Communication-and-Decision-Making

Sometimes people aren’t on the same page when it comes to their sexual values, ideas and preferences. This is why communication is so important. If your partner has different sexual preferences, you will have to negotiate to figure out where the common ground lies. Most people view negotiation as bargaining between two people but it’s more than that. It’s an honest discussion about feelings, beliefs, comfort zones and limits.

Timing is everything. Many people talk about safer sex, birth control or their sexual boundaries when they’re intimate and just can’t put off the conversation any longer. This isn’t ideal. Try talking with your partner when you aren’t having sex – that way there’s no pressure or risk that you’ll get carried away because it feels too good to stop. By the way talking about sexual preferences and boundaries can be a real turn-on. It builds intimacy and respect that are foundational for a healthy relationship.

Tips for Negotiating Safer Sex

It’s one thing to know about safer sex and a whole other thing to ask your partner if he has a condom in the middle of some heavy petting. Here are some tips to help you negotiate safer sex with your partner:

  • Talk with your partner about safer sex before you are sexually entangled. Sometimes people get carried away when they’re turned on and don’t have the willpower to stop and have a conversation about condoms. Listen to your partner. Hopefully they’ve also done some thinking about safer sex but don’t count on it. Give your partner some time to think and listen respectfully to what they have to say.
  • Learn as much as you can about safer sex so that you can have an informed discussion with your partner.
  • Rehearse what you want to say. Being prepared builds confidence and eases any fears or feelings of embarrassment ahead of time. Practice how to bring up the topic and what you want to say with a friend or family member or just visualize how you want things to go in your head.
  • Keep talking. Talking about safer sex is not just a onetime conversation. It’s important to keep the dialogue going as your relationship evolves. Communication builds intimacy and a healthy relationship.
  • Talk about it when you’re both sober. People take chances they normally wouldn’t when they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You definitely don’t want to make a mistake that could affect your entire future.
  • Carry a condom. This advice applies to everyone. Don’t assume it’s your partner’s responsibility to bring protection. Carry your own condoms so there’s no excuse not to have safer sex. Besides, who wants to go out looking for the nearest drugstore that’s open after midnight? When you buy condoms, check the expiry date on the package and store them in your purse, wallet or coat pocket. Avoid carrying them somewhere warm like in your pants pocket because heat can break down the latex (and if your condom has actually formed a ring that shows through the outside of your wallet, it has been there too long!).
  • Be clear about your boundaries. Respect your partner and respect yourself. Think about what sexual practices you’re comfortable with and what your limits are before you get sexually involved. Talk about your feelings and listen to your partner with respect. Open and respectful communication will build trust and intimacy.
  • Keep a sense of humour. Safer sex is a heavy topic sometimes but it doesn’t mean that you can’t laugh and have fun with it. Sometimes a bit of humour helps to break the ice and makes everyone more comfortable.

Talking About Sex

Good communication means that you’re able to talk about yourself and how you feel about your sexual relationship.

This requires you to be conscious of your feelings, and then to share your thoughts and feelings with someone else.

We know that talking honestly and openly about sexual issues can be hard. Lots of people feel shy or embarrassed to ask for what they need sexually even if they’re in a loving relationship. There are lots of reasons for this:

  • They grew up with the message that sex is “dirty” or that it is impolite to talk about sex;
  • They don’t want to seem sexually promiscuous;
  • They’re worried about hurting their partner’s feelings;
  • They’re concerned about how their partner will react;
  • They’ve been with their partner for years and don’t know how to bring it up.

It’s normal to feel nervous when you talk about your sexual feelings and needs. Acknowledge your fear and take a risk anyway! Being vulnerable is part of building intimacy and trust in a relationship. When you share your thoughts and feelings, it gives your partner permission to do the same. Express yourself and you may be pleased to find that your sex life improves dramatically.

Listening to your lover

The other half of good communication is listening to your lover with full attention and presence of mind. Show your partner that you are listening by:

  • Making eye contact;
  • Nodding your head;
  • Asking appropriate questions; and
  • Listening without interrupting.

