“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
"My girlfriend has brought up several times that she wants to try new things in the bedroom, like me hitting and slapping her. I like to think that I’m open to anything, but this BDSM stuff does not feel natural to me right off the bat because I’ve never done - or really thought about doing - anything like this. But I want to make my girlfriend happy. What should I do???"
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Whiskey Blue as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
Hi! What a great question. Thanks for sending it. I’m going to start right from the beginning. Ready?
What is BDSM? The acronym means Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism. The dynamic consists of a powerplay between a dominant partner and a submissive partner. The practices are countless—from spanking to tying each other up to toys and tools that facilitate creating BDSM scenes between consenting partners.
But what is BDSM really about? Our impulse might be to reduce BDSM to a specific act or set of acts—or a random image of a person tied up in a dungeon—but at its core BDSM refers to a playful exchange of power between consenting partners who have set down boundaries and chosen a safe word to use if anyone begins to feel they’re out of their comfort zone. BDSM doesn’t refer to any specific act, practice, or fetish. It requires trust on both parts, and open communication beforehand so that all parties can come up with the scene (the setting, the practice, toys, anything!) and, most importantly, communicate what is okay and what isn’t okay.
Now, all of this being said, if you don’t want to be slapped you don’t want to be slapped. Maybe you will never want to be slapped. Maybe that’s a hard limit. Maybe one day you’ll be open to it and it can be a soft limit and maybe it will turn out you like it. Maybe you’ll never want to try. All of these possibilities are totally okay and totally legitimate.
As for potentially trying BDSM with your girlfriend, you could start by asking her if there are any specific practices she’s particularly interested in. Maybe she can tell you what she knows about these practices, and why they’re enticing to her. Then you can do any kind of research you want. I think talking about this a few times will greatly relieve anxieties you have about BDSM as a concept, and that talking about specific practices will help you focus on a specific idea or image rather than tackling the infinite world that can be called BDSM. I recommend having multiple conversations with your girlfriend. This way you can take your time. You can avoid feeling rushed or feeling like you’re expected to do anything you’re not ready or willing to do. You can also do some research on your own (here’s a great Salon article about safe sex kink practices for teenagers).
If you decide to explore BDSM with your girlfriend, start out with something that you both can agree on and something that doesn’t scare you. I don’t want to assign any specific value to any specific BDSM practice but… let’s just say you started with the possibility of spanking. Spanking is a popular practice that can be very gentle. Partners can work their way up in terms of intensity depending on needs and desires. The potential for injury or damage is very low if this is done conscientiously. Start off really gentle and go from there. Start off with just one. Start off just talking about it, even.
If spanking is not of interest to you or if it’s triggering, there are other ways to explore a light powerplay. You could go so far (or not far) as to lie down with your arms above your head— pretending you’re bound, pretending you can’t move them. This gives you the sensation of relinquishing control without being physically constrained. Alternately, of course, your partner can lie on her back with her arms above her head, depending on who will be dominant and who will be submissive. You can take turns, too.
You can also write a script! Who is going to be dominant? Who is going to be submissive? Where will the setting be? What will the act be? You can establish hard limits, too, which means that you can explain what you would consider going too far. This ensures that, from the very beginning, you get to establish what is absolutely off the table for this first encounter. Then you can choose a safe word together (Dan Savage’s safe word is popcorn) and use it when one of you wants to stop. Say the spanking is a bit harder than you’d like—popcorn!Say your partner is asking you to slap her in the face but you’re not ready—popcorn! Say you’re not into hanging out tonight—just kidding, I guess you don’t need a safe word for that. Anyway, start by talking it out, then talk it out again, and again. Then take it as slow or as fast as you like, and let me know how it goes.
Click through to read more about Whiskey and our other Second Opinions panelists!
"You have one girl who has never been with a girl before. You have a queer girl who has never been with a girl before. These two girls kiss. Now they are both queer. They are both confused because they both are now in a foreign relationship and don’t know how to ‘do it.’"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Here is the thing about ~~sexual relations~~… it is different with every person, it is new with every person, it is confusing the first time.. for every person. I think your situation is dope because you’re both starting in the very same place. You aren’t super aware of the things you want and neither is your gal. So, first, TALK ABOUT IT. Second, TRY SHIT. Third, BE SAFE.
Re: talk about it, seriously. It is that simple. Talk about things you’ve thought, things you’ve watched, things you’ve fantasized about, things you’ve wondered, things you’ve done when you’re alone, things you’ve done with other people. Talk before you do it, talk while you’re doing it, talk after you do it. Take it slow, ask questions.
