Category Archives: Communication

Distance Doubter: Long Distance Relationship Over Break

Dear Sexpert,

I’ve recently gotten into a relationship, but with winter break coming up soon, this is the first time my partner and I are going to be apart for more than a week. Fall break and Thanksgiving were fine since we were able to talk to each other nearly every day, but I’m worried that the longer duration of winter break might make things more difficult. How do I navigate a long-distance relationship?

-Distance Doubter

Dear Distance Doubter,

Heading into a long-distance relationship can change your typical dynamic slightly, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. In fact, you can learn a lot about yourself and your relationship from long distance. In terms of navigating long-distance relationships, the first thing to note is that communication truly is key. I would advise trying to start a conversation with your partner now about expectations for each other during your time apart. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious about this, you can bet they are too. Some potential things to talk about include: how frequently you plan on talking, both through text and on the phone; how you will juggle communicating during busier times (e.g., family or other obligations like Princeternships, volunteering, shadowing, etc.), on completely unavailable times/days, or when you’ll be spending time with friends; or how you’ll maintain intimacy. For example, you may want to discuss access to private spaces, and what you would both feel comfortable doing together. However, remember that things may change and people can change their minds. The options for virtual intimacy are endless, but it really depends on the specific dynamics of your relationship, and it’s important to remember that consent is still important. This means that you always want to check in with your partner; never send any unsolicited pictures, videos, or texts. Ease into things, and make sure you are mindful about the space you’re in (e.g., you’d never want a coworker to look over your shoulder and see private messages). 

It’s also important to know that it might not be realistic for you and your partner to talk every day, like you did during fall and Thanksgiving break, especially if you’re in different time zones. And that’s okay! But this might require both sides to intentionally make more time for each other in order to enable ease and frequency of communication. Virtual dates are a great way to do this. Some virtual date ideas could include: watching a movie or show together (there are several platforms that let you both watch the same thing remotely, some even have chats if you can’t be on call together), playing games together (find some virtual escape rooms or multiplayer online games!), sending each other a surprise meal through a delivery service and having a video dinner date, or taking online quizzes together during a call. Try to remain flexible with any changes as you both settle into your winter break schedules and routines.

Some of your fear may stem from how to deal with disagreements that might arise during a period of long distance, and that’s a valid fear to have. Disagreements over text can easily escalate because tone and messages can be easily misinterpreted. Sometimes a well-meaning text can be read as aggressive. A good way to combat miscommunication is to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and always assume that they have the best intentions at heart. If you’re ever in doubt, just ask them! You can also make sure you’re taking the time to listen intentionally to your partner and not multitasking while talking. When you’re not able to immediately participate in a discussion, let them know that you want to wait until you can fully dedicate yourself to listening to them. Additionally, when in a disagreement, make sure to communicate how you’re feeling and how you want the message to come across. It’s also important to remember to respond to situations rather than react. This can mean that sometimes you take a step back from a conversation or take some time before beginning a discussion or sending a response. The expectation for a relationship should not be to never have a disagreement, but to make sure that when one arises both of you are being heard, being respectful of each other’s feelings and opinions, and learning and growing from that specific moment.

Overall, long-distance relationships don’t have to be scary! You’ll probably miss your partner a lot, but setting up expectations before you leave for winter break and agreeing to have completely-open communication during your time apart are important steps. Some of these conversations might be difficult or even awkward to bring up, but once you begin one part of the conversation, the rest of the experience becomes a lot easier!

Sincerely,
The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by UMatterWell + GoodNPR, and Psych Central.

Flavorful Fluid: Addressing health concerns regarding oral sex

Dear Sexpert,

Things are getting kind of hot and heavy with this guy I’m seeing. We’ve only made out so far, but I have recently been thinking about trying oral sex. I’m worried about the taste of my bodily fluids. I’ve heard pineapple juice might help oral sex be more enjoyable for the giver: Is this true?

