It is possible to have bad sexual experiences with someone you love, are attracted to, and want to have sex with, whether in a committed relationship, or not. This article is intended to help you to have better sex overall by increasing a sense of emotional safety.
1. Cultivate emotionally safe connections
Identify Emotional abuse or lack of emotional support – In long term relationships, ask yourself if you feel loved and supported? If there is consistent and repetitive name calling, swearing at, yelling or threats, the relationships is not going to feel emotionally safe. Manipulation, coercion, passive aggressiveness in the relationship can also add to a feeling of unsafeness. (Check out The 3 Types of Non Physical Abuse for more on this).
Lack of practical support in a committed relationships, in areas such as such as child care, financial contributions, or housework, can make a relationship feel unbalanced and often adds to the fatigue of daily life. (Check out Staying Together, after Kids for one aspect of this).
Addictions in a relationship can get in the way of trust, as can infidelity or suspicion of infidelity. (SeeAddiction, Your Best Frenemy? and/or Creating a Monogamy Agreement for Long Lasting Fidelity for more on this.
It can be difficult to feel sexual when you are tired and feeling unsupported, less so when you feel undermined or verbally attacked or do not trust the person you are with. In order to have emotionally safer connections with your partner, you will need to address any of the above areas that are occurring within your relationship. If you are having difficulty communicating with each other about these things, make an appointment with a couples therapist for more support.
In all relationships, good communication about boundaries, about the types of sexual activities you are both agreeing to with each other and what you are not agreeing to, can contribute greatly to a feeling of safety, emotionally and physically. This is also true in short term or primarily sexual relationships. Addressing physically safe sex is also critical (see #3. Being Physically safe) below for more on this. When determining whether to engage sexually with another person you will need to be completely sober to be able to take into account all of the factors that contribute to an emotionally safe encounter that you will be less likely to regret afterwards.
Free, Prior and Informed Consent– Check if all parties are able to consent, prior to any sexual activity, freely without any negative repercussions, knowing clearly, what they are consenting to. If you feel guilted or coerced into any sexual activity it is not free consent. If you apply guilt or attempt to coerce another into any sexual activity, you may be at risk of legal action against you.
‘Prior’ means before the activity takes place, not during. Throughout a sexual encounter many activities may take place, kissing, rubbing, licking, etc. You need to feel free to communicate what you want and don’t want, at any point during the encounter. ‘Informed’ means you know what to expect in a sexual encounter, including any risks of pregnancy or STI’s. (See #3. Being Physically Safe below for more on this). Not only should you feel safe to say no to any sexual activity the you are not interested in, you should also feel safe to ask for what you do want. Hearing a “no” to your request does not mean that the encounter is emotionally unsafe. You will need to do your own work to prepare yourself for rejection in order to keep the situation safe for everyone. (Check out Tea consent video for more on this).
Check power imbalances
If you or another are not sober, conscious or legally able to make informed decisions about sexual activities, it will not be safe sex and may result in great harm and potentially legal charges if pursued.
2. Knowing what you want
You will need to do your own body exploration to determine what feels good to you. You will not be able to determine what you like or want if you are judging yourself for your sexual responses or fantasies. (See “#4. Addressing Physical Hang Ups” below for more on this). You will need to learn to describe and practice saying out loud what you like and don’t like, in detail. You can practice this in front of your mirror before speaking to a sexual partner, or potential sexual partner, in a non sexual setting, while sober. Use terminology that is accurate and avoid euphemisms. You will also need to be prepared for situations when someone might say no to your request for a certain activity. You should never take “no” as an appropriate response when you are requesting for an activity to stop or not happen.
3. Being physically safe
All sexual activity contains some risks, some of which are outside of your control. However, it is important to take reasonable and informed steps to keep yourself safer.
Learning about the risks for STI’s and prevention in various sexual activities will prepare you to keep yourself safer in those interactions. Purchase barriers and other protective gear ahead of time to look at and explore prior to a sexual encounter. Get tested for STI’s Check out Action Canada for Sexual Heath’s info page about STI testing. Also learn how best to prevent pregnancy if this is not something that you want.
Are you with someone you know, if not, do you know what risks you are taking, in terms of your safety, not only your sexual health? Are you sober enough to determine if you are physically safe? Are you in a situation with someone whom you might feel obligated to please resulting in feeling uncomfortable to say no to things you are not interested in doing?
