Getting comfortable with sex and intimacy

A little more conversation, a little less action please

Written by: Kelly Chia

My journey to becoming comfortable with sex has been a bit . . . tenuous, to say the least. For a long time, I thought I didn’t have to think about sex. Fresh out of high school and entering university, I had only just become comfortable with the idea of my sexuality. But sex? I hadn’t had my first kiss yet, and I didn’t know where to start. In the kind of relationship I wanted to have, I knew I wanted to connect to my partner in that way, but that was the extent of it.

I was lucky in that I had a lot of resources readily available: safe sex supplies and learning resources, a group of supportive friends, and no one to force me through the threshold when I wasn’t ready. 

The hardest part of being comfortable with sex was knowing how to have a conversation about it in complete understanding of its intimacy.  I felt that it was a complex and scary thing that I didn’t know how to contend with or talk about, so I didn’t. 

It wasn’t just that I couldn’t talk to my friends about it; I couldn’t even admit to myself that I was interested in sex. 

It just felt too vulnerable. The things that I liked, the parts of my body, and my curiosity were surrounded by a fog in my mind. They existed but felt disconnected wholly from my day-to-day life. As soon as I knew that the thoughts were there, I’d shut them off.

When I entered my first romantic relationship at 21, I decided to try and figure out what interested me. We had our first kiss and I blushed for weeks, feeling like the human embodiment of fizzy pop. As things proceeded, I gradually felt that tinge of fear flare up.

Asking my partner to slow down after a make out session, I found that I genuinely didn’t know what I was scared of or how to express it. So I started writing a journal entry (aptly named “Sexuality”) about all the fears I had after we made out. I’m Chinese and my partner’s white, and I wanted absolute certainty that he was not fetishizing me. 

I was scared at even the thought of pregnancy. I had never tried anything penetrative before, and I was worried about the pain — I mean, I continue to struggle with tampons. 

But mostly, I was afraid of the vulnerability. No one had seen my body before, and I wasn’t even fond of looking at it too closely. 

Finally laid out in front of me, the fog started clearing up a bit. I reviewed my entry, then told my partner everything I was concerned about. It was embarrassing, but it felt like such a big weight off my shoulders. We continued to have heart-to-heart conversations about how we both felt. 

My partner never once made me feel inadequate or awkward for expressing my worries — in fact, he told me his own. We talked about our fears, boundaries, and how to signal to each other that we wanted to slow down. How we didn’t always feel great in our bodies, no matter how attractive we found each other. Having a safe space to openly communicate my worries and have them be addressed changed everything. 

Why hadn’t it been that easy to talk about my boundaries earlier?

I realized then that part of my discomfort with sex was due to a habit of shutting out the times when my boundaries were breached. I had known consent was important but over the years, my own hold on the word and its meaning had eroded. I do not mean to understate the importance of consent, but rather to emphasize how difficult it can be to realize that it’s being breached. 

The truth is, I shut a lot of memories out of my mind to avoid thinking about how I had been uncomfortable in the past. How in high school, there had been many touches and glances that I was silent about. How there were many weird conversations that I laughed off or ignored. It took me years to even realize that one particular interaction I had wasn’t okay, and even longer for me to admit it. 

I realized that I had been willing to compromise my comfort to keep the peace in these interactions by not speaking out. I didn’t know what to do when my comfort had just been a bit breached, especially when I only realized in hindsight that it had been breached.

None of these events rung the alarm bells I had been warned about, so it just became another thing for me to be quiet about. I felt like a bystander in my own body sometimes. It’s hard to admit but because of this, I did things I was uncomfortable with without fully realizing it, and probably would have again if I hadn’t thoroughly confronted what my boundaries were. 

That conversation was the first time I truly understood that my partner and I should both have equal say in our intimate relationship — a relationship where I felt like my body was mine again. I was in control of its boundaries, not a reluctant gatekeeper watching people casually trespass them. And this revelation meant everything, because I finally understood what a relationship was supposed to be.

Sex and all its worries was never something off limits for us to talk about, and though that should be the bare minimum, our explicit communication was very tied to my comfort. 

As soon as I could name my worries, I became more comfortable talking about talking about sex with my friends. That was key — part of my discomfort was that sex was on a sort of taboo pedestal. 

They kindly talked to me about sex, exchanging stories about its weirdness, reassuring me about my concerns, and gave me advice when I asked. No, I wasn’t weird for not initially being a fan of penetration, even just with tampons. Yeah, sometimes breasts are unevenly sensitive. Their constant support gave me more confidence, both in my body, and to stand up for myself.

As I continue to learn about this part of myself, my comfort comes back to my anatomy. I continue to write to myself about sex. The earlier journal entries are a bit funny to look back on: even in writing, I was visibly uncomfortable describing what felt good to me. Seeing the record of the things that I liked, disliked, or felt unsure about all helped validate my experiences. 

I am endlessly grateful for having a partner that understands all of these things and is steadfast in learning to listen to my signals, as I am learning his. But we also laugh! Not to mock each other, but rather to acknowledge when things are funny because they sometimes are in sex.

My journey unfolds with love, no matter its speed or how many pauses we need. Being able to express to my partner my wants and worries without being afraid of the consequences has given me a lot of comfort navigating my first time. Sometimes we get it wrong but we’re both invested in making each other feel comfortable, safe, and good. 

Most importantly, it has given me back the confidence to own my body, and that has meant everything.