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The V-Spot: IPAs Run My Sex Life

Editor’s Note: This column refers to sexual trauma responses.

Hi Yana,

My girlfriend and I have been together for four months, but lately I’ve been noticing we’ve only been having sex when we’re drinking. Nothing to put consent into question for either of us, of course, just a couple beers.

I asked her about it over dinner, and she said, “It’s nothing you’re doing wrong, I’ve just hated myself lately.” I know she struggles with depression and anxiety and has some trauma in her past, so I’m unsure how to proceed.

I know I can’t “solve” her problems or make her have a more positive body image, but I care about her and don’t want our sex life to be dependent on how many IPAs are available. I try to be supportive and complimentary because she’s gorgeous and has a great body, but I also get that my opinion isn’t enough to alter what she sees in herself.

— Seeking Happiness, Not Hoppiness

 

Dear Seeking Happiness,

It’s so great that you noticed this trend in your sex life and had the bravery to bring it up to your girlfriend in the way that you did. That your partner feels comfortable telling you what’s going on for her, even if it’s something painful like “I hate myself lately” makes me think that you all have a solid communication foundation which is invaluable.

When people have experienced sexual/relational trauma, a person’s body and brain can register all sexual touch as potentially dangerous as it attempts to protect them from a repeat experience. The body and mind can start responding to sexual touch in ways that either triggers flashbacks or shuts the body down in some way to avoid danger.

It’s possible that your girlfriend’s drinks requirements help her get past this discomfort in order to engage in sex and/or helps her numb out whatever unpleasant responses are happening for her mentally, emotionally, or physically. If she’s willing or able to work with a therapist around this trauma, the therapist might help her identify and explore her trauma and how else she might be able to cope with it besides drinking before sex.

You’re absolutely right that you can’t “fix” her and in fact it can be harmful to her, you, and your relationship if you should make that your mission. However, you’re an equal part of this sexual relationship and it can be painful to witness your sexual partner essentially taking steps to numb herself out or block herself from you when you’re having sex. Even when our partners have traumatic histories, it’s still okay to desire a connected and engaged sex life, even if it’s not immediately possible.

Show and tell her that you’re here to be supportive and that her mental health is important to you as it’s part of your shared relational space. Offer support but don’t push, blame, or take too much charge.

How?…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Do I Talk Too Much in Bed?

Hi Yana,

I recently started going out with this girl, but it already feels like we are magnets to one another (both inside and outside of the bedroom). But the last time we had sex an issue came up that broke up that magnet-like feeling for me.

I’m someone who really wants to communicate about sex so I know how to make partners feel good in all the ways they want. So I was really confused when, during sex, my communication caused her discomfort. I was trying to ask her what she was into or if she wanted me to do this or that to make sure that she was comfortable, but she told me she was uncomfortable with all the talking.

I feel myself in a strange double bind here. On the one hand, I want her to feel comfortable during sex and she has told me that quieting-up will do that. On the other hand, we just started seeing one another and I really don’t know what kinds of sex she likes and dislikes, how she likes to be touched, etc. The prospect of having sex without communication seems unethical to me.

Do you have any suggestions? Looking to get that magnet-like feeling back, but I’m not sure how to do that in a situation where communication is a turn-off.

— Don’t Talk Dirty to Me

Dear Don’t Talk,

Striking a balance between constant communication and losing ourselves in the pleasures of our bodies can be a tightrope, especially if our partner’s preferred ratio of Talk:Action is different than ours. I tour colleges teaching workshops about just this. It can be complicated.

What’s not optional is getting someone’s verbal permission to touch their bodies before you do it, especially sexually. However, what happens next is where many get stuck. Some might think, “Hey, I gave you my consent to have sex with me, why are you still asking me so many questions?” Others, like you, may want to have a more continuous checking-in process.

Established partners, on the other hand, may have a greater understanding between them of what activities don’t require a check-in (example: It’s always okay to pull my hair!) or definitely always do (example: Whoa! No backdoor exploring without talking about it first!).

Active, continuous consent isn’t a one-way arrow, but is more like the recycling sign, with several processes looping back into each other. Meaning, keeping sex consensual between the two of you also includes your views of what makes for consensual, enjoyable, pleasurable sex — not just hers. You do not feel comfortable performing silent, check-in-less sex on this person’s body (Yeah! Makes sense to me!). So, you shouldn’t.

Does this mean you can just run your mouth, continuing to make her uncomfortable in the name of your personal consent crusade?...continue reading…

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How Do I Ask Him to Rim?

