Negotiating Sex with Shy People

Negotiating Sex with Shy People

Something that I sometimes hear from sex positive educators and adults is “if people aren’t comfortable talking about sex, they shouldn’t be having it.” And like, okay, that’s a really valid desire. I *also* want to make sure that everyone is communicating clearly and explicitly about everything, and especially something so risky and complicated as sex. Partnered sex is an activity for adults – I don’t just mean people after their 18th birthday, but people who are capable of weighing their desire for pleasure against safety measures and risk management.

 

But that’s not a choice we (sex educators) get to make. I don’t get to make a rule that says “unless you can say the word “vagina” without blushing, you don’t get to have sex.” I’d like to, in some abstract, risk-management minded kind of sex education way, but that’s not how sex works! It’s not an activity I can gate-keep. Sex is accessible to any person with a body and a partner, and I can’t make rules that say where and when it actually gets to happen.

 

So, what do you do when you have a shy partner? Or someone who is uncomfortable talking about sex?

We already know that enthusiastic consent is a great shortcut for explicit consent. Someone doesn’t need to be enthusiastic about sex in order to consent explicitly, but it sure helps when communicating about motivations. If someone says clearly, “yes, I’d love to have sex with you!” or “I’m a little tired, but it would feel nice if you went down on me, and maybe I’ll get turned on,” we feel comfortable looking at those as positive models of consent.

 

What are the models of consent that we can use when our partners can’t bring themselves to explicitly state what they want, or to even check in with their bodies deeply enough to know what they want?

 

Ways that many people communicate during sex include:

Blushing

Looking down or away

Nodding

“Mmhm”

“Mm-mm”

“can you, um…” and trailing off, hoping their partner will get the idea

 

Again, the answer here is NOT “those people shouldn’t be having sex at all.” Our culture treats sex like a shameful activity, especially for women, and we’re brought up feeling uncomfortable looking closely or critically at our own desires. Telling people who feel bashful about sex that they’re not allowed to have it is punishing people – largely women – for what society has done to them.

Improved communication is going to help both (or all) people involved. The shy person isn’t going to be taken advantage of or have their consent violated, and their partner isn’t going to have to be terrified of violating someone’s consent.

 

So what can we do?

 

Begin sexual interactions by asking questions like “what kinds of things *don’t* you want to do today?”

“No means no” consent isn’t my favorite kind of consent. It leaves a *lot* of space for doing things that someone won’t like, just because they didn’t think to forbid it in the first place. But it does help to draw boundaries around what would make someone uncomfortable. It’s a good way to start the conversation.

“What kinds of things don’t you want to do today?” You’re either going to get an answer (in which case, great!) or an “ummm.” If you get an unsure response, go ridiculous. “Well, do you want to go sky-diving?” No, obviously not. “okay, great, so that’s one boundary. How about some mutual naked orgasms?” This is a way to draw some huge, big boundaries. Does your partner want to have intercourse? Do they want to get naked at all? Are orgasms on the table? It may be a rough form of negotiating consent, but it’s a good start.

 

Progress in slow stages, announce your intentions.

While not everyone who is shy about sex is also nervous about it, I find that shyness is a pretty strong indicator of being nervous as well. Put your partner at ease by going slowly. Don’t rush them into sex – if they can’t clearly tell you “yes, please take off my bra!” then kiss them through their bra. “I’m going to spend a while kissing your calf,” you might say, and then spend a long while doing exactly that. Build comfort and intimacy between you and your partner. Many shy or bashful people slowly open up, when they become really comfortable with a partner. Give them the space to become comfortable.

 

Discuss your worries with your partner in advance.

See if your partner can help develop modes of communication while you’re sitting around chatting, and not just in bed. Explain that you like being intimate with them, but you want to make sure that they’re enjoying themselves as much as you are – do they have any ideas about how they might like to communicate consent and desire to you? “Hey, I worry when you just nod to me, that you don’t actually want me to do whatever it is that I’m asking about. Do you have any thoughts about that?” If they blush or shrug, you may need to push a bit here. “Hey, I know talking about this is tough for you, but if *you* don’t know how to communicate your own consent, can you see how tough it is for *me* to read your consent?”

Ask them outright, “how do you want to communicate your consent to me?” Engage them in an active conversation about it, but make sure the goal you’re working towards is “what is something you’re able to do, to let me know when you’re consenting?”

Once you come up with that language together, make sure you *don’t do anything* without getting consent, in that way, or in explicit/clear language. Explicit/clear language is always a good model for ascertaining consent, so that’s always on the table. But if you decide together that your partner, say, biting their lip and nodding while looking at the floor is the way they want to communicate consent, then that’s all you use. Not hiding their face, not blushing, not “um.” Those don’t count as consent, because you *need* to be sure that they are telling you “yes!”, either with clear language, or an agreed-upon signal. Biting their lip and nodding can *absolutely* signal explicit consent, as long as you agree in that in advance. You don’t need to force them to say “yes, please lick my vulva,” if that’s something they’re too bashful to do. But make sure they know you’re looking for a clear yes/no, and you won’t do anything without getting it.

(A note on that: some people are comfortable being pushed from a “maybe” into a “yes” with some gentle encouragement, and that can be helpful with bashful people, but you *must* get permission in advance before doing that, and you should really set some clear boundaries beforehand)

 

Ask yourself about your own needs.

Do you feel rejected or unsure because your partner doesn’t seem to be enthusiastic about connecting sexually with you? That’s a tough one! Shy/sexually bashful people may not initiate sex, or sexual conversations, and that can leave their more out-going partners feeling unattractive or undesirable.

Tell them that. Tell your partner what *you* need to feel good, also. You’re likely to want to cater to them, to be encouraging and supportive as they develop a good relationship with sex, but remember that a relationship is a two-way street, and you deserve to feel supported and desired as well.

 

 

You can have a sexy, fun, consensual dynamic with your shy or bashful partner, it just may take some workarounds and careful communication. But you can do it, and it’s worth it! Knowing that your partner is into what you’re doing is one of the biggest turn-ons, and helps create a healthy and sustainable relationship.

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