Ask Amy #7: “Respectful Flirting for Queer Women”

Today’s advice question comes from one of my wonderful Patreon supporters, who has been very patient in waiting for me to get to it. I’ve also, I must admit, been sitting on this one a bit because knowing how to answer it was tricky.

The reader in question is a woman, in case that wasn’t clear from context. Let’s go…

Two women drinking coffee at an outside table. Only their arms are visible. For a post on flirting as a queer woman.“Hey Amy,

I like girls but am very nervous about flirting, in part because they’re so cute my brain melts, and in part because I want to be polite and respectful.

What are your tips on approaching cute humans in public places (cafes, bookshops, etc.) in a respectful way, to tell them their shirt is nerdy and cool, and to maybe indicate I want to start flirting with them?”

Oof. My dear reader, if I knew the definitive answer to this one, I’d date a lot more girls. But I will do my best, writing from the perspective of a woman who likes women and is maybe open to being flirted with by them.

A cool thing I learned about flirting a long time ago, which has always served me well, is to consider treating it as an end in and of itself. Flirting is a joyful activity as long as both parties are fully on board with it, and it does not necessarily need to lead to sex/a date/a relationship in order to be “successful”. This mindset will both help to guard you against crushing disappointment if that cutie you’re chatting to turns out to not be interested in taking things further, and helps to prevent you coming across as “creepy” or having an “agenda”.

To approach or not to approach?

When it comes to deciding whether to approach someone in public, it’s important to look for visual clues as to whether they may be open to being approached or not. If they’ve got headphones in, for example, or are hiding away in a corner behind a book or laptop, they’re probably either super busy or wanting to be left alone. Body language and general demeanor are important too. Does she look sad, stressed out, pissed off? That person is unlikely to be in the mood to chat. But someone who seems chilled out, happy or content is more likely to be open to meeting new people.

What to say?

A good way to approach someone and gauge if they’re interested in chatting to you is to offer an opener that they can either pick up and run with, or answer quickly then get back to whatever they were doing.

“I love your shirt! Where did you get it?” is a great one, especially if they’re wearing something that reflects a shared interest. You can also substitute “shirt” for bag, item of jewellery, shoes, cute notebook, etc. etc. Anything that clearly reflects an interest or personality trait. The key is to be genuine in your compliment. That way, if she’s not interested she can say thanks and you’ll have made someone smile. If she is open to more conversation, you’ve got a perfect first thing to talk about.

“Oh, I love [Author Name]” is also a good one if, say, you’re browsing the bookstore and see a cutie checking out one of your favourites.

Then, if she seems open and receptive, you can maybe tell her your name and ask hers, and see if you can get a conversation going. Ask if she wants to sit with you, or if she’s up for company at her table or would prefer to be alone. If you’re scared of backing her into a situation where she feels unable to say no, try the ball-in-her-court approach: “I’ve got to go meet my friend, but I’m [Name] on Facebook if you fancy looking me up. I’d love to get coffee and geek out over [shared interest] with you sometime”.

The “is she even into girls?” problem

Of course, you can’t usually tell by looking at someone if they’re queer or interested in your gender. There’s no easy way around this unless they “flag” in some way. Many people prefer not to be openly queer until they know they’re in a safe space to do so. This is particularly true in small or conservative communities.

There’s not a super easy way around it. Often, you’ll find out if someone is queer or available in the course of conversation and getting to know them. But one way to show that you’re a safe person to be open around is to flag queer in public, however subtly or overtly you’re comfortable with. This also makes it more likely that other queer folks who think you’re cute will approach YOU! Consider a rainbow bracelet, a “queer” or F/F symbol pin badge, a bi pride necklace, a risque phone case, or an LGBTQ/sex-positive tee.

Other ways to meet people

It’s probably also a really good idea, if you don’t already, to try to join some activities where people like you will congregate. Is there a feminist book club, a queer women’s social, an LGBTQ+ film group, a board game geeks’ night, anywhere near where you live? Go along and make friends, not with the specific intent of getting a date, but with the intent of meeting other people who share your interests and making friends. One of these people could be the next love of your life! Or they could invite you to a party, where one of their friends will turn out to be the cutie your heart desires.

