By Ruvimbo Vusango
It’s Sexual Health and Guidance (SHAG) week at the University which means there’s going to be a lot of talk about sex. This may make you a little uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, but learning to have healthy conversations about sex is an essential life tool. Sex is a natural aspect of human life that often plays a crucial part in relationships, so get yourself equipped with the right tools to get the conversation flowing.
The way we talk about sex is largely dependent not only on who we are as individuals but also where we come from and how we’ve been raised. Factors such as religion, cultural backgrounds, and unspoken societal norms can play a major part in how comfortable we feel when sex is brought up as a topic of conversation.
After canvassing the Callaghan campus, it was clear there were a lot of things students are unsure about when it comes to sex. Ultimately it seemed that we are all just doing the best we can with the knowledge we have. But what do we do when our lack of knowledge and comfort just isn’t cutting it, and how do we start a conversation with our sexual partners about our sex lives?
If talking about sex isn’t easy for you, you aren’t alone. Feeling nervous, shy, or uncomfortable speaking your mind in the bedroom is “overwhelmingly normal” says sexologist, Jayne McCartney. From imperfect sexual education systems in schools to the unrealistic teachings of porn, it’s no surprise that many people are not prepared to have a meaningful dialogue about sex.
But what do we do when our lack of knowledge and comfort just isn’t cutting it, and how do we start a conversation with our sexual partners about our sex lives?
The most important people we should be having these conversations with are our sexual partners and the first of these ongoing conversations needs to be about consent. In fact, Jayne says that if you haven’t had a conversation about consent with a potential sexual partner you should not have, or attempt to have sex with them.
However, despite the discomfort you may feel, Jayne stresses that these conversations are an essential part of destigmatising sex and developing healthier sexual practices in your life. “It [sex] forms a critical part of human health, and a healthy sexual relationship requires conversation.”
Talking to your partner about sex sounds like a no-brainer, but in reality, we all know this conversation can be one of the hardest to have. Without the right tools, having this conversation with a partner can be a vulnerable and even daunting experience. The reason for this is likely because you are both tiptoeing around each other emotions and egos, and as Jayne suggests your sexual partner is “someone who you probably really want to like you, or continue to like you.”
So how do we all get over the awkwardness and start to talk about sex in a healthy way? Jayne suggests that the first step is keeping people you trust in the loop and normalising healthy discussions around sex and sexual health in your friendship circle. “Talking with our friends about sex can be a way of checking in and making sure they’re okay”. So try opening up your conversations with friends whilst still respecting their personal sexual choices and expression, level of comfort and privacy. Ensuring that everyone in the discussion is comfortable with the topic being spoken about is key to ensuring that the conversations you’re having regarding sex are healthy and mutually consensual.
The first step is keeping people you trust in the loop and normalising healthy discussions around sex and sexual health in your friend circle.
Another important step is ensuring your communication is open, self-aware and non-violent. From telling a sexual partner about an STI, or asking to try a new position or switch up your sex life, it’s important to approach these topics with respect. Jayne says that except for the conversation around sexual consent – which should take place continuously during sexual encounters – it’s a good idea to put time aside to have conversations with partners about sexual challenges, concerns or needs. During sexual activity, people may be vulnerable, emotional or defensive which is not always the best setting for such conversations.
Non-violent Communication (NVC) is a technique that Jayne often recommends for conversations about sexuality and sexual expression between partners. She says that NVC allows us to “learn to hear our own deeper needs and those of others.” It’s important to use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’ statements, for example: “I feel x, y or z” rather than “You make me feel x, y or z”.
NVC involves using a simple four-step technique:
- Observation: State plainly what you have seen, heard or experienced that has brought about this conversation. An example would be saying something like, “I’ve noticed that sometimes when we are sexually intimate (observation)…”
- Feelings: Tell your partner how this behaviour you have stated makes you feel without blaming them. You may start this sentence by saying, “When this happens I feel …”
- Needs: Let your partner know, openly and honestly, what you desire or would like or need from this relationship. This could be something like, “I would like …”
- Requests: Ask your partner for the behaviour or actions you would like them to try in order to fulfil your desire or need. This could be, “Would you be willing to…?” This step should always be left open to negotiation and continued conversation. Your partner may discover that they feel unable to or unsure if they can support your needs, but at least they have the information needed to make that decision.
NVC provides a good base for building great communication but what holds it all up is self-awareness. In fact, self-awareness is the first key step in achieving good communication because understanding yourself, your needs and desires can free you to openly request these from a sexual partner. Jayne strongly proposes that people should get to know themselves first sexually before they partner with anybody, as this allows them to understand how they feel pleasure and in turn know what they need from a sexual partner to achieve this pleasure. She also recommends seeking the support of a counsellor, sex therapist or sexuality educator if sexuality or conversations about sex or interactions with a partner are creating a negative effect in your life.
People should get to know themselves first sexually before they partner with anybody, as this allows them to understand how they feel pleasure and in turn know what they need from a sexual partner to achieve this pleasure.
So if you’re feeling awkward about talking about sex, chances are that your sexual partner is too. Sex can be great for our health but it’s important that first of all your sex life is healthy – regardless of your sexual choices. There’s a lot going on this SHAG week at the University so why not take a break from binge-watching Sex Education on Netflix, and come ask an expert some questions to keep things juicy in the bedroom.
It’s SHAG Week at the University of Newcastle from the 2nd to the 6th of March! There’s a bunch of activities and workshops to attend throughout the week which you can see here.
There are a range of support services at the University available to students regarding sexual health and safety. Click here for advice and information about sexual health, here for support around sexual harassment and safety, and here for counselling information. If you are an LGBTQI+ student who is in need of support visit this page for resource options.
Feature image via: Gender Photos – Vice