When you think of sex education, you probably think of middle school or high school students sitting in a room during an awkward conversation with a gym teacher.
Students in the United States overwhelming have inadequate sex education. According to the Guttmatcher Institute, only 27 states and Washington D.C. mandate some form of both sex education and HIV education. And, as of November 2019, only 17 states actually require sex education to be medically accurate.
When Nurx surveyed more than 1000 of our patients this summer, only 1 in 5 “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the sex ed you received was comprehensive, and 27% said that your sex ed curriculum was “abstinence-only” (which, let’s be real, isn’t sex ed at all).
All that is to say that young people who aren’t taught about sex and sexuality grow into adults who weren’t taught about it. The questions that we have only get more complicated and layered as we age — and sex ed is so much more than contraception and properly using condoms.
I’m a sex educator who works with college students and other adults, so I see the questions that people are asking every single day. I categorized all of the anonymous questions I’ve ever received to learn about the trends, then took random questions from the top three categories — communication, sex toys, and kink — and answered them for you here.
Have a question of your own? Submit it anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org and we can answer it in an upcoming article!
Q: “My partner feels that vibrators are unnecessary if we have frequent penis-in-vagina sex, but I still kind of want one. How do I convince him it’s not replacing him?”
This is a common concern for many couples. Some people (men, in particular) struggle with feelings of inadequacy when sex toys are introduced into the relationship. Here’s the thing, though: Sex toys don’t replace partners, they complement them. That’s because vibrators, like all sex toys, are tools that you can use to achieve new sexual experiences.
Many people introduce vibrators or other toys into their partnered sex lives because they want to experiment together, they want to experience faster or stronger orgasms, or simply because using toys can feel really good. You’re right — your vibrator won’t replace your partner, because you’re probably with your partner for more than just sex.
Sometimes, people worry that if they (or their partner) use a vibrator “too much,” they’ll be desensitized during sex. Don’t worry — you aren’t going to desensitize yourself (though if you do a multi-hour long session with a powerful vibrator, like the Magic Wand or Le Wand, you may experience some short term tingling and desensitization from overstimulation. That’ll pass). Using vibrators during sex can also create more satisfying sexual experiences for people with vaginas, because it’s uncommon for people with vaginas to have orgasms from penetration alone. Adding a clitoral vibrator to the mix can simply increase your pleasure, even during partnered sex.
Your decision to purchase a vibrator is your own, and while your partner can share their concerns, ultimately, it’s your body. You’re allowed to masturbate and use sex toys even if you’re in a relationship. You get to make those calls. (And if your partner is controlling your ability to do those things, that’s a red flag.)
If you want to use your vibrator with your partner, though, you’ll have to have a conversation with them about it. One way to introduce toys into your partnered sex life is to use them on each other — ask if your partner wants to watch you get off with your vibrator, or if they want to use it on you. Use the opportunity to show them what you want and enjoy, practice your dirty talk, or even engage in some orgasm control play.
So, if you want to buy a vibrator, go for it!
Q: “At what progression of kink do you employ a safe word?”
You and your partners should establish a safe word (and safe gesture) well before play ever begins. I recommend that anyone who has sex — whether or not they consider it kinky — come up with a safe word and gesture that their partners know.
Safe words and gestures are a quick way to let your partners know that you need play to stop or slow down right now. Some people might prefer to have two levels of them; one for “slow down” and another for “stop, now.” You don’t have to be having kinky sex to use a safe word. Maybe you’re feeling triggered by something your partner said or did. Maybe you’re experiencing some type of unwanted pain in your body and you need a minute to stretch and reset. Or, maybe, you just aren’t okay with what’s happening anymore.
Safe words and gestures allow you to communicate your needs quickly and effectively. So, take your partners out for coffee or go for a walk and talk about what your safe words and gestures might be. Keep it playful — you want your word to be something that you can easily remember and that is quick to say. If you’re planning on engaging in bondage, consider if you’ll be able to speak or move your hands, because your safe words and gestures may need to be more creative for the context. Then, practice using them in a non-sexy context so that you can more easily remember them. Maybe you’ll ask your partner to shred cheese over your pasta and instead of saying stop, use your safe word or gesture.
Ultimately, there isn’t one universal point of when it makes sense to employ your safe word. Know yours, practice it, and when you would like something to stop or slow down, use it!
Q: “I’m not great at speaking up for myself in general…how can I ask for what I want in bed?”
People struggle with this issue more than you might expect. My first piece of advice is to practice asking for what you want in non-sexual contexts. That’s because even people who are highly skilled at speaking up for themselves or communicating their needs struggle with sexual communication.
During sex, the things you’ve practiced can sometimes go out the window. But you’re way more likely to feel comfortable and confident speaking up for yourself during sex if you’ve practiced it outside of the bedroom. You wouldn’t expect yourself to instantly go from beginner to fluent in a new language; treat asking for what you want the same way. Try making smaller decisions (“I’d like to get Thai food for dinner tonight.”) and slowly moving up in levels of vulnerability as you get more comfortable (disagreeing professionally with a coworker or your supervisor, for example).
Then, take the sex conversation out of the bedroom. Whether you’re in a long-term relationship or you’re hooking up with someone, spend a bit of time talking about the things you like or want during sex before the clothes come off. If speaking up feels uncomfortable, try writing notes to each other — this is still a method of communication, and it can lay important groundwork for building trust in communication. When it comes to talking about desires and fantasies at a deeper level, there are tools like MojoUpgrade and WeShouldTryIt that allow you to anonymously share if you’re interested or not in particular behaviors. The tools will only share what you and your partner positively matched on, so you can reduce some anxiety and concern about judgment here.
When you’re having sex, practice speaking up or being more vocal in general. Simple phrases like “yes, that feels good” or “I love when you do that” help you communicate what you do like and make it easier to get more specific later on.
About the Author
Cassandra Corrado is an independent sex educator who teaches at colleges and universities across the United States. Formerly a victim advocate, she mostly teaches on topics related to un/healthy relationships, violence prevention, LGBTQ+ health, and sexual pleasure.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.