Casual Sex and How to Communicate

We talk a lot about how to best communicate with your long-term partner about your sex life – as we should! But we aren’t always having sex with long-term, serious, live-in partners, and so our tools about how to talk about it need to include conversations with casual dates, hookups, or one-night stands. After all, if we know that even serious partners who know us well need to hear feedback about what we like and don’t, then someone we’ve only known for three hours definitely does.

At the same time, the whole reason these sexual partners are in a more casual space in our lives is that we don’t necessarily want or need a ton of emotional intimacy with them – so if you associate communicating about sex with hours of processing and heart-to-hearts, this idea might make you cringe. It doesn’t have to! Here’s how to get on the same page as a casual partner quickly and painlessly before having great sex.

Talk about safer sex and correct terminology

If you communicate about nothing else with your casual date, make a few minutes to check in about safer sex. Do you want to use barrier methods? What about for oral sex? Does anyone have any STIs to disclose? Have you both tested such that you’d actually know the answer to that question? Do you both feel comfortable exchanging fluids/going raw? None of these things have to be dealbreakers, but it’s important to make sure you’re both fully, and enthusiastically on board with whatever you decide.

Safer sex also includes emotional safety – nothing turns a fun night sour like hearing your date use a word you hate for you or your body. Correcting someone in the moment is awkward, and it’s hard to get the mood back on track. You can prevent this by quickly checking in before things start to get too hot and heavy; offer up your own preferred terms first to help make it more comfortable for them to be vulnerable too. “I love being called X in bed, and I usually use Y and Z for my body parts. Are there any words you want me to use or not use?”

Give the elevator pitch on what you want and what you don’t

You can (and some people do) spend lifetimes with someone figuring out what both of you are into and where it overlaps. This isn’t the goal here; what you can do, though, is communicate directly about the main activities you’re interested in and anything you definitely aren’t. (It sucks for everyone involved when one person is signed up for a tender cuddling makeout session and the other person thought they were here for a hot, anonymous quickie.)

This doesn’t have to look like a long, involved conversation – it can be offering a sex act and seeing if the other person has any other ideas. “You’re so hot — I’d love to go down on you if you’d be into that. I also have some toys we can use, let me know if you want to take a look.” If there are any sex acts you want to be clear you aren’t down for, especially if they’re more commonly “popular” ones, this can also be a space to bring that up — and even offer alternatives. “I’m not really down for penetration tonight, but I’d love to give you a striptease and use my hands on you — how does that sound?”

Cover your boundaries and worst-case scenarios

It’s also a great idea for everyone to have a heads up of anything that might shift, stop, or decrease your enjoyment of sex before you start. This can be anything in or out of bed – do you have to be at work by 7 am so you don’t do sleepovers? Do you have a roommate so you need to keep the volume down? Do you have a disability that there are some useful accommodations for? Do you have a past trigger you want your partner to be aware of?

Things like the last two can be tricky — we’ve maybe had people react poorly to such disclosures in the past, or we might feel sensitive or ashamed about bringing them up like maybe our partner won’t want to hook up with us anymore. Those feelings are extremely understandable but don’t need to drive your whole interaction. Your pleasure and getting your needs met are the focus here: you don’t need to confess or justify to anyone why you need anything, but can center what actions they can take that will be enjoyable for both of you. You also definitely don’t need to disclose the specifics of a trauma history or medical history unless you actively want to. “I can get sore if I stay in one position for too long, so might need to take breaks – I’ll let you know when I do.” “Sometimes being touched on my stomach feels weird – I’d rather you didn’t touch me there unless I ask you to.”

If you want, you can talk about how you’d like your partner to react in a worst-case scenario for a trauma- or medically-related incident — “sometimes I can get kind of dissociative during sex; I’ll let you know if I feel weird, and maybe you can grab some water and we can take a break for a minute. But right now I feel great and super into you, want to head to the bedroom?”

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