All My Little Words is The Argus’ love-centric column. We publish personal essays, poems, humorous pieces, and other creative written work that focuses on themes of love, loss, labor, and loneliness—romantic and not. To submit an article, please send 1000-1500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The human mind is a fascinating and mystifying entity. One of its major tendencies is to favor primacy and recency. For example, when we read lists, we are more likely to remember what was at the beginning and end of the list, and to lose focus of the middle items. This is true for many things we do. All too often, we lose sight of the present.
This is certainly the case with regard to communication, and especially communication with regard to sex. Partners will often discuss what they’re comfortable with before or after sex, but not during. In the heat of the moment, we sink into any discomfort because we feel uncomfortable or rude bringing up issues in the moment. It’s too awkward, so we remain quiet and wait for it all to pass.
In the past, if I was uncomfortable during sex, I never considered voicing my concerns in the middle of it all. If I was in pain, so long as it was bearable, I bore it. If my legs were sore or my collarbone was starting to bruise, I never spoke up. I was too afraid of being rude or ruining the “mood.” What finally changed things was when someone actually took the time to check in. Yes, I met a guy who asked me if I was okay at every step: from our first kiss to the moment it was over. Prior to this week, no one had ever asked whether it was okay to kiss me, and when I heard it, I was surprised. It seemed so out of the ordinary, so considerate, so unusual, that someone would ask “Are you ok?” or “Is it ok if I touch you there?” What followed was surprised at my initial astonishment itself. Why should I be so shocked that someone took the two seconds to check in during sex? It seems like a basic step to take, yet it struck me as quite foreign.
This shone light on some major issues with how we handle relationships and intimacy. There’s such a fear of being rude. We fear coming off as impolite if we ask for changes. We would rather bear bruises than bruise egos. We fear that bruised egos splinter relationships.
After this experience, I realized how crazy this tendency towards sexually quiet relationships is. If you trust someone with your body, you should trust them enough to speak to them honestly and openly. Respect for yourself encompasses respect for your body. Respect for your body entails asking others to respect it, as well. Too often we do not ask for what we need. We define our sexual needs as simply desires or preferences, and are therefore able to sweep them aside. But comfort in intimacy is a necessity, not a preference. It is something deserved, something that should be a given. And yet, so many people find speaking up in the midst of a steamy moment too daunting.
The expectation becomes that if you don’t like something, you will speak up. This is what I expected of myself, as well. I consider myself a strong, outspoken woman who would have no issue bringing up issues of my own pain or discomfort. Yet, there is something so deeply rooted in me that does not want to be impolite. It’s a similar feeling to leaving class to go to the bathroom: we know what our bodies need, we feel what our bodies need, but we are so afraid to disrespect the professor or breach protocol (that of remaining seated during a lecture) that we sit still until it becomes an “emergency.” Similarly, I only speak up during sex when the pain becomes unbearable, which should not be the case. I don’t want to breach the unspoken contract of wanting to make my partner feel good. This is why asking simple questions can make such a difference. It opens up the key opportunity for your partner to freely express discomfort without feeling like they are breaking some unwritten rule of sex.
The sex I’ve discussed thus far is sex that is entirely consensual, but during which one or more partners may experience pain or discomfort. This is related to consent, as it involves the issue of security in sexual situations, but it is truly a separate topic. The two ideas are coital cousins, but certainly unique entities. Please do not confound the two, as the question of consent is not what is being addressed in this article, though it does absolutely warrant discussion.
I would also like to acknowledge that this issue does not specifically refer to long-term, serious, or even romantic relationships. Of course, communication is a necessary part of these solid connections, but I believe that it should apply to all forms of intimacy. We all know how prevalent hookup culture is here at Wesleyan. In fact, Mr. Communication, as he shall henceforth be known, was not a boyfriend, but a friend with whom I also had sex. Just because a relationship is casual does not mean it should lack solid communication. Hookups are meant to be fun and enjoyable, a freeing experience. How can one feel free if they are uncomfortable or in pain? It doesn’t matter if you’re having a one-night stand or if you’ve been married for twenty years, check-ins during sex are important.
So I ask you, dear reader, to check in with your partner. Not that you need to have an expansive emotional conversation before every climax. All it takes is very minimal effort—asking permission here, saying “How are you?” there—to transform your experience into something more comfortable and, frankly, more enjoyable. After all, what’s sexier than someone who is 100 percent happy, comfortable, and present with you?
Mae Davies can be reached at email@example.com