— Flavorful Fluid

Dear Flavorful Fluid,

Thank you for reaching out with your question! It’s completely normal to have questions and occasional insecurities about our bodies when it comes to sexual experiences, especially new ones. Regarding any type of sexual activity, including oral sex, it’s important to reflect on your personal wants and needs and to have open and respectful communication with your partner(s).

Oral sex encompasses a range of activities: cunnilingus, the oral stimulation of the vulva; fellatio, the oral stimulation of a penis; or anilingus, colloquially called “rimming”, oral stimulation of the anus. It’s common for the person giving oral sex to encounter various tastes and sensations as every body has its own unique flavor profile, and it can change depending on many variables — including diet, hydration, supplements or medications, hygiene, or infection. As for your question about pineapple juice, there’s a belief that consuming pineapple juice may make penile and vaginal secretions taste “better” — less bitter —, though it’s important to understand that many factors contribute to these tastes. Penile secretions are slightly alkaline, with a pH ranging between 7.1 and 8, which can lead to a slightly bitter taste. On the other hand, vaginal secretions are slightly acidic, with a pH between 3.8 and 4.5, resulting in a tangy taste. Your diet plays a significant role in the flavor of any bodily fluid, whether it be saliva, sweat, urine, seminal, or vaginal fluid.  For example, foods such as garlic, onions, dairy, red meat, smoking, and alcohol can contribute to a more “bitter” taste. In the case of penile secretions, sugary liquids or foods, such as pineapple juice, can alter the fructose and glucose content, making them less alkaline and potentially less “bitter.” The taste of vaginal secretions is also strongly affected by the menstrual cycle. During menstruation, the presence of blood may give a “metallic” taste, while during ovulation, the release of cervical mucus can result in a “muskier” taste. In addition to diet, being on medications, such as antibiotics, or having an infection affect your pH levels, and impact your natural smell and taste. 

Let’s also address this message that bodies and bodily secretions should taste or smell like something other than what they are. This strategy, used to sell products that promise to mask your natural scent or unique flavor, contributes to feelings of shame or insecurity about our naturally-existing bodies. Practicing general hygiene, like taking regular showers, wiping after using the bathroom, and wearing proper-fitting, breathable, clean underwear should ensure that your unique taste is natural. If your partner(s) makes comments about not liking your taste or uses it as an excuse to not give oral sex, a conversation might be in order. Together, with open communication, you can hopefully come up with creative and mutually-pleasing solutions.

It is also important to note that engaging in oral sex comes with risk for sexually transmitted infections (STI), like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, etc. To reduce risk, use a dental dam — a sheet of latex or polyurethane placed over the anus or vulva — to prevent skin-to-skin contact during cunnilingus or anilingus, or an external condom during fellatio. Condoms, dental dams, and water-based lube can come in different flavors, which can make things more exciting —chocolate mint, anyone? — and cover the taste of latex while simultaneously reducing risks. Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning you can spread an STI without knowing it, so the best option is for you to use barrier methods, and/or get screened for STIs with your partner(s) and s hare your results with one another. You can do self-directed STI testing through UHS, since you are asymptomatic, or you can make an appointment with Sexual Health and Wellness at UHS through your MyUHS online portal.

Ultimately, personal preferences and sexual experiences can vary widely. Open and honest communication with your partner, respect for each other’s boundaries, and consent in all activities are most important. If your partner notices a change and brings it up in a considerate manner, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation about your well-being. However, if you find yourself in a situation where your partner constantly makes disparaging comments or uses this as an excuse to avoid certain activities, it’s important to prioritize your own self-respect and comfort. Partners should approach these topics with empathy and respect for each other. 

Warm regards,
The Sexpert

Information obtained from Healthline, National Library of Medicine, Men’s Health, University Health Services, and Mayo Clinic.

Uncertain Underclassmen: Approaching hook-up culture on campus

Dear Sexpert,

Throughout my first few weeks on campus, it seems like everyone is focused on hooking up during nights out. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I feel kind of pressured to start. Hooking up wasn’t really big among my friends back home and my health class only discussed abstinence. Plus, my parents usually just avoided any sex-related conversations altogether. I don’t want my new friends to think that I’m weird or anything for staying on the sidelines though. Should I just go for it already? 

