Sexual Health 102: Communication in the Heat of the Moment
By: Laura Oviedo-Guzmán
Hello again, dear reader. I hope you read my last article on how to responsibly enjoy the sexual freedom afforded to you by, possibly, living away from home for the first time (I’m talking to you, first years!). Regardless of where you’re at in your academic career, I hope you’ve been making use of the information I compiled in my previous article, “Sexual Health 101: Prevention and Protection.” Whether you put it into practice or counseled a friend on how to go about having safer sex, being the good, little Addictions Counselling major that I am becoming, I need us to talk about another aspect of sexual health–communication and emotional wellbeing.
You’ve probably heard that quote that goes, “the biggest sex organ is between our ears.” As sentimental as this quote may be, it’s true that our brains affect our experiences in every scenario, even the pleasure and connection we gain from sex. Sexual relationships create a repository of knowledge and ideas about how we conduct ourselves with others, what we should and shouldn’t do, and what gets us off. Sometimes, our knowledge, as is, isn’t sufficient to help us attain our goals leading to disagreements with our sexual partners and dissatisfaction with our sexual experiences (read: no orgasms, no connection, etc.). This is where I come in. Never mind that I don’t know you personally; I still want you to enjoy pleasurable, responsible, and respectful sex. As sappy as this may sound, I fully believe that sex that ticks all those boxes is our birthright.
To echo my own words from a past article, sex requires a high degree of responsibility. In this article, responsibility refers to our duties to tell our partners what we’re comfortable with and how to proceed if there’s a mismatch between our expectations and realities within ordinary, mutually consensual circumstances. Ideally, you’ve had a conversation with your partner(s) about what you both like before hooking up, but it’s not too late to troubleshoot if you haven’t. Read on for tips about voicing your concerns and desires to your partners and how to receive what they have to say to you amidst the throes of passion.
How To Tell My Partner They’re Fucking Up?
Have you ever had someone use their teeth during oral? …Neither have I… For the sake of this article, let’s say it has happened.
How do you proceed?
A.) Do you grin and bear it and then debrief with your friends?
B.) Do you even tell anyone?
C.) Do you pause your partner to tell them they’re chomping away at your bits and suggest a different approach?
My guess is that most of us grin and bear it because we’re typically trained to be shy about speaking up. If we don’t bottle it up, the message gets passed to the wrong people, people who you likely are not having sex with. Please understand I am not condemning you for debriefing with friends. Sharing sexual misfortunes is usual in building and maintaining intimacy with friends. My concern about this approach is that it negates our partner’s ability to improve their performance. So, how do we deliver the news to our amoureux?
- Own your judgment to yourself. If something is not working out, own up to it internally. Acknowledge that your partner is chomping away at your bits, for example, or doing any other iteration of something that simply doesn’t feel good.
- State a time-out. Audibly tell your partner you need a break.
- Own your judgment, to yourself and your partner. In a kind and respectful way, tell your partner how you feel. Experts suggest using “I” statements to do this. For example, you can say, “I feel that it would be better this way,” when referring to something the other person is doing that isn’t pleasurable. , Firstly, a statement signals to your partner that there is something that they could improve about their performance. Secondly, if this statement is accompanied by the proper instruction/demonstration, it shows them what they could be doing differently to please you.
The key to talking with your partner about what feels or doesn’t feel good in the heat of the moment is to word things in a way in which your partner won’t feel rejected like there’s something wrong with them, but instead that there is something about their performance that needs to change. This approach applies to casual sex as much as to sex in a committed partnership. Sex is a very vulnerable act. Regardless of the relationship between the participants, everyone deserves respect and openness–the respect to be spoken to in a kind, non-shaming manner and the honesty of being told what they could be doing better.
What If I’m the One Fucking Up?
