Sex may be the most problematic normal biological function there is. Sex is not just fun and beautiful and an integral part of life and reproduction, but it’s also awkward and uncomfortable when things go sideways due to jumping into the sack without really knowing who you are sleeping with.
Where does it all go wrong? I think it starts with the way we learn about sex as children. While these conversations may be more open than they once were, from what I’ve seen, it’s still pretty warped and unhealthy. I hate to tell you this if you don’t already know, but a lot of teenagers first engage with sexuality via their smart phones, sexting and watching pornography. This is in my opinion not a healthy way to get sex education! If little boys and girls aren’t taught about sex, how are they supposed to talk to other boys and girls or other adults about their sexual boundaries?
If you’re a kid and you get your sex education from watching porn, texting, and reading and writing about it online, or you’re a younger adult and that’s how you got your sex ed, you’ve been exposed to a lot of mixed messages that can result in men and women not fully knowing what to believe or how to behave. Now we’re in a mess, with hundreds of thousands of people starting to admit how much sexual interactions have made them uncomfortable, from mild displeasure to trauma, for their entire lives. They didn’t know how to communicate what happened and never got a chance to even talk about how that communication should go.
The reason this is problematic is that it teaches children, when their sexual selves are just developing and becoming important, a weird and artificial version of what sexuality should look like. Maybe by reading this, you’re even remembering that this was how you were introduced to the concept. Kids are being entrained to this idea that sex can be a violent act, or a degrading act, or manipulative or objectifying, and the lines get blurred about what’s okay in the bedroom and what’s not okay in the real world. You don’t learn about intimacy, trust, and safety by watching porn.
Why Communication Really Matters
Sex comes in many forms and many flavors, and there is nothing wrong with sexual experimentation, having kinky desires, or having different sexual proclivities. Sexuality is as diverse as people are. What’s wrong is when we don’t talk about things openly about what we want or don’t want nor set boundaries with our partners, negative experiences may ensue.
It’s important to have open communication about sex, not just for young boys and girls but for all of us. Men and women can learn to be open and communicate about what they want and don’t want and say no, and people can learn to listen and understand they don’t know everything about another person’s body and especially, to respect to their boundaries. Women often grow up with this idea that sex is something you do to please men, and there’s not a lot of discussion around female pleasure, especially with younger women. With teenagers, parents are often just quietly hoping their kids don’t do it. They may say nothing and hope for the best, but the results of that can be life-altering.
The only way to figure all of this out and develop a healthy, flourishing sex life is to be comfortable talking about it. How do we get there? I am on a mission to help women, from teens to middle age and beyond but especially younger women, to start being more open to talking about sex and laying down some boundaries before they jump in and get into a situation that can be unpleasant at best, but that is often traumatic. This is why I developed something I think is very important for every person getting ready to have sex to use: the Safe Sex Elevator Speech.
The Safe Sex Elevator Speech
I was personally unable to have comfortable conversations with men about sex during my teen years and the vast majority of my 20s. This led to some circumstances that unfortunately really traumatized me. I don’t think it was my fault, and I don’t think it was just my lack of education. I think it’s something that could have been prevented if I knew earlier how to start talking about sex. This list isn’t for young children of course, but for people who are sexually active, or have plans to be.
That was the genesis of a list of questions I wrote based on the advice from a few influential sex educators I met in the Bay Area–Reid Mihalko, Charlie Glick, Monique Darling, and Lawrence Lanoff.
People sometimes think that a safe sex elevator speech makes sex less sexy, but you know what’s really unsexy? Sexual assault. If men and women could start initiating the safe sex elevator speech with their partners or potential partners, they could avoid a lot of pain and suffering that they might not have realized they could have avoided if they knew how to talk about sex.
Typically, one person will answer all the questions first, then the other person will. I’m not going to pretend this isn’t awkward sometimes, especially if you’re not used to talking about sex openly. If you feel really uncomfortable, practice asking these questions with your girlfriends first. It takes a lot of courage to start talking to men like this, but if you do, the heartache and possible trauma you could head off is worth every moment of embarrassment.
Once you’re more comfortable, you may find that, in the right circumstances, this conversation can be a turn-on. You can find out before-the-fact (or act) that you probably are sexual compatible with someone. Then you can both look forward to having sex.
Here are the questions to ask your potential partner, and to answer for them:
- When were you last tested for STIs (sexual transmitted infections)? Maybe they say they were tested six months ago.
- Can I see your results? If not…
- Would you mind getting tested again before we had sex? I had sex with a younger boyfriend and after I asked him to get tested, he turned out to have chlamydia. He got treated, and I didn’t end up getting chlamydia. I didn’t shame him or blame him. I just said, “Okay, go get treated. I don’t want to have sex until it’s treated.”