— Uncertain Underclassman

Dear Uncertain Underclassman,

Your worries are completely valid — and more common than you might think. Adjusting to the new social environment on campus, even for upperclassmen/returning students, can be overwhelming. Before jumping to any conclusions about what others are doing, you might want to ask what your friends really mean by “hooking up.” The term can mean anything from making out to engaging in vaginal or anal sex. Try not to let social pressures — even from your new friends — cloud your judgment on intimate matters. Of course, separating yourself from the perceived norms on campus is no easy task. Still, regardless of what your friends or peers are doing, the decision to start exploring physical intimacy — i.e., any form of sensuous contact — ultimately resides with you.

It’s important to understand that what you may see or hear about sex on campus is likely not an accurate representation of what’s “normal.” Those who are not engaging in sexual activity tend to be less vocal about that choice than their sexually active peers are. Our data suggest that the percentage of students not engaging in oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse is higher than those who do. Only 27.4% of current freshmen arriving on campus have ever had sex, according to The Daily Princetonian’s 2026 frosh survey. Based on the ACHA-NCHA III Spring 2023 survey of undergraduate students in the United States, 39 percent have never engaged in oral sex, 44 percent have never engaged% in vaginal, and 84 percent have never engaged% in anal. Therefore, whether or not you choose to participate in sexual activity, your behavior will certainly not be outside of the norm. 

Oftentimes, you’ll hear that you should wait to engage in physical intimacy until “the time is right.” Unfortunately, that timing can be very difficult to discern and is influenced by many factors. Luckily, you’ve already gotten off to a great start by simply taking the time to think about whether “the time is right” for you. Reflecting on what you’re comfortable with and setting personal boundaries while level-headed can help prevent getting swept up in the moment — especially when under the influence or caught up in the excitement of a night out. It’s easier to make a decision about engaging in physical intimacy when you can rationally weigh the options, rather than going on an impulse or giving in to social pressure. 

The start of college is a great time to iron out your values as an individual — and that goes for your sexual life too. When deciding whether or not you’d like to engage in physical intimacy, try to separate how you actually feel from all of the external forces in your life. Consider yourself in relation to your familial upbringing, cultural norms, and spiritual values — all of which can play an important role in your decision. If relevant, the chaplains at the Office of Religious Life can serve as  helpful resources for navigating your sex life from a religious perspective. For more support in exploring sexual identity, you can also connect with staff or peer educators at the Gender + Sexuality Resource Center. At the end of the day, whatever decision you make about choosing to engage in sexual activity is not binding in any way; it’s simply a way to take stock of your boundaries and expectations as you start this new chapter.

Once you sort out where you stand among these diverse influences, the next step is communication. You should always be upfront with potential romantic or sexual partners about your boundaries and goals for intimacy, and respect theirs. A helpful tool is the “How I Like It” Inventory. You can fill it out to explore for yourself, and/or have your partner fill it out; comparing results can help you to find what you want to do together. Making your expectations well known and communicating with your partner about your level of experience in sex, ahead of time, can prevent misunderstandings and feeling pressured down the line. Moreover, make sure to continue having these discussions throughout your interactions because boundaries and desires can easily fluctuate. 

Finally, if you do decide to begin exploring physical intimacy, make sure you do so safely. Use an appropriate barrier method such as a condom (external or internal), dental dam, or finger cot to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If engaging in penile-vaginal sex, use a reliable contraception method to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. Condoms, birth control, STI testing, and sexual health appointments are all available through Sexual Health and Wellness at University Health Services. Ultimately, your first semester at college can be an exciting time of self and sexual discovery,  so make sure you stay safe and healthy while exploring your boundaries.

Best of luck! 

— The Sexpert

Information for this article is provided by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III, Daily Princetonian, and University Health Services.

