Introduction

When it comes to sex and intimacy in college, sometimes we do what we think we should do instead of what we really want to do. This is largely because we’ve learned to behave according to age-old social scripts that tell men to be sexually dominant and aggressive and women to be timid and coy.

But if we’re being honest, these gender expectations convince us to assume roles we may not be happy or comfortable with. For example, many women feel passive or dissatisfied with their sex lives since they’re often expected to follow their partners’ lead or prioritize their partners’ needs and desires above their own. In heterosexual and queer relationships alike, these difficult gendered dynamics can arise.

So we started asking ourselves (and each other):

What kind of sex are we having now, and what kind of sex do we want to be having?

We asked around, and then summed up what we learned in this series of positive examples and advice to help the rest of The Coral community find ways to feel good about their sex lives too!

Here are five of our favorite pieces of advice from some really wonderful humans in The Coral community (complete with both visual and verbal examples to help you visualize and start working towards the kind of intimacy you want to be having).

Important note: This series is packed with suggestions and examples we hope you’ll find useful. That said, it’s a long list, so we realize it might feel a bit more like a To Do list than a toolbox (which is not the goal). Our hope is that you’ll find a few of these suggestions powerful / consider trying them, but we realize that feeling good about physical intimacy is a process, and at the end of the day, letting go of what you should do and instead being present is one of the absolute best things you can do!

Set the Stage for Communication

Be the one who sets the tone and starts the conversation (ideally, before anything physical happens).

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Talking about physical intimacy can feel scary when we don’t know quite what to say or how our partner(s) will respond. But the reality is that talking is the only way you can make sure everyone is totally on the same page. No matter who you are, you have a set of needs, desires, and boundaries that is unique to you, so if you want to feel really good about the kind of intimacy you’re experiencing (and you want to make sure your partner feels good too), it’s important to communicate your boundaries and expectations. That way, you don’t have to feel anxious or worried things will go too far, or get hurt or disappointed when your partner crosses a boundary.

Important note: if you feel like you have a more confident voice than your partner, make room for their voice by asking them questions, and paving the way for them to express their sexual boundaries and desires.

For those of us in heterosexual relationships, we are often used to men making the first move and advocating for their sexual pleasure. Since we know straightforward women are often seen as aggressive or unattractive, we feel our words won’t be well received, so we struggle to articulate our boundaries. However building a toolbox of phrases that can help us initiate conversations surrounding intimacy is one way to take consent into our own hands. Of course it can feel scary to bring something up, but try not to overthink it, and instead count to three in your head, take a deep breath, and go for it. Remember it is your partner’s job to receive your initiation with respect.

Some examples of what you could say:

  • 1, 2, 3 … *breathe* …

    • “Hey, I want to tell you something. I want to get something off my chest”

    • “Hey, do you have a minute to talk?”

    • “Hey, I just want to make sure we’re on the same page for tonight…”

 

It only takes a few seconds of bravery to start a conversation that will clear up the ambiguity and set boundaries and expectations in a way that feels good for you.

If saying “no,” feels daunting (which is culturally ingrained for many women) consider practicing with a few close friends. Form a Good Sex Pact, and hold each other accountable for communicating your needs and boundaries with partners. Do dorky role-plays together, make a group chat to keep each other safe and up to date, and meet up to learn from each other’s perspectives and physically intimate experiences.

It’s also worth noting that it’s typically much easier to talk to a partner when you’re outside of the bedroom and fully clothed. So especially if you don’t know the person super well yet, it’ll be much easier to communicate your needs in advance (online or offline, as long as you find a way to make it happen).

 

If you’re interested in being physically intimate with someone

Tell them! Wouldn’t you want to know too? A few examples of lines or texts you could say or send:

  • “Hey <name>. No pressure, but do you want to come to my place after dinner? I think you’re super [sweet/cute/great] and I’d love to have sex tonight if that’s something you’d be interested in too?”

  • “Do you want to stay over tonight? I’m not looking for anything serious, so no worries if that’s not your thing. Just lemme know what you think?”

  • For an existing relationship: “Wanna bang after class today? I’ve been thinking about you going down on me all day …” or “Do you want to sleep over tonight? ;) I lit some candles and bought a toy I’m wanting to try out ...“

 

If you’re not quite ready for that level of intimacy

Set boundaries beforehand by saying something like:

  • “Just a heads up: I’m really excited to come over tonight, but I just want to make it clear that I’m not interested in having sex / I’m not comfortable doing anything more than cuddling or making out.”

  • “Hey so I just want to make sure you know that I’m not expecting anything physical to happen tonight. I just want to get to know you, and I’ll probably head back to my place around 11.”

  • “Hey, I just wanted you to know I’d really appreciate if we could both get tested before we go any further. I’m planning on going this weekend if you want to come with me?”

  • "Hey just putting this out there, I'm not really comfortable with hooking up yet, so can we just take things slow for now?"

 

If you’re getting intimate with your partner

Make a point to check in with them as you go. This will give you both a chance to pause and think about what you want, and is also a powerful way to model the check-in for your partner so they know to check in with you too!

On a related note, remember to take your own check-ins seriously too. When your partner asks for a check-in, it’s often easier to brush it off and say everything’s fine, but really try to pause and think about what you’re feeling and experiencing. Remember that your partner is asking because they want to know!

 

Some things you can try:

  • “How are you feeling? Do you want to go a little further, or keep doing what we’re doing? ”

  • “Is this OK for you?” or “Can I go down on you?”

