Talking About Sex With a Partner Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
Originally Published: October 4, 2018
Revised: January 3, 2019
I can name six things that are definitely as scary as Pennywise, the iconic clown from the book-turned-blockbuster-movie It. However, having a conversation about sex with a partner doesn’t have to be one of them!
The fear that can accompany talking about sex and sexuality with your partner is super real. However, it’s important to have these open conversations. Maybe you feel the need to establish clearer boundaries related to sexual behavior and consent? Or perhaps you want to talk with your partner about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), birth control and safer sex? What if you don’t identify as gay or heterosexual because gender isn’t something that affects who you’re attracted to? These are all important topics, and you deserve to feel comfortable bringing them up!
Unfortunately, people often associate talking about sex with shame, which may be why discussions related to sexuality can seem uncomfortable or scary. To make matters worse, we’re not given a lot of healthy examples of how to approach these talks. But as scary as it may seem, talking about sex with a partner is important. It can help you and your partner create a healthy relationship that meets both of your needs and respects each of your boundaries.
Why Communicating With a Partner Can Be Difficult
It’s healthy to bring up topics that matter with anyone you decide to date or be intimate with. But talking about sex or your relationship can be intimidating and make you feel vulnerable; it may be hard to know how your partner will react. “I’ve worried that a casual ‘relationship’ is much less important to the other person than to me, so they are much less invested in the conversation,” says Sid, 18, of Hillsborough, NJ. “It felt like I had more to lose.” It can be difficult to approach someone honestly about your relationship when you’re not sure where you stand or if you’re both on the same page in terms of “labeling” the relationship. While you might feel you’re taking a risk when you start a conversation, it’s important to feel able to express yourself.
Communication and trust play valuable roles in any relationship.
Brianna, 17, of the Bronx, NY, mentions another reason why teens may not be eager to bring up sex. “I think stigma plays a large role in making these types of talks uncomfortable because you don’t want to be seen in a negative light by a potential sexual partner,” she says. “So some people decide not to bring it up at all.” It may seem easier to avoid the topic rather than having what could be an uncomfortable conversation, but these conversations are necessary. They give you and your partner an opportunity to talk about safer sex and figure out if you are on the same page about boundaries and whether to have sex at all. Communication and trust play valuable roles in any relationship.
“Having a foundation of trust is always important when starting a conversation about sex and relationships with a partner,” says Rea, 18, also of Hillsborough, NJ. “If you don’t trust your partner to be mature and take your concerns seriously, it can be really hard to bring it up. I think that a lot of couples don’t talk about their sex life or relationship constructively, which can be damaging and even dangerous, especially when it comes to sexual health and boundaries.”
What You Should Be Talking About and Why
Talking about sexual boundaries and consent can be challenging because they may be awkward topics to bring up. The first step is to figure out what you are and aren’t comfortable with when it comes to being physical. Do you want to hold hands? Kiss? There are lots of ways to be physical. Some people believe that it’s easier to avoid talking about consent and what you do or don’t want to do with a partner. “I think it’s hard because sex is supposed to be fun and easy, but consent is serious and important, so people want to avoid sitting down and talking about it,” says Rea. However, talking about consent and sexual boundaries shouldn’t be avoided because you and your partner need to know what you both enthusiastically agree to.
Talking about getting tested, past sexual history, birth control and STDs can also feel awkward. Who wants to think about having an STD or being with a partner who has an STD? There is nothing like talking about diseases or the risk of pregnancy to ruin the mood. But if you and your partner want to be healthy or avoid pregnancy, have that awkward conversation about sexual history, STDs, getting tested and birth control, especially condoms since they are the only form of birth control that reduce your risk of STDs.
Teens may not talk with their partner about sexual health, birth control or getting tested for STDs because they don’t see STDs or pregnancy as real risks, which means these conversations don’t seem all that important or necessary, whether in hookup situations or an ongoing relationship. It’s important to communicate clearly about birth control and not just assume that a partner either is using or planning to use it. As for STDs, if a person doesn’t believe they’re at risk for one, they won’t bring it up. But the truth is that anyone who engages in sexual behaviors is at risk. That’s why it’s a good idea “to get tested regularly and be vocal about any health problems they have with a potential partner,” Brianna says.
Sexual identity is a personal topic that you may want to share with a partner because it will help them understand you more. Often, telling people about your sexual identity—your sexual orientation or gender identity—is difficult because of harmful myths or misconceptions about people who may not identify as heterosexual or cisgender.
“I’m bi-curious and my partner is too, so in our case I think it may be easier for us to accept one another with understanding and minimal jealousy,” says Nhajae, 16, of Seattle. “But for others, say someone heterosexual with a bisexual partner, it might be harder because of the fear of their partner being attracted to someone else or multiple people, just because of certain stereotypes about different sexual orientations.”
Tips for Talking About Sex and Relationships
There isn’t a magic spell or potion to make talking about sex any easier. It’s not your fault if you’re uncomfortable talking about sex because you may not have been given resources or models of what talking about it looks like! It would be great if more teens had the opportunity to learn how to have these conversations through role playing in a comprehensive sex ed class. Most teens don’t have this as an option, so below are some suggestions for having conversations that might seem scary.
- Make a plan. “Plan out what you want to get out of the conversation in your head before initiating it,” advises Sid. You may even want to write down what points you want to make and how you want to say it. You could even write a letter and read it to your partner.
- Choose the right time. Talk to your partner when you both have privacy and can give the discussion your full attention. Have the talk before things get physical. You can also continue the conversation as you learn more about one another. In fact, it makes sense to talk regularly and openly about sex with your partner.
- Be direct. When it comes to consent and what you do or don’t want to do, you want to be very clear, so be direct about consent and safer sex. Say what you mean. “If the conversation goes off on a tangent, try to bring it back to a central concern of yours or your partner’s,” says Sid. When you’re nervous, the conversation may veer off course. This is why writing down the points you want to make can be helpful. Make sure you’ve addressed what’s important to you and ask your partner to do the same.
Talking about sex and relationships may make you nervous, but being open and honest with a partner will help you both get what you need and want out of your relationship. When you have these conversations, you learn about your partner and you share important information with them. It’s easy to let fear prevent you from talking about sex, but ultimately, it can actually be empowering!
For more ideas on how to start a conversation about sexuality, check out the Sex, Etc. Communication Tool.
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