Sincere Survivor: Finding Intimacy After Trauma

Content warning: The following column contains references to sexual assault. If you or a friend have experienced sexual misconduct and are in need of assistance, Princeton has a number of resources that may be of use. You can also reach SHARE, Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education service at 609-258-3310. 

Dear Sexpert, 

I feel safe and respected by my partner, but my past experience with sexual assault has made it so that I have trouble focusing during sex. I find it pleasurable, but I cannot orgasm. I have disclosed to my partner that I am a survivor, and they’ve been understanding and patient. Lately, I’ve been feeling pressure from them to orgasm, but I don’t want to fake it. Just because I don’t reach an orgasm doesn’t mean that I’m not enjoying being intimate with them. I’m so confused.   

— Sincere Survivor

Dear Sincere Survivor, 

Dealing with intimacy can be a delicate topic in any case, not only between you and your partner, but for yourself as well. Layering on the complex feelings, both physical and emotional, experienced by many survivors rarely makes things simpler. Navigating intimacy after assault, harassment, or other harm can be a confusing and variable process, as you’ve observed, but it’s not one you are alone in. Many people have explored and shared what has been helpful for them, which we will discuss a bit here, but at the same time, only you can decide what does and doesn’t work for your body, mind, and desires. 

Sex and sexual assault are not the same things, and it can take time for your body and mind to understand the different experiences and sensations since the trauma caused by an assault can actually change the way your brain reacts or how it associates sex. It is possible that you might feel ready to move on from your assault in one moment and experience flashbacks or activations in another, making it seem like you’ve taken a step back in your healing journey. No one’s experience is the same, but it is not uncommon for survivors of sexual assault to dissociate (which is often described as feeling detached from one’s body) during sex when activated by a smell, sound, touch, etc. This can make it challenging to experience or focus on pleasure. 

One helpful approach, if you would like to try it, might be to focus on solo sex or masturbation. It can also help you to reclaim your body on your terms and under your control. This can be a great way to explore your likes, dislikes, and activations without the pressure of another person’s timeline or expectations. You can even document activations, body sensations, and emotions that you experience during solo sex, so you can find what is pleasurable and safe for you.

When talking about the idea of pleasure vs. orgasm, a common shorthand is to use these terms interchangeably. This association supports a checklist-oriented mentality, which can contribute to individuals putting their sexual goals (i.e., orgasm) above others’, and supports an attitude that may uphold violence. For most people, it is possible — and not atypical — to experience pleasure during intimacy without reaching orgasm. However, this “pleasure equals orgasm” shorthand can often result in pressure to reach orgasm during sex. In your case, it sounds like you are feeling pressure to orgasm from your partner. This may come from a variety of causes — perhaps they themself have the desire to orgasm frequently and assume you have a similar one, or perhaps they worry that the joint sexual experiences aren’t bringing you pleasure at all, or it could be something else entirely. You might currently have some insight into their thought process, but gaining clarification on their thinking may be helpful for your confusion and could give you an opportunity to share your own thoughts too. 

Communicating with your partner, whether it be verbal and independent from intimate moments or any other situation which you deem fit, is an important step towards not only creating a stronger relationship but in making sure that your voice is heard. Find a time and place to chat where you both feel comfortable in sharing your perspectives and conveying your boundaries. For example, you could let them know that you really enjoy having sex with them and want to continue doing so while taking your own orgasm out of the equation, or you could start by asking if they have any concerns regarding your mutual sex life. It’s completely normal, no matter how close you and your partner may be, to have boundaries during intimacy. Identifying and communicating your boundaries and expectations to your partner and hearing about theirs is an essential, though not always easy, step in any sexual relationship, but it may be particularly relevant for yours. 

