Venus Envy Advisory: When to Have the Talk
Welcome to our collaboration with the Leveller: their newest column focusing on sexual health and pleasure. We’ve teamed up and are providing you, our valued readership, with a forum to ask questions related to those quirks, queries, and curiosities you’ve always harboured and didn’t know whom to ask. Well, now is your chance! Please submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Venus Envy,
I’m not exactly what one would say “sexually active” in the conventional sense. Sure, I enjoy sex as much as the next person but I suppose I’m one of those people who values emotional intimacy over sexual intimacy, especially very early on in a relationship.
In a culture of hookups, one-night stands, and casual sex, how does one know if it’s the right time to actually bring up the topic of initiating sex?
It’s hard enough finding someone who is willing to take things slowly but then sex just complicates things, even if I do want to take things to the next level. The partners I’ve had tended to take the reins, so to speak, but I want to be more in control of the progression of my sexual development with my future partners.
What would you recommend one do, especially when they find it difficult to balance emotional closeness with sexual exploration?
Uninspired at uOttawa.
Dear Uninspired at Ottawa U,
Most people know me as a quiet person. I’m not shy – I’m not afraid to talk – it’s just that talking isn’t usually my favourite way of communicating. If I were a man, people would see me as the strong silent type, but because I’m a woman, people are endlessly anxious about this.
(This is a side note, but have you ever noticed that we have very few ways of talking about quiet women that aren’t deficit-based? Or of talking about loud women, for that matter. Misogyny –shitty and nonsensical, amirite?)
Anyways, I’m saying this because we live in this culture where sex is probably the one topic I could decide never to talk about without anyone giving me a hard time. But I learned how to do it anyways, because I like to have good sex and I like to have orgasms. And after a few lackluster sexual experiences, I realized that neither of those things were going to happen for me unless I figured out what I wanted and started asking for it loudly.
From what you’re saying, it seems like you’re also struggling to have honest conversations about sex. So you’re going to have to practice. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, and then hopefully, like liberation.
Pick one thing you really want and say it to yourself out loud, over and over again. When you’re ready, conjure the most powerful version of yourself, and bring that person to the conversation with your partners.
There’s no ‘right’ time to talk about sex, there’s just the time that’s right for you.
That being said, when letting people know that you like to take your time, my advice is to bring it up early and casually. This is not about you apologizing for some sexual liability, it’s about you clearly stating your limits and desires. All great lovers do this.
You could open a conversation by saying something like “I love to take things slow and get to know someone before having sex. It’s so much better for me that way. How do you decide when the time is right for you to hook up with someone?”
If there are other things you love to do early on, like holding hands or cuddling or making out, now would be a good time to talk about those too.
On the second part of your question, I’d recommend really getting honest with yourself about why you’re letting your partners take the reins. Are you unsure about what you want? Is there some shame or guilt that’s getting in the way of you asking for it? Are you only dating selfish lovers who are ignoring your desires or not bothering to even ask about them?
Finding your answers to these questions is your way forward. Two of my favourite books for that kind of sexual introspection are What You Really Really Want by Jaclyn Friedman and Ecstasy is Necessary by Barbara Carrellas.
Even for a casual hookup, a quick round of ‘hard-nos’ and ‘fuck-yeses!’ is bound to make the night better for everyone involved. But because the reality is that a lot of people don’t do this on a regular basis, the responsibility for this will likely fall to you.
When you want to have sex in a way that’s a little outside the norm, you have to take on the task of creating your own sexual scripts. Yes, that can feel like a burden. But it’s also an opportunity to create a sex life that’s so much more than popular culture can imagine.
Sam Whittle, sex educator and owner of Venus Envy.