Category Archives: Communication

Fearful First-Timer: Managing expectations of doing well in bed

Dear Sexpert,

I’m a virgin, and my new partner is very much not a virgin. I want to have sex with them, but I’m really worried about being a disappointment in bed, and I’m constantly apologizing when we’re together. How can I feel more comfortable and less worried when being physical with them?

— Fearful First-Timer

Dear Fearful First-Timer,

First, it’s important to acknowledge that virginity is a social (and often heteronormative) construct that is narrowly defined. Most colloquially, virginity refers to not having engaged in penetrative sex. But in practice, losing your virginity can mean anything, from engaging in activities involving the genitals for the first time to engaging in sexual activities with a new partner. 

Whatever virginity means to you, it is totally normal to go through feelings of nervousness or anxiety around engaging in something new. Sex is often portrayed idealistically in media, where each partner intuitively knows what to do and how to make their partner or partners feel good (without any communication), and everyone reaches a climax. Especially when one partner has more experience than the other, it is understandable this could create more nerves or pressure that there is some sort of expectation you need to live up to. The truth is, though, that sex is a learning experience, and with each person being different, it may take some experimentation to figure out what sorts of things your sexual partner or partners (and you) like. That is completely normal, and there is no need to apologize for it! 

Sometimes these sorts of anxious feelings or pressures to be perfect in bed can be rooted in the idea that everyone else in college is having sex or knows what they are doing. On Princeton’s campus, there are lots of folks who have not had sex. The ACHA-NCHA III survey conducted at Princeton in 2020 reported that 44 percent of undergraduates had never engaged in oral sex, 53 percent had never engaged in vaginal sex, and 88 percent had never engaged in anal sex. Similarly, according to the The Daily Princetonian’s annual frosh survey, only around 30 percent of incoming students the last three years reported having sex prior to coming to Princeton. You are not the only one going through these first-time experiences, and learning is completely okay!

Other times, worries can arise from uncertainty surrounding the physical experience of sex. Sex doesn’t always happen seamlessly: consider that penetrative vaginal sex may cause discomfort to people with vaginas due to disruption of the hymen. For people with penises, erections aren’t always maintained. And penetrative sex, both anal and vaginal, can also cause discomfort if the body is tense or if there is insufficient lubrication. These (and many other) physical experiences are common and manageable — e.g., plenty of foreplay and lube (if in combination with a condom, use a water based lube!) can help with vaginal or anal lubrication, and keeping tabs on nerves by working on communication can help with erection duration and a more relaxed physical body. Know that tons of people have had sexual experiences that didn’t go perfectly according to plan and have continued on to enjoy pleasurable and fulfilling sex lives. 

The most important thing to do to feel more at ease is to create a space where there is an open line of communication. This means a place where you feel comfortable voicing your feelings, talking through boundaries, etc. This line of communication is important for any sort of sexual activity, whether it’s your first time or your 100th. While having this conversation may sound intimidating, a respectful and supportive partner will be open to these sorts of talks and will want to make sure you feel open to expressing your desires and feelings as well. Have you talked through what your partner’s expectations, hopes, and desires are — and what yours are? Sometimes, when boundaries and feelings around sexual activities are not discussed, ambiguity can generate more nerves. Clearing up any ambiguity can help you feel more comfortable and can make sex more pleasurable. These conversations are best done during a time when you are hanging out and comfortable, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Before engaging in sexual activity, make sure you are looking out for your sexual and reproductive health. The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be significantly lowered through the use of a barrier method (e.g., external condom, internal condom, dental dam). If getting pregnant is a possibility, be sure to use a contraceptive method as well (note: condoms are the only contraceptive method that reduce risk for STI and pregnancy). For more information on how to properly use any of these barrier methods, here are some tips from the CDC. If you have any other questions regarding sexual or reproductive health, you can make an appointment with a sexual health provider through MyUHS

I hope this helped ease some of the nervous feelings surrounding having sex for the first time. Remember that all sex is a learning experience, especially since each person has desires that differ from others’ and that can evolve over time — the learning never stops! The most important thing is to have honest conversations with sexual partners so you can create a space with an open line of communication.

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Daily Princetonian’s Annual Frosh Survey, and Princeton’s implementation of the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III.

porn, relationships, and confusion

Dear Sexpert,

I just found out that my boyfriend prefers a certain type of porn a few months into our relationship. When we first started dating, I asked him and he lied to me repeatedly saying he has never watched porn. What he’s into isn’t bad, but it is different than what I was expecting. Is it a red flag that he lied to me when I asked the first few times?

