Experts Recommend Discussing These 7 Things Before You Get Intimate

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

When you're starting to have sex with someone, you're probably very excited and full of anticipation. But before you get started, there are a few things you should talk about if you're having sex. It may seem unromantic to stop and have a discussion before you get down to it, but talking openly is crucial. It's not just important to share information that can prevent STIs or discuss any boundaries (although those things are both very important), but having these conversations can also help you enjoy sex more, according to experts.

The most important factor in a sexual experience — whether it's with someone new or a romantic partner — is consent. "It doesn't have to be awkward, but you should make space to ask for and reaffirm consent from your partners so that you're clear about next steps," Emily L. Depasse, a sexologist and sex educator, tells Bustle. "If you have any doubt in your mind, ask."

Knowing yourself is another important factor in order to have the most fulfilling sexual experiences possible. This might mean setting aside some time to explore your own body or asking partners to try new things to figure out if you like them or not. "Know what it is you're looking for within yourself and from potential partners, because they aren't mind readers," Depasse says. "Experiment with various sex toys. Learn how your body responds to certain touches and textures."

Here are some things you should discuss before sex, according to experts.

1. What Sex Means To You

Some people assume that sex has to include penetration, but that's definitely not the reality for everyone. Knowing your own personal definition of what sex means for you can help you set expections for an intimate encounter before it begins. "Sex can include a variety of behaviors and acts that may warrant discussion," Depasse says. If the kind of sex you're comfortable with, for example, includes no penetration, be open about that with your partner and suggest ways to have an enjoyable time within those boundaries. "This can often be a great time to discuss any sex toys that you might like to explore with your partners," she says.

2. Your Sexual Health Status

Understanding your sexual health status doesn't have to be daunting, but that doesn't mean it isn't important. If you're having sex, you should see your doctor or visit a clinic to verify your sexual health. "Many STIs present with no symptoms, so there is no visual way to determine if someone has an STI," Depasse says. "Disclosing your sexual health status is required for both parties to have access to informed consent." If you do find out that you have an STI or your partner says that they have one, approach the conversation with kindness. Also, know that this doesn't necessarily mean that you can't have sex, as long as you are both still on board. "There are plenty of ways to experience pleasure with an STI+ person," Depasse says.

3. Protection Methods

In most sexual situations in movies or TV, a condom for a penis is the only protection method talked about. But there are many options, and you and your partner should talk about them, whether they're someone you plan on only sleeping with once or you're in a committed relationship with. "You need to discuss if you want to use protection and if so, which kinds," certified sex educator Lindsay van Clief, tells Bustle. "Are you worried about unwanted pregnancy, STDs or STIs or both?" These aren't necessarily sexy subjects, but they're crucial in order to stay healthy and show mutual respect for each other's safety. Whether you decide to use hormonal birth control pills, an implant, an IUD, a vaginal condom, or another option, be clear and direct about what your plan is.

4. Any Previous Trauma

"If you are a trauma survivor, while it may be incredibly difficult for you to talk about, you should share this with your partner, your gynecologist, and any other person who could touch you in a way that might be triggering," Stephanie Wijkstrom, MS, LPC, NCC, a certified counselor specializing in relationships, and founder of Counseling and Wellness Center of Pittsburgh, tells Bustle. You might value your privacy in a situation like this, and that's totally OK. "This doesn’t mean that you share details that you do not want to," Wijkstrom says, "but that you let your partner know that you have a history that could cause strong emotions and responses to come up in relation to sex." This gives you the opportunity to discuss anything that could trigger you during sex so that you feel safer.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.

5. Boundaries

Speaking of triggers, it's important to discuss any boundaries you have before you start having sex. "If you have some aversions or 'no-go' zones, you should be able to communicate them," Wijkstrom says. This can feel awkward or scary, especially if you don't know the person you'll be sleeping with well. But doing the hard work of communicating your sexual boundaries is important for keeping you safe with a stranger, or creating the potential for deepening and strengthening your relationship with a committed partner, she says. "By communicating your boundaries you give the relationship a chance to be truly satisfying."

6. What You Want

"It's so easy to get wound up in discussions of avoiding and preventing STIs that these conversations can easily become clinical," Depasse says. If you've had any kind of sex education, you've probably been told that it's important to ask for consent and ask for someone's STI results before sleeping with them. But along with these safety measures should be an acknowledgement of how enjoyable sex is. "This is the time to talk about what we want from sex," she says. "Talk about sex toys, preferred lube, things that really get you going." Being clear about your desires means that your partner is more likely to be able to give you what you want.

7. Exclusivity

If you and the person you're having sex with haven't already had a talk about whether or not you're exclusive, this is a great time to do it. If this is just a one-night stand, then you probably don't expect that they aren't sleeping with other people. But if you're in the early stages of dating or just haven't had a talk about monogamy yet, you should definitely do that sooner rather than later. "You can never assume that because you are having sex with someone that they aren’t having sex with other people," Wijkstrom says. Instead, ask for a verbal verification from them. If they are sleeping with other partners, that might change the protection methods that you choose to use.

Next time you have sex with someone new, talk about these topics in order to stay healthy and feel safe. But don't forget to have fun too.