In these environments, you’ve got a huge advantage over just meeting people in public. Everyone is, presumably, there to socialise and meet others to a certain extent. Not to mention you’ve got a ready-made thing to talk about! If you’re nervous, “I’m new, how long have you been coming?” is a fine opening gambit.

Most importantly: give yourself credit

Meeting people is hard. Saying hi to someone in public is even harder. This is all amplified by a thousand when you’re a queer person trying to get by in a heterocentric world. So if you say hi to someone cute, congratulate yourself! Maybe you’ll get knocked back, maybe you’ll make a friend, maybe you’ll get a date. The result isn’t the only point. The point is you put yourself out there. Confidence, coupled with a healthy respect for other people’s boundaries and comfort, is sexy as hell. So go you!

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Ask Amy #6: “The Care and Feeding of Your Unicorn”

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Whew, it’s been a while since I had an advice question from a lovely reader. This one, I must confess, has been sitting in my inbox for a while. Thanks to the person who sent it in, both for the excellent question and for waiting so patiently for an answer.

An artistic drawing of a sitting unicornNOTE: For those who don’t know, a “unicorn” is a person (usually a woman or AFAB person, though not always) who gets into some kind of relationship with an existing couple. So called because this type of person is almost as rare, precious and highly sought-after as the mythical horned horse. “Unicorn hunter” couples get a bad rep because so many of them approach this type of relationship from a fantasy-fulfillment perspective without due regard for the third person’s feelings, needs or, well, humanity.

Let’s dive in…

Hey Amy,

So my primary and I have suddenly and quite unexpectedly acquired a unicorn! We love them so much (we’ve been friends with them for years). So far we are all three having a delightful time. We are, as much as possible, using our polyamory skills to continue this state of affairs.

But I am nervous. Obviously being a unicorn is a terribly vulnerable position and so many unicorns end up really hurt. So: can you give me some tips from your own experience on making sure we keep our unicorn as gloriously happy and safe and secure as they deserve, while also making sure that we look after our own needs too? Because, my goodness, they deserve all that is good and wonderful.

Dear Nervous Unicorn Handler,

Okay, first of all, I LOVE this one. Not only because you say you are all having a wonderful time in your newfound triad, but because you are obviously as invested in your new partner’s happiness as you are in your own and your Primary’s. So, yay for you! You’re already way ahead of the curve here.

You’re also doing the right thing in realising that being a unicorn is a vulnerable position. Your unicorn has a certain level of advantage in that they’ve been your friend for a long time, but you and your Primary will still have tonnes of shared history, intimacy and knowledge that your unicorn has not been privy to.

I find myself wondering if you’ve talked to them explicitly about this? Even something as simple as “hey, we understand that being a unicorn can be a really vulnerable position, and we want you to know that we love and value you so much and are really invested in your happiness in this relationship. Please don’t be afraid to tell us what you need and let us know if something doesn’t work for you” can go a really long way. Then, obviously, follow through on that with actions such as listening actively, consulting them on things that affect them, and not getting upset with them for expressing needs or emotions.

Balancing multiple people’s needs is tricky in any relationship. It does, of course, become somewhat more difficult the more people are involved. However, there’s no reason you can’t keep all of you safe, secure and happy for a long time to come!

Communication, as ever, is key. It sounds like you’re well aware of that and all making efforts to communicate well. Keep doing that!

I also advise, in so far as it’s possible, each of you having one-on-one time with your third partner sometimes as well. Just as the two of you need alone time together in order for your relationship to flourish, your relationship with your unicorn and your partner’s relationship with them needs the same to a certain extent. But, of course, lots of lovely all-three time is also really important to schedule and prioritise.

