“How do I communicate in the bedroom without having a panic attack? I can’t make the words come out of my mouth and then I end up in a weird mental spiral that ultimately ends sexy time. Please help?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Bethany Rutter Says:
I would get the communication done before it gets to the bedroom, or specifically the bed, but definitely before it gets to a state of undress in the bed. It can feel too much, too personal, too critical to have those conversations once sex is already happening, so chatting about what you want and what you don’t want and what’s hot and what actually makes you feel kinda uncomfortable is best done in a chilled environment before you get down to it. ‘You know what would be really hot?’ or ‘hey, I feel kind of weird about…’ are fine and legitimate ways to start sentences.
Knowing what you want to say and feeling like you have something concrete to work with is often half the battle with communication. It could be a good idea to create a list, for yourself, consisting of three things: stuff you know you like, stuff you know you don’t want to do, and stuff you’re not sure about, but under the right circumstances you could be into exploring. You could literally write this stuff down in a draft email or a note on your phone, so it becomes clearer in your mind, so that when it comes to your next sexual encounter, you can articulate your turn-ons, turn-offs and curiosities. It might seem prescriptive and un-spontaneous, but having it clear in your mind what you know you’re into and what you’re not into can make it more likely that you’ll be able to speak confidently and get what you want sexually. Full disclosure: I learnt this approach off someone I had a fling with, and it’s been super useful to me ever since. People often really like talking about what they’re into sexually, and don’t often get asked by their sexual partners. Assuming a one-size-fits-all sex life exists is the road to boredom, ruin and unhappiness.
Also, a weird mental spiral is not necessarily a bad reason to end sexy time. If you’re feeling uncomfortable and like a sexual encounter is causing you to freak out a little bit, you’re totally within your rights to cut it off at any point.
Not to get too granular, but meta-communication (that’s to say, communication about communication) is a really valuable part of relationships of all kinds. Talking to your partner or partners about how you want to communicate, how you don’t want to communicate, the ideal scenario for talking about stuff, your worst communication nightmare, can be super helpful. I like resolving issues right then so if I’m in conflict with someone who finds it useful to have time to think before stating their position, then I need to know that about them so I don’t think they’re being evasive and don’t value me. Asserting how you want to talk, and hearing how your partner wants to talk, will mean your talking goes better every time.
Bethany is a journalist and blogger living in London. She spends more time doing nonmonogamy and being queer than she does writing about it, but hopefully she can lend a hand in written form. She loves cute clothes for fat girls, reading obsessively, lipstick, Broad City and giving pep talks. Follow her on Twitter at @archedeyebrowbr
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"How do you navigate a relationship when you have issues with mental illness? And how do you find a partner who is willing to handle it? I have an anxiety disorder and some depression, and it makes just being in any relationship hard, let alone a healthy, serious, long-term romantic relationship."
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Let me start by saying that I struggled with pretty intense anxiety for several years in my late twenties and, although I haven’t had a bad panic attack in years, I now wrestle with depression. (I learned recently from my therapist that anxiety and depression are closely related, and that a lot of people who once struggled with an anxiety disorder later deal with depression. So, way to go me for being right on track.)
The next part of me telling you about me is to say that I was in a longterm relationship of five years when I was struggling with anxiety, and I’ve now been with my wife for seven years, several of which have overlapped with my depression. Both my ex and my wife understood mental illness from differing places: My ex had also dealt with anxiety and knew it first hand; Jenny has never dealt with anxiety, but has wrestled with depression and is incredibly good at listening and working to understand what I need when I’m feeling low.
I tell you all of this, Anonymous, because I want you to know two things right off the bat:
1. Many (many, many, many) people deal with mental illness, in varying ways and shapes and forms and intensities. Not as many people TALK about those struggles, which is something that I hope changes over time, but we are here and you are far from alone.
2. It is completely possible to have a beautiful, healthy, awesome relationship with another person or other people while also dealing with mental illness. The biggest requirement is communication, and partnering with people who are able to listen and take mental illness seriously. In my opinion, those are characteristics you’d want to look for in someone regardless of if you had anxiety or depression or not!
As someone who has been on this journey for a long time, I can tell you that the more I know myself, the better I become at communicating what I need. That is the place that I’d suggest you put the bulk of your focus; reflect on your interactions, moments that make you feel uneasy, places and things that make you feel safe or help you feel calm. Recently, my therapist suggested that I make a space for myself somewhere in our house that was just mine – a place where I could go to read quietly, listen to music, or just sit and breathe for a bit. It’s helped me so much already, and it’s given me another option to turn to when I am struggling. I lean on Jenny, of course, in many moments, but I’ve also begun to build supports for myself outside of our relationship. That, too, is important. Your partner(s) can and should listen to you when you talk about your feelings and experiences, but they can’t be expected to carry all of that weight. Neither should you!