– Confused Viewer

Dear Confused Viewer,

Watching porn is fairly common, and can be a healthy part of sexuality. Unfortunately, it is also very stigmatized, and many people avoid talking about their habits and views surrounding porn for fear of being judged negatively. Watching porn is common among both people who are single and those who are in relationships; in fact, in a large study of people in relationships, 85% reported watching pornography in the last six months (Psychology Today). Some people who watch porn consider it a part of their sexuality that they would like to share with their partner(s); others consider porn something they like to enjoy only by themselves, or something that should be kept private. Others may also prefer to involve porn in their sexual relationships only after becoming comfortable with other types of sexuality together. How someone chooses to watch and talk about porn, if at all, really depends on the individual’s preferences and comfort level. However, let’s talk more about the dynamics surrounding your and your boyfriend’s interactions with porn.

It seems like what you are most concerned about is not the porn itself, but the fact that he lied to you, and that it might be a bad sign. While it’s ultimately up to you how you assess the fact that he lied, it makes sense to consider the bigger picture and reasons he might have done so. Porn is still considered very taboo in society; people have varying viewpoints on the ethics of porn in general, and especially about specific types of porn or the fetishes/fantasies represented in them. Many people who watch porn don’t talk about it with friends or partners, perhaps because they believe it is something to be kept private or they fear adverse reactions. One possibility is that your boyfriend worried that you would disapprove of his watching porn, and was embarrassed or hesitant to tell you. Something else that might contribute to this is myths about gender surrounding porn. It’s a mistaken common view that porn is something only viewed by men. In fact, in the study of people in relationships, 73% of women (vs 98% of men) had watched porn within the last 6 months (Psychology Today). If you don’t identify as male, the mistaken conception that your gender indicates your interest in porn may have contributed to an assumption on your boyfriend’s part that porn wasn’t something you would be interested in or approve of. Also, porn is notably very different than real life sex. It’s scripted and performed for the enjoyment of the viewer, and very often does not portray realistic (or healthy) sexual encounters. You said the kind of porn he watches is “not what you were expecting”; from that, it sounds like what he is into might not be something that’s part of your current sexual experiences together. It is possible some people, like your boyfriend, might be worried that sharing with you what porn arouses him would seem too different from what you do together sexually. There is a big difference between fantasy and reality; some people’s sexual fantasies are not things they would really want to do in real life. Your boyfriend might have been worried that you might assume he wants your sex life together to be like the porn he watches, or that he wants something different. Finally, it is possible that your boyfriend was worried you might consider his watching porn a violation of the boundaries of your relationship, and hoped to conceal it from you.

With all of these possibilities, and possibly more, it seems like the best thing to do would be to have an honest conversation with your boyfriend. It’s likely that a lot of what led to his lying was miscommunication and mistaken assumptions. An open conversation about porn, your sex life, and your relationship could bring clarity and reassure him that what you most want is that you are both honest with each other. Approaching the conversation with an open mind can assure him that you won’t judge him, and allow you to understand the motivations behind his withholding his porn usage from you. It is up to you from there to decide, ideally in conversation with him, what to do going forward. Lying is never a positive in a relationship, but it is not necessarily a red flag. It might instead be a sign that the two of you need to work on having more open communication. However, if it turns out that he withheld his porn usage from you because he thought you would consider it a violation of your relationship, then this might be a more serious issue to consider and talk about. Lying to avoid acknowledging the breaching of boundaries in your relationship is a red flag. If you do consider watching porn to be a violation of these boundaries, it might be best to clearly establish your boundary and ask him his opinions. Your partner should always respect your boundaries and what you are comfortable with, but porn is often a non-talked-about “gray area”, especially in otherwise monogamous relationships. Being clear with each other on your feelings is important going forward.

Porn can (within limits) be a healthy part of one’s sexuality within any relationship status. However, stigmas against watching porn can often cause feelings of shame that result in a lack of communication surrounding porn, including with one’s partner(s). It is completely reasonable to be upset that your boyfriend lied to you, but it is important to have an honest conversation with him about your feelings surrounding his lying to you, porn, and your relationship. From there, it is up to you to assess with yourself what boundaries to set and changes to make in the future, as well as how you feel about his lying to you once you know why.

Best of luck!

