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The V-Spot: Seeking Sex-Positive Ed for My Niece

Hey Yana,

Over Thanksgiving I spent some time with my awesome 18-year-old niece. I’m in need of your wisdom about a situation I’m trying to wrap my 30-year-old, feminist, protective brain around.

My niece lives in a small town, far from her friends, and has been dealing with some depression. She told me that she’s been driving to meet up and have sex with dudes from Tinder. There have been at least two. I think they’re in their 20s, maybe older. She’s been kind of reticent about details, so I’m thinking there might be some more that would make me more concerned.

When she first told me, I was like “Cool! Sex-positive! Get it girl! Always tell your friends where you’ll be! Condomscondomscondoms! Get tested! Call me any time!” But the more I think about it, the more concerned I am about her emotional health, and the way that she might be using sex less-than-safely.

I’m certain that she hasn’t had pleasure-positive or consent-focused sex-ed and I worry that all the terrible messages about sex that accompany female socialization are setting up this amazing young woman to get hurt.

Are there ways I can encourage her to take care of herself without shaming her?

— Sex-Posi Auntie

Dear Sex-Posi Auntie,

Use your cool, younger-aunt status to your advantage and find a way to talk to your niece about the difference between sex for sex’s sake and sex that feels good, affirming, and consensual. This conversation could be sparked by a sex scene in a movie, a lyric in a song, or you could get real intentional and hold a little viewing of my TEDx talk, which talks about just this — how young people learn about sex in a way that dangerously divorces it from sexual pleasure and consent.

The sex-positivity movement has done wonders in the ways it’s prioritized pleasure over disease, choice over shame, and health over stigma. However, sex-positivity can be wrongly conflated with “all sex is good sex, and the more sex, the better!” “Sex positive” doesn’t mean that all sexual experiences are inherently positive or that we should ignore the things that can be negative about sex.

Rather than throw a sex-posi blanket over your niece’s experiences, lead her through an exploration of the nuances of healthy sex that honors her sexual agency. The World Health Organization’s great definition of “sexual health” prioritizes pleasure and consent:

“A state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction, or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination. and violence. For sexual health to be maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.”

Examine both sides of the sexual coin with your niece — both what feels rewarding, safe, and empowering and what feels scary, unhealthy, or unsafe…continue reading…

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My Guy Shoots the Moon Too Soon

Hi, Yana!

I’m a 22-year-old woman in a hetero relationship with a guy I’ve been seeing for almost a year. We have a loving and communicative sex life, but are perplexed by a persisting issue! When we are fooling around, he occasionally ejaculates early and/or unexpectedly. He says it still feels like a full orgasm, but sometimes doesn’t even feel that good. We’ve had a hard time identifying when and why it happens. Hopefully you can help provide some insight!

— Prematurely Perturbed

Dear Prematurely,

Premature ejaculation is the most common sexual dysfunction plaguing the penis, affecting around 30 percent of men. You’re right to be curious about why this might be happening as getting down to the root of this issue is key to treating it: is the spark lighting this early lift-off fuse in his head or in his … other head?

Culturally and socially, men’s sexual issues tend to be medicalized — think the popularity of the little blue pill — while women’s tend to be viewed psychologically, socially, and relationally. This is congruent with the sexual story most of us are fed as youth, which centers the male sexual experience quite literally around his erection and orgasm while women are left to achieve orgasm through relational means (via gaining the comfort to give direction, receive pleasure, and initiate conversation about how this here clitoris actually works).

This does a disservice to all and in this case, has set your boyfriend up to feel extra failed when his erection pops then flops, as our standard sexual world can’t possibly orbit around a flaccid axis, right? Wrong!

Erections are just one tool in our sexual arsenal and making sure to not forget fingers, mouths, and toys is a great way to interrupt the cyclical nature of any sexual “dysfunction.” Meaning, if and when the cork does pop early, remember that the pleasure party doesn’t have to stop, which will take the pressure off next time and won’t reinforce the narrative that he and his penis are responsible for all the fun and/or ruining said fun.

There are physical and psychological causes and treatments for premature ejaculation…continue reading…

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My BF Hangs with my Ex-BFF

Hi Yana,

I used to have a very toxic friendship with one of my female friends. She always made jokes at my expense, was very judgmental, temperamental, and didn’t show me much respect. I cut off ties with her, but she and my boyfriend of over two years are still friends.