4. Addressing physical pain
If you are having physical pain during sex, check in with your primary health care provider about this. If there is no discernible physical cause for the pain, consider all the other aspects of emotionally safer sex in this post to see if any of these areas need to be addressed. Also consider talking to a counsellor about your sexual difficulties for more support with this.
5. Working through your own sexual hang ups
Many of us feel uncomfortable with parts, or all of our bodies. We might believe ourselves to be unattractive and be embarrassed at the way we look. This will prevent us from feeling free and relaxed in a sexual setting (Check out 7 Ways to Increase Your Body Positivity for more on this).
The realm of what is “normal” in terms of sexual interest is VERY broad. Our society has many toxic messages about sexuality, many of them gendered and many of them contradictory. Women are not supposed to like sex too much, and definitely not express their enjoyment of sex, however they are always to be sexually available to the men that want them, sexually. Men are supposed to want sex all the time and be able to please any woman he has sexual relations with and not need emotional intimacy. Messages about who you are allowed to be attracted to and what activities should or should not arouse you and how often you should be having sex are relentless. There is a lot to unpack when it comes to shame and sexuality. (Check out 12 Ways to Increase Your Sex Positivity for more on this).
6. Addressing Trauma
If you are experiencing panic attacks, flashbacks or finding yourself emotionally triggered during sex, talk to a counsellor about what is happening for you. Triggers can be addressed. A counsellor will be able to help you determine if there is a current safety issue that needs to be addressed (emotionally or physically) or if the trigger is a result of unresolved past experiences, including trauma.
There are many reason that people avoid sex. Sometimes it’s because they just don’t feel like having sex, they not feeling aroused, they may be tired, not feeling great or just interested in spending their time in other ways. Other times they’re not attracted to the person who wants to have sex with them. But sometimes avoidance comes from fear and/or shame that may be due to toxic messages that you received from family, society, or other places of influence. Other times it come from having had a traumatic sexual experience or experiences in your past. If you are avoiding sexual encounters that you might otherwise be interested in, due to fear or shame, it is worth talking to a counsellor about.
Having sex that you don’t want
People agree to sex that they don’t actually want for many reasons. Here are a few:
- because they haven’t yet determined what they do want or are unable to do so due to intoxication.
- because they believe that what they do want is irrelevant or unimportant and that their own desires and needs do not deserve consideration.
- because they feel threatened, coerced or guilty about saying no.
- because they believe that others will leave them if they do not say yes to sex.
- because they feel that the sex they do want is wrong or perverted in some way.
Check out “Healing Sexual Trauma” by Staci Heins for more on addressing sexual trauma. Also, do not hesitate to see a counsellor if your are having trauma responses to sexual activity.
7. Taking A Break from Sex When you want/need it
Here are some great reasons to take a break from sex according to Staci Heins, Author of “Healing Sexual Trauma”*:
- Because you want to!!!
- When you are having sex to fulfill non-sexual needs, for example, needing emotional or physical connection.
- When you repeatedly agree to sex that you don’t want for your partner’s sake or having sex of any kind when you don’t want to.
- When you are repeatedly having sex when you are dissociated or checked out.
- When sex is the only way to feel your body.
- When having sex is the only thing that makes you feel worthy.
- When you agree to sex for fear of being left.
Communicating the need or intention of taking a break from sex with a partner in a committed relationship is crucial. If this is not communicated your partner won’t know why you are avoiding sex with them. They might assume that you no longer find them attractive or no longer want to be in a relationship with them.
Your partner will also need to determine if they are willing or interested in taking a break from sex with a partner. If yours is a monogamous relationship and your partner is unwilling or uninterested in taking a break from sex with a partner, you will need to determine the relationship status. It may mean that the relationship will be over so that they can pursue sex elsewhere or that your status will change to non-monogamous?
(If you are considering shifting from monogamous to non-monogamous, you will both have a lot of work to do to engage in this new type of relationship, start by checking out More than Two website or book by Frank Veaux).
NOTE: You are never obligated to have sex with someone for any reason.
Whatever your history, your level of libido or your unique sexual desires you can have good sex if you want it. It is worth asking for emotional safety in your sexual relationship to make this happen.