U Up? is Healthline’s new advice column, which helps readers explore sex and sexuality.
I still cringe thinking about the first time I tried bringing up my sexual fantasy to a guy, back in my early twenties. It wasn’t even THAT freak. I was curious about getting tied up with something like a necktie — a Sex and the City secondary plotline at WORST.
When I finally had the courage to ask him about it, I was a nervous wreck, stammering and sweating all over this poor dude before he realized I was just begging for some light bondage (and he obliged like a champ).
Why was I so embarrassed? Why was it so hard to talk about what I wanted? I was too straight to function! I try to cut myself some slack, though. After all, this was before people were making millions of dollars writing about BDSM contracts and “red rooms,” before Rihanna would mentor us on broaching the topic of chains and whips in her hit song S&M.
Most importantly, this was before community-specific hookup apps like Scruff or Feeld took the guesswork out of finding partners who are on the same page, kink-wise. On these, passively reviewing profiles that list what someone is into before you even message makes the risk of embarrassment much lower. You can make what you want clear on your profile before a person even sees your face (and sometimes not knowing what they look like IS the fetish — how convenient).
But what about people who meet folks offline, people who have been in a committed relationship where the topic has just never come up, or people who can’t have a candid conversation about sexual desires with their boo(s) for any other reason?
Even with all the progress we’ve made with sex positivity and sex education, getting the discussion started can be tough!
Getting the conversation started
So what’s the best way to start? I decided to go to my friend Lux Alptraum, sex expert and author of “Faking It: The Lies Women Tell About Sex — And the Truths They Reveal” for advice.
“The other person might think you’re weird or maybe that it [the kink] is gross,” Alptraum says. This is a very real possibility and it can be disappointing, but there are still ways for both partners to approach the conversation with empathy and respect.
“It can be very vulnerable to be open and say, ‘Hi, I want to explore this thing,’” she said of the fear to initiate this conversation, before reminding me it can also be nerve-wracking to be on the receiving end of a kink announcement, even if it ends up sounding hot to you. It can be a little scary because there may be a sense of pressure or “what if I do it badly or don’t know what to do?”
As an icebreaker for kinky beginners, we both highly recommend comparing notes — literally! “Yes/No/Maybe” surveys list different sexual activities and fetishes so when you fill it out, it can act as a snapshot of what you’re both into.
Lux recommends using the PlsPlsMe app, which will give you and your partner a quiz and then only reveal what you’re both horny to try! However, for those in committed relationships, she also thinks a handwritten list might be the way to go.
“It’s a little bit braver to show someone all your things and be open to the possibility they won’t like it. A lot of kink is building trust and building intimacy.”
Exploration =/= an evaluation of your skills
No matter how you get the conversation rolling, Lux says, establish early on that this is an exploration and not an evaluation.
If the other person hesitates because they’re scared they won’t do it correctly or just needs some guidance, work to create a supportive environment. She thinks approaching with the attitude, “Hey, we’ll just explore this and you trying means a lot to me,” works wonders. That also means being receptive to feedback, and possibly finding ways to compromise so you both feel comfortable and turned on.
“Sometimes you have to be brave, take a risk, and recognize that you may get hurt. You may find out the person rejects you, and that’s just a part of sex and dating. Create a low pressure atmosphere, keep it open ended, and be sensitive to whatever feedback you receive.”
Excellent advice — and here’s my own as a parting touch, sugar: Stop thinking of yourself as “weird” if you get off on something a little less common. If everyone involved is GGG (that’s “good, giving, and game”) and you’re not violating anyone’s consent, you deserve to explore what makes you happy and satisfied!
Healthy curiosity is all part of healthy sexuality, so get out those fuzzy handcuffs, get a cute safe word going, and get off!
Reed Brice is a writer and comedian based in Los Angeles. Brice is an alum of UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts and was the first transgender person to ever be cast in a professional revue with The Second City. When not talking the tea of mental illness, Brice also pens our love and sex column, “U Up?”