Communication is Sexy


This piece is part two of the casual sex blog series, written by Aly Albertson of Queer Sex Ed Community Curriculum. Enjoy part one of the series here!


 

Though communication is sexy, sadly, like numerous sexy things, we were not taught about how to do it well. I’ll be the first to admit it, I used to be a terrible communicator. Through trial and error, some amazingly compassionate sexual partners, lots of reading, and some casual sex mishaps and miscommunications, I have grown significantly in communicating what I want and need from my partners both casual and otherwise.

My in school sex education never mentioned queer people, let alone discussed the needs and desires that queer people like myself might have or how to talk about them. These sex education lessons especially did not validate my desire to have casual sex. We were told sex was this “special” gift to give to your “perfect match” (or something like that, if I’m being honest I try to forget much of the purity propaganda.) I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for wanting to have casual sex, especially when I was in long-term relationships. Regardless of how much I’ve loved my partners, I’ve always been interested in engaging in sex, casually with other people. Luckily, now know that sex is not always an indication of love or partnership.


However, before I came to this realization, my desire for casual sex and fun flings made me feel guilty and I didn’t know how to discuss it with partners casual or long-term. Since the only model for relationship structures I ever had was monogamous, I thought this issue was black and white: monogamous or cheating. As a result, for quite a while I pushed myself into monogamy with my long-term partners or into relationships with people I would have preferred to stay casual with.

I consider my younger self and think about how now, as a non-monogamous sex educator, I could have reframed these conversations and addressed these topics through effective communication with partners.

If I were to rewrite these moments, with the skills I have now I would say:
“Hey, I love and value our relationship and also I’m interested in having sex with other people, how does that make you feel? Can we talk about it more?”
Or for casual partners:
“Hey, I’m really enjoying what we’re doing, and I’d love to keep it casual. Does that sound okay to you?”

I was never a "bad" partner for being interested in casual sex. I am just nonmonogamous, which for me means I do not have sexually exclusive relationships (and sometimes this extends to romantic partnerships as well). Unfortunately, we don’t learn communication and options about alternative relationship structures so we’re often left to battle with ourselves about our needs and how to have them met. And that’s where sex educators like me come to save the day!

In the rest of this piece, I’m going to talk broadly about communication. You can think of this as the “basics” of communication. This is not a rulebook, but a few loose guidelines that I’ve found apply to communication in relationships, casual or not. In the future of this series, I will discuss more specific situations, however, I thought an overview of communication basics would benefit everyone, myself included!



 

How and why do we communicate about sex?


The first step is communicating about your wants and needs with your partner, casual or not. The best way to communicate is frequently and openly. Regardless of what point of a relationship you’re at, dating, hooking up, whatever; it’s crucial to have an open line of communication together and agreements on how you would like to communicate.

Some questions to think about when communicating with your sexual partners:
Do you want regular check-ins?
How will you address issues if they come up?
Are people you’re involved with sleeping with other people, and if so, do you have safe sex agreements?
How socially or romantically involved with each other do you want to be outside of the bedroom?

No matter what you and your partners agree on, make sure your communication is compassionate, clear, respectful, and open. With casual sex, sometimes feelings can progress, and sometimes they don’t, so double-checking every once in a while to make sure everyone feels good about the arrangement is always a good idea. By setting intentions, boundaries, and communication standards, you can avoid miscommunications that may cause unneeded pain.

Communicating about relationships is not only for people interested in engaging in non-monogamy but also for all relationships. As a sexuality educator, and in my relationships I have noticed that people do not discuss things like their communication styles, expectations, or needs with their sexual partners, especially casual ones. Regardless of your “type” of relationship, communication is crucial to making sure that everyone feels seen, heard, cared for, and fulfilled. And yes, this also applies to casual sexual relationships. While a casual relationship often has less commitment and responsibility, or “strings attached,” this doesn’t mean that folks don’t deserve a basic level of care, honesty, and transparency. Remember: A “no strings” casual sexual relationship doesn’t mean “no respect.”