Re: Try shit. After you talk about shit, try it. How TF is anyone supposed to know what they like and what works for them if you don’t try? It’s your first time together with all this jazz, so just try. Leave room for giggles and buy the books with the stupidly cheesy titles.
Re: BE SAFE. Get real, yall. You’re exchanging fluids. You’re trying new things. Be safe. Use protection, use safe words, be honest with one another.
and have fun.
Lucky for you both, I watched several episodes of Seinfeld this holiday weekend which, as you well know, is the encyclopedia of sexual knowledge. Here is a relevant quote:
Elaine: Hey Jerry when do you consider that sex has taken place?
Jerry: I would say when the nipple makes its first appearance.
So, there you go.
Each of you show the other a nipple and you’ve done ‘it’!
I’m sorry… I am SORRY. I just really wanted to use the nipple quote somehow and you gave me a decent segway opportunity. Dannielle hit you up with all the relevant knowledge, and I will add a tiny bit more:
There is no such thing as ‘it.’ You know what I mean? It’s like… this cultural phenomenon that is based on procreation and purity and shit, when in reality Sarah might consider having sex anything that results in an orgasm and Alex might consider having sex anything that includes penetration and Susie Anne might consider having sex anything that includes feeling like she had sex.
Talk to your human. If you aren’t good at talking face to face because you get a little FLUSTERED, then gchat or text each other about things you might want to do. Maybe go buy some toys together and explore things! If you don’t want to go to a store in person, check out Babeland online… they even tell you how to use things!
The bottom line is that you define what ‘doing it’ is for yourselves and each other, and that definition might change over the course of time… or you might just stop caring about what’s what and be totally stoked on having all sorts of naked (safe) fun together.
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"My girlf and I share a teeny apartment, so when I’m at school she gets alone time and when she’s at school I get alone time. She hates her program though and is changing paths so she is skipping a lot (still very high grades). I need my alone time, I’m really introverted and need it. How can I help her get that her going to school saves my sanity?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
This can only be solved by HONESTY and a possibly uncomfortable conversation. I mean, every time I’ve been in a relationship I’ve been very open from the beginning about my need for alone time. I hate being in a situation where a few months pass and then I’m like “hey I’m just gonna hang by myself tonight” and the human is all “you don’t like me” … or whatever happens. I HAVE A BAD MEMORY SORRY.
It doesn’t have to be that big of a deal, because it’s a small thing that is completely understandable. First of all, getting no alone time means there is never a time where you’re missing one another OR where you’re wondering what your other half is up to OR you’re making a plan to see one another, etc.
Alone time is so important, it helps you check in with YOU. Having time to yourself allows you to understand how you’re feeling, Time alone allows you to acknowledge the goings-on in your life that you spend most time avoiding. Alone time is necessary. I think it’s an easy enough thing to explain to your boo. Just tell her the truth, you love her and you love spending time with her. Being alone isn’t about being without her, it’s about being with just you. It’s not like you’re saying “I want to hang out with ANYONE BESIDES YOU.” Ya know? Just be very clear about what you mean and maybe the two of you can come up with a schedule so you know for a fact you will have a certain number of hours per day or week that are just for you.
Totally. This is one of those things that FEELS like a huge issue but in reality, it’s just you having totally normal needs and navigating how best to communicate them with your lover.
I said ‘lover’ there to spice up the post / gross most of you out. Fun, right?
So, like Dannielle has suggested, all you need to do is a) reassure yourself that your needs are valid and not a reflection on your lack of interest in your lover (lol), and b) communicate those needs with that confidence, because this will give your lover (lol) more ability to trust in what you are saying. Does that make sense?
Also, this isn’t about her needing to go to school or anything like that — and that is an important piece of this puzzle: don’t allow your needs to intersect her specific choices. Meaning, instead of saying, “I really think it would be best if you went to school more,” you’d say, “I know you aren’t going to class as much, but maybe there is something we can do so we still get that time apart.” You will, of course, also add in all the ways in which you love and care for her, and that you feel that time apart really strengthens your time together, etc etc.
So, in a whole bunch of words we’ve told you that the path forward is in talking about it honestly, dealing with a possible hiccup of hurt feelings (followed by patient reassurance), and moving forward together so your lover (lol) can skip class when she needs, but you still both get the time apart that helps keep you strong.
*flexy muscle emoji*