– The Sexpert

Resources:

https://www.bustle.com/p/how-to-talk-to-your-partner-about-porn-according-to-a-sex-therapist-1 0 248693 (an article about how to talk about porn with your partner, as advised by a sex therapist)

Summer Swooner: Dealing with Distance in a Relationship

Dear Sexpert,

My boyfriend and I have been together since the beginning of spring semester.  Unfortunately, he’s going to be going back home on the west coast this summer, while I’m staying on campus to do thesis research. I’m worried the distance might be hard on our relationship. How do we keep our relationship, and more specifically, our sex life, going strong?

Sincerely,

Summer Swooner

Dear Swooner,

It’s totally normal to feel apprehensive about the impending separation between you and your partner. However, it’s important to remember that it’s only for three months. It seems like you want to be together when you return to campus in the fall, so let’s talk about ways to make sure you two can keep the fire burning, despite the geographic distance!

The first place to start is having an honest discussion with your partner about how you want your relationship to be defined during the summer months. Oftentimes, people can feel conflicted when separated from their partner over the summer — likely, you’ll be meeting new people and living different day-to-day lives. If you feel like you or you partner might want to explore other romantic or sexual relationships during the summer, then you should try and have a conversation about the boundaries of your relationship in person, before you two part ways. It can be hard to have these conversations over the phone, since a lot of feelings might be “lost in translation.” Remember to be honest with yourself and with your partner so that during the summer you can feel connected with the space and people around you and confident in the status of your romantic relationship. It is possible that as summer goes on either you or your partner might want to revisit your original agreement; that’s understandable. Be sure to keep those lines of communication open and be true to what you are feeling and what you need in the relationship.

What’s great about modern-day, long-distance dating is that we have the gift of the internet to stay connected. You can use these (text, call, video chat) to communicate regularly but can also get creative for special occasions. For example, use video chat to “have a date”. Get dressed up, set the mood with lighting or decor, and video chat while eating a meal “together”. Of course it’s not the same as being together in-person and may even be a little awkward at first, but it can add something special to your routine of communicating via text or phone call. Furthermore, intentionally having to carve time out for one another may lead to a stronger relationship and getting to know each other on a more emotionally intimate level.

Regarding your sex life, as long as both you and your partner are comfortable, you can use video-chat services (e.g., Facetime, Skype, Snapchat) as a tool to keep the sexual aspects of your relationship alive without being physically together. Video-chatting can make it feel like your partner is right there next to you, so don’t be ashamed of getting a little steamy over Skype! Partners can masturbate to each other over video-chat or share sexual fantasies. It’s great practice for pillow talk, since you’ll likely have to use your words more so than in person!

There may also be times when you really miss your partner and the distance feels too difficult. Make sure you have a support system–friends, family, etc.–who you can talk to for comfort and even distractions when things get tough. They can help you get through the rough patches and feel grounded.

As always, I wish you the best of luck, Swooner. Maintaining honest communication and trust with your partner during the summer will prove useful in building and maintaining your relationship and sex life.  But remember to have some conversations about how you plan to approach the summer before you leave campus.

Yours,

The Sexpert

 

Sex Toys in Relationships

Dear Sexpert,

I have been dating my girlfriend for about 3 months now. Recently, I’ve noticed that after we have sex, and I’ve seemingly fallen “asleep,” she sometimes reaches in her backpack for her vibrator. The mechanic hum isn’t what keeps me up, but the embarrassment from the fact that sex with me isn’t enough for her. I really care about her, but I don’t know how to confront her about this. What do you think I should do?

Sincerely,

Lackluster Lover

Dear Lover,

Take a breath – this situation sounds challenging but not necessarily something to take personally. Good news, with some open channels of communication with your girlfriend, you will likely find a mutually pleasurable sex life together!

First off, it is important to note that people (more often women-identified individuals) sometimes have more difficulty reaching orgasm (with or without a partner) for any number of reasons. One reason is that traditional depictions of female pleasure often show orgasm resulting from penetrative sex and happening in tandem with a partner’s orgasm — creating that as the model for “how it should work”. Feeling stressed, being distracted/having trouble focusing, not being aroused enough, not yet knowing what feels good, experiencing physical discomfort, etc. can all impact whether or not someone experiences an orgasm.

Your girlfriend’s desire to pleasure herself after sex could indicate a need for trying something different together. If your girlfriend is comfortable masturbating in the same bed as you, then she will likely be comfortable enough to have a conversation about it. Although she’s waiting until after you’re asleep, she’s clearly not trying that hard to hide it from you. You two haven’t been together for that long, so it’s possible that she is apprehensive about bringing this to your attention, or is worried that you will take it personally. But, like I said, it’s important to establish honest and clear ways to communicate about it.

