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?”