  • “Do we have protection / do we want to use a little lube?”

You Are Not Obligated to do A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G

You can decide you don’t want to have sex at any point for absolutely any reason. In fact, if you feel even a little uncomfortable, communicate that to your partner. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve given consent or not, you can always change your mind and choose to stop (more on that here).

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Some things you can say:

  • “Can we pause? I’m feeling a little off / uncomfortable”

  • “Hey, I’m tired. I don’t think I want to keep doing this.”

  • “I know I said I wanted to do this, but it doesn’t feel right. Can we hold off for a bit?”

  • “It’s been awhile since I’ve done this… so can we take it a little slower? Maybe tonight we just stick to making out.”

  • “Can we rearrange? Can we try it more like this?”

  • “Hey, I think we’re both a little drunk right now, but here’s my number. Let’s meet up again tomorrow night.”

If you’re with a long-term partner, consider coming up with a safe word or signal for when you’re feeling a little uncomfortable or want to do something different. For example, say “yellow,” and that can be a cue for your partner to stop what they’re doing and slow down to give you some space to process. Or tap them twice on the shoulder to switch positions. You don’t have to justify it or explain. Just make sure you have a way to communicate with your partner when you’re not interested in doing something that might be difficult to say out-loud.

Important note: if your partner tries to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to or makes you feel bad about the boundaries you’ve set that is a huge red flag. Giving affirmative consent is a clear, voluntary decision to participate in a sexual activity and not a silence or lack of resistance (more here). Whether it is a casual hookup or a long term partnership, you deserve respect.

 

Make Sure You're Comfy

Plan in advance to make sure you’re comfortable and safe. If wearing protection is an important boundary for you, consider bringing condoms and dental-dams and make sure your partner understands this boundary. If you prefer having the lights dimmed, let them know.

Location could be an important consideration too. Even subconsciously, you may feel more comfortable in your own home rather than someone else’s, and your comfort level may change based on how sober you or your partner are. Regardless, you should feel comfortable and safe, so take the time to make sure you have everything you need!

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Examples:

  • “Hey, so before we do anything physical, I really need you to ask me beforehand (before we do each physical thing). Even if you already know that I’m interested in it. I just need you to ask me (so I feel comfortable).”

  • “Hey, I don’t think we should do this because we’ve both been drinking”

  • “Do you have a condom? I have some in my bag we can use if you don’t.”

  • “Can we dim the lights a bit? I know that would make me feel more comfortable”

  • “Can we do massages first?”

  • “Can we kiss a little while longer? I love when you kiss my neck...”

  • “Would you be interested in showering / cleaning up together? I’d be way more comfortable with oral if we did that together first.”

Say What You Want to Get What You Want

Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want or tell your partner what you like. You’re working with your partner, and the best way to have good sex is to help each other get there. Communicate playfully and intentionally so it can be as fun and pleasurable as possible for both of you!

Examples:

  • “I really want this to be good for you… What do you like? What do you not like?”

  • “Does ____ (activity) feel good to you? Would you prefer I do something different?”

  • “I’d really like to ___ (activity) — Would you be into that?”

  • “I really love it when my partner goes down on me— is that something you’d want to do?”

  • “What would make you feel more comfortable when we _____ (activity)?”

  • “How exactly should I go about doing that? Can you move my hand to show me?"

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Pillow Talk

Remember to check in with your partner afterwards. Affirm them when they do something really great, and talk about or provide some direction when things could be tweaked or improved. Consider asking about the things you’d each like to try in the future too, if that’s an option.

Examples:

  • “I loved when you ____ (action).”

  • “Next time, I’d love to try using my vibrator / tying you up”

  • “Pillow-talk? How’d that go for you? Anything we can do better next time?”

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Illustration: D Wang Zhao

Takeaways

  • Set the stage for communication! It’ll be better for you and your partner both. If you’re nervous, try our trick: count to three in your head, and just say what’s on your mind instead of waiting for your partner to start the conversation.

    • Initiate a conversation about expectations around sex

    • Clearly communicate your physical and emotional boundaries up front (and ideally in advance)

    • Check in with your partner before, during, and after intimacy. That way, you create an opportunity for open, honest communication!

  • Consider forming a Good Sex Pact where you talk to your friends about your experiences with physical intimacy. That way you can practice with and learn from each others’ experiences and perspectives.

    • Start a group chat and keep each other in the loop (where you are, who you’re with, and what you could use some advice on)

    • Do some role-playing together and practice: asking to use protection, initiating sex, asking for consent, checking in with your partner, communicating your needs and desires.

    • Meet up and share stories so you can learn from and support each other

  • Set expectations beforehand by communicating what you’re interested in, and what your boundaries are!

  • Check in with yourself and partner before, during, and after physical intimacy

    • Lead by example, and check in or pause along the way so you know you’re both on the same page.

    • Make sure you’re both comfortable in your environment and can make informed decisions (you haven’t had too much to drink, and you don’t feel pressured for any reason)

    • Remember that you are not obligated to do anything with anyone, so if you’re not feeling it for any reason, let your partner know (you can use one of the lines we came up with, come up with a safe word, or use a gesture to let them know you’d like to slow down, pause, or stop).

  • Remember you and your partner are on the same team (so you should be working together)!

    • Commit to communicating what feels good for you (no matter how scary that feels), and asking your partner what feels good to them too!

    • Affirm your partner when they do something that makes you feel good! Gratitude goes a long way, so let them know!