 

Since communication can be a challenge, here are a few more things to consider:



Create your own "normal"


Much of what we see growing up is unhealthy communication and that’s if we get to see any at all. We should communicate out of a desire to constantly improve our relationships. Since the models we are shown, or not shown often aren’t representative of our relationships or identities, we get to build our own. Do you want to only have sex with someone? Go on dates and cuddle, but not have long-term emotional commitments? Make this clear, and if your partner is down, then that’s your normal!


Let emotions happen, and treat them gently with compassion

Communicating can be hard and feelings may come up. If they get too intense you can always take a break and come back to the conversation after you calm down. For example, maybe you’re having casual sex and one person has developed stronger emotional feelings for the other, and they aren’t reciprocated. This could easily turn into a fight, however, sometimes it’s better to wait and not make decisions in the heat of the moment. Better to take some alone time than to make a rash or emotionally fueled choice.

Regardless of the outcome, appreciate each other for the trust and work you’re putting into creating the relationships you want and need. Remember, communication is an investment in your relationship and overall wellness. Some people may think it’s not important to have these conversations with casual sexual partners, however, in my book, better safe than sorry when it comes to communication!



Communicate through discomfort


Discomfort is natural and okay! It’s important to acknowledge those feelings together and communicate through them. Remember: Communication helps to avoid more forms of emotional discomfort like resentment. Resentment and anger often stem from a lack of communication, unexpressed feelings, differing expectations, and/or needs not being met.

But what are some ways we can do that? Check in with yourself and your partner about your discomfort and why you might be uncomfortable. Getting to the root of discomfort creates space to mutually move past issues with trust. Check in with yourself and your partner not only about your discomfort but why you might be uncomfortable with the topic of conversation. You may not get to the bottom of it at that moment, and that is okay however, getting to the root of the discomfort allows possible space to move through it.



 

Healthy Communication Skills to Practice

Radical Honesty: the skill to tell your whole truth, respectfully. You are entitled to privacy and also your sexual partner deserves your honesty. Agree on what you will share, when, and how you would like to share that information!


Self Advocacy: the skill associated with one’s ability to advocate, speak up, request/declare their needs, wants, and thoughts in a confident, comfortable manner. Ask yourself, what do you want and need from your relationships? How can you express that? Think about how you can communicate that and present your needs, wants, intentions, and expectations in a compassionate way to your partner(s).


Specificity: Making sure to define what you mean to avoid miscommunications. Follow up your statements and ask questions like, “Do you feel like you understand what I expressed? Do you need more clarification?”


 

Final Thoughts

Relationships (yes even the casual sex ones) do not “just happen to us.” We are not only participants in relationships but should be constantly making and remaking our relationships through communication!


Change is a healthy part of this making process; we want to communicate through making healthy changes in our relationships so they don’t break down. Communication and the possibility of unknown change can be scary. Effective communication requires vulnerability, which can also be scary, especially if you've had negative experiences communicating in the past. However, vulnerability also fosters connection and makes space for authenticity. Remember: not all change is bad! It is possible that communicating through change might change things for the better in ways you never could imagine!

 

About the Author


Aly (they/them) is a pleasure-based sexuality educator, researcher, and activist based in Amsterdam. Co-founder and co-director of the queer-focused online sexuality and relationship education website Queer Sex Ed Community Curriculum (@queersexedcc // queersexedcc.com), Aly holds a Master of Science in Sociology: Gender, Sexuality, and Society, and a B.A. focused on sexuality education, gender and identity studies, and sexual health. They have worked at several international nongovernmental organizations as a researcher on pleasure-focused sexual and reproductive health and rights initiatives. Their work focuses on intersections of power, health, knowledge, identity, pleasure, and educational pedagogy.

Personally, Aly is a major pleasure enthusiast who loves talking and writing about all things sex, identity, politics, and pleasure!

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