- What are your likes and dislikes? If the person you are with says, “I really like spanking,” and you really do not like spanking, then you can avoid a very uncomfortable situation where someone tries something that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to tell them while it’s happening. Do they like getting choked? Do you dislike any form of physical aggression? Get this out in the open. What you like is really important and both parties should answer. Do you like it gentle? Rough? Do you like role playing, or hate it? This is the part than can end up being a fun conversation to have. You might get into, “Do you like this?” “How about this?” It can fill you both with anticipation, if it doesn’t have the opposite effect of revealing a red flag.
- What are your safe sex protocols? Some guys might say they pull out, and you can request they wear a condom. Some women might say they use the rhythm method, and a guy might ask if she would mind potentially using some kind of birth control like an IUD.
- What is your intention in wanting to spend time with me? This is more about the emotion and purpose behind the act. Are you looking for a relationship? Are you looking for sex? There’s nothing wrong with wanting sex, and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting a relationship. People are going to want different things in different phases of their life. The problem is when they differ on this and don’t communicate about it. You don’t want to go into an experience thinking it’s about potential commitment, not knowing the other person is only in it for fun or a one-off.
On Agreement Fields With Others
One of my friends told me about the concept of “agreement fields” which is a fancy way of saying the agreed relationships you have with others in business, family and your personal life. Relationships are investments. Don’t waste your time with someone who wants something different than you want, or someone, probably both of you, is going to get hurt. One of the biggest mistakes people make—and they could save a ton of time and energy if they didn’t do this—is committing significant time and energy into someone who isn’t going to commit the same amount of time and energy back.
You have to use your frontal lobe while you have access to it, because once you start having sex, you’ll be using your limbic system, your primitive brain, that’s telling you that you need to have a baby (even if logically that is of no interest to you). The limbic system tries to get you to mate. Both women and men can get their hearts broken when they aren’t honest about their intentions. A few more questions you might consider asking someone who you are starting to get emotionally and want to get physically intimate with are:
- What would you do if I got pregnant. Your body is always trying to trick you into having sex so you can have a baby. That’s why this question is so important. If you are having sex with someone and one or both of you has no intention of being in a committed relationship, and you got pregnant, you’re both going to be unhappy with the options. What if your partner said they were against abortion, and you know you wouldn’t be ready or want a baby? Even the best birth control has a failure rate, so it’s always a possibility when potentially fertile women have sex with men. There are a lot of men who probably wouldn’t sleep with someone they knew would have the baby, so get to the next level with your sexual intelligence and think about the entire reasoning cycle behind what you’re doing.
- What do you need to feel safe? What makes you feel unsafe? What are your fears? It can be an intimate experience to discover someone’s fears, what makes them insecure, and what they’re worried about. It’s an opportunity to see how your partner reacts. When both women and men feel safe during sex, it can make sex so much more exciting. That’s part of the reason why people in long-term relationships have some of the most amazing sex. It’s because you feel safe with the other person.
- What are your boundaries? Boundaries can be things like, “I don’t want to be touched here,” or “I don’t want you to do this,” or “I’m not interested in anal sex so don’t try it.” If the other person says anal sex is their desire and that is your boundary, then either that person doesn’t cross that boundary, or you are not sexually compatible. Ideally, there should always be a safe word in sex, even if you think you have pretty mild sex. You never know when something might happen that you don’t like. Pick a simple way to communicate, like green-yellow-red, and make sure you both agree what those words mean. Maybe yellow means Hey, ease up on that, I’m not into that, or It’s too soon for that. Red means stop, but you can also always say stop. This is really important because sometimes when a person says stop, it means absolutely please do continue doing that. So be clear!
- Are you in another relationship? The number of married people that have extramarital affairs is not insignificant, so make sure you know if that’s the case. Interestingly, I have a lot of non-monogamous friends who are in the kink, BDSM or polyamory communities, and I discovered that the one thing these alternative lifestyles have in common is communication, sometimes to the extent some of us would consider over-sharing. But the result is that everyone feels heard and cared for. If someone is in a committed relationship it’s important to clarify…
- “What is your agreements with your partner” and “How would they feel if they knew that we were doing this?” If the other person is in an open non-monogamous relationship, you have to decide if you’re okay with a that. If the other person tells you they have a “hall pass,” but they aren’t going to tell their spouse, that puts you in a position where you are contributing to the violation of someone else’s marital or relationship agreement. How do you feel about that? And by the way, there is some old wisdom that relationships end how they start. If you start a relationship with someone who is cheating on their partner with you, there’s a good chance they’re eventually going to do the same thing with you. Do you want to be that person? Would you want to hang out with someone who has done this?
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions! Better yet, memorize them. If every person considering having sex with someone did this, it would be a different world. I hope you enjoyed this article. Keep in mind, if this topic backfires and someone runs in the opposite direction when you try to have this conversation take Reid’s advice, “If you scare a potential sexy-time prospect away by initiating an adult conversation on safer sex needs and STI testing, that just means they’re not playing at your level and they did you a favor.” I recommend checking out the following articles to learn more about having this conversation before you get into bed with someone: