In social situations, we often follow scripts. For instance, if you run into two people you personally know that don’t know each other, they expect an introduction.
In my opinion, not all social scripts are bad or wrong and, without them, interacting with others would be a lot harder. For instance, it’s helpful to know what is expected of someone in a store or a job interview. But they can also be problematic and lead to discrimination for folks who don’t know the scripts or can’t follow them. And I believe many social scripts need to be questioned or changed.
There are relationship and sexual scripts, as well, with similar advantages and issues.
Some scripts are helpful, such as getting verbal consent before touching someone.
But scripts — and the underlying beliefs that these scripts are based on — don’t work all the time or for all people. For instance, there’s a common societal script that any sexual activity is foreplay that leads to penetration.
And here’s the problem: When you’re used to following certain scripts, abandoning them can be uncomfortable. It’s like being accustomed to multiple choice tests and being asked to write an essay.
What do you do with the blank page?
Following a script, at least there was some idea of what normally came next. You kiss, then you move to petting, then some clothes come off …
When you don’t assume what someone else wants or how they want to be treated, where do you start?
I’d like to question some of the beliefs that drive these scripts, and then offer suggestions about what to replace them with.
Sex = Penetration
I think a lot of our sexual scripts are based on of a narrow idea of what sex is: particular forms of genital penetration.
So is oral a form of sex or foreplay? What about mutual masturbation? Can an activity that doesn’t involve the genitals at all still be considered sex?
Questioning what is included when we talk about sex isn’t new, especially for queer folks. But even queer folks can limit what “sex” is.
For example, I have a gay male friend who’s not super into anal penetration, either giving or receiving. There are other sexual activities he finds much more enjoyable.
But gay sex equals anal sex, right?
So my friend never has sex if it doesn’t involve anal?
See the problem?
Here’s a potential problem when we equate sex with penetration.
For many folks, sex is the ultimate bonding act with a romantic partner. They can feel disconnected from their partners without a consistent sexual bond. This is also problematic for asexual folks or people with lower sex drives.
It’s also a problem when one person equates sex to one thing that their partner may not enjoy or be able to do. What happens when genital penetration is painful or related to past trauma?
When I started questioning this idea that sex = penetration, I came to the conclusion that I don’t actually care what sex is. Sexual activities are tools that help us bond with each other, have fun, feel pleasure, procreate, get off, explore … does it matter what that tool is labeled?
Perhaps instead of questioning what sex is, maybe we can question what fulfilling acts of intimacy could be. What do you need to feel connected to your partner? What can you not live without? Even if they’re sexual in nature, they may not need to involve penetration.
Partner exercise: Make a list of all the sexual or erotic things you enjoy. What makes you feel the most satisfied and/or the most vulnerable? What helps you feel the most connected to the other person? Maybe these are separate lists or maybe they’re the same. Notice where the overlap is.
What if the ultimate acts of sexual intimacy — the things that make us feel most connected to each other don’t involve penetration? I wonder if we can train ourselves to value these things more.
Sex is over when one or more partners orgasm
Along with the belief that sex equals penetration, it’s a common script that sex continues until one or both (or all) partners orgasm, and then sex is over. In hetero scripts, sex is often over when the man orgasms.
[Note: I just wrote this whole thing about sex being more than just penetration. But to question this script, I’m going to use the term “sex” as shorthand to mean activities involving the genitals in ways that may lead to an orgasm. Sorry, sorry.]
I usually tell a new lover up front that I don’t orgasm easily and that sexy times are just as enjoyable without me cumming. For one thing, I often feel more in the moment when I’m not focused on trying to reach that specific end goal.
The pressure is off! I can enjoy myself, and be in the moment! But … when is sex over, then?
Silly, right? But I think this is one of the most commonly adopted sexual scripts. Did you cum yet? No? Then we need to keep going.
There can be other goals and other ending points besides an orgasm.
Sometimes during sex, I think we get super stuck on achieving this one goal: making each other orgasm. And if this goal isn’t reached for both partners, it can lead to feelings of shame and disappointment.
How do you know if your partner enjoyed themselves if they didn’t cum? Ask and trust their answer.
If you want to stay goal-oriented, here are some other goals to consider:
- Being completely in the moment.
- Trying something new.
- Getting your partner to make fun noises.
And if you’re used to having orgasms signal the end of sex, try one of these:
- Use your words. Tell your partner you’re satisfied and had fun. Ask if they’d like anything else.
- Set up a signal, like kissing each other’s foreheads.
Seriously though … what do we do with the blank page?
Going back to that essay analogy, when we start to question everything we’ve learned about how to have fun, sexy times with another person, does it still feel like a blank page, or one giant question mark?
In my opinion, where we used to rely on scripts to answer those questions, we have to start using our imagination, our courage, and our words.
Imagining what we want and asking for these things can be hard, and we just have to get used to it (and find the right people to explore with).
One way to at least get used to asking for what you want is through negotiation. In the kink community, folks expect to talk in detail about what’s going to happen. We talk about what our limits are, what we want to get out of our time together, what we most enjoy, and what we’ll need after play finishes.
Believe it or not, this negotiation can be fun and sexy. What would happen if we started to casually negotiate any sexy time, regardless of whether it had any kinky component? Instead of just assuming that the thing we did last week is what we should do tonight … what if we talked about it?
Talk before, during, and after. Process what worked and what you’d like to try next time. Talk about what you learned about yourself or the other person! The more we grow accustomed to using our words, the more comfortable and normal it will feel. The result: more vulnerable, authentic, deep connections with each other.