Will you go down on me?

Good sex, in our opinion, is an act of mutual aid. Every person, regardless of gender, is responsible for contributing to the well-being and pleasure of their partners and themselves. We must explore and know our own desires and learn to speak them. We must hear and respond to the desires of our partners (even if that means accepting refusal gracefully). This means finding the words to express how we like to be touched, spoken to, tied up, and cuddled. Fucking is any raunchy act, and all of it requires consent. Getting explicit permission, however vulnerable and scary it may seem, is a great turn-on. What better than knowing your partner really likes it when you touch them that way, talk in that voice, or use that prop? What is better than knowing you can ask for anything, and it will at least be considered respectfully? There is no way that we or our relationships can grow if we don’t find safe spaces in which to explore.

If you have never spoken during sex, or asked permission, or blurted out your desires, feel free to start small. Most people hear compliments well, and appreciate encouraging suggestions. However, it’s equally important to discover the boundaries of your comfort (often situational) and speak them as well. Starting off with a “this feels so good” or “I love it when you…” or “I’d like you to spend the night if you’re interested” is fantastically brave. Steady yourself for disappointment, and enjoy the benefits of good communication. You may find out a lover has fantasies they didn’t share or they may entrust you with a story of trauma that is a gift to know and share the burden of. Reading your partners’ nonverbal cues is equally important, as is verbally checking for consent about each different act in which you may engage. There is no implicit consent to touch someone’s genitals because you have kissed them, or to have intercourse because you’ve had oral sex. I once met a couple who’d been together for three years and had never said a word in bed. He didn’t know that she’d never come and she didn’t know how to ask for what she wanted! If your partner tenses up or cries or is unresponsive, it’s really important to stop, check in, and support what they need. Remember, all of us have triggers, and not everyone is capable of communicating when they are reliving trauma. Don’t restrain your partner unless it’s part of consensual play, and check in before you lock the door (this can be a subtle act of power). Be honest about any risk factors you bring, such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, whether you have unprotected sex with other people, and if you have allergies to glycerin (in lube) or latex. Details make all the difference.

It’s also important that we take care of our community and help out our friends. Sometimes people are too hurt, distracted or intoxicated to be concerned with their well-being. At the very least, we should directly check in with them about what they want and expect, and possibly help get them to a place of lower risk. It’s also important to confront people (in a supportive way) who act aggressively, because they may not understand that what they are doing is possibly assault. Rapists in prison admit to an average of 11 acts of assault before they are caught.  They are either okay with what they are doing, or don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it. The reality is, it’s a habitual behavior. Better to find out and help before it’s a problem situation. (Putting people in prison or exiling them from scenes will not stop sexual assault. We need to find ways to address the behavior without destroying the person.)

While being so direct about sex is outside of most norms, it transforms sexual experiences. When we are sure that we agree with our partners over expectation and desire, there is no fear to distract us—only pleasure and humor. The most important part of speaking our desires is realizing they are ours to fulfill—not our partners’. It’s much less pressure to offer someone a choice (“Would you like to come home with me or would you rather hang out here?”) than a request (“Would you come home with me tonight?”). Too often it’s easier to say yes than to explain “Yes, I want to come home with you but I’m nervous because I haven’t been with anyone since I was raped”. If we allow for slow and comfortable intimacy, we are likely to experience it more fully and joyfully.

So, if you are often the initiator of your sexual experiences, experiment with patience and let someone else take the lead. Even if it means being alone more often, you may find you enjoy yourself more when you have partners. If you are less likely to initiate sex, think of ways you could safely ask for intimacy.

It’s our responsibility to create new sexual expectations based on good communication that not only reduce the likelihood of sexual assault, but affirm that sex is normal and necessary. This begins with teaching children healthy ideas about their bodies and believing people when they share stories of sexual assault. There are endless ways for us to end our internal oppression and explore healthy, better sex.