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“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.

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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 I talk to my girlfriend about getting a sex toy? (I’m also a girl.) And at what age do you think it’s appropriate?"

Question submitted by Anonymous

Constance says:

Ok first off: I work at a sex toy shop and out of all the questions I get, this is one of my FAVORITES. There’s nothing I love more than working with people who are putting themselves out there and exploring a new part of their relationship.

When it comes to bringing up the topic of sex toys with a partner, I’ve personally always preferred a blunt approach. I’ve found that dancing around the topic just makes things more awkward and opens it up to confusion. Try to find a casual, comfortable moment when the two of you won’t be interrupted (this may not be a conversation to have at the local coffee shop) and directly bring it up. Being upfront about it can show your girlfriend that this isn’t a big deal, which can help everyone be more honest and comfortable about what they’re feeling.

You might find it helpful to start off with a comment about how much you enjoy whatever things you’re already doing before mentioning something you think might be fun. Something along the lines of, “Hey darling, you know how much I love it when you X my Y? I was thinking that it might be even more fun if we also had a [insert whatever sex toy you’re thinking of here].” The point isn’t that you’re unhappy with whatever bumping-and-grinding you’re getting up to, but that you think there’s something fun that you could bring in. (Sidenote: If you are unhappy with your sex life with your partner, that’s a whole other conversation. Remember that a sex toy isn’t the magic cure—honest communication is going to be your best friend there.)

Some people recommend buying an inexpensive sex toy before having the conversation so that you can be like, “Hey, I found this and thought it might be fun to try!” The idea there is that you’re keeping it casual and making things simple by presenting one concrete thing to consider rather than a bigger question of sex toys in general. I’m not a huge fan of this approach because I think it can feel more like “Surprise! Let’s Do This!” rather than opening up a conversation. Instead of buying a toy before the conversation, I recommend having a plan you can offer of what it would look like if she’s into the idea. Do some pre-conversation research to get a sense of where you might get a sex toy, what the options are, what your potential budget is, and so on. This can help give specifics for her to think about without springing a sex toy upon her without warning.

The best thing you can do in this conversation is be honest and open with your girlfriend and be willing to listen to her concerns. She may not want to run out to get a sex toy right at that moment, but these conversations are important for couples to understand each other even more.

As for the second part of your question: I’m not really sure there is an inappropriate age to get a sex toy. For those of us who have sexual urges, the instant we begin to experience them is usually when we tend to find sex toys all over the place. Early sexual desire drives innovation as we find new uses for washing machines, handles of hairbrushes, or the classic electric toothbrush. If someone is old enough to be repurposing household objects for sex toys, then I don’t see what’s wrong with them having something that’s actually intended for that purpose. I will say that not everyone agrees with me on this and that you should check to see what your local restrictions are on getting sex toys: Can people under 18 go into a sex toy shop in your state? Can you buy them online?

Exploring our sexual desires alone and with our partners can be filled with anxiety and joy. Sometimes things aren’t going to work out like you hoped, but the important thing is being able to communicate what you need and listening to everyone involved. There’s no surefire way to know how things will turn out, but you can’t go wrong with plenty of research, empathy, and kindness. Sending my best wishes to you.

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Constance Augusta A. Zaber is a New England writer interested in history, sex practices, libraries, what she’s going to eat next, and Virginia Woolf. She writes about books (particularly those by trans authors) online, sells sex toys in a college town, and is working on an undergraduate degree in Sexology. Her personal, professional, and academic work is based in her experiences as a white, Jewish, trans woman with clinical depression and anxiety. Follow her on Twitter @augustazaber
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“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.

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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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“How can I ask my school to include LGBTQ health and sex education in classes?”

Question Submitted by Anonymous

Dana Says:

Hey! So I love love love that you want to get LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed in your school because a lot of the time, this doesn’t really cross the minds of our educators—or even us as LGBTQ people! I know that as an 8th grader in an introductory health class, I had absolutely no idea what a “dental dam” was and I probably wouldn’t have known about it in my 10th grade health class either if I hadn’t already searched it up. In any case, LGBTQ individuals deserve inclusive sex ed, so damn it, we’ve gotta try our best to get it.

Before you ask your school to get an LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed curriculum, you need to have all your arguments, evidence, etc in order, so I’ve compiled a badass list (if I do say so myself) to help you do so!

Evaluate the current state of your health curriculum
Odds are that if your school is enforcing abstinence-only education, they’re probably not going to be so keen on considering LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed. You can do this by simply asking health students what they have learned, or referring to your old health notes if you have already taken the class. If your school is able to educate students about the ol’ penis-in-vagina method, then they should be able to teach them about other forms of sex as well.

Check up on your state’s standard health education curriculum
Go online to your state’s department of education website to find out whether your school is actually following the state guidelines. This has the potential to contribute a lot to your argument for LGBTQ-inclusive health classes; if the state says LGBTQ-inclusivity is the standard health curriculum, then why isn’t your school’s health curriculum up to par? If you find that your school is indeed failing to follow the guidelines, you should TOTALLY take that information to your state’s Board of Education.