Looking after your own needs is vital in any relationship. So, try to keep a good handle on where you’re at internally. Ask your partners to look out for themselves similarly. Have you considered a periodic check-in meeting for all three of you? This can be by Skype or phone if you live far apart, or around the kitchen table over coffee, or even snuggled up in bed together. It doesn’t have to be serious. It can just be, “how are we all doing? Anyone got any issues they want to raise?”  Then if anything comes up, you talk about it. If it doesn’t, you carry on doing the snuggling/coffee drinking/kinky fuckery. Obviously, you can react to things as they arise. But don’t underestimate how useful it is to have a designated time to check in with everyone and focus on your three-way relationship.

Beyond this, the things that spring to mind seem obvious and I’m sure you’re doing them/not doing them already:

  • Don’t try to control/limit who your unicorn can date. Having a secondary relationship with them while being in a primary relationship with your existing partner is A-okay, but don’t try to make them be exclusive to you or make it difficult/impossible for them to date others.
  • Discuss, with your Primary AND all three of you together, what will happen if someone feels jealous or left out. “We’ll close down the relationship and kick the unicorn out” is not a valid answer to this.
  • Keep your promises and honour your commitments. Emergencies happen, of course, and a degree of flexibility is important. But your partner should feel that the two of you are reliable and will do what you say you’ll do.
  • Related to the above, don’t make promises you may not be able to keep.
  • Never, ever, for the love of all that is sexy and good in the world, throw your unicorn in the middle when you and your Primary have a disagreement.
  • Try not to set rules on who is supposed to feel what for whom. This is a recipe for disaster because the heart doesn’t obey rules. Expecting your new partner to feel exactly the same way about each of you, for example, is unrealistic at best and straight-up coercive at worst.

I just want to finish by saying this seems like a really positive, healthy relationship. I’m not getting any of the red flags I so often see in a couple+unicorn situation. You’re doing everything write, Letter Writer, and I wish you all the best for a long, loving and wonderful relationship.

Again, please submit your questions to me for an anonymous answer on the blog. Patreon supporters get priority!

Ask Amy #5: “When should I start getting STI tests?”

It’s been a while, but it’s time for another reader question! Don’t forget you can submit your own questions to me to be answered – anonymously – via Twitter or email.

A red condom and some pills. For a post about STI testing.Today’s lovely reader asks:

I have a possibly-stupid question about sexual health testing: I’m quite new to having any kind of sex, and have never had PIV sex. What point should you start getting tested? I obviously want to practice safer sex, but should I get tested now or does it not matter so much until I start having penetrative sex?

We had a bit of back-and-forth discussion and then they followed up with a second question:

To complicate things a bit, I’ve also learned that I have vaginismus. I’m planning to go to the GP about this, but it made me realise that I have zero idea what would happen when getting a tested for STIs! I assume this would involves things going into my vagina?

First: on when to test

My view is that anyone who is having any kind of sex with other people should be getting tested regularly, whether that sex is penetrative or not.

Different activities carry different transmission rates: broadly speaking, anal is riskier than vaginal, which is riskier than oral, which is riskier than hand sex or toy sharing. However, any sexual activity with another person does carry a level of transmission risk, including – for HSV or herpes – any skin-to-skin contact.

Please don’t take this as intended to scare you, dear reader – forewarned is forearmed.  Knowing the facts means you can take steps to look after your own and your partners’ health.

What barriers and safer sex methods you use is entirely up to you. Personally, I use condoms for PIV and shared toys (unless they’re pure silicone and without a motor, which can be boil-sterilised) and have hardly ever bothered with barriers for oral or hand sex. I’ve always been fine. Your level of acceptable risk may be different, and that’s completely fine. A good rule of thumb is to let the most risk-averse person set the level of precautions (e.g. “I don’t insist on barriers for oral but I’ll happily use one if a partner wants to”). And of course, whatever protective methods you ultimately decide to use or not use, it’s vital that this goes hand-in-hand with an open and honest conversation about testing practices and sexual history with your partner(s).

For more info on how to have this conversation, check out Reid Mihalko’s ‘Safer Sex Elevator Speech’.