Listening builds trust and lets your partner know that what they say is important.

Sexual Language

Conversations about sex inevitably contain sexual terms and sexual language that can be loaded up with all sorts of underlying messages about identity, power and values. When people are not comfortable talking about sex, they often use slang words or vague phrases to communicate with others. This can lead to bad feelings, miscommunication and disagreement.

For instance, some people prefer to use proper sexual terms like “sexual intercourse” and “oral sex”, while other people find this sounds too clinical to turn them on. Some people prefer slang terms like “fucking” or “blow job” but their partners find these terms demeaning or degrading. Sometimes phrases like “do you want to hook up” or “get together” are too vague and cause unnecessary confusion about expectations. What’s the answer?

Talk about it! Be clear and find a common language that works for both of you. Be creative and come up with language that is just for the two of you – how intimate is that! (Note: This is okay for adults but children really need to know the proper terms for body parts – see “Parenting — talking to your children about sex”).

Body Language

A lot of sexual communication happens through body language. We flirt with our eyes, express our feelings through touch and use sounds to let a lover know what feels good. If you don’t want to tell your partner what you find sexually pleasing, you can always show him. Guide her hand or communicate by changing your own body movements.

Ideally a person’s body language and words should be consistent but this is not always the case. Sometimes your partner might say one thing but their body is telling you something different. If this happens to you, stop what you’re doing and ask your partner if they want to continue. For example, you can say something like, “I know you said you want to have sex but your body feels tense. Why don’t we just lie here and cuddle for a while?” When in doubt, stop the sexual contact and open up the lines of verbal communication.

Being A Good Lover

Being a good lover means feeling comfortable with your body.

In North America, we are bombarded with messages about sexuality – what we should look like and what is sexy. It’s hard to live up to such narrow and unrealistic standards of beauty and, as a result, many people find they can’t relax and embrace sexual pleasure the way they deserve to. Have no fear! Your powerful mind is ready to reject these false images and reclaim “sexy” as something you define for yourself. Forget about trying to look like a Barbie doll or a muscle-bound body builder – be happy with your body just the way it is. There is nothing sexier than someone who is comfortable with his or her body regardless of size and shape. Being a good lover is knowing how to relax and enjoy all the physical pleasures that your body has to offer. See Sexuality and the Body section.

Being a good lover means understanding your own sexual needs, boundaries, preferences and desires.

Your lover is not responsible for fulfilling all your sexual needs. Think about your beliefs about sex, the messages you grew up with, how you feel about your sexual identity, what you like and don’t like and what you want in a sexual relationship with your partner. Understanding your own sexual needs and expectations will help you to communicate them to your partner. It takes a lot of pressure off your lover to “just know” and opens the door for more trust and intimacy.

Being a good lover means respecting yourself.

There is nothing sexier than someone who has self-respect. When you love yourself, it gives others permission to do the same. It sets the tone for what’s expected in the relationship and what you’re willing to give. People who respect themselves are in a position to give love freely to others. They don’t need a partner because they are happy with themselves.

Being a good lover means respecting your partner.

This sounds obvious but sometimes people don’t treat their partners well. There is an underlying assumption that a partner will understand and forgive behaviour that’s not acceptable in other situations, i.e. “She knows I love her”; “He knows what I am like”. It’s helpful to remember that being in a relationship is a choice. This person is someone you choose to be with so let your partner know how much you love them. Respect is the foundation of a strong and healthy relationship.

The basis of all sexuality, relationships and sexual activity is being able to talk freely, without judgement about our needs, wants and desires with a partner. Communication and decision making are the foundation of consent, safer sex and sex in the context of pregnancy, after giving birth and during infertility. It is important but can be difficult to express ourselves when it comes to sex. This section will give you tips about how to effectively make the first step to check in with yourself about what you want and learn how to talk to a partner about it.

