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Just because someone feels sexual or feels ready to be actively sexual with others doesn't mean they'll always want or feel ready for everything, all the time or at any time, or that they'll always want or feel right about putting those feelings into action. Because a relationship has become sexual doesn't mean one pace fits all, or that what felt like the right thing last week will feel like the right thing next week. And while it might seem like sex should feel right because you're in a certain kind of relationship, or have been in one for a certain length of time, because you have certain feelings, because you're a given age or because you feel the desire to be sexual, none of those things mean that sex at a given time will feel right, even if it feels right for a partner or did for you before. Our limits and boundaries often shift and change, and sometimes we don't even know what they are until we realize we or someone else has overstepped them.
A lot of young people think that sex is like Pandora's Box: once you open it, you can't ever close it and everything you took out of it can't ever be put back in, whether you like it or not.
But that's just not true: just because we've done something once sexually never means we have to do it again or always have to do it. Just because something felt right once, or in one situation, doesn't mean it feels right now or always will in every situation. And sometimes what felt like the right pace for a while can later feel way too fast in hindsight. If and when that happens, we never have to stay at a given pace: we always have the choice to slow things down and only do whatever it is that feels right for us at a given time, even if that's nothing at all.
You might already know and recognize that things are or have been moving too fast for you. But sometimes people don't realize that's what's going on, and figure the way they're feeling must be about something else, like fear about pregnancy or commitment, a health issue, or stress about another part of life. This can be a challenging issue, especially in ongoing sexual relationships, so it's not surprising that sometimes folks try to dismiss it. If things are moving too fast for a partner, if they don't tell you, or you just assume that your pace is the right one for both of you, you might not even know the pace isn't right for them.
Okay, so you know things have been moving too fast. But what can you do once you know that? How do you pull back the reins and slow it all down?
Speak up. This is the first thing you've just got to do. You need to say something very directly and set very clear limits with your words.
When you do talk about it, don't pussyfoot with maybes. When you or a partner want or need to slow things down, they need to slow down, no ifs, ands or buts about it. So, put whatever your limits are out there firmly and clearly, whether they're about not wanting to do certain sexual activities yet (or ever), not wanting to do them without certain things you need in place (like contraception, safer sex, physical safety, private space, more trust built, more time together, whatever it is), or about just needing for all kinds of sex to be taken off the table, period.
Then you can talk about why you want and need a change of pace. Explaining why isn't required in order for a partner to respect limits, or because you need to prove to anyone that you should be allowed to have whatever limits you do. You're entitled the slower pace you need no matter what, even if someone else doesn't get, understand, or agree with you, and even if and when you don't want to explain your why.
If you talk about why you need to change the pace, that's so the other person can better understand you and where you're coming from, and get a better sense of how they can best support you moving forward and help to adjust the pace so it works for you. It can also be helpful to let the other person know that your limits are what you're saying they are until you tell them otherwise, which you will if and when you feel ready to adjust them. They need to understand that this is what they're going to be and you expect them to respect them and not try and push back on them at all.
You can also ask a partner to help you hold a line. It can be so easy to get caught up in the moment and forget or dismiss limits we know are really important when we're thinking more clearly. Teamwork can help. You can make an agreement that if you space out your limits -- or are still getting used to asserting them, so are struggling with that -- a partner will remind you both what they are, and will hold them with you unless you talk about them first, when you're not in the heat of the moment, and make clear your feelings have changed and that you are more comfortable moving forward.
If you feel completely unable to talk about needing things to go more slowly, or if you have said something, but a partner is ignoring you, dismissing you, or trying to talk you out of slowing things down, it's wise to get out of that relationship or situation, period. Feeling that unable to talk and set limits is often a cue that you or a partner are just in way over your heads or that you're in an unhealthy relationship or unsafe situation. Partners who are safe for us will never intentionally cross, dishonor or dismiss our lines. Safe sexual situations allow and support limits and boundaries. If people we're with sexually won't let things be safe for us, we've got to make things safe for ourselves by getting away from those people or situations.
Put more focus on the other parts of your relationship. Unless a relationship is only a sexual relationship, and nothing else, or a sexual experience is a one-time fling, sex is just one part of your relationship. The other parts not only usually have a whole lot to do with what's going on sexually, they need just as much time, attention and energy as the sexual aspect does.
Sometimes we can feel like we're focusing too much on one part of a relationship and would like to focus on that part less: that can also happen when we're avoiding issues in the other parts of a relationship or the other parts of our lives. If things are going too fast, that can be a good indication that the rest of your relationship could probably use some more attention, and giving it more of your time can help slow the sexual pace.