Hi Yana,

I’ve been with my husband for a long time and there’s one thing in the bed we did kind of once that I’d like to do again, but I feel weird about asking for it. Basically, I want to be rimmed, but as this is something I would not want to do for him, I feel like I can’t ask it of him for me. I mean, poop comes from there! and yet, it feels amazing (we did it once on a drunken night years ago). How do I ask my husband for this? Is it okay to ask a sex partner for something you wouldn’t do yourself? I know it’s unlikely he’d ask me to reciprocate — he’s not into butt stuff for him. Still I feel uncomfortable asking for this.

— Um, How ‘Bout the Bum?

Dear ‘Bout the Bum,

Rim jobs are cool. They’re naughty, but not too naughty, high stakes yet low stakes, unassuming yet direct, and, if your husband was drunk last time you got one – probably a bit of an accidental slip of the mouth down south. The thing about happy drunken accidents like this between established lovers* is that you sort of have to bring it up intentionally after-the-fact if you’d like a repeat performance without rocks or a twist.

There are plenty of things we do with our sexual partners that we don’t necessarily want to perform ourselves or perfectly reciprocate. This isn’t necessarily an issue of fairness, but is more an issue of individuality. Partners don’t order the same dish at a restaurant, wear the same outfit to work, or opt for the same workout playlist. So, why do we expect the bedroom to be a well-balanced scale?

Well, sex has been set up by long-standing game metaphors: we make it to bases, we return the favor, we score, we lose our V-cards, and we get some. But what if it was just as celebrated for us to give some, share something, or customize our sexual interaction to perfectly suit our partnership [insert nerd emoji here]? … continue reading… 

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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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SOS! I’m Spaced Out During Sex

Yana, I need your expertise!

I’m a 19-year-old guy in a hetero relationship. I was pleasuring my partner last night and I realized I stopped being present and could not become present again. She picked up on it and, well, I really wanted to be present for it but I seemed to be stuck in my head, which didn’t make her feel good and wanted. Do you know how I can become more present while sexually active?

— Spaced Out Sexually

There are many reasons why someone might check out during sex: sometimes it’s for reasons like sleepiness, boredom, or nervousness. Other times it’s for bigger reasons like fear, anxiety, or trauma.

Do you feel a similar kind of non-presence or stuck-in-your-headness in other areas of your life? Is it similar to the glazed-over feeling you get during a long lecture at school? Maybe you’re bored with your sexual activity. Is it similar to when you’re about to give a presentation or take a small risk? Maybe you’re having performance anxiety about being in the “pleasurer” position.

If this spaced-out feeling is accompanied by or preceded by racing thoughts, a quickened pulse, tightness in the chest, or the desire to flee, perhaps your non-presence is more closely related to your mind shutting down to protect you from unresolved trauma, high anxiety, or fear.

Doing some self-searching — whether independently or with the help of a therapist, mentor, or spiritual guide — is an important part of this. If you’re feeling bored or nervous due to performance anxiety, this can be helped by speaking frankly with your partner about the sex you have together. We aren’t often taught that good sex requires conversation before, during, and after, so this can feel awkward at first — especially if you’re new to sex. However, the outcome is always worth the bravery and initial awkwardness. A worksheet like the Yes/No/Maybe list can be a great way to break the ice.

Taking steps to discover what you’re both really excited about can go a long way in squashing boredom and nerves, and it is also a key component of keeping it consensual! You’re more likely to get that hot fantasy fulfilled if you put it out there, and you’re more likely to feel confident in the pleasure you’re dishing out if your partner has stated before, during, and after the act-du-jour that “YES that feels so good and is exactly what I want!”

Practicing enthusiastic and well-informed consent is extremely important and will likely inspire you to become more engaged in the sex you’re having on-the-whole and in-the-moment…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: 8 Tips to Keeping it Consensual

Thankfully, consent is becoming a big topic on college campuses. However, most conversations about consent overfocus on the damaging outcomes of the failure to ask for consent rather than engaging students in learning the benefits of ongoing conversations about consent and sexual pleasure.

Many campuses are offering too little too late, after-the-fact rather than ahead-of-the-act. But really, everyone can benefit from practicing sexual consent regardless of whether you’re having sex with your partner of 30 years or a hook-up: Consent is mandatory. And it can be HOT. Here are 8 tips on how to keep it consensual and sexy:

1.) Play! Give yourself permission to have fun. Understanding your enthusiastic Yeses — whether it’s trying the next kinkiest thing or abstaining from sexual contact altogether — is the first step to being prepared to give or not give your enthusiastic consent.