Consent

Consent belongs to everyone, not just people of certain genders, identities, roles or presentations. Consent is ongoing- it happens from moment to moment, not just once. Just because you ask for consent one time does not mean it will be the same next time. Consent can be sexy, but it is always necessary whether it is sexy or not. Consent doesn’t always happen during sex, but it also negotiated before and after sex, and in interactions that aren’t sexual. The most important thing with consent is how you feel. If you feel that you haven’t given consent, then you haven’t. If you aren’t sure if consent was given to you, just ask.

Pay attention to how you feel inside and what your body is telling you. A bit of nervousness is normal but if you are feeling scared, pressured or find you are not aroused or turned on then it is likely not the right time yet. Remember: if you do not feel comfortable you have the right to stop sex at ANY time. Consent means two people (or more) deciding to do the same thing at the same time, in the same way with each other. Any sexual act that is initiated upon someone without consent is illegal.

You have the right to change your mind and stop a sexual activity at any point while it’s happening, and it is your partner’s responsibility to respect that. Likewise, it is also your responsibility to check in with your partner and to respect their feelings if they want to stop, slow down or take a break to sort out their thoughts.

Decision-making

Head, Heart, Body

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Head, Heart, Body is a great tool you can use to help you check in with yourself and decide whether or not to have sex with someone.

Head – Ask yourself:

Why am I doing this? Do I agree with what is going on? Does this fit with my values? How will I feel about this decision tomorrow?

Heart – Ask yourself:

Do I feel safe and comfortable with this person? Does this feel right to me? Do I like this person? Can I trust them?

Body– Ask yourself:

What does my body want to do? Are the juices flowing? Do I like what’s happening? Am I, and is my partner protected from STIs or pregnancy?

Am I Ready For Sex?

How do I know when I’m ready for sex? How do I know what sexual activities I’m comfortable with? How will I know what my boundaries are?

The answer to these questions is different for every person. There’s no magical age when a person is ready to have sex and it’s a question that may come up repeatedly over the course of your life. Deciding what you feel comfortable doing or “how far” you want to go is a personal choice that you have to make each and every time you become physically or emotionally involved with another person. Having a physical desire to enjoy sexual pleasure is not the same thing as being emotionally prepared for sex with another person.

There is also no rule about how long people should date before getting sexually involved. Just because a person has been sexually active in the past doesn’t mean they’re ready for sex now. As a rule, if you’re having doubts then you’re probably not ready for sex with that person at that time.

In an ideal world, sex would always be pleasurable and enjoyable. Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to. The right partner will respect your decision.

Know Yourself…

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Am I feeling pressured to have sex by my partner, my friends or my peers?
  • Will having sex fit with my religious and moral beliefs?
  • Will I feel guilty if I have sex? Why?
  • Do I want to have sex to get love, affection or attention?
  • Do I want to have sex to prove that I am sexually attractive?
  • Am I afraid that my reputation will be hurt if I have sex?
  • Do I think sex will bring my partner and me closer together, both emotionally and physically?
  • Do my partner and I want the same things from sex?
  • Can I talk to my partner about sexually transmitted infections and can we share responsibility for safer sex?
  • Can I talk to my partner about birth control and can we share responsibility for birth control?
  • If birth control fails, are we ready to deal with an unplanned pregnancy?

Sexual Boundaries

Only you can decide when you feel ready for sex and what you are comfortable doing. You might be comfortable with certain sexual activities and not with others (see – safer sex practices and activities). For instance, some people enjoy oral sex but will not have sexual intercourse before marriage. Determine your sexual boundaries before you get involved with a partner and you’ll be more prepared to have this discussion when you need to. Things may change as your relationship progresses but thinking about your limits helps you avoid peer pressure and doing things outside of your comfort zone.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Am I sexually attracted to this person? Would I like to be sexually intimate with my partner or do I just want to be friends?
  • Where do I like to be touched? Are there areas of my body that I don’t like to be touched?
  • How do I feel about giving and receiving oral sex?
  • How do I feel about anal sex?
  • How do I feel about the risks of an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection?
  • What birth control do I prefer?
  • How will I protect myself and my partner against STIs?
  • How do I feel about using condoms?
  • What would I do if my partner refused to use a condom?
  • Can I ask my partner to get tested for sexually transmitted infections?
  • Have I been or would I be comfortable getting tested for STIs myself?

