How To Have Emotionally Safe Sex

by Rachel Sanoff

When we learn about safe sex in school (if we are lucky enough to have access to sex ed), the safe sex lecture focuses on sexually-transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies (if not abstinence). It is only now that some high schools are introducing lessons about consent and healthy relationships into the curriculum, thanks to the new Yes Means Yes education standard. While this is definitely an improvement, it still leaves many of us wondering, what is emotionally safe sex? Does safe sex mean more than condoms?

The answer to that question is yes; sex requires a lot more than just condoms to be safe. Daysha Edewi, who you may recognize from her work on BuzzFeed, recently released a beautiful spoken word poem entitled "What I Wish Someone Told Me About Having Sex." In the piece, Edewi describes a sexual relationship with a man that ends when he falls for another woman. The heartbreak and devastation leads to her realization that condoms and pregnancy prevention are far from the only things one should think about when engaging in "safe" sex. As Edewi states in the poem, "I have feelings and emotions that have a right to be protected," and "I guess that I just wish that we had taken the time to use both mental and physical protection.”

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon to find yourself in an emotionally unsafe sexual relationship. FWB relationships often leave one person pining and heartbroken; people string a partner along for fear of ending a relationship; we'll hook up with bad exes because moving on hurts; consent and trust are a foreign concept to too many, as studies have told us. We all deserve safety, and we must demand safety. So let's talk about what we can do in order to have safer sex, whether you are in a casual or committed sexual relationship. As Edewi says,“People love to talk about how to avoid STIs of the physical kind, but nobody likes to talk about the STIs that can destroy your mind.”

1. Communicate (Honestly)

Communication is a key component of a relationship, and it is a key component of any sexual encounter — whether it's casual or with a serious partner. If intentions of either participant(s) are unclear, then a conversation has to happen in order to keep all parties emotionally protected. Are you sleeping with an ex that you're still hung up on? Is this just a hookup or a rebound? Do you want more than that, aka do you have serious feelings for this person? Or does this person have serious feelings for you, but you're not interested? This is vital information because people engaging in casual sex when they don't have casual feelings is devastating.

Besides communicating intentions, it also important to be able to communicate what you like and dislike in order to achieve the pleasure that you deserve. And it goes both ways — it is important to be receptive to your sexual partner's likes and dislikes. If you cannot comfortably express these desires to the person, they may not be the safest sexual partner.

2. Evaluate Your Choices

"Think about your life. Think about your choices." For real tho. You can't read another person's mind, and while you would hope that they can communicate honestly with you, you can really only trust yourself — especially in more casual scenarios. That means you have to take time to ask yourself questions and listen to the answers carefully. In the heat of the moment, that's easier said than done. But there are some important ones: Why are you going to have sex with this person? Is that what you want to do? Because then, awesome! Get it, girl! Or do you just think it's what you have to do, as if your body is owed to them because you're in a relationship? (By the way, that's sexual assault).

3. What Do You Want?

Do you know what you want, yet you're choosing to ignore it because of ~temptation~? Allow me to explain. If you know that you are hopelessly in love with a person who only sees you as a friend-with-benefits, don't act like those romantic feelings are nonexistent in the name of "getting some." Heartbreak will find you in the end. And if someone that you only see as a friend pours their heart out to you but the feeling is not mutual, don't play along in the name of "getting some," either. Respect your own and other people's desires enough to not be too reckless in the moment. "My body's saying let's go, but my heart is saying no" ~ Xtina Aguilera circa 1999 but relevant always.

4. Do You Know Your Boundaries, And Have You Expressed Them?

If you don't feel comfortable telling someone that you are not OK with something, then sexual activity with that person may become very unsafe. Intercourse with someone who makes you feel voiceless is extremely unhealthy. Consent is a human right, as is the right to say no to anything at any time.

5. Do You Want To/Need To Know More About This Person Before You Continue?

Now if you are choosing to have an anonymous, fun one-night-stand, this perhaps doesn't apply in the same way. However, if that is not something that you are into, make sure you know the information that is most important to you for you to trust them. Do you know this person's relationship status? Do you know if they are kind? Do you know if you'll want them to keep in contact with you? Really, just any facts that are most concerning to you if you are to become intimate with someone.

6. And Obviously... PRACTICE CONSENT

Consent isn't just "sexy," as many social media movements have reminded us — it's also mandatory.

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our video on sex positions for small penises:

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