2.) Ask for what you want. Often, when we pointedly ask for what we want, we’re seen as selfish, greedy, or entitled. But your desires aren’t a bother and your partners should always feel and be able to say “No” to your requests. Get used to getting what you want by practicing clearly stating what you want in your everyday interactions like at shops or cafes.

3.) Accept a “no” gracefully. Often when we hear the word “No” we don’t hear what our partners are actually trying to tell us. We might hear “You’re ugly” when they mean “This is my sexual preference.” Or “You’re not good at sex” when they mean “This position kind of hurts my hip.”

Stating a boundary can be a scary thing to do. When you hear “No,” thank your partners for sharing their limits. Know that you’re valuable whether a partner says Yes or No to your requests and that you’re even more valuable when you respect their answer.

4.) Build your boundaries. When we hear the word “boundaries” it’s easy to hear “restrictions.” Giving someone a hardline No isn’t just telling them what they cannot have, but is showing them the space they do have to explore and play in.

5.) Stop trying to be “sexy.” The most pleasurable experiences in my life weren’t traditionally sexy…continue reading…

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The Intern Investigates: What being a sex worker has taught me about consent & saying NO

The Intern Investigates

What being a sex worker has taught me

about consent & saying NO

by: Emmett DuPont

image by Getty Images

I’m a sex worker, and I’ve always been bad at saying “no.” But saying no has flexed my vocal cords much more than moaning loud enough for a webcam mic to pick up has. Being a sex worker has pushed me to find my voice, set boundaries, and stick to them.

Reluctantly saying “yes” when I was uncomfortable has gotten me into hot waters many times; From 9-year-old Emmett eating a fistful of crushed chili pepper “because Jessica said it would be fun, mom!”, with much more serious situations as I reached my teenage years. By the time I was 19 and set up an account on a cam modeling website, the word “no” was pretty rusty for me. I performed my first show, saying yes to everything, earning lots of tips, and feeling uncomfortable about what I was being asked to do. It wasn’t that I hated it, but a feeling of discomfort clung to me, a feeling that is familiar to anyone who has given an uneasy yes instead of a firm no; a feeling that is familiar to most of us, whether our uneasy yeses are uttered in uncomfortable conversations in the bedroom, at the office, or around the dinner table. So how do we  stop saying “…yes?” when we mean “NO!”?

Later that night, after my webcam and lace tank top were both off, I wrote a sex work manifesto. In part, it reads: “I will not do anything on cam I am uncomfortable with, or that puts me emotionally or physically at risk. I will happily and gladly disappoint my audience to uphold this. Even though this is work, my consent is important, and I will learn to say no.” The last line of that manifesto has become my sex work mantra, and my mental health, as well as my shows, have flourished because of it.  Clearly defining boundaries is something that can benefit all of us, as it gives us a solid foundation on which to build experience and experimentation. I’ve started to write little manifestoes for other aspects of my life, practicing radical consent with myself every chance I get. You’d be surprised how much knowing your own hard limits can help you the next time you are entering a challenging conversation with a family member, or starting a busy work week.

Saying “no” is a constant learning process, and it hasn’t been an easy one for me. It requires staying present for every moment, not just during my shows, but during all of my life. It requires checking in with myself frequently, asking “is this okay with me?” and being nonjudgmental about my true answer. I’ve learned that I’m happy to give my viewers a place to talk about their kinks, let them hear someone (me) say “Cool, that’s not what I’m into, but it’s not hurting anyone, so I’m glad you found something that turns you on!” And in the process, I’ve learned about kinks I never knew existed (Belly buttons? Words that start with J? Blinking?). However, no, my Hitachi does not go inside anything, end of conversation. As I teach myself how to say “no,” I teach my thousands of followers how to hear, and respect my answers, and together, we create a little world in which we are happy to live, a world I can replicate anywhere I go as long as I listen to my own truths.

Image credit: https://scontent.cdninstagram.com

Image credit: https://scontent.cdninstagram.com

In every show, I am not only modeling my rockin’ bod, I am modeling consent, communication, and respect. I still make mistakes, forget to check in with myself, or don’t speak up when I wish I had. But part of my process is compassion, understanding that I will make these mistakes, and being gentle on myself when they happen.

Porn is something we often consume in shame, not proud of the choices we make in private browsing. Before I started making porn, I didn’t think about where my porn came from, and I certainly didn’t pay for it. I want to produce porn that my viewers can be unashamed to watch and happy to financially back, and that means porn that is created with consent in mind.  If you like watching porn, consider checking out live cam modeling websites, where the performers usually set their own hours and are paid by your generosity, and if you have any concerns, you can ask them directly.

