How to Get Comfortable

Nurturing comfort and confidence with sexuality, sexual identity and sexual interactions

Many people feel uneasy exploring sexuality. Not just the having s-e-x part, but also even just thinking about things like what they might like or the kinds of people they are or may be attracted to (if any!). So, how does a person explore sexuality, sexual identity and sexual interactions without feeling awkward? Spoiler alert: there’s no secret, no one-size fits all, no 10-step program and no magic spell I could cast that would take the awkward out of discovering who you are as a sexual being. But there are loads of things you can do to feel more secure and at ease in the process, no cap! Let’s dive in.

Your sexuality is essentially you as a sexual being. It’s a combination of things like your attractions, your preferences, your yucks and your yums . It’s the history of your sexuality and your feelings about it up until now. It’s you standing in front of a mirror and thinking, “Dang!  I feel sexy today.” There are emotional, physical and even cultural influences at play.

Exploring your sexuality is an adventure that will, quite literally, last a lifetime. You see, sexuality evolves. This can happen with age, making discoveries about yourself and having different life experiences (both the good and the bad.)

Cool, but how do I explore my sexuality without feeling weird??

Embrace feeling weird! New things are often awkward when you first try them out.  Sexual things included. But you’ve got to start somewhere! It also is totally okay for anyone and everyone to feel awkward: it doesn’t have to stop us from doing or enjoying things.  That being said, there are definitely concrete things you can do to feel more at ease with all things sex.

Get comfortable in, and knowledgeable about, your actual body

Looking at your body through a lens of appreciation, and not judgment, can be wildly empowering. Seriously! You can try it by looking at your whole body in a mirror. You can take off as many pieces of clothing as you feel comfortable with and really look, not in a quick, cursory way, but with the intention of really getting to know and seeing your physical self. You can use a hand or pocket mirror for the areas that are hard to see.

Notice things like all your amazing curves, dimpled scars, hairy bits, your various textures and the soft folds of your skin.  Is there something you like? Let yourself know! If you find yourself dwelling on the bits you judge, be intentional in not spending time there. Even better, reframe your judgment in a way that is more positive. Bodies are amazing, and the more you recognize yourself as the stunning creature you are, the easier it will be to embrace yourself as a sexual being who deserves sexual pleasure.

To learn what brings you sexual pleasure, consider touching your body. You can’t know without trying!

You can find a private space where you won't be interrupted and run your hands along your skin. Notice what feels neutral, what feels sexy and erotic, what feels uncomfortable and also what hurts. Do certain zones activate gender or body dysphoria? Do others bring euphoria? Maybe touching your chest is a huge turn off, but stroking your thigh feels exciting. Are there certain bits that are just too ticklish to be touched?

Most people think of genitals (like the penis, scrotum, vulva, clitoris, vagina and anus) as being the centers of sexual pleasure. For many people they def are, but genital touching is not the only kind of touching capable of bringing sexual pleasure!

When people make genitals their only focus during sexual experiences they aren’t as satisfied – nor are their partners – as those who are open to exploring the whole body. We have nerve endings all over the skin - be open to finding erogenous zones in unexpected places. If you land in a place that brings pleasure in a particularly intense way, you can spend more time there, not necessarily with a goal of orgasm, but that can definitely be a bonus if it happens!

Learning what brings your body pleasure, and giving yourself space to experience pleasure, is super important for developing your sexual confidence.

Explore your unique sexual identity

A person’s sexual identity is a part of who they are as a whole person. This can and often does include who people feel attracted to sexually, and/or who they have affectionate feelings for, based on gender, but can also include things like what kind of relationship models they prefer or are part of, what sexual activities they like, their own gender identity and more. There are a sea of terms people use to describe sexual identity including gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, polysexual, demisexual, graysexual, queer, kinky, poly and more!