So how do you go about starting the conversation? Well one thing is for certain, don’t wait until she pulls out her vibrator and confront her in a “gotcha!” moment. Instead, bring it up to her over a meal, when you’re just hanging out in your room, or in some other relatively private and comfortable space. Mention that you have noticed her doing this recently, and, if you’re comfortable, express your openness to trying out new things together. Vibrators and other sex toys don’t always have to be used for masturbation; maybe you can try your hand at wielding the mechanical hum. In fact, many sex toys can be used with a partner — some (e.g., vibrating rings) are even made for use during penetrative sex to enhance pleasure of both partners, but be sure to wash your toys thoroughly with soapy water after use, especially if you plan on sharing them between yourselves. You can also use a new condom on toys (e.g., dildo) for each use. Also, if you two often skip straight to penetrative sex, then you might benefit from some additional foreplay to “get things going”. Try oral sex or a sensual massage. Some couples find mutual masturbation (masturbating, individually, near one another) arousing and can also help your partner better understand what works for you.

Anyways, I wish you the best of luck, Lover. These sorts of things can be uncomfortable to initiate at first, but it is likely that, after bringing it up in a mature manner, your sex life (and relationship) will only benefit from the conversations that follow!

Yours,

The Sexpert

Not-Into-Intercourse: How can my partner and I be intimate with each other without having sex / what are different forms of outercourse?

Dear Sexpert,

I love my partner very much, but I am not sure that I am ready to have sex with my partner yet. Are there ways to be intimate without having sex?

–Not-Into-Intercourse

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Curious Sub: How do I engage in BDSM without fear of losing equal status in my relationship?

Dear Sexpert,

I am thinking of trying out BDSM with my partner for the first time, but I am really curious about maintaining agency and empowerment when it comes to submissive roles in BDSM relationships. Will being in a submissive role negate my equal standing with my partner outside of the relationship? How should I engage in something like that without fear of being degraded by my partner?

–Curious Sub

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Friends or More: Is the intimacy you have with a friend different than the intimacy you have with a romantic partner?

Dear Sexpert,

I wonder if you think that the emotional intimacy that you have with a friend versus a romantic partner is substantively different?

–Friends or More?

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Unhappy Receiver: What do I do if I am receiving inappropriate, sexual messages from a classmate?

Dear Sexpert,

cell phoneOne of my classmates keeps on sending me inappropriate, sexual text messages that I don’t feel comfortable about. What should I do? I am worried that things would be really awkward between us if I confront them.  

–Unhappy Receiver

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Too Much?: Is having sex 3-4 times per day going overboard?

Dear Sexpert,

Is there such a thing as too much sex? My boyfriend and I are in a long distance relationship so every time we see each other, we have sex about 3 to 4 times per day. Sometimes my vagina feels sore afterwards and penetration becomes painful. With Winter Break coming up, I don’t know whether to be worried or not or how to bring this up with my boyfriend. Please help!

–Too Much or Just Overreacting?

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The Real Girl: What if my boyfriend watches too much porn?

Dear Sexpert,

My boyfriend watches a lot of porn. A lot of porn. He watches porn every night before he falls asleep, even the nights that we have sex; he often wants to watch it to get in the mood before we have sex. It makes me uncomfortable and I have tried to talk to him about it, but he says I’m being controlling and just don’t understand. But I don’t feel like I can be sexually or emotionally intimate with someone who would rather watch porn than be with me.

–TheRealGirl

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Uncertain Sexter: Is it safe to send my partner nude pictures?

Dear Sexpert,

I started a relationship a few weeks ago and I am having a lot of fun with my partner. They’ve been asking me to send “sexy” pictures of myself and I have sent a few. But after reading some articles about sexting, I am not too sure how I feel. Should I be worried? I don’t know how to bring it up since my relationship is pretty new.

—Uncertain Sexter

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Expanding My Horizons: How do I tell my partner I’m ready for oral sex?

Two heads facing away from each other with question marks followed by two heads facing each other with heartsDear Sexpert,

My relationship with my partner has become pretty serious and we’re ready to be more intimate with each other. While I’m interested in experimenting with oral sex, I’m still not ready to do more than that. How do I explain this to my partner without offending them?

Expanding My Horizons

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