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When you're having sex with someone, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation. This is even more important to remember when you are with someone you don't know well or if alcohol or other drugs are involved.

Healthy & Respectful Communication

Here are some ways to improve your communication:

  • Think about your values and what you want
    Take some time to think about what you want. Are you ready to be in a relationship? Do you like this person? Are you ready to have a sexual relationship? Do you feel comfortable with and trust this person? Will this person respect you and your choices? Make choices and decisions that feel good and right for you then share them with your partner(s).
    • "I want to wait until I'm in a committed relationship to have sex" or "I'm not interested in a serious relationship, I'm just looking for something casual."

  • Talk about it
    You and your partner(s) may have differing levels of knowledge, sexual experience, sexual practices, and preferences.
    • "This is my first time and I don't really know what I like. Can we go slow?" or "Let's try this position. It feels a lot better for me when I'm on top!"

  • Be honest
    Talk about how you feel, what you want, and what you're looking for in this relationship or experience. Share your sexual history and discuss protection from sexually transmitted infection (STIs) or contraceptive methods if there is concern about pregnancy. 
    • "I like you, and I was wondering if maybe you wanted to make this official?" or "I've never been tested for STIs. Could we go together?" 

  • Say what you want and don't want
    Be clear and honest. It may feel hard or awkward at first but you'll get better with practice and it's sure to improve the experience for each of you. Your partner's not a mind reader and may not pick-up on your subtle cues.
    • I know "I know that you like... but I'm not comfortable with that. Can we try... instead?" or "I know you're on birth control, but I'd feel more comfortable if we'd use condoms too."
  • Ask your partner(s)
    Ask what they want, don't want and what feels good for them.
    • "What feels good for you?" or "What do you want to do tonight?" 

  • Respect your partner's response
    If they say "no," "stop," "don't," "slow down," change their mind, or tell you how far they want to go, respect their response.
    • "That's ok. We can stop," or "Sure. I don't want to do anything you don't want to do."

  • Check in with your partner(s)
    Check-in before, during, and after a sexual encounter. Communication throughout will give you feedback about how you're doing and whether they're enjoying it, which will improve the experience for each of you.
    • "Are you sure you're ready?" "How does that feel?" "How are you doin'?" 

Body Language

Body language or nonverbal cues are a big part of how we communicate with one another but it can be misinterpreted and differ greatly from partner to partner. Our identities (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity, age, ability/disability, etc.), culture, background, experience, and the current situation shape how we communicate with one another. What one person may interpret as a "Yes. We're good to go!" another may have been saying, "No. I'm not comfortable." Laughter, gestures, facial expressions, shrugs, hand and other body movements can all be used to express both interest and disinterest. It's always a good idea to get a verbal response, and supplement that with the other nonverbal cues before proceeding.

Unhealthy & Harmful Communication

Check-in with yourself to see if you or your partner(s) engage in any of the following. If so, review the Healthy & Respectful Communication list above to improve your communication strategies and/or consider talking with someone who could help.

  • Being afraid to say you're reluctant
  • Not checking in with your partner(s)
  • Begging for what you want
  • Manipulating your partner(s)
  • Coercing or pressuring your partner(s)
  • Spreading information about your sexual encounters without your partner's consent
  • Taking photos, videos, or recording partner(s) without their consent
  • Outing your partner's sexual and/or gender identity
  • Not discussing or being dishonest about protection, contraceptives, sexual history, or STIs
  • Knowingly exposing your partner(s) to STIs without their knowledge
  • Using alcohol or drugs to get what you want
  • Not talking or communicating
  • Not asking your partner(s) what they want
  • Not noticing or ignoring your partner's cues, ambivalence, or discomfort (e.g. isn't reciprocating, becomes quiet, stops moving, pushes you away)
  • Threats or intimidation
  • Using physical violence