You can do things like better developing your friendship, doing more of the kinds of things you do with friends together. Maybe you want the romantic part to get more TLC, so you can go on more dates (or if you never really have, start going on them) or spend some more time having deep talks. If you haven't really connected your relationship with the others in your life, you can do more of that, spending more time with partners and friends and family. Doubling up in hangouts or dates with other couples, or doing more group dating can also sometimes help slow things down. Maybe you both are creative in some way and could spend time together that way. Just think of all the awesome bands we have to thank for partners doing creative work together: The White Stripes, Over the Rhine, Yo La Tengo, Talking Heads, Blondie, Culture Club, Fleetwood Mac, The Arcade Fire, Sonic Youth and ABBA.
Try taking two steps back. Can you imagine trying to learn to drive the first time by immediately going onto the freeway? (I can: I had a friend who said she was sure I could learn to drive a stick shift on the first try on a highway. Are we all very lucky no one died? Yes, yes we are. Was that outrageously stupid? Yes, yes it was.) You would probably be far smarter than to try and do something like that. Instead, you'd start in a class, or in a driveway or on side streets. And if, when it came time where being on the highway felt right, then you tried it and were freaking out or clearly not yet able to do it well, you'd probably be a smartypants and head back to those sidestreets again.
We don't all have the same idea or experience -- even from one relationship to another -- of sexual progression. In other words, not everyone sees one given activity as going this far, and another as going further. Whatever your own idea is of how far you and someone else have taken things, try just stepping it two steps back on that line and sticking there for a little while until you feel like moving to whatever your next-step-forward is feels like the right pace.
When you do that, make a joint agreement with your partner to stay at that two-steps-back place for a while, and a plan to talk about how you're both feeling about it before you agree to move things forward again. Chances are that while you're hanging back a little, you'll get a better idea of what you need to feel more comfortable moving forward, and you can talk about those realizations together as you have them.
Save sex for times when you're not in a hurry or are trying to hide it. It's easier for things to move way too fast, or to feel like you've no choice but to rush in when you've only got five or ten snuck-in minutes for sex.
While sometimes quickies can be fun, more times than not, they don't tend to make for the good stuff if they're all that's ever happening. Sex that people really enjoy and feel enriched by usually takes way more time than that, especially when we're new to sex or a partner. Doing consent well alone will often take more than a couple minutes. Additionally, if we're being sneaky or secretive with sex, it can be tough to make our best choices.
If you have very limited time and privacy for sex, it might be better to figure that means you're probably just not at the point where a sexual relationship is sound and likely to be so great for you. Instead, you may do better setting sex aside for now, until a time when you really do have the kind of time and space it, and you, tend to require. In the meantime, you can use those stolen moments for things that don't usually demand more than five minutes and which you also may not need to hide: a hug, kissing, talking together, cuddling or even daydreaming out loud about a time in life when the timing will be more right.
Check to see if there's anything you or a partner might be using sex to avoid. Sometimes we'll move things too fast or let them go faster than we'd like because being sexual, even when we're not comfortable with it or the place we're at with it, allows us to avoid far more uncomfortable issues.
For example, sometimes things wind up going too fast because you or your partners are nervous, apprehensive or embarrassed to talk about and set limits and boundaries, or to bring up things like safer sex, are worried that a partner won't respond well to those conversations. Maybe you're not feeling confident enough about your body or your gender identity to be sexual in some ways, so are whizzing ahead to others not so much because you want to do them, but because they're ways you can appease a partner where you don't have to get naked or have them look directly at your genitals. If you're having problems in a relationship, it can be easy to avoid addressing them by filling time together with sex, or to fool yourself into thinking sex can fix them. If you feel like you need to have sex in order for a partner to stick around or get interested in a deeper relationship that's another common reason some folks go over their own speed limit.
Take some time to really think about the bigger picture. How are the other areas of your relationship: all good, or are there parts where things aren't so good or you feel like they could be a lot better? Anything you've been avoiding talking over with your partner or asking for that you think you need?
What about with you and your own sexuality? Do you really feel like you're in a place in your own life, your own growth, and your own sexuality where the sexual activities you've been engaging in are the right things for you, or happening in the right context, for you right now? If not, think about what you'd need to feel differently. Maybe you need to first be in a better space with your self-esteem or your body image, maybe you need to get more comfy with your sexual orientation, maybe you need to learn to be more assertive or to feel more confident in the importance of what you want, not just what someone else does or what you think you should want, but know you really just don't just yet.
It's not always easy to be honest with ourselves like this, especially if it means addressing hard or scary issues, being real when things aren't as great as we'd like them to be, or accepting that even though we'd like to be ready for sex or a sexual relationship, we're just not. But if you can take the plunge and just go to those places, then act from that honesty, you're going to feel a lot better, and so is your sex life.