This can be a very challenging, stressful, and delicate topic, but there are many resources available to help you through it. Some resources are intended to be long-term, while others are shorter-term and often more immediate. Likewise, some resources are confidential, and others are private – both of which you may find useful when you are preparing for your conversation with your partner and afterward. If you are looking for more professionally-oriented support, consider connecting with clinicians in the SHARE office or Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) (confidential), or chaplains in the Office of Religious Life (confidential). SHARE Peers or Peer Health Advisers (private, non-confidential) may be an option if you feel more comfortable speaking with peers. (Note: SHARE Peers are only non-confidential because they let the SHARE office know that you spoke with them. You can request that the SHARE Peer keep your identity anonymous, and just the general details will be shared.) For off-campus options, you could connect with Womanspace, a support and counseling resource that serves all survivors and their families in Mercer County. It is normal to feel anxious when accessing new resources or even talking to friends about this challenging topic.

I hope you know that whatever you are feeling is valid and that you are worthy of comfort, support, and safety. Hopefully, this information can help make intimacy with your partner enjoyable, both for you and them, and take off the pressure of orgasming. Remember that we are all here to support you. 

Sincerely,  
The Sexpert

Bloody Wary: Non-menstrual Vaginal Bleeding

Dear Sexpert,

My boyfriend and I have never had sex, but we do a lot of other stuff, and one such act is fingering. Though he had just used his one finger most of the time, on one occasion he tried using two fingers, and just after a few seconds I saw that his finger was covered with blood. We stopped right there, but there was a very minute level of bleeding along with vaginal discharge, which was clear and liquidy. I am scared as I have no idea what happened, and why I was bleeding.

—Bloody Wary

Dear Bloody Wary, 

Thank you for reaching out! It is great that you and your partner are experimenting with new methods of sexual pleasure. It sounds like there is a good amount of communication, consent, and respect between the two of you, and it’s good to hear that when something unexpected happened, you stopped activities. 

It is natural to be concerned when you notice blood or unusual discharge, as sometimes it can be a sign of an issue. That said, this sounds like nothing to worry about! Vaginal discharge is a natural part of the bodily response in people with a vagina, and it serves a variety of purposes, including lubrication and self-cleaning, which protects against infections. It is common to see discharge during sexual activity as a response to sexual arousal. Abnormal discharge or signs of a potential infection include a strong or foul smell, a thick, chunky consistency, or coloring that is green or yellow. 

Though startling, minute-level bleeding after penetration — either from toys/objects, fingers, or a penis — does not indicate a critical health concern. Blood that appears after fingering is, according to Healthline, “likely normal and the result of minor scratches or cuts in the vagina.” This kind of bleeding, during penetration or afterward, can also be caused by friction due to dryness. Blood can also result from the stretching, wearing, or tearing of the hymen, a thin tissue that frames the vagina. Quick note: Though people sometimes associate hymen tears with sexual penetration or losing one’s virginity, the hymen is worn down over time and can be stretched or torn by non-sexual things like exercise and tampon insertion. For many people, sexual penetration won’t even have an effect on their hymen, and any bleeding is likely the result of one of the other causes mentioned above. 

However, if bleeding extends to a longer period of time, such as a few days, that is a cause for concern, and it would be wise to consult a healthcare professional, such as a Sexual Health and Wellness provider at UHS. They provide a wide range of resources from assisting with birth control options to answering any questions about issues including irregular bleeding and vaginal discharge.

There are some methods that you and your partner can practice to prevent bleeding in the future. For example, your partner could make sure that their fingernails are cut to prevent any cuts to or near the vagina. You can utilize water or silicone-based lubricant before penetration, in addition to waiting until you are sufficiently aroused to engage in penetrative activities. Also, continuing to express any type of discomfort to your partner — like if they hit your cervix or if there’s too much friction — makes sexual activities more enjoyable for the both of you. Overall, remember that sexual exploration should be a source of pleasure for both you and your partner. You can learn a lot about your boyfriend’s and your own preferences, even when things do not turn out the way you expected. If you or your partner experience any health-related worries after sexual activity, do not be afraid to reach out to a healthcare provider for medical advice. 

For future sexual health questions that could use a peer’s perspective, feel free to contact one of the PHAs, and we will be happy to answer your questions or help you get connected to other resources. 

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from University Health Services, NHS UK, and Healthline.

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?

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

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

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