In this, it can be tempting to get caught up in finding the right label for yourself. Being able to say, I’m gay! I’m pan! I’m bi! I’m a lesbian! I’m asexual! can feel empowering as you come into your sexuality. It can be especially helpful for queer people when it comes to finding community support and visibility. But the path toward one’s sexual identity isn’t always clear cut, and trying to figure out identity can also feel confusing and pressure-ful. Heck, even when people land on an identity that seems to fit, sexuality is fluid and will often evolve and change.

How to find your sexual identity in a way that feels natural, not forced

First off, break up with online quizzes of the am-I-gay-or-straight or what-kind-of-gay am I genre. Instead, write down the names of people you’ve been attracted to or have had sexy feelings for. It’s okay if you don’t know them personally or haven’t interacted with them. Are they all the same gender? People who look or present themselves a certain way? Or maybe you notice something totally different.

The goal of writing this out is not to find a specific sexual identity that defines you, but more to identify themes of what you are or aren’t into. In this process it’s possible to discover that you fit pretty well into an established sexual identity, but often people don’t. When existing terms don’t work, it doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a sexual identity, it might just mean you need to find words or terms that are a better fit. Sometimes people use mashups of what’s out there and sometimes just terms they make up for themselves.  Even something like, “I’m pansexual with a special appreciation for outdoorsy femmes” is totally valid!

A note on sexual identity for LGBTQIA+ and questioning people

Queerness is not celebrated in all families of origin, religious affiliations, schools, or geographic locations. Sometimes this leads a person to experience shame and fear when they come to the realization that they are LGBTQIA+ identifying.   Whether from internalized homophobia, fear of rejection from their family and loved ones or even fear of being the victim of a hate crime, experiencing negative emotions related to your sexual identity is troubling and can lead to chronic stress and depression.

If you find you’re dealing with stress, shame, fear, anxiety or other negative feelings when exploring sexual identity it can be helpful to find a trusted person, like a LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist or queer elder, to talk through what’s going on. If you don’t know any safe people, check out Scarleteen’s direct services for trustworthy 1:1 support – there are loads of resources to help you work through what you’re experiancing..

It sounds trite, but there is definitely something to the phrase, “It gets better.”  Because for many, it definitely does get better.  A helluva lot better.  Especially once you find safe places, chosen family, and communities of people where you can be fully, authentically and unabashedly you.

Preparing for sexual interactions with partners

For those who desire sexual interactions with partners, finding safe people to explore with and deciding what boundaries you need (before any sexy time!) is essential to getting comfortable with sexual experiences with other people.

Choose safe partners

Safe sexual partners listen to your wants, needs and desires, don’t judge, ask for consent before they touch or interact with your body and always stop when you ask for an activity to end or pause.

Not sure if your potential partner is safe? Ask yourself a few questions. Are you afraid of them? Have they been pushy or forceful with you? Are you worried they will laugh at you or judge you for your sexual interests? If you answered “yes” to any of this, explore it. Is it something you think you can work through with them or a complete deal breaker?

In general, if the stress or risk of working through the issue outweighs the benefit of a sexual interaction, it’s often a deal breaker. But if you explore your concern and decide it’s worth talking to a partner about, give it a go. You can’t always predict how a conversation will play out, but you can learn a lot about a person by engaging them on an issue.

Decide on your boundaries

Most people have limits and boundaries around what they are, and aren’t, interested in doing with a partner. Without them, people can have misunderstandings and even cause each other harm.

I like to think about sexual boundaries in three separate categories. There’s sexual stuff you totally dig and absolutely consent to doing, stuff you’re curious about but are not 100% sure you want to go through with, and some things that may be totally off limits. Exploring what you do or don’t want to try can be empowering.  I find it helpful to make concrete lists for these categories or even an all-about-me guide that can be shared with a partner.

Your lists may (and probably will) change day to day, year to year or be different with different people, so it’s a good idea to go back to them every now and again and make any necessary adjustments.

Communicate your boundaries

We all want to do this often and freely, both before and during sexual activities. The more clear and direct you are about it, the more comfortable you’re probably going to be during the actual sexual interaction (and the same usually goes for partners, since they won’t have to wonder or try to guess what is or isn’t okay with you). Talking about boundaries ahead of time can also lead to a huge increase in both being and feeling safe.

