“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”- Victor Frankl –
I have a confession about safer sex conversations. The reason I’ve spent three blogs writing about them, the reason I feel so passionately about them is because four years ago in a workshop on Love, Sexuality and Intimacy, I couldn’t have a safer sex conversation.
Having been married for 21 years at the time, it wasn’t something with which I had any experience, skill or comfort. In my time dating, the late 1970’s to late 1980’s, nobody had but the most illusory and ineffective safer sex conversation (if any): “Do you have anything?” “No, do you?” “No.” “Great!”
In this workshop, we were asked to practice having safer sex conversations, including discussing our likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.: it was a workshop exercise—a simulation—nothing more. And I giggled, dodged, clammed up and acted goofy until my partner called me out. And I still couldn’t settle down and engage in a meaningful conversation.
Later, I reflected on how embarrassed I felt that I couldn’t even participate as a responsible adult in a conversation that could affect my sexual health. Oh, I made plenty of excuses: I didn’t need to have this conversation—I’m in a 21-year marriage monogamous marriage: why do I need to know how to have a safer-sex conversation?
The more I thought about it, the more I felt ashamed: ashamed that I was not capable of protecting myself if I ever needed to have this conversation for real. Ashamed that I was so utterly exposed—vulnerable—and not vulnerable in a good way. All of this made me feel disempowered as an adult sexual woman. And I did not like that feeling. While most of the time shame is a terrible emotion, in this case, it served as a powerful motivator.
From that moment on, I decided that I would become skilled at having the safer sex conversation—whether I ever need to have it or not. Because for me, becoming sexually empowered means that I’m responsible for all aspects of my sexual well-being. Since that workshop, I have practiced the safer sex conversation at nearly every workshop I’ve attended. What I quickly learned: most people are terribly uncomfortable talking about safer sex, sexual likes, dislikes and preferences. And this tells me that my instincts are dead on: I have to lead this conversation. It’s on me to be confident and knowledgeable if I want to be safe, to feel empowered, to protect myself and to get my needs met.
A great benefit to gaining comfort with the safer sex conversation, is that I’ve grown quite comfortable talking about all aspects of sex life, my sexuality, likes, dislikes and more. Learning to talk about all aspects of our sexuality, preferences and safety needs blows sex shaming out of the water and sets us free. Safer sex conversations are not just an annoying, awkward phase we have to endure—they are key to being confidant and empowered sexual beings.
Next week: The Emotional Safer Sex Conversation