate your desires.
Speaking of, here is a little bit about communication:
In the kink community, we like to use scene negotiation forms, worksheets, and checklists. I generally make a pot of tea, and then we have tea while discussing the paperwork. This is because there is a lot to consider when you are about to have a kinky threesome with two of the participants gagged and a role play scenario playing out. Vanilla sex is less complicated. Because of this, you may not need paperwork in order to let your partner know what you need.
Things to keep in mind:
1. Use positive language.
Of course this applies to all communication, but it is particularly important when talking about sex, because it is a very sensitive topic for people.
Example of poor communication: “When my ex Mandy used to lick my asshole it was amazing and I want you to do it just like her.”
Why is this an example of poor communication?
Well, for starters, we’re referring to an ex by name, and that can make it more hurtful, as though you are comparing your partner to someone else. It is often less hurtful to say something like: “In the past, I have enjoyed X.”
Now, another way this is hurtful is that the person speaking is throwing the idea in their partner’s face. We shouldn’t do that when raising new ideas or fantasies. Instead we should try to bring up the idea in a more gentle way, such as “Have you ever given any thought to X?”
Finally, let’s remember that we need to give our partner room to say no if something isn’t okay with them. People can be uncomfortable with various things due to past trauma like rape, previous negative experience with the specific thing, and many other factors. If we introduce a new idea, we need to be willing to receive a “no,” and we need to leave room to hear it.
2. Set the right mood.
When there is paperwork, you need light. Hence I try to use my living room as the place to sit, with cozy warm drinks and comfortable furniture.
However, if you are not doing a kink scene negotiation, then you probably don’t need a handout to talk about it. If that is the case, then I recommend having conversations about sex in the dark, in bed. If possible, it helps to be physically touching in some way, although I can understand that when you feel the need to emotionally pull back, you may also feel the need to physically pull back. We can’t always control those involuntary things that are brain makes our body do. However, maintain physical contact if you can, because it helps. Touch is comforting.
I also recommend music, which is something I use. I don’t necessarily use relaxing music, because often I am trying to create a sexy mood and I personally don’t find relaxing music sexy. You may feel differently. It doesn’t matter what you select as long as it’s something that you and your partner both like. It fills in awkward pauses and provides a helpful distraction.
3. Bring all your love and acceptance.
It is wonderful if you can get some or even most of the things that you want from your partner. However, since people are all very different, you will probably never get every single thing you need from one person.
Therefore, you may ask for some things and get a no. Perhaps your partner doesn’t like role-play. Maybe they don’t feel comfortable with spanking. It could be that anal sex just isn’t their thing.
And when you run into a thing that you would like and you ask your partner, it can be easy to feel like you deserve this thing because you got up the courage to ask. This is natural, but it is also wrong. You need to overcome that feeling.
Yes, it takes courage to ask for things.
However, your partner still has a right to say no.
So when you are talking about things you want, remember that you won’t get all of them. Maybe you really want to go to a sex club and switch partners with another couple. But, maybe your partner is not comfortable having sex with strangers and needs to get to know someone first. Well, just because you want to go to a sex club and have sex with a stranger, doesn’t mean that you get to if you want to stay in the relationship. You both have to be okay with it.
When possible, try to find a compromise. In the example above, you wanted to swap partners at a sex club. However, your significant other didn’t feel comfortable with that because they won’t sleep with strangers. So, you can compromise by getting to know a couple first, and then taking then to a sex club and swapping partners. If you’re all into role-play you can even pretend you have never met once you get there.
The keys to remember are:
1. Get comfortable with the idea of talking about sex.
2. Figure out what you want first.
3. Use positive language, set up a cozy environment, and be prepared to hear “no.”
4. Never stop communicating with your partner, and re-negotiate your sexual interests at least once a year because tastes change over time.
Note: I am sure all of you wonderful people know this already, but I will remind you anyway. Please make sure that you take time to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and think about them before you talk to them.
And now there is only one thing left to say: Have Fun!