Anyone can watch my show anonymously for free, but the financial backers of my show are, mostly, white, straight, cisgender, heterosexual men in their 50s and 60s. I am eternally grateful that they are willing to put their money into a sex worker who often lectures them about how penis size is nothing to be ashamed of, a sex worker who takes the show on the road and into the bathroom to show the proper washing of sex toys between scenes, and above all, a sex worker who is learning, day after day, how to take a deep breath and say “No, that toy is not butt safe, so no, I will not do that, and I’m not sorry.”


Emmett DuPont (they/them), Sex Educator Intern, is a first-generation college student at Hampshire College and a lifelong unschooler. Emmett lives at intersections of queerness, transness and Emmett DuPont, Sex Educator Interndisability, and is an enthusiastic educator around these and other topics. Read more about Emmett & their internship here.

Ask Emmett!

To ask Emmett a sex, relationship or other relevant advice question for them to answer here on the blog, send us an email with the subject ASK THE INTERN.

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New Pornographer Interested in Sex Ed

Hi Yana!

I saw your TEDx talk in Vienna and was copiously taking notes. The content was an eye-opener for me. I had never thought that both of our basic information sources about sex [school-sanctioned sex education and online pornography] are running their very own twisted agenda.

I started working in the porn industry six weeks ago — hey, the money is fantastic! — and my consumption of porn has gone way up as a side effect. I’m an animator on 3D animated porn shorts, so any porn clip is not only watched, but dissected frame by frame for all the details in body mechanics. (Yeah, it’s a tough life.)

What I wanted to ask you ever since that talk is: What resources can you suggest for filling that gap that both sex ed and porn leave?

I guess before your talk I would have let Google answer that question, but after your talk I’m somewhat weary of online sex education. Any books, videos, or online resources you recommend?

— Pornographer Across the Pond

Hello, PAP!

Thanks for such a great question and for your kind words. As someone actually working on porn sets,

Read this week's Intern Investigation!

Read this week’s Intern Investigation!

I’m so glad that you in particular attended the talk and are thinking about these things.

For readers who haven’t viewed my TEDxTalk yet, here’s the CliffsNotes version: Sex education is failing us hard. So, very naturally people — especially teens — are turning to Google and therefore often mainstream online porn to learn about what’s really going on with this whole sex thing beyond STDs and pregnancy risk.

But then mainstream porn paints a picture of sex that is limited to heterosexuality, penis-in-vagina penetration, and flawless and predictable mutual orgasm without any conversation about how this happens. If you’re a loyal reader, you already know that conversations about sex are crucial for practicing consent and having great sex.

Online porn, our new sex educator, teaches us what roles we should fit into during sex, what kinds of sex are “normal” and “abnormal,” and that sex needs to be wordless in order to be hot, sexy, and pleasurable.

So, PAP, what can you do to manage this deficit? The first is to work for and support pornography companies with ethical missions…continue reading…

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Is Being Basic in Bed a Bad Thing?

Dear Yana,

Recently my partner and I have talked about sexual exploration- or lack thereof – in our relationship. I don’t have any fetishes or kinks or fantasies. At least, I don’t think I do. I’ve never even owned a sex toy. Not that this is a problem, but I sense from my partner that he wishes otherwise.

He finds my “vanilla” preference for the sexual experience “interesting”- his words. Read: boring. Now I’m questioning if I’m suppressing a desire to expand my sexual horizons or if I really just don’t get off from a sexual experience separated from reality. I guess the only way to know is to try exploring or I’ll never know, but I wanted to hear what you have to say and what you recommend for proceeding.

Sincerely,

Basic in Bed

 

Dear BinB –

There are a few reasons why I tend to use the term “pleasure-positive” to describe my work rather than “sex-positive” (though I’m truly a mix of both): on the one hand the “sex-positive” movement has been really, well – positive! Sex-positivity counters slut-shaming, casts sex as a natural, albeit complicated part of our lives rather than inherently risky or negative, and has opened many doors for people that had been previously barricaded by shame, stigma, and repressive social norms.

Pleasure-positivity is sex-positive. However, it’s more heavily focused on what brings us pleasure as unique individuals. The reason I bring this up, BinB, is that while sex-positivity may help your partner feel empowered and excited about his kinks and fetishes, it may feel simultaneously disempowering to you as someone who finds pleasure in what feels, as you describe as, based in reality and/or vanilla.