As I said above, sex is a very vulnerable act, and it can be easy to blend our worth with our performance. It can be easy to take a “performance review” personally. If this happens, it can cloud our judgment, and we may become defensive. If you notice this part of your crop up, acknowledge it internally. Often recognizing things happening within ourselves head-on is enough to deal with them. Here are some steps you can take if you’re the recipient of a performance review from your partner:
- Stop what you’re doing. If your partner tells you they need to pause sex, immediately cut coitus.
- Initiate the conversation. In a kind and non-judgemental tone, ask them how they’re feeling. Using this open-ended question instead of a “yes/no” question helps prime your partner to share what’s happening internally. Asking something like “what’s wrong” or “are you ok” might not be as conducive to a conversation about how your partner feels and what you can do to help them navigate that.
- Listen actively. From your body language to your voice, it’s essential to show your partner that all your attention is on them. Sit across from them, face them, and lean in if you are in bed. Leaning in signals to your partner that you are interested in what they’re saying, as does nodding.
- Ask clarifying questions and paraphrase. If you’re unsure of what they mean, own up to the fact that you don’t understand and ask them for clarification. You can say, “I don’t understand what you mean. Can you explain that to me again?” This shows your partner that you’re invested in them, what they have to say, and their satisfaction. If you want to take it a step further, extract the main point of what they’re saying and repeat it to them like this: “what I’m hearing is that it doesn’t feel good for you when I use my teeth. Am I getting that right?” That last part reiterates that you care about what they have to say. Also, feel free to ask for a demonstration of how to do things in a way your partner enjoys. If your partner is uncomfortable with that, respect that limit by not pushing them. Ask them how they would like to proceed. They may respond by stating that they wish to change the kind of sexual activity or by stating that they want to stop having sex altogether. Whatever the outcome is, respect it. Whether you’re having sex with this person in a committed relationship or on a casual basis, remember that you are not entitled to sexual activity from anyone. You must respect their limits when they don’t explicitly express consent for any kind of sexual activity, even if you’re in the middle of having sex.
When Setting Boundaries Is Not Enough,
Unfortunately, we live in a world where some people choose to disregard boundaries, including in the realm of sex. Ignoring someone’s objections before, during, or after sexual activity or attempting to coerce them into sexual activity is an act of sexual violence and, more specifically, sexual assault. Our current (as of September 14th, 2022) institutional policy regarding these topics defines “sexual violence” as “acts targeting a person’s sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression“ without an individual’s consent. Sexual violence can be physical or psychological and can be done face-to-face or through other means, like via social media. It’s important to note that our institutional policy deems the mere attempt or threat of acts that target any of the abovementioned aspects as sexual violence. “Sexual assault” is a form of sexual violence, and our policy defines it as “any form of sexual touching or the threat of sexual touching without the individual’s consent.”
If you believe you have experienced any form of sexual violence, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or come to Counselling Services at AH153 to explore your options for support. If someone discloses an experience of sexual violence to you, please direct them to these resources as well. Please visit the University of Lethbridge Counselling Services site to learn more about sexual violence support. The link will be in the “Emergency & After Hours” section.
While I can’t foresee the exact issues you may face in your sexy adventures, I believe I have provided you with an appropriate blueprint for navigating the terrain within ordinary, mutually consensual circumstances. One of the keys is to listen. If your partner calls for a time–out, stop whatever you’re doing. If something doesn’t feel right, listen to yourself and call for a time-out, and expect your partner to stop whatever they’re doing.
When having conversations about what feels pleasurable in the middle of sex, focus on how you feel being the recipient of whatever funky thing your partner is doing. You owe each other respect, and it’s important not to make your partner feel ashamed. You can achieve this by telling them what isn’t working and what they could be doing instead. Also, please remember that sometimes the best approach to unsatisfactory sex is to stop altogether having sex with a given partner. Under ordinary, mutually consensual circumstances, you get to decide your standards around sex.
When circumstances are not regular, and consent is absent, the guidelines I’ve offered go out the window. If you suspect you have experienced sexual violence, you still control how you proceed. You can explore your options by contacting email@example.com or by reaching out to Counselling Services at AH153.