The “Other” Safe Sex … And How to Talk to Your Teen About It

June 20th, 2010

By Clémentine Malta-Bey
HCC Clinical Intern

So, you’ve made a point to educate your teen about safe sex: condoms, birth control, abstinence, even dental dam. Good for you! Think you’re off the hook? Think again. While physical health is an essential part of the conversation about safe sex, it is only half the story. Before they start dating or become sexually active, our teens need an education about psychologically safe sex too. Because this side of safe sex is so markedly absent from public discourse and sex education, most of us have no idea what psychologically safe sex is, much less how to talk to our kids about it. This article aims to help you with both!

So … What is this psychologically safe sex all about? It’s about making sure that both partners feel comfortable with what is happening when they are sexual with one another. It means both partners feel like they can say what they want/ don’t want, and have those needs and boundaries respected. Psychologically safe sex is about negotiating consent for everything that partners do together.

OK. Now that you get what psychologically safe sex is … How do you go about talking to your teen about it? One of the best ways is to take an interest in what your teen is watching/ talking about, and find teachable moments in which to weave in discussions about psychologically safe sex. Try watching your teen’s favorite TV show with him/ her, or offer to go to the movie of his/ her choice, and open up a dialogue about the sexual themes that will almost invariably come up.

Here are some themes you can discuss with your teen to help him/ her identify and create conditions for psychologically safe sex:

  • Just because you’re into it, doesn’t mean your partner is. Sometimes when people are sexual with one another they get really ‘into it’, and get carried away, assuming (sometimes erroneously) that their partner feels the same way. Making these types of assumptions is dangerous because it could lead to unwanted sexual activities … Which, for the person on the receiving end, can be traumatizing.
  • Silence does not mean yes. Just because your partner is not saying anything, does not mean that they are OK with what you are doing. Some people freeze when they feel uncomfortable or threatened, and don’t say or do anything. Before you move on to a different sexual activity, a different part of your partner’s body, or remove another layer of clothing, ASK your partner, “Is this OK?”
  • Saying yes to one act does not mean yes to another. Just because someone goes home with you does not give you the right to assume that they want to have sex. Just because someone goes down on you does not mean they want to have penetrative sex… and so on. NEVER make assumptions… Just ask!
  • “Blue balls” is no excuse to pressure someone into doing something they don’t want to do. Boys can take care of their needs themselves… It’s called masturbation!
  • Everyone has the right to change their mind. Just because you say yes to a sex act doesn’t mean that you have to go through with it if you don’t want to anymore. If you are in pain, or not enjoying yourself for any reason, speak up! If your partner changes their mind, honor their needs and stop what you are doing.
  • If your partner says “No,” or “Stop,” — STOP! If you keep going, that is sexual assault/ rape! If you and your partner are playing with fantasies, there should ALWAYS be a word for no (a “safe word”). If your partner says no, or the safe word, instead of getting upset, stop what you are doing and be supportive: ask your partner if they’re OK/ what’s going on with them.
  • Just because a person is exuding sexual energy, this does NOT constitute an invitation. Whether it’s the way someone is dressed, the way they are dancing, or what they are saying, just because someone feels sexy does not mean they want you to touch them/ have sex with them! Saying that someone dressed in a sexy way is asking to be touched is just as ridiculous as saying that someone wearing expensive clothes is asking to be robbed. Everyone owns his or her body and sexuality just as much as they own the clothes on their back.
  • Everyone has the right to say yes or no to any and all sexual acts, under any and all circumstances. Just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean that you owe them sex. Likewise, just because you pay for dinner does not mean that your date owes you sex.
  • Power differences between you and your partner have a direct impact on how easy or hard it is to say no. For example, if you are physically smaller or younger than your partner, it might be harder for you to say no to him/ her. Likewise, if your partner is your superior at work/ your boss, it can be harder to say no. Be aware of power dynamics between you and your partner… If you are in a position of power, take care to help even the playing field so your partner can feel emotionally safe with you. Let them know you want them to feel comfortable saying no to you. If you are in a position of lesser power with your partner, remember that no matter what, you can say no to anything, at anytime, under any circumstances!
  • Create a safe space with your partner to have open dialogues about your boundaries and desires. Trust, communication, and timing are key ingredients. The more you are able to talk about what you are comfortable with before you get hot and heavy, the less pressure you are likely to feel when you do get intimate, and the more likely you are to enjoy yourself!
  • The safest sex, psychologically and physically, is the sex you have with yourself! Aside from being safe, masturbation is a great way to explore and get to know your body, your desires, your boundaries, and your pleasure. How can you teach/ express these things to your partner if you don’t even know them for yourself?