Finally, this bears saying over and over again: Most STIs aren’t that scary, and the majority can be cured with a simple course of antibiotics if they’re caught early. A huge percentage of the population (between 50 and 90% depending on who you ask) is carrying the HSV virus, and the majority will never have an outbreak and may never know they’re carrying it. Even HIV, which many regard as the worst of the worst, is completely manageable these days and those diagnosed can live a full and normal life.

Knowing your status is your first and best weapon in protecting yourself, so please start getting tested as soon as you start having sex with other people.

Now, on to the second question: what actually happens when you go for a test?

It slightly depends on the clinic.

I’ve been going for STI testing regularly since 2009. Back then there tended to be a full, clothes-off-feet-up-in-stirrups examination by a nurse. But that hasn’t been the case for years. And as someone who has moved around a lot, I’ve been to quite a few different clinics.

Every clinic I’ve been to in the last 6+ years has asked for either a urine sample or a self-swab, the latter being more common. This is a tiny tiny thing that you put in your vagina for a few seconds, swirl around and then pop into a sterile container and give to the clinic nurse. You do this in private, either behind a curtain in the consulting room or in the bathroom. (If you’re having anal or oral sex, they should do rectal and throat swabs too, though I sometimes have to prompt for this). They’ll also do a blood test, which is the most reliable way to screen for blood-borne infections such as syphilis and HIV.

The most important bit is to speak to the nurse/practitioner on the day about any concerns you have, including your vaginismus. The swab things are really tiny (much much smaller than even the smallest tampon), but if anything going into your vagina is a no-go for you, they should offer you another option such as a urine test. STI testing shouldn’t have to be painful or uncomfortable.

At some point during the test, they’ll ask you some questions about your sexual history, especially your most recent partners. Some of the questions might seem weird or irrelevant, but it’s important to answer them honestly. A good healthcare practitioner shouldn’t make you feel judged for whatever you tell them, and if they do, you’re within your rights to gently push back or even ask to see somebody else.

After that, you usually wait two weeks for your results. Some clinics will text you to tell you everything is okay, and others operate on a “no news is good news” policy. If there are any issues, they will call you and ask you to come in to discuss the issue and your treatment options.

And that’s it! Go forth, lovely reader, and have lots of responsible safer sex.

Again, please submit your questions to me for an anonymous answer on the blog. Patreon supporters get priority!

Ask Amy #4: “Can I get safe toys on a budget?”

It’s been a while since I’ve had a reader question, so I am super excited to dive into today’s. This one’s about one of my favourite topics: SEX TOYS!

Our lovely reader asks:

“Hi Amy. I was wondering, what do I need to know when looking for cheap, body-safe sex toys, especially here in the UK?”

A blue dildo and some condoms. For a post about body safe toys on a budget

I love this question so much. First, Letter Writer and everyone else, please know this: it is simply NOT TRUE that affordable body-safe toys don’t exist. This is a complete myth, and it’s a harmful fiction that leads people on a restricted budget to buy unsafe toys under the mistaken notion that they can’t get anything better within their price-range.

You absolutely can. You categorically, 1000% can. And what’s more, you deserve high-quality, safe stuff that you can enjoy without worrying about your health.

So, what to look out for?

Firstly, it’s all about materials.

Good: Silicone. ABS Plastic. Glass (of the borosilicate or “Pyrex” variety.) Stainless steel. Aluminium. Ceramic, as long as it’s treated with a non-toxic glaze. Wood, as long as it’s treated with a non-toxic glaze or sealant.

Bad: TPR. TPE. Rubber. PVC. “Cyberskin” etc. “Sil-a-Gel.” Latex. Anything with “jelly” in the name.

Generally, metal, ceramic and wood toys will be more expensive, while silicone, ABS and glass are easy to find on a budget.

The materials I’ve listed as “good” are perfect because they’re non-toxic (no phthalates or other harmful ingredients,) don’t off-gas or leech chemicals, and are non-porous so they won’t harbour bacteria as long as you wash them thoroughly between every use.

