You’re at the wedding of a very conservative relative who hasn’t had partnered sex before. How can you give sex-positive advice?
Recently, I went to the wedding of one of my very religious cousins. I wasn’t planning on talking about sex at all while I was there, but the wedding gave me the opportunity to be sex-positive in an environment that I had always experienced as very sex-negative.
I wasn’t thinking much about sex at all until the pastor giving the homily during the wedding ceremony made it a point of mentioning that both the bride and groom had “saved themselves for marriage” and how wonderful that was. As beautiful as the ceremony was, and as happy as I was for my cousin and her groom, it stung a little to hear that. It was a painful reminder of my own first experiences with partnered sex.
As the pain faded, I began to wonder: What did the two of them know about sex? I never had the opportunity to get any really useful sex education until I left my religious faith…but they had stayed. Would all of the advice the bride and groom got be hastily conveyed with a few nudges and winks on the day of the wedding?
I remembered all of the expectations and pressures that I had felt about my own first time having sex with another person, and I spent most of the reception wondering if there was any way I could tell them just a couple of key things without unduly embarrassing them. They were doing “dollar dances,” where for chipping in a couple of bucks towards honeymoon expenses, you could dance with either the bride or the groom.
I gathered up my courage. First with my cousin, and later with her new husband, I walked up and asked for a slow dance. Each encounter basically went like this:
“Okay,” I said, pulling myself close for a private conversation. “I’m afraid I’m going to do the awkward, cousin sex-talk thing for a minute.” (They grinned a little.)
“So, here’s the thing,” I continued. “Sex is awkward, and messy, and fun, and hilarious, all at the same time.” I told them that they should just relax, and try to have fun, and that it does take practice. “It’s a process,” I said. I gave them a hug. “It’ll be fine.” To my cousin, I mentioned that I’d always be happy to talk with her if she had any questions about anything.
They didn’t seem overly embarrassed, which was a relief. After waiting years for this first experience, with all of the cultural baggage associated with the Perfect First Time…I hoped this would give them a little perspective and a little reassurance.
The next morning, I happened to sit down next to the groom at breakfast. He looked over at me, and with a small smile, said, “You were right, mostly.” I grinned back.
I don’t know how much of what I said might have helped them, but I’m glad that I tried. If you’re ever in a similar situation, here are three tips for giving sex-positive advice to people who aren’t familiar with sex (or may only be familiar with it in a sex-negative context):
1. Strive for a private conversation. Sex is a topic that’s difficult for many people to talk about (whether you identify as sex-positive or not). If you can find a way to slip someone a note or pull them into a private conversation, hopefully they will feel less embarrassed. Do I think sex is something that, ideally, everyone would feel free to talk about openly? Of course. But I also think it’s important to meet someone where they’re at.
2. Tell them what they probably haven’t heard. As much as some of us might like discussing technique…someone who is just starting to try partnered sex hopefully does have at least a vague idea of the mechanics. What’s more important is to remind them of the things that they probably haven’t heard in sex ed, in the media, or in porn: sex can be messy and awkward and fun all at the same time. It’s okay to relax and laugh!
3. Remind them that it takes practice. There’s so much hype about losing your virginity and having a perfect first time that it’s worth reminding them that the more sex they have, the easier (and hopefully better) their experiences will be.
Obviously there’s a lot more you could say, if you had the time and opportunity — you could talk about condoms, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control options, and more. Are there any other “big picture” pieces of advice that you’ve given or would like to have heard?
Edit (1:02am): Realized that the previous title “to People Who Haven’t Had Sex Yet” might be implicitly endorsing the view that anyone who hasn’t had sex obviously wants to (they just haven’t done it yet), which isn’t fair to asexual folk.
Edit (6/18/12): Edited “Would all of the advice…” to be less ambiguous, per Ben’s comment.