Though your sexual pleasure may present as vanilla in comparison to his triple-chocolate chip with whipped cream, cherries, sprinkles, and handcuffs, your unique experience of sexual pleasure is just as valid as his. For some, intimate pleasure has nothing to do with sex at all!

Kate McCombs, MPH, my sex education colleague, states so gracefully; “There’s a huge variety of what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to sexual desire. Often people with lower desire for sex feel broken or weird. If that’s you, you’re not alone. In my opinion, prude-shaming is just as problematic as slut-shaming. As I like to say ‘I’m sex-positive – not sex-mandatory’”. Similarly, being kink- or fetish-positive doesn’t mandate it be a part of your sexual experience.

Of course, there are always two sides to every coin and endless sides to the complex shapes our sexual and romantic lives can take. If you would like to explore some other sides, there are a couple places to dig into.

You seem overwhelmed at the idea of exploring this wide realm of other-than-vanilla sex – understandable! A simple Googling of “kinky sex” can lead you into quite the overstimulating rabbithole, to say the least. Sexual exploration can be an extremely personal process and may look like fantasizing about something new for a few minutes while you masturbate, taking a vibrator for a spin, or diving headfirst into the porn pool. Some feel safe and comfortable exploring with their partners present and others need some solo space to process, feel awkward, or to just throw that new vibrator on the floor and swear them off for life.

For others, sexual exploration can mean a deeper process of unpacking what makes us feel hesitant about moving beyond the sex we know or the sex we’ve been granted social permission to have. I’m particularly interested in what you might discover by thinking about what makes reality-based sex feel good and safe to you.

Your partner has a responsibility to not pressure you into any kind of sex that you don’t feel consensually and enthusiastically YES about and also if you do decide to explore new sexual things with him, to be patient and supportive if certain things just don’t float your bangin’ boat.

Some suggested reading includes When Your Sex Drives Don’t Match by Sandra Pertot, Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski, and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel.

No matter what, keep in mind this mantra by sex writer & educator Emily Nagoski, PhD: “Pleasure is the measure”; not your kink-o-meter, not the flavor of your freakiness, but your genuine pleasure.


This sex column appears in print on the back page of The Valley Advocate every week!

Email me your sex & relationship questions to be anonymously answered in the V-Spot!

 

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Why Can’t I Have Sex Without Drinking?

Editor’s Note: Sexual trauma is addressed in this week’s column.

Hi Yana,

I can’t seem to want to have sex unless I’m drunk.

This has always kind of been the case, except for when I was a teenager, and horny all the time (and not drinking). Then when I got to college, there were many instances where all my friends would be going on about how much they “needed” sex, and I could never relate. It was only when I got drunk that I would feel the same sort of uncontrollable desires.

Whenever I date someone, there’s that beginning period where we’re wooing each other, so we go out all the time (and drink) and I can’t seem to get enough (so we have a lot of sex). Now I’m in a relationship with someone I really care about, we’re about seven months in, and I just never want to have sex.

My significant other has noticed and thinks I’m not really attracted to them [Editor’s Note: The letter writer requested the use of they/them pronouns for the partner]. That’s not the case. It’s more like, I can’t “let go” and enjoy myself if I’m sober. I have too much racing through my mind, or I’m frustrated because I can’t orgasm, or I’m frustrated because I can’t make them orgasm.

Our short term solution has been to just not have sex until we both feel like it, but the problem is that I literally don’t even think about sex unless they bring it up. They’re okay with it for now, but I’m worried the lack of physical intimacy is going to eventually drive them away.

I don’t know if it’s the birth control I take (I’ve been on it for a few years), if a past trauma is for some reason rearing its ugly head now (I was raped in college and assaulted once as a child), but I feel like something is wrong with me!

— Confused with a Low Libido

Dear CLL,

This sounds like a really hard place to be in and I’m grateful that you’re verbalizing it. As my readers know, consent is extremely important to me.

It’s one thing if someone enjoys a drink before sexual activity with an established partner they know and trust and have built familiar consent practices with. It’s another if someone feels like the only way to experience sex is to get to the point of intoxication, a state of mind that renders clear consent impossible. This jeopardizes the safety of you both — you as the intoxicated one and your partner as the person attempting to honor your boundaries and make you feel good rather than unsafe.

The human brain and body are quite amazing machines. When someone has experienced sexual trauma as you have, our brains and bodies can put up barricades to potentially triggering situations like sex to protect us. But sometimes these barriers can also block up other things we would like to enjoy — like sex with our partners!…continue reading…