You have the right to change your mind and stop a sexual activity at any point while it’s happening, and it is your partner’s responsibility to respect that. Likewise, it is also your responsibility to check in with your partner and to respect their feelings if they want to stop, slow down or take a break to sort out their thoughts.

When is the right time to have sex?

Everyone is different. Pay attention to how you feel inside and what your body is telling you. A bit of nervousness is normal but if you feel scared, pressured or not aroused or turned on then it’s likely not the right time yet.






How much sex is too much?

How often a person has sex is really an individual choice. It is perfectly okay to enjoy sex (including masturbation), whether it is a little or a lot. If you are having so much sex that it starts to consume your life and affect proper functioning, then you should seek help. Sexual addiction is a very real problem for some people, especially with easy access to pornography on the Internet. If you need help, Sex Addicts Anonymous is a good place to start or check out the Canada Sex Addict Treatment and Therapy Services. Otherwise you should just listen to your body, which will help you know your limits.






Is it wrong to cheat?

That is up to each individual, although a person could be very hurt if they found out a partner was cheating. Also, the more sexual partners a person has, the more potential risk there is for getting a sexually transmitted infection. When people cheat they put their partners at risk unknowingly and this is never okay. This question is really about values. In our society today, cheating is not usually looked upon as an acceptable thing to do to someone.






Why does age matter if you are both ready for a relationship?

Technically, age only matters when consent is involved. The legal age of consent for sexual activity with someone of the same age or older is 16 years. People who are 14 and 15 years old may engage in consensual sexual activity with individuals who are no more than 5 years older than themselves. People 12 and 13 years old may not legally engage in consensual sex with someone who is more than 2 years older than them. People aged 11 or younger cannot legally consent to sexual activity. Consent means two people (or more) deciding to do the same thing at the same time, in the same way with each other. Any sexual act that is initiated upon someone without consent is illegal.






If you are going to have sex for the first time and you are scared, what should you do?

Pay attention to how they you feel inside and what your body is telling you. A bit of nervousness is normal but if you are feeling scared, pressured or find you are not aroused or turned on then it is likely not the right time yet. Remember: if you do not feel comfortable you have the right to stop sex at ANY time. Consent means two people (or more) deciding to do the same thing at the same time, in the same way with each other. Any sexual act that is initiated upon someone without consent is illegal.






How do people get STIs?

STIs are parasites, bacteria and viruses that live on the human body. If you have an STI it could live on the skin around your genitals or in certain bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, blood). STIs that live on the skin can be shared through skin-to-skin contact with that person (rubbing genitals together). STIs that live in fluids can be shared through mucous membranes (vagina, throat, anus or through cuts).

Most STIs are passed to people through sexual activity. You can also get them from sharing needles that are not cleaned properly, (for drug use or amateur tattoos and piercings).  A baby can also get an STI from their mother during the birthing process or from breastfeeding. If you were born with an STI that wasn’t curable (like HIV) you would likely learn about it from a doctor or guardian. Some STIs are curable but can leave other effects. For example, chlamydia can cause blindness for a newborn baby.






How can I protect myself from STIs?

Here are some ways to lower your risk:

  • Choose abstinence
  • Engage in no or low risk sexual activities (see STI Risk of Sexual Activities)
  • Use condoms and dental dams
  • Talk with your partner about testing and safer sex
  • Understand the risks.

Find out more about lowering your risk.






Can you have an STI if you have never had sex?

People can also get STIs during sexual activities such as oral sex or naked body-to-body contact. STIs don’t pop out of nowhere. They are always passed from one person to another. Getting tested with your partner before having any sexual activity will help put your mind at ease.