Gather some queer-er data!
A great way to see what your health curriculum specifically needs is by asking your queer peers what they want to learn. Maybe they want to learn about anal sex, or oral sex, or the different ways you can protect yourself from STI’s when in a same-sex relationship, because oftentimes a lot of us queers have no clue how to go about understanding all of that. So ask away!

Gather your troops
By this, I mean gather a few of your friends who are just as passionate about the cause so you can set up a meeting with your health teachers and/or the administration to talk about it. If you know any supportive parents or faculty who will join you in setting this meeting up, that will definitely add much-needed fuel to the fire!

Start a petition, get attention!
If the administration refuses to meet with you, start a petition among your student body, and perhaps even reach out to the local news outlets. Go nuts!

Ask LGBTQ health-related questions
If you’re asking questions that require answers, your teacher(s) will be forced to come up with an answer (or find that they lack one entirely). More often than not, health teachers don’t have enough knowledge on safe sex to provide students with accurate answers. In the asking, you’ll either be getting more information for all of your peers, or alerting your teacher to the fact that they need to learn more about LGBTQ issues!

Take matters into your own hands
You can’t teach in your school because you probably don’t have any kind of teaching degree, but you can reconvene with your troops and study up on as much you can find about LGBTQ sexual health. If the teachers aren’t going to teach, then you are going to have to spread the word about safe, sane, and consensual queer sex (say that five times fast!) as best as you can. Laci Green on YouTube, Autostraddle, Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon, Scarleteen, and even your state’s LGBTQ research center (if you have one) are all great resources to get you started btw! Rather than proclaiming “the prostate gland is often found in AMAB (assigned male at birth) individuals and can be a major pleasure center if stimulated!” down a crowded hallway, educate on smaller levels, like at a GSA meeting. A lot of the kids who want/need LGBTQ-inclusive health education are probably already in the school GSA.

When playing GSM (Gender/Sexual Minority) Jeopardy with my school GSA, I slip in a lot of random LGBTQ health facts so they learn something in a fun and lighthearted environment. For example, one of the questions was “What is a dental dam (or what I like to call, a dental “damn” ;D), and how is it used?” Because none of them knew, I ended up explaining what it was and its purpose, which definitely opened up their eyes to the world of STIs and sexual safety. Smaller-scale things like this definitely make a big difference if your school is consistently refusing to incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive sex education.

Last but not least, be patient yet still persistent
A lot of school officials aren’t as ready and willing as you are to get an LGBTQ-inclusive health curriculum for a multitude of reasons. The administration may be afraid of angry parents demanding why their teenager came home wanting to know more about safe anilingus, or the administration could be controlled by the state government, making it even more difficult to alter the curriculum, or perhaps they’re just not supportive of anything LGBTQ-related. The bottom line is, stay patient and stay persistent.

If all else fails, civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in at your school could definitely raise some eyebrows (and probably some blood pressures). That’s just my personal endgame, though, haha. Anyway, best of luck!

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“I want to have sex with my girlfriend but I want to know the cautions and what to do in order to be safe. I’m female.”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Dr. Justine Shuey as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Dr. Shuey Says:

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) do not discriminate, so it is important to protect yourself and your partner(s). There are ways to get STIs without ever having sex (through birth, skin-to-skin contact, sharing IV drugs / needles / injection equipment, etc) so it doesn’t matter if your partner is a virgin, or if you are – you always need to protect yourself and your partner(s). STIs can be transmitted sexually in a variety of ways via bodily fluids, which include blood, semen, vaginal secretions, anal secretions, breast milk or even skin-to-skin contact.

Using Latex (or non-latex) dental dams during oral sex prevents the transmission of bodily fluid and some skin-to-skin contact. Some even come in yummy flavors to make oral sex taste sweeter. If you can’t find dental dams you can make them using regular latex/non-latex male condoms or gloves. You can find easy to follow instructions for this online.

If using sex toys, you should know what material the toy is made of, if it can be completely sterilized, and if it is safe for sharing (when cleaned appropriately). You might also consider covering sex toys with condoms to prevent the spread of infections and for easier clean up.

You should also considering using gloves/finger cots for vaginal and anal play. It will make things smoother and will help lubricants last longer.

Individuals with penises can use male condoms during oral, anal or vaginal sex. There are even flavored condoms made specifically for oral sex (which could be cut and used as dental dams).

There are also “Female Condoms” & “FC2” condoms which are insertable condoms and can be used during vaginal sex or used during receptive anal sex by removing the inner ring. These are made of non-latex materials and can also be cut and used as dental dams.

There are a variety of lubricants available: A good water-based lubricant is best, though you can use flavored lubricants externally during oral sex on the outside of condoms/dental dams. Silicone lubricant is another option but be cautious as silicone lubricant will break down silicone sex toys.

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