Make a list of what you want out of sex. Sometimes when things get speedy, we can realize we've forgotten to really check in with ourselves, and stay checked in, about what we really want. We might even come to even realize we've never taken stock of what we want and need for ourselves, but instead just let others set the pace until or unless something didn't feel right for us. Maybe you even let others set that pace when it didn't feel right and have kept on doing things even once you knew they didn't feel right for you.
Sit down with paper and pen (or laptop and fingertip, whichever). Try to write down what you really, truly want out of your sex life at this point in time: physically, emotionally and in your relationship(s). Even if thoughts don't seem clear or logical, just write them down anyway. Then sit with it, and try to get a clear sense of what you want, and how the pace you have going on isn't working for you. Once you have a better hold on that, you can also write down what changes you need to make, and then share them with anyone you need to and you'll probably be able to express yourself with way more clarity and confidence than you might have otherwise.
Balance how much you talk about sex with how much you have sex. If there's anything that anyone working in sexuality knows, it's that people having problems or issues with sex usually are not talking about sex and those issues enough or at all. When I say talking about sex, I mean really, really talking about it and talking about the hard stuff when it comes up, not just the easy ooh-baby stuff.
Talking about sex can not only better ensure sex is right for everyone involved, it often gets us just as close, and sometimes closer, to each other as having sex can. We can also talk sexually to each other (now I am talking about the ooh-baby stuff) instead of actually putting sex into action physically, whether that's in person, over the phone or online. Doing that together can not only be pretty sexy, it can also give you an opportunity to talk through any dynamics that come up when you're just using words to talk about things that you know are or would be a problem for you if and when you're both putting those words into action.
It's a pretty good rule of thumb that if you or a partner aren't able to talk about what you're doing well or at all, then you probably shouldn't be doing it. Try and make sure that whatever you're doing, you're talking about it first before acting on it, rather than the other way round.
Explore other kinds of physical intimacy. While what sex is for people and what it isn't isn't just about genitals or no-genitals, there are ways we can be physically intimate with people that either aren't genital or aren't sexual at all. Touch is a vital thing in everyone's life, and a lot of what we get out of sex with people is about touch in a more general way; sometimes we might even be getting sexual when what we actually want is to touch and be touched nonsexually. Sometimes people wind up having sex, for instance, when what they really want is just to be held.
If you find your mind drifting back to that place that says cuddling or other kinds of non-genital or nonsexual affection are moving backwards, think again. When we get sexual with people, it's not about ditching all those other ways of touching and being touched that came before, and we'll often feel like we're missing something vital if we do ditch all other kinds of touch and limit ourselves and others to only sex or only genital sex. Getting sexual is about expanding the ways we can touch and be touched, not about swapping one bunch of ways of doing that for another.
If slowing down the pace for you means moving away from genital sex, but you still want to express sexual feelings physically, you can do that. Our whole bodies have the capacity for pleasure, after all, not just a few select inches of them. One benefit of scaling things back for a while and sticking to other body parts is that when and if we do feel ready to have genital touching, we'll have learned or remembered lots of other ways to touch each other that we can add to genital sex which make our sexual experiences feel a lot bigger and more interesting.
Masturbate. That's just a suggestion, not an order. Obviously, if feeling sexual at all doesn't feel right to you, then masturbation might not be something you want to do either. But otherwise, remember that masturbation isn't just something people without partners do, or that people do when they can't get something they want from a partner. It's something most people have done and many people do even when they have sexual partners, because masturbation and partnered sex aren't the same thing. While they have some overlap, and can both fulfill certain desires or needs, sometimes sex with ourselves will feel best or like what we want, while other times sex with partners will, even when both are an option.
As well, sometimes people seek out sex with partners with the idea that another person can "give" someone their sexuality or make them sexual when they aren't otherwise (they can't: your sexuality is yours, already in you, and is a part of you with or without someone else). In a similar way, some people seek out sex with partners instead of sex with themselves when what they're only really ready for is a kind of sex where they're only thinking of themselves and their own pleasure, or for sex where they don't have to think about or access all the things we need in order to have sex with partners responsibly and safely.
So, when you want to chill out a bit with a partner, that can be an awesome opportunity to spend more time on and with your solo sexuality. Not only can masturbation give you a safe place to be sexual at your own pace and get off, it can also help you better clarify what you want and need from sex with a partner and when the time is more right for sex with someone else, and when it's a better call to have it all by yourself.
