Relationships progress at highly varying speeds, and it can sometimes be the case that one new partner is ready to become sexually intimate while the other one isn't quite there yet. If that happens to you, that's fine! Don't panic! You aren't frigid or bizarre if you really like somebody and think they're smoking hot, but aren't ready to take your clothes off yet. (It can, according to a 2010 study, actually make relationships better.) Everybody has their own approaches and attitudes to intimacy; sexual histories and experiences are pretty individual things. But if you don't know how to broach the topic when a new partner is looking at you like some kind of delicious dish served at a feast, let's look at how to respond when you don't want to have sex yet — but might want to in the future.
The first thing I would recommend is an assessment of your own reservations. I don't mean casting a critical eye over them; you have a right to feel what you feel! (Repeat that several times if necessary.) But it might be helpful to know why you feel them. Have you had poor sexual experiences, or not very many? Do you know that getting intimate often creates intense feelings you're not prepared for yet? Are you unsure about whether you're compatible, or in need of a more advanced feeling of safety and trust with a new partner? Explore how you feel about your body and what you want to do with it; it'll be a great help when you're getting a new partner to understand what's going on. If you don't know, that's OK too!
An important note: I'm assuming here in this article that you might want sex with this person at some point, but if you're asexual, the conversations will have to be entirely different. If not, here are some ideas drawn from psychological science and advice that might make the discussion easier, and keep you apprised about the importance of consent and whether you're in danger of being coerced.
1. "Here Are My Reasons"
Simply put, if you know why you're not entirely willing to hop into bed just yet, and are able and willing to talk about it, it can be a good idea to tell your partner why. That way, you can see how they deal with it, and they can get an insight into the realities of your sexual life.
Discussing sex with any intimate partner is tricky, particularly one you haven't spent much time with yet. If you're unsure about what language to use or how to broach the topic, one of the best guides comes from the Kinsey Institute's Dr. Debby Herbenick. The Kinsey Institute studies and disseminates information and advice about human sexuality, and Herbenick's guide to sexual communication, including the need to be gentle and the importance of asking questions, is a very good place to start.
This can also be a valuable litmus test. If your partner struggles to understand your reasons, that can be acceptable; but if they question or denigrate them, keep pushing, and just can't seem to respect them as valid, then you have a sexual coercion problem. Your right to consent is being ignored or circumvented, and you shouldn't stand for that sh*t. That person doesn't deserve to sleep with you.
2. "Here's What I Need To Know"
Here's another way to involve your partner in what you're feeling: what would you like to know about them that can make you feel comfortable, safe, and sexually attracted to them? If the reason you don't want to have sex yet is simply because you want more reassurance or information, you need to let them know.
This is a very good time to discuss whether they've had an STD test recently, and what you'd like them to do on that front. Go Ask Alice, Columbia's invaluable source of sexual communication information, has a lot of tips on having this conversation comfortably, like picking your place and time carefully and being direct. If you'd like to get sexual information in other senses before you go further, like whether they have kinks or what their sexual expectations are, it doesn't have to be a crisp, professional conversation; working your way into each others' sensual headspaces can be a very intimate experience all on its own.
3. "Let's Explore First"
This is a good tactic if you still want to have some kind of bodily intimacy, like spooning, kissing, or naked time together, but aren't prepared to go all the way yet. What are you OK with? If you don't feel safe or familiar with them or their body yet, you have the right to take things at your own pace, and to express desire as you see fit. Building that intimate communication of touching can be very important.
Non-sexual acts of intimacy, as now-famous research by professor of psychology Sonya Lyubomirsky has indicated, are the foundations of happy relationships; couples develop a language of safety, care, and affection via bodily touch, like holding hands, touching elbows, or rubbing backs. Psychology Today highlights that research as a crucial part of fixing broken relationships, but it should also be part of your mindset if you want another way into feeling intimate with a partner, without skipping to sex straight off. It's a two-part solution: you get to feel closer and more intimate, and your partner will feel as if they're part of a process.
4. "This Isn't About Playing Games"
The denial of sex while dating has been wrapped up in many cultural patterns and judgements, from concepts of female virginity and promiscuity to the notion that having sex on the first date will mean your partner won't commit. (Which: nonsense.) This does mean that a choice to delay sexual intimacy may worry a prospective partner, and create concerns that you're following some obscure "playbook" or attempting to follow some weird psychological plan. You can't necessarily blame them; the idea of "mind games" around sex and relationships pops up regularly in media culture, particularly in heterosexual partners. If they're worried about this, encourage them to talk about it.
If you can't create trust that you're not stringing them along, you may have a compatibility issue.
5. "I'm So Attracted To You"
If the issue isn't centered around your partner's sexual attractiveness, it is a good idea to reassure them about it. No matter how sane and intelligent your new partner is, at some point doubt might creep in: "it's me, she/he just doesn't want to get undressed with me because I look/sound like [insert dramatic comparison here]". Reassurance in partnerships can be tricky and create problematic patterns if it's done too much, but remember that you're just starting out; this person doesn't know you very well yet, and so can't make evidence-based judgements about your perspective quite yet. Showing that you're attracted to them even if you aren't quite prepared for sex yet is a good way to mediate that concern.
But let's be clear: attraction doesn't mean you owe sex, and they should know that. If they "assume" that because you kiss them you're down for anything, get sulky when you're not, or don't understand why you're drawing the boundaries, your consent's not being respected. That's a deal-breaker.
6. "Let's Talk About What You Want"
OK, so you may know why you want to go slowly and what's necessary for you to feel safe and ready. What about them? Make this a two-way conversation so that it's not all about your needs, and discuss how they're feeling and what they'd like. If what they'd like is to be boning you constantly, you're going to need to find some way to compromise or discuss things so that you both feel listened to.
Psychology Today points out a very interesting 2012 study that found that "sexual transformation," or making sexual compromises in relationships, actually made them stronger, as long as everybody talked about it and whether it was working. I'm not saying you should throw out your own requirements for sexual happiness and focus entirely on theirs; but this is clearly a joint endeavor, and they need to be heard too. Chances are that they'll be happy to wait and support you until you're ready, but their desires do matter.
That said, if they're not happy and make a fuss, or wheedle, or complain, or overflow with compliments to "persuade" you into bed, that's a big NOPE. You don't owe anybody anything.
7. "Thanks For Listening To Me On This"
Sexual communication! It rocks! And if you've got a new partner who's really listening and trying to understand where you're coming from, validate them for that. It doesn't always happen, and it's a fantastic sign for the future that they're tuning into your thoughts and needs about the bedroom. Don't act as if they're the second coming (pun intended), but do express gratitude. For one thing, a University of Georgia study in 2015 found that saying thank you to partners and appreciating their efforts is a route to a happy relationship. For another, it reinforces that this is what you like and need.
Now, go build your relationship to the point where you just might want to do things requiring reinforced headboards. And remember: if they're not cool with waiting in any form (grumbling, disgruntlement, refusal to listen, sweet-talking, cold-shouldering, anger, or confusion), they do not deserve to get into your gorgeous underpants.
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