“I Love it when you . . .”

Good sex 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. 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. If you’re not there, work on moaning—just get yourself vocal. Steady yourself for disappointment (and delight), and enjoy the benefits of good communication. Often, people’s boundaries are related to past experience, and creating a safer “right now” can help some people open up closed doors. 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. If your partner tenses up or cries or is unresponsive, it’s really important to stop, check in, and support what they need. 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 or spermicide (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. At the very least, we should directly check in with them about what they want and expect, and possibly act to 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. They are either okay with what they are doing, or don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it.

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 about expectation and desire, there is no fear to distract us—only pleasure and humor. 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?”). 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. Having the support of friends could make it easier to approach that really great someone.

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. Consider it turning on the lights. There are endless ways for us to end our internal oppression and explore healthy, better sex.