Those I’ve listed as “bad” are variable. Please avoid anything with “jelly” in the name like the plague – these almost certainly contain phthalates, as does PVC. That’s how they get that squishy texture. “Cyberskin” and anything else that is sold as “realistic,” if it’s not silicone, is also to be avoided. TPE/TPR (thermoplastic elastomer/rubber) don’t usually contain phthalates, but are porous as fuck and may be softened with other nasty chemicals. Same goes for latex, which is also a super common allergen and there’s some evidence that prolonged exposure can cause or exacerbate sensitivity. “Sil-a-gel” isn’t even a real thing and it certainly isn’t in any way the same as silicone.

[Note: The ONE exception I’ll make for PVC is the Doxy Original, which uses medical-grade (and therefore phthalate-free) PVC for the head. They claim it’s non-porous and I’m inclined to believe them as they’re such a great, transparent and ethical company – and also my Doxy is still good as new after 2 years – but I haven’t seen any hard scientific evidence. If you’re cautious and want a Doxy, either always use a non-latex condom, or buy the Die Cast, which has a silicone head.]

If you want to read up more on the specifics of these materials and why they’re toxic, I recommend Dangerous Lilly’s brilliant guide.

Also worth adding is that if you don’t know what it’s made of, avoid it, and remember that the sex toy industry is pretty much unregulated – so just because a company claims something is body-safe, doesn’t mean that it is.

It’s NOT all about brands

A lot of the toys you’ll hear recommended come from big-name brands in the business: Doxy. Lelo. Tantus. We-vibe. Hitachi (less so this one in the UK.) These brands and many more are popular for good reason (though Lelo are kinda… ugh, these days,) so if you do ever spot their products on a mega-sale, you’ll most likely be getting something good quality.

But you don’t need big brands or loads of cash for great quality toys!

Go own-brand

As with food, own-brand sex toys can be much cheaper but not compromise much on quality when compared to the big names.

Lovehoney and Bondara are two examples of companies who do some really solid own-brand stuff. Not everything in their lines are safe, unfortunately, but if you follow the materials guide above, you can’t go far wrong.

A quick note about retailers:

Tempting though it is, please please resist the urge to buy your toys from a retailer such as eBay or Amazon. There are loads of knock-offs around on all the major brand toys, some of them quite convincing, so there’s no way to know for sure if you’re getting a genuine product. Dangerous Lilly (she’s amazing!) has written more extensively on this.

I personally really advocate for Lovehoney, because their returns policy is stellar and they really care about their customers. Full disclosure: they are an affiliate partner of mine and if you buy through them with one of my links, I may make a small commission. However, my first concern is always my readers’ happiness and safety, I will never recommend an unsafe toy, and I only partner with companies I strongly believe in.

Some Concrete Suggestions

I thought I’d put together a list of options for various tastes that are body-safe, under £30, and easily available in the UK.

In the interests of full disclosure, Lovehoney links are affiliate links. Other links are not. If you buy from Lovehoney, whether one of the listed items or something else, use code COFFKINK10 to get 10% off your order.

Clitoral Vibrators:

G-spot Vibrators:

Rabbit Vibrators:

Dildos (silicone)

Dildos (other safe materials)

Anal toys:

This list is by no means exhaustive or even really scratching the surface. These are just a few of the categories of toys available and just a very small handful of the options out there. Go forth and get your sexy on, lovely Letter Writer, and I hope this was helpful to you and anyone else shopping for safe toys on a budget.

Remember: we all deserve pleasure, and we all deserve SAFE toys, no matter what our financial situation.

Love,
Amy xx

Remember: I’ll answer your question on the blog, too! Just email coffeeandkink69 (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll help if I can.

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

Ask Amy #3: “Red Flags?”

Today’s question comes from a reader who reached out to me via Twitter. Her question is short and simple, and yet oh-so-complex to answer.

She asks:

“What are the red flags to look out for when starting a new relationship with a Dom or a sub?”

Four red flags blowing in the wind

I have many, many feelings about this question and all the possible ways to answer it. As I often do when I’m mulling over a topic, I took it to Mr CK for a male-and-mostly-Dom perspective (and also because he’s at least as smart as I am!)

