Vulnerable, Awkward, (sometimes) Weird,& Amazing Embracing the joys, challenges, and questions of healthy relationships

Hello beautiful people! This is the column of all things relationships from our Preventing Assault & Violence through Education (PAVE) program. The purpose of this column is to provide you with the opportunity to send in any and all questions you have about dating, sex, friendships, relationships, consent, etc. Navigating the world of relationships (romantic, platonic, or otherwise) can be incredibly vulnerable, awkward, sometimes weird, and amazing. So, let’s share in these experiences together. This is a shame-free space, and the only bad questions are the ones left unasked. 

If you’d like to submit an anonymous question you can do so by stopping by Bartlett 102 (and grab some condoms while you are there) or you can send it to [email protected] or at https://forms.gle/WuW7vWBxF15sirTf9 All names and identifiable information will be changed or omitted. You can also follow @MC_peereducators on Instagram to see more.

Q: Dear Vulnerable, 

Recently, I have been feeling like this guy I’m kind of seeing is really expecting sex. I’m not sure I want to with him yet. I’m not against sex in general, I just don’t think I’m ready to with him. He’s not like super pressuring me or anything, just little things. I mean it seems like everyone just hooks up with people anyway though so maybe I am being weird. 

Signed, 

Not Ready and Waiting

A: Not Ready and Waiting,

First, I will say thank you for the strength of vulnerability to share your question. If we were chatting in person, I’d want to know a little about what “not like super pressuring” looks like. Pressure and coercion are pretty close. It may be a helpful start to unpack if that pressure you are feeling is external (others pushing you towards it) or internal (we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be who we think others expect us to be).

 Being able to talk about physical intimacy with a partner is an invaluable relationship skill and like all skills, it takes time to practice. Many people have not had the opportunity to practice this skill very often, so you are not alone if it feels difficult and awkward. Here are some tips and considerations for diving into these conversations with confidence.

  • Make time with yourself – And I don’t just mean physically (though exploring your likes/dislikes and your own pleasure can be helpful). Have some conversations with yourself about what you really want, how you feel about this person, and why you do or don’t want to have sex right now. Brutal honesty with yourself is key. Pretend your closest friend is coming to you for advice, what would you say to them? Do you know what your boundaries are and how to communicate them? PAVE has some helpful resources for thinking through some likes and dislikes. 
  • Practice – Even the words we use to talk about sex sometimes feel weird to say. It can help to just practice saying some of the words out loud, privately to build confidence and find your voice. Maybe saying “may I kiss you now?” feels unnatural but it feels more your flavor to say, “I like making out, want to?” Practice with a friend. Practice with PAVE. Practice with a mirror. 
  • Time and place – Think about when and where would be good to broach the subject. Hanging out in a large group is probably not an ideal time. 
  • Check assumptions at the door – Our society imposes a lot of assumptions about sex onto gender and we are all inundated with messages about what others want. Never assume that your partner has had the same experiences as you or even uses the same language as you (i.e., think of all the code words we use for “sex”). Don’t assume just because he’s a dude that he is looking for sex right now.  In a 2018 survey, only 16% of male college students and 9% of female college students said they desired “sexual encounters with no expectations” and 70% of all respondents said they wanted love and respect in relationships. 
  • Ice breaker – Sometimes it helps to start the conversation more broadly or focused on something outside of the relationship like a TV show. If you watch a show or movie with two characters having sex posing a question like “seems like they jumped into that quickly, what do you think?”
  • Contraceptive Negotiation– Know your rights and options when it comes to contraceptives. When you are exploring your boundaries, be sure to think about what you need in terms of protection for your health. This is an easier conversation to navigate before the deed than after or during. It is worth noting that “stealthing” (covert, non-consensual condom removal), along with any conscious deception regarding contraceptive use are forms of sexual violence. Learn more about your options for contraceptives at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn 
  • Be kind – With yourself and your partner. 
  • More practice – “No” can feel scary to say and to hear but everyone is entitled to it. “No” is a complete sentence. “No” can be said with no words. What is your comfort saying “No”? What is your comfort with hearing “No”? No is difficult for so many of us, and not just when it comes to sex. I challenge you to look for the ways you receive “no’s” this week without someone actually saying the word. “Not right now”, “I’m not feeling it”, physically withdrawing, redirecting, disengaging are just some of the ways you may see how you receive a “no.”

Ask the question, respect the answer:

In a 2018 survey, 98% of Tennessee college students said they would respect someone who made sure they asked for and received consent in a sexual situation.

I hope you feel more confident in walking into that conversation. All of that said, if you are feeling pressured or coerced into doing something you are not comfortable with please reach out for additional support. 

-PAVE Program (Bartlett 102) – [email protected]

General help navigating all of the resources available for students, staff, and faculty

-Counseling Center (Bartlett 308) – [email protected]

Free counseling services to all students

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