Or, you can put your sexual energy into something that isn't sex at all. While it may seem like sex is the only place for sexual energy, it's really not. It's just the most obvious place, and a place that's as good as any. But just like when we feel like screaming, we can scream, or we can do something different with that energy, like creating art from that feeling, or redirecting that urge in another way, the same goes with sexual energy.
You can think of it as conserving sexual energy to redirect or use it in another way, rather than those feelings and that energy being something that you feel, and either express through sex or, when you don't, just sits all pent up and agitated inside your body. Practitioners of tantra, some kinds of yogis and some religious traditions talk about utilizing (they'll often call it "transmuting") sexual energy this way. It's part of what Audre Lorde was talking about when she said things like this:
Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe.
...when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering, and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like the only alternative in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within.
Things like that may sound lofty, unfamiliar, or even a little weird to you. But it's not like you don't know these can be some big, powerful feelings, and that they can potentially result in some big, powerful stuff, and not just big bad stuff, but big good stuff. And they're not just potentially powerful when you are or aren't having sex: they're also potentially powerful when you bring them into other parts of your life.
So, sometimes when you feel a desire for sex you can try feeling those feelings in your body in a different context, like by dancing, doing some yoga, bringing it to whatever your sport is or into some other kind of movement with your body instead. Or, you can use them to boost creativity, putting that energy into your creative work. Some people who pray or otherwise express their spirituality even try and bring that energy to those endeavors.
Extra bonus the first: if you do things like that with someone else when you're feeling that energy, you get a nearly identical flood of chemicals into your body that happen with sex. Extra bonus the second: unless people are feeling resentful about it, rather than positive, you'll probably get to carry over some of the feelings from that time into the next time you do get sexual, which can make things even more exciting than they would have been otherwise. And on that note...
Learn to enjoy anticipation. Despite using a song of the same name to advertise it back when, I think it's safe to say that being unable to get the ketchup out of the bottle is not some super-exciting, thing you can't wait to have happen that's getting you more excited about it the longer you wait. It's just frustrating. But that's mostly because ketchup is only ketchup. It's not exactly likely to knock your socks off. Sex, however, has that potential, and is something people often tend to feel a little more jazzed about when they think they might engage in it soon with someone they're into.
Sure, it can also be frustrating to hold back when you feel desires for sex, or want to feel those desires and you just don't now or yet, especially when you also have the opportunity to express them with a partner. At the same time, if and when you feel rushed or pushed or like it's all whizzing past you, it's usually nothing close to your best sex ever. Too? It is going to happen plenty of times in your life that you're going to have an interest in sex when the other person you want to have it with doesn't or isn't available for that, and you're going to need to learn to be okay with that. Holding back for a bit, or in some ways, doesn't have to be a big bummer. It can not only make us or a partner feel better when moving forward feels wrong, it can also rev up our excitement whenever the time and opportunity to do the things we're holding back on does feel right.
You're going to have a learning curve when it comes to figuring out when a sexual pace is right for you and others and when it isn't. Not only will it not be the same for every relationship or every sexual experience, it can sometimes take us some time to learn to really identify our feelings of what's right for us and what isn't, to sort out the difference between feeling anxious because we're just excited and anxious because something isn't right for us when it comes to sex. You might have already found that sometimes you haven't been able to know things were going too fast until you were already in them: that's okay. So long as you pay attention to and honor your own feelings as you experience them, you'll get better and better at seeing them coming earlier.
It's also going to happen during our lives that one sexual pace is not going to fit every day or every phase of life, even when people feel sure they're going to have the same level of sexual desire forever, have the same kinds of sexual feelings for someone forever, or feel great about doing a given sexual thing or having a certain kind of sexual life forever. Sex and sexuality are very fluid, just like the rest of our lives and who we are: they are both going to change sometimes, as are our feelings about them and our needs with them, including at times when we really don't expect change, and sometimes when we really wish things could stay exactly the same.
While that can make us feel uncomfortable, or mean we have to make hard or difficult choices sometimes, we usually wind up feeling way more uncomfortable and unhappy if we try and force ourselves to do things that don't feel just right instead of going with our own flow and respecting our wants and needs when it comes to sexual pacing. If you feel like you don't really have the option of slowing things down when you need to, take the time to figure out why, and make whatever changes you need to to make room for that, whether that's about changing a relationship, changing the way you communicate or changing your mind.
There is nothing wrong with slowing things down or asking someone else to slow down: when that's what you need, it's the only thing to do to do right by yourself. Obviously, there are other things in our lives that we have to do even when the timing doesn't feel perfect or when we'd rather be doing something else, but sex should never be one of those things. Sex should always be 100% optional. Sex should also always be something that is about and reflective of us and where we really are at with it: that's a major part of what makes our sex lives and our sexual relationships good ones that feel good, inside and out.