With midterms happening this week and next, we hope that you all are taking the time to invest in yourselves and your well-being! Listen to what your body and mind need, spend time with friends,catch up on reading the latest edition of Dear Tyler and Jay, or whatever works best for you to practice self-care.
Q:I’ve never been in a relationship or had sex with anyone. I feel awkward about it and don’t know how to put myself out there, even when I know other people have had those experiences. If I meet someone, how do I tell them this and what do I do if I want to take a relationship slow?
A: You would be surprised how many people have never been in a relationship or have been intimate with someone else! There is nothing wrong with not having had sexual or romantic experiences yet, but I would encourage you to be confident in yourself. Being your authentic self will attract the right people, so go out, have fun and be social for you and your joy. Chances are the person (or persons) who you want to have these experiences with will show up when you least expect it.
The best thing to do is to be honest about your experience thus far and communicate your expectations about taking the relationship slow, when you meet someone that you feel you’re ready to take that next step with. Be clear about this boundary and make sure that you and your partner(s) are on the same page about the speed at which the relationship is going! Respect, a comfortable pace, and equality are all signs of a healthy relationship, so if these things are happening when you’re talking to your partner(s) about sex, intimacy, or the relationship itself, that’s a great sign that they care for you and validate your wants, needs, and desires.
If someone truly cares for you, they will also center your happiness in the relationship and will understand your feelings. Don’t settle for a relationship that’s any less than someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident in your experiences and who you are!
I think it’s helpful to separate yourself from what other people are doing, or what you think they’re doing. The National College Health Assessment survey that the Office of Health Promotion and Well-Being asked Hopkins students to fill out in fall 2022 found that 49% of undergraduate respondents never had oral sex and 60% never had penetrative sex. The expectation to have sex is all over media, but media doesn’t reflect real life.
It’s okay to feel awkward about sex and I would encourage you to first think about your own boundaries and relationship with sex before involving someone else. Some questions to ask yourself:
What would you feel comfortable doing with someone you just met or someone you want to be in a relationship with?
What would you find fun or pleasurable?
What’s something you would be curious about doing, and what’s an absolute hard no for you?
What would make you feel more comfortable during sex in case those awkward feelings come back? More frequent check-ins? Breaks? A safe word?
By knowing your own comforts and limits, you can communicate them with whomever you’re interested in. It also normalizes this behavior for the person you’re with and might encourage them to do the same, but either way its best to ask them these questions. Whoever you choose to be intimate with should respect your boundaries around sex and not pressure or guilt you into changing them.
The university’s consent campaign is a helpful way to think about navigating that conversation. Asking for, listening to, and respecting someone’s boundaries around sex can help with those awkward feelings by making people feel comfortable and safe. And you deserve to be with someone who wants to make sure you are comfortable and everything is consensual. I also recommend having this conversation before you or someone else starts initiating sex.
My last point is to be safe! Learn about barrier methods; they’re not just for heterosexual penetrative sex but sex between people of different genders, bodies, and orientations. You can request a 1:1 well-being consultation to learn more about sexual health with a university health educator (or even a workshop if you know a group of people who’d like to learn more from an expert).
There are lots of ways to get free discreet barrier methods through the university, and our office has created handouts on sexual communication (including pleasure profiles and barrier negotiation) and masturbation tips.
Remember that alcohol and other substances can affect your judgment, and being intimate free from those effects can be more comfortable and pleasurable. Place matters, too; choosing a physical location where you feel at ease can make things go more smoothly.
Q: What is the best way to go about having difficult conversations with my significant other? I don’t see them every day, so when there’s something on my mind that’s been bothering me (that is related to our relationship or something they did), I mull over it for a few days and get very sad, until the next time I see them and can talk about it with them in person. What do you think I should do?
A:Having difficult conversations with anyone is a skill that we are not often taught, so it’s normal to be nervous about this! It can be hard to hold on to sad or uncomfortable feelings when you want to resolve the situation in the moment, especially when you can’t or don’t see your person every day. I have some of my favorite tips to navigate these conversations:
Try to make time to talk with each other about the situation, even if you aren’t together in person. If you are someone who likes to resolve conflict sooner rather than later, talk to your partner about having these conversations over FaceTime or a phone call to find a medium that you can both compromise on.
Establish ground rules for you and your partner to hold yourselves accountable when having hard conversations. This can look like using ‘I’ statements, giving each other space if either of you need to take a step back, or giving each other kind reminders to be active listeners. By being upfront about what your boundaries are and your expectations for the conversation, you are both showing each other respect and promoting safety within your space as you navigate difficult topics.
Finish your talk by asking about how they feel after the conversation and seeing if you both are on the same page about the outcome. This step is so important because each person should feel validated by voicing their thoughts and leave having felt that they were truly heard, in order to move forward together.
I also want to applaud you for taking the time to think about what you are feeling and process your emotions before having difficult conversations! Because we often react to situations out of emotion, thinking about what you are feeling and how you want to convey that to your partner is key to having a productive conversation. Also, don’t forget that practice makes perfect! Find what works best when communicating with your partner and soon enough, you’ll be fostering conversations like a pro.
Q: I have had a few relationships and situations and they’ve all been toxic. The guys I’m with are okay at the beginning and then they ghost me or say rude things or cheat on me. Why do I keep attracting people who aren’t good for me?
A: It might be easier to blame yourself, but there’s more to it than that.
Folks (even those who engage in unhealthy and abusive behaviors) usually put their best foot forward when first meeting people. Every relationship starts off in the honeymoon phase when everything is almost perfect. Your partner is sweet, spends a lot of time with you, and is more open to your needs. The honeymoon phase fades eventually, and this is when things can start to turn.
They might not make you a priority anymore, compliment you less, and point out issues more. Arguments and conflict can start to happen. If navigated properly, this phase can be an amazing opportunity for the relationship to develop and deepen if everyone involved uses healthy behaviors to navigate this new dynamic. If not, then the things you mentioned (being less respectful, cheating, or ghosting) can happen too.
It’s not that you ‘attract’ people who bring unhealthy or abusive dynamics into relationships. But that behavior might be more familiar to you. Humans are cognitively lazy and we look for patterns that are familiar to us sometimes, regardless of the benefit or harm. If you haven’t been in or seen many relationships (romantic, platonic, or familial) where healthy behaviors are the norm, then if someone displays them, it might seem strange to you.
You can’t control other people. Ability (or willingness) to show up in relationships with respect and accountability is up to them. It isn’t your fault if other people treat you poorly; a person capable of healthy behaviors would do so regardless of who they were with.
What you can control is how you think about relationships and your knowledge about them. Relationships and dating are skills to learn, and it takes practice and patience to find what you’re looking for. For more knowledge about healthy relationships, we suggest folks read OneLove and Love is Respect. You can also explore the Relationships archive on this blog.
We hope those resources will make readers more open to and aware of healthy behaviors, so they can give and receive respect and kindness in their relationships.
Keep sending in questions to Dear Tyler and Jay for all that you want to know about love, dating, and relationships!
Note: DT&J is intended to educate and spark discussion. The advice offered is intended for informational purposes only, and is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological, or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. If you need help getting started, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.