Write down a list of people close to you who you can talk to, and a list of activities you can do (coloring, writing, running, singing?) or places that you can go to (under your desk, the gym, church, your attic??) to help mediate the anxiety and depression. If you aren’t already in therapy, I’d highly recommend it. Many cities have accessible mental health options (check your local LGBT center for resources!). Explore what works, take notice of what doesn’t. Our lives are spent learning, and this is included – I learn more about my mental health EVERY day.
In my experience, if you are working toward a better understanding of yourself and the tools you need (including medication, there is no shame in medication – it is incredibly wonderful for so many humans!!), your partner(s) will be able to be there with you. They will be patient when you struggle because that is what a partner does. Yes, there may be times when you lean too hard or not enough, and times when they say or do the wrong thing, but that’s true of all relationships – and if you continue to communicate, you’ll learn the best ways to coexist and support each other.
Much love to you! ️ <3
“I have just started seeing a fabulous lady and we’re getting to a point where it seems likely that we’ll have some form of sexual contact soon. I’m a trauma survivor and I have boundaries for what I like in bed and what is triggering- how do I bring this up with a potential partner without scaring her away or divulging too much personal info the first time we’re in bed together? I don’t want things to be weird!”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Rachel Halder says:
How exciting that you’ve met such a fabulous person! It is incredibly exciting when we meet that special someone who just makes our heart sing. As an abuse survivor, I also recognize the apprehension in divulging on a very personal history with someone you want to impress and keep around. It’s a tricky scenario!
Sharing this vulnerable history can feel like an unfair aspect of being a survivor. But sharing parts of your past isn’t something that only survivors need to do. All relationships are influenced by a person’s history—we all carry old patterns, thoughts, and cycles into new territory. This isn’t necessarily a beneficial thing to do, but it is a very human thing to do. Therefore, anytime we open up a space with another person—whether that be a romantic partner or just a new friend—there will always be a sort of navigation that takes place between two people’s emotional, psychological, and spiritual histories.
We all have some sort of trauma we are carrying around within us, too, and that typically comes up eventually in one way or another. My personal belief is that if we share that trauma with someone we are about to be sexual with, and they run away or don’t want to go there with you, then that person wasn’t really as fabulous as we once thought. It’s not that they are “bad,” but it does mean that they don’t have the ability to be compassionate and/or vulnerable with themselves, and are therefore unable to hold your history, experiences, and life within themselves. If someone is unable to open up and share that space with us, then are they really worth our time and energy? I personally don’t think so. I want someone to see all of me, just as I want to see all of them.
My greatest relationships—both romantic and platonic—have been the ones where I can speak honestly and upfront about my life experiences and not feel shame because of it. My greatest relationships have been formed around a compassionate container of listening and understanding where our hurts are held and loved. My greatest sexual relationships have been built on a groundwork of speaking openly about sexual desires, fears, and apprehensions. They have been based on safe words and the idea that if a person says “no” or “it’s too much,” that it is respected and understood. They have been built on honesty and open communication, rather than projection and apprehension.
Because of the uncomfortable and shaming aspect of a lot of these topics, there’s never a “perfect moment” to bring up these conversations, so if that’s what you’re searching for, you may never find it! But that doesn’t mean there won’t be windows of opportunities to talk to your lady. I always find it helpful to rehearse what I want to say so I understand my own feelings, emotions, and understandings around the story I want to share. I also find it’s best to go into the conversation without expectations. If I expect the other person to respond in a particular way, I am almost guaranteed to be disappointed. I can hope for a particular response, but it’s also good to be prepared for a response that may not be ideal, so you can work with that outcome as well.
I also think it is best to have this conversation with a significant other before getting into bed with each other. Perhaps if you’re on the couch making out and you’re really feeling it, you can say, “Do you mind if we hold up for a second? There is something I would like to talk to you about before we move forward.” You could also even set- up an evening to vulnerably share your “secrets.” When I was 19-years-old I did this with a boyfriend, telling him about an abusive relationship I had when I was 15. It felt necessary to talk to him about this past story because I hadn’t had sex since that relationship, and I had the feeling that I wanted to open up the sex dialogue with someone again. I did not know how to open up dialogue about sex, though, without also speaking about my fears and shame about this past high school relationship.