That being said, sharing boundaries, even when you're confident about them, can feel awkward or embarrassing. Perhaps it’s something you've never done before and you don't know where to start, or maybe you’re nervous about a prospective partner's reaction. Conversations about sex take practice before they feel normal, but the more you do it the better you will become at it.

A convo can in-depth or even as simple as, “I’d love to make out and would be happy to take off my shirt, but I want to leave my underwear and pants on today.”

Sometimes convos need to be about really specific boundaries in a unique situation. For instance, if you or a partner are having a period and the sight of blood makes you nauseous you’d want to talk about that before your stomach turns. For a situation like this you can say, “Let’s give vaginal sex a go but I’ve def passed out at the sight of blood before so I may need to slow down or stop if I start to feel queasy.” Safe and supportive partners will be thankful to know your boundaries ahead of time as it makes navigating sex a whole lot easier.

Another factor in boundary setting is deciding ahead of time what you plan to do to keep bodies safe from STIs and pregnancy, when applicable. Is there a risk for pregnancy or STI transmission with the type of sex you want to have? Will you use condoms? Be sure everyone has washed their hands? Deciding ahead of time how you plan to have safer experiences prevents an in the moment scramble when the encounter is already happening.

Set the mood

Having real privacy makes a big difference. If you’re afraid of being walked in on, it will be really hard to feel comfortable during a sexual interaction. It’s not that you should feel ashamed about sexual play, it’s more that sex-related activities are intended to be between the people actively engaging in and consenting to them, not random others. Choosing the right time and place before things get hot with another person can make a huge difference in feeling relaxed and ready for sexy interactions.

Once you find the place, you can experiment with additional ways to increase your comfort like locking a door, turning off lights or even setting a phone alarm if you know someone will be home at a certain time.

Warmups

A sexual interaction you want to have with a partner may be something you’re excited to do but still feel nervous about. Let’s say you want to make out with someone topless, but feel nervous about removing your shirt. You can start with something that feels less vulnerable for you, perhaps kissing, sexy talk, or a shoulder massage with clothes on could help you get to a place where you're physically and emotionally ready to take off your top.

You will know you’re ready to move forward with a sexual activity you were hoping to try when you notice your body relax and feel like it craves it. The reason this works? Science! Stoking the sexual-pleasure-fire, which some people call foreplay, leads to a cascade of neurochemicals that ignite pleasure, send blood flow to the genitals, increase lubrication in people who have vagina release pre-cum in people with penises (another form of lubrication,) and make nipples erect. All things that give a person that feeling of being turned on and wanting sexy encounters. It’s more than just a state of mind, it’s a physical and emotional transformation!

Plan for aftercare

It’s super common to be flooded with feelings after any kind of sexy encounter. Sometimes emotions can be positive and other times quite the opposite. Some people feel blissed out after sex, while others may find themselves tearful without knowing why. Some people experience feelings of shame or embarrassment. Irrespective of where you land in the spectrum of post-sex emotions, it can take a bit of time for the body and mind to adjust.

Aftercare practices are things people do to care for themselves and their partners after having sexual experiences. Some people may want to cuddle, others may need space, some people like having a glass of water while others may just need sleep. Good aftercare gives a person a chance to reset and recover in a secure and safe environment. Aftercare done well elevates the sexual experience from good, to hella great.

Still feeling nervous?

If you read this article and are still feeling nervous about certain aspects of it, that’s completely ok! It can even be a sign that you aren’t quite ready for whatever it is that’s giving you hesitation. Instead of pressing forward in ways that feel uncomfortable or rushed, be patient with your process. In fact, when people become sexual before they are ready it doesn’t always result in good things for them.  It’s much better to take your time and not compare your sexual journey with that of others.  We are all on our own timeline with these things and that’s nothing to be ashamed about, rather, it’s what makes us human.

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