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The New Safer Sex, And How to Have It

This goes beyond condoms.

The New Safer Sex, And How to Have It

One spring after lunch, the lacrosse coach talked to my entire ninth grade class about what sex was. She used her fingers to illustrate penetration. She waved a basket of condoms and made us each take a handful. She showed us pictures of genitalia and spoke about pregnancy like it was a terminal illness. 

Nothing was surprising about the speech—I’d heard it once a year since the sixth grade. Condoms, dental dams, and peeing to prevent UTIs: I knew the physical mechanics of safe sex. I thought I was well-prepared to be active: a diligent soldier trained in the defenses of the body (and terrified of crabs). But I had no idea what keeping myself emotionally safe during sex meant. In fact, I didn’t even know it was a thing.

If you’ve heard the term “safe(r) sex,” you know that it typically refers to everything we do to protect ourselves and our partners from sexually transmitted diseases. It’s incredibly important. And it’s just the beginning of maintaining a healthy sex life. Protecting your body is one thing. Protecting your emotional well-being is another. Both are equally essential—and we need a how-to guide for the latter. 

So, introducing: the new safer sex—and how to have it. 

What is the new safer sex? 

Our definition of safer sex is sex that protects the body, mind, and emotional well-being of those participating. Ultimately, you’ll need to discover what that looks like for you, but here’s where we’re starting: 

Safer sex feels good afterwards. 

Let’s make one thing clear right now: being emotionally cared for after, during, and before sex is not restricted to those who are in romantic relationships with their sexual partners. 

That means that yes, you are owed respect from the person you’re having sex with—in and outside of the bedroom. 

Yes, you can express a need for sexual aftercare, or the practice of demonstrating care after sex through cuddling, quality time, conversation, or snack-eating. 

And yes, you can have ongoing conversations about what you enjoyed, what didn’t work for you, and what else you may need. 

Whether you’re in a serious relationship with your sexual partner(s) or not, the goal after each encounter is that you feel good, whole and satisfied. When we talk about satisfaction, we don’t necessarily mean an orgasm (though bonus points if you get one of those, too). We mean that you feel the sex was a pleasurable experience in which you were listened to and advocated for, by both yourself and your partner. And if you don’t feel that way, you have every right to express that and take action. 

Safer sex is communicative. 

The best person to talk to about concerns, how something feels, and what can be changed during sex is the person that you are having sex with. Vetting someone prior to being intimate doesn’t just mean checking their STI status—it means ensuring they’re someone you can actually be honest with about where you’re at. 

You should also be communicating with yourself during sex—observe and note how you feel often. What’s working for you? What’s definitely not? An easy way to start: try somatic awareness exercises to place intentional focus on where you feel sensations in your body. 

Safer sex is what you want—for you. 

Sexual self-advocacy, or the ability to speak up for yourself and your needs, is an essential part of safer sex. That means that you’re 100% allowed to ask when the last time someone got tested was, or even require testing together before moving forward, if that’s one of your non-negotiables. Beyond physical health, sexual self-advocacy gives you the freedom to express what your needs are before, during, and after being intimate. 

And for those who don’t know their intimacy needs, it’s time to discover them. Ways to explore include: experimenting during masturbation, reading or listening to erotica, or having a conversation with a sexual partner about what you might like to try. Allow yourself to fantasize! Sometimes, you’ll need to become a sensuality sleuth, reading up on aftercare one day and visiting online communities the next. 

If you still don’t know what you want after some sleuthing, don’t sweat it—not being able to name your desires doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Just take stock of what you definitely don’t want, and use those boundaries as a guide as you continue to explore. 

Finally: self-advocacy is just that—self-advocacy. You can (and should!) share your intimacy needs with a partner, but you can’t decide what they do with that information. If you’ve expressed a kink you’d like to explore, and your partner’s not into it, understand that that might not be their thing. Do not goad, coerce, or pressure them. And if your partner crosses a boundary, won’t meet baseline emotional needs, or is intent on disrespecting you, there’s no need to go back and forth. Walk away.

Safer sex is present.  

We’ll spell it for ya: F-U-N. During safer sex, you are an engaged participant. You’re having fun and you’re totally present with your partner. You are completely in your body and with the program. 

If at any point during foreplay or intercourse, you notice that you’re feeling disengaged, disconnected, or like you’re not enjoying the encounter: you do not have to (and should not!) keep going. Stop, express to your partner where you’re at, and re-evaluate. You may need a moment, a cuddle, some water, or to end the experience entirely—and you have every right to do all of those things. Any decent partner will be more than happy to give you the space you need. 

Safer sex is pressure-free.

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it again: sex must be 100% consensual. And consent is an enthusiastic, ongoing “yes.” 

It’s time to stop if you feel coerced or pressured at any point, by your partner or yourself. Don’t feel like doing that thing? You don’t have to. Suddenly feel like taking a break? Stop. Change your mind about something? No worries—express that. You get to be in charge of your body, all the time.

Safer sex is growing with you.

As you practice emotionally safe sex, have more experiences, and continue to explore with partner(s), you might discover that your needs and desires change. You may want something wildly different than you wanted before, and you may need to be cared for in a totally different way. That’s completely and totally fine.

Safer sex is about embracing your spirit and sensuality—and caring for it. Say it with us: the most important relationship you’ll ever have is the one you have with yourself.
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