I don’t tell my boyfriend not to see her or contact her, because that would be toxic, but it does make me very uncomfortable for them to hang out together. How do I approach this with my boyfriend while still keeping my relationship healthy? Thank you!

— My Beau is Friends with My Foe

 

Dear BFF,

In my workshops about sex and relationships, things always get a little complicated when the vibrator demos are over and it’s time to talk boundaries. Typically, workshop participants are clear on some things: “My body my choice,” “Don’t touch without consent,” but it’s in communicating their boundaries with confidence where the situation gets sticky.

This “boundary confusion” tends to happen with people socialized as women who are socially instructed through experience and cultural mores to be polite rather than assertive, passive rather than in control of their bodies and affections, and/or grateful for rather than discerning about the attention directed toward them.

Therefore, when it comes time to clearly state boundaries (what we desire, what we don’t) we feel ill-equipped, disempowered, or just plain “bitchy” for doing so. This can come out in small, seemingly innocuous ways like instinctively apologizing when someone runs into you on an otherwise empty sidewalk, or in directly harmful ways like feeling unable to speak up when we’re relationally unhappy.

The other boundary-blocker is the fear of controlling our partners. A great way to check in with yourself about whether you’re being communicative or coercive is to ask yourself: What are my expectations? Can I accept a “no”? What do I expect my partner to do with this information?

If your goal is to express your vulnerable feelings to your partner (“My history with Foe makes it hard for me to feel at ease about your relationship. My deepest fear is that eventually you’ll start treating me the way she used to”) you are likely communicative. If your goal is to change, put down, or control him, you might be in coercive territory (“Y’know I just thought you were better than Foe but I guess you’re not. Stop seeing her”.).

Clearly stating boundaries for yourself concern what you own and what others may only access with your permission. This includes the physical (your body, affection, sexuality, and time) and the mental (your intimacy, your emotions, your trust). The only person you can control is yourself. In this way, clearly stating boundaries (“I don’t want to have a relationship with Foe”) is different from rules you place on somebody else (“Stop contacting her”)…continue reading…

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Our Post-Abortion Sex Life

Hi Yana,

I got pregnant this past summer after my birth control failed — I got to be part of that lucky 0.04 percent of IUD users who this happens to. I got the pregnancy terminated and all is well. Or, I guess mostly well. The issue is my partner and I have both been having some anxiety about having sex after what happened. Having an abortion was 10,000-percent the right decision, but, of course, dealing with an unplanned pregnancy was a super intense, stressful, hard situation that we don’t want to repeat any time soon.

I went right back on birth control after the procedure and we’ve both mostly accepted that what happened was just an unfortunate, rare fluke, but we still can’t shake the nervousness about it happening again.

We’ve been having sex much less often than we did before because of this, and we both agree that we want to get back to our original frequency. Any advice on working through our feelings/fears so we can get there?

— Getting Back to Business

Dear GBB,

Even when an abortion is the right decision for you, it can be a harrowing experience physically, emotionally, and of course, sexually. First, know that having anxiety about after-abortion sex is entirely normal as sex is precisely what led to this stressful situation to begin with (well, the highly statistically improbable birth control failure certainly didn’t help things, did it?).

Rather than punching the gas pedal, trying to zoom forward into “normal” again, try to explore gradually letting up the brakes (see Emily Nagoski’s wonderful book Come As You Are for more on her sexual accelerator/brakes analogy). If a major brake on your sex drives is the fear of your IUD failing you again, beef up the backups by using condoms for a while, take an extra precaution with the pull-out method and/or track your ovulation cycle.

Rather than rushing ahead, remind yourselves of all the pleasure that can be found outside of penis-in-vagina penetrative sex like using mouths, hands, toys, or masturbation to enjoy mutual orgasms without the procreative chances.

I spoke about your predicament to an acquaintance of mine who had an abortion. She reports taking a few months to reclaim her sex life and says you can expect a stop-and-start sex life for a while and advises to always speak up about how your body is feeling. “I’d think I was okay to be physically intimate because I was in the mood,” she said, “but sometimes my body would just kind of shut down and that’s okay. Let your partner know what you’re feeling in the moment because it can sneak up on you. But you don’t have to feel like there needs to be a logical answer to it.”…continue reading…