His response, I think, was utterly brilliant: “don’t get into a relationship with a Dom or a sub. Get into a relationship with a person.”

What I love about this answer is that it cuts through all the possible answers I was thinking of giving, and straight to the heart of the issue: get to know somebody as a real, three-dimensional human being before you seriously consider them as your Dominant or submissive. Spend time – LOTS of time – talking, communicating and seeing how they interact with you and the world. A good D/s relationship is a place of profound trust and vulnerability on both sides, and these things cannot be rushed. A real-life D/s relationship is nothing like an endless kinky fantasy – first and foremost, it is a relationship.

My partner is so fucking smart, y’all.

As an aside, I really recommend you check out Loving BDSM Podcast, as they’ve got some great things to say about building trust and getting to know someone at the beginning of a relationship, as well as every other kinky topic you can image. I particularly recommend episodes 31 and 83 for this topic.

In terms of more specific and concrete red flags to look for, I have some thoughts there too! I’ve tried to keep these applicable to people on either side of the D/s slash, and relevant whether you’re meeting online or in meatspace. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I would view any of the following with some serious side-eye and a healthy portion of skepticism:

Demanding too much, too soon.

You wouldn’t give someone the keys to your house or ask them to marry you on a first date, would you? Therefore, you shouldn’t be giving or accepting a collar, issuing or receiving orders, or committing to any kind of serious ongoing protocol or dynamic before you fully know someone.

If a Dominant expects you to kneel and call them Master the first time you meet, RUN. If a submissive expects you to invite them to move in and run every aspect of their life when you’ve barely got past coffee… you know what I’m going to say.

Referring to themselves as a ‘Real’ or ‘True’ ANYTHING.

There is no such thing as a True Master, a Real Submissive, or a (*inserts tongue firmly into cheek*) Twue Dominate. Those of us who have been around the (spanking) block a few times call this One True Wayism. It’s frowned upon for good reason. People who think their way is the only way tend to be snobbish, elitist and derisive of others at best. At worst, they can be seriously dangerous – thinking you know everything, refusing to learn and refusing to be questioned is a recipe for disaster.

If you identify as a Dom, you’re a Dom. If you identify as a sub, congratulations – you’re a sub! There is no One True Way.

Using language like ‘if you were really [X] you’d do [Y.]’

‘If you were really a sub, you’d give me all your passwords and your bank account login!’ ‘If you were really a Dom, you’d take care of everything for me so I didn’t have to take any responsibility for my choices!’

Extreme examples, perhaps, but both examples I’ve encountered. If someone questions your identity or tries to use it against you in order to get you to comply with something you don’t want to do, run a fucking mile.

See above: no such thing as a ‘Real’ or ‘True’ anything. You don’t owe anyone proof of your subby or Domly Credentials.

Claiming to have no/very few limits.

EVERYONE has limits, folks. Absolutely everyone. Someone who claims not to have any (or to have “very few”) is woefully unprepared for what BDSM can actually entail. Even if you think you’re the most hardcore true subby who ever subbed, I promise there are things you would never consent to – and this is a good thing! Dominants have limits, too.

Repeat after me: EVERYONE. HAS. LIMITS. The sooner you learn what yours are and how to communicate them, the better your kinky fun is likely to be for all concerned.

Lying. This includes lies of omission.

The absolute foundational basis for any healthy relationship, kinky or vanilla, monogamous or polyamorous, is trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Therefore, lying is arguably the biggest and reddest Big Red Flag out there. This includes big barefaced lies, of course, but it also includes lies of omission. “Forgetting” to tell you he’s got seven other submissives at home is a huge fucking deal and not something you should overlook.

The person who lies to you in the beginning will lie to you all the way along. Whatever your role, you’re a human being first and you deserve to be told the truth.

Breaking boundaries, including small ones.

Abusive people don’t start by trampling all over your boundaries in huge, glaring ways. If they did this on the first date, after all, they’ll never get as far as a second date. No – predators and abusers often ‘test the waters’ with a new victim to see how much they can get away with.