Relationships are hard, and so are the aftereffects of trauma that we carry in our souls and bodies. But both can be worked with, healed, and restored, but only if both parties are open and willing to go there. Make sure you surround yourself by lovers who can understand and hold you. If this chick is as ultra fabulous as she sounds, she’s going to be right there with you, holding and understanding your pain, and hopefully sharing some of her own.
Rachel Halder is currently an MA in Religion candidate at Claremont School of Theology, studying holistic spiritual trauma healing for those who have been marginalized by the Christian Church because of sexual abuse and/or LGBTQIA sexual identification. She is passionate about interspirituality, believing that mystical spirituality is the origin of all world religions, and that at their mystical core all spiritual paths lead to Love. She blogs about sexualized violence at Our Stories Untold, about spirituality at Heart of Thought, and when she’s not writing or speaking you can find her hiking mountains or walking through the forest, communing with pachamama’s beautiful earth creation. Follow her on Twitter @raegitsreal
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"My girlfriend and I had both planned to go to pride in Orlando... she's still dead set on it, but I'm scared. I just graduated and she's just gotten into medschool... I love my community and am proud, but with everything that's happening I'm scared."
-Question Submitted by Anonymous
Hi there, Anonymous.
A few days ago, a friend of mine reached out to see if Everyone Is Gay had any specific resources that she might offer to people who were trying to navigate through the days after Orlando… and I couldn’t find anything that I felt would connect us properly. How could I find something that would connect us properly? As a community – as communities – so much of this is uncharted territory.
In the past week, my thoughts have been wrapped tightly around my own sadness and fear, the sadness and fear of the LGBTQ community as a whole, and the devastation faced by the LGBTQ Latinx community, specifically. I’ve been more silent than usual here on Everyone Is Gay and across my personal social media accounts, because I haven’t known how to speak, what to say, how to engage.
Today, though, I am going to start talking a bit more – and I am beginning with your question because it is one that I am also wrestling with, directly.
First: There is nothing wrong with feeling scared.
I want to repeat this, Anonymous:
There is nothing wrong with feeling scared.
I have always struggled with my own personal fears of being in large groups; a fear that was compounded when a vendor was shot just about five feet away from the booth that Dannielle and I worked at San Francisco Pride in 2013. After that incident, it was months before I could go to music shows or other large gatherings without having my back against a wall and knowing where the exits were. I also lived in NYC when 9/11 happened, which forever altered my own feeling of safety riding mass transit, working in city buildings, and honestly, just living. There were events I didn’t go to in the aftermath of both of those experiences because I was afraid; there were times when I had to get off the subway and take a walk before getting back on and completing my ride.
I don’t mean to conflate any of these experiences, because they are distinct in so many ways; but the one thing they share in common is that they made me feel unsafe in spaces where large groups gathered. That is a part of how I am feeling after Orlando, too, just like you. That fear is weighted differently this year as it intersects with my identity as a bisexual, queer woman who has always aimed to speak as loud as possible about my identity.
I will be working at NYC Pride this year. I will have a booth down where the parade empties out in the West Village where my interns and I will let people know about the resources that Everyone Is Gay has to offer, where people will come to buy themselves hats and shirts that say Everyone Is Gay, and where – as happens each year – many people will come to say hi to me, personally, and tell me how our work helped them get through a break-up, tackle a coming out experience, or find a better understanding of their identity. It’s always a powerful experience, and an important one, and one of many powerful ways that pride celebrations allow us to come together.
I will also be feeling scared while I am down there. I am not sure how scared I will feel or how it will manifest, and I won’t really know until I am there this Sunday, surrounded by so many of your beautiful faces. I also know that many of you will be feeling similar things, and that some of you won’t feel safe enough to attend. That is a sad reality, because LGBTQ people deserve to have spaces where they do not have to feel scared to be who they are… and those spaces are few and far between.
I have had many conversations with those close to me, and with myself, about my own relationship to this year’s pride celebrations, and to gauge my own needs around self-care and wellbeing. I’ve spent that time doing that work so that I could figure out my personal best path forward. For me, that path leads to standing next to those I love, and celebrating who I am amidst the power of that shared space and presence. But that is my path, Anonymous, and the only way to find yours is to have those conversations with those you love, and with yourself. It is okay if you can’t make it out this year. It is okay if you want to talk through things that will make you feel more safe if you do make it out this year.
One thing I can promise is to stand that much taller for you this Sunday – and for (and with) all of you who are also feeling scared and unsure.
I said this the day after Orlando, and I will repeat it here again: If you’re out there, also shakily trying to put one foot in front of the other, you’re not alone. We wobble together.
We can only take these things one moment at a time. We will all continue working to hold each other up, and that includes compassion and understanding for how you, personally, navigate your grief and your fear.
Much love to you, Anonymous.