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Talking about Sex and Sexual Health

When you find someone you’re interested in and thinking about having sex with them, an important part of that process should be discussing sexual health, sexual preferences, and boundaries. This is vital to maintaining emotional and physical health for all parties and can alleviate unnecessary confusion or uncommunicated expectations that result in resentment or confusion when the time does occur. In the following article I am going to offer some tips and suggestions for navigating those sometimes awkward or difficult conversations. 

First, it is important to consider the context of where and when you will have this conversation. Ideally, you want both parties to feel safe and comfortable, free of judgement and mentally present to be able to talk about your relationship and any expectations. It is okay for you to agree to discuss things one topic at a time to better understand each other, and explicitly telling your partner that the reason you’re discussing these things with them is to better understand each other can go a long way in reassuring. It can also be helpful to remind them that the conversation will remain confidential so they don’t need to be embarrassed or feel pressured to share anything they do not want to.

Expectations are a topic that should be covered in detail with your partner. For example, are you looking for a committed long-term monogamous relationship, a hookup, a third or friends with benefits? How would you like them to behave around you in each context: at home, at work, at school, with friends, and so on (assuming you have a different set of expectations with each). The thing about expectations is that they are evolving as your relationship evolves, and it is likely that you will have to have this discussion at multiple points during this time. This is a normal and expected part of being in a healthy and communicative relationship and at no point should you feel bad for voicing your needs or desires – regardless of whether they coincide with your partners. 

Consent, especially enthusiastic consent, should be another topic that you take the time to cover in detail. Talk to your partner about what consent looks and sounds like to you, and any expectations that you have surrounding consent. For example, consent can look like eager nodding and your partner saying “yes” to your touch, but it can also look like asking each time if your partner wants to be touched before doing so. This would also be a good time to talk about what your limits are regarding sex and consent. This could involve discussing contraceptive use and expectations regarding them (for example, some people prefer to use condoms and lube in conjunction with other contraceptives such as an IUD or birth control patches while others may opt for their partners to get a vasectomy). The importance of this conversation cannot be highlighted enough, as someone who is unwilling to accept or acknowledge your boundaries may not be the best person to keep as a sexual partner. 

Sexual pleasure and desires are another important aspect of sexual wellness to be discussed with your partner(s). This includes what you like, what you dislike, experiences you have had and experiences that you are willing to explore with them. It can also include discussing what experiences you have had that you did not like and experiences that you do not want to have with them. No matter what your preferences are, it is important to remember that this is a conversation to get to know the other person better and not a place for judgement or interrogation.  

Sexual history and sexual health (particularly pertaining to sexually transmitted infections) are worth discussing with any partners. STIs are spread through sexual contact and thus it may be pertinent to share your sexual history. You can ask your partner(s) if they’ve been tested for — or ever contracted — a STI(s). Some STIs don’t have any symptoms you can see or feel, so it’s important to get tested regularly. In fact, you could even suggest going to get tested together. If you or your partner(s) have — or have had — a STI(s), you can discuss safer ways to engage in sexual activity. On that note, using a condom or dental dam is still one of the most effective ways to prevent STIs (and pregnancy, if that is a possibility for you/your partner(s)).

While I have spoken to how the discussion should go, it is also important to discuss what the conversation should NOT be about. Sexual health and conversations around it should not be seen as an opportunity to find out how many people your partner has been with (they are allowed to share this with you but at no point should it be expected if they wish to keep that private), or as a means of interrogating your partner. Feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, worry, jealousy, anger, or embarrassment can come up during these dialogues and while they are normal, it is important that you acknowledge them and make your partner feel that this conversation is about mutually sharing private information in a safe and respectful manner. At no point should either of you feel judged, belittled, or alienated from your partner for talking about sex and sexual health.

In Prince George we have three options for facilities that do STI testing: the Prince George AIDS Outreach Program located at 1108 3rd Avenue (clinic number: 250- 564-1727); the Prince George Options for Sexual Health Clinic located on the second floor of the Northern Interior Health Unit (clinic number: 250-565-7381); and the Prince George Foundry Options for Sexual Health Clinic located at 1148 7th Avenue (clinic number: 236-423-1571). It is important to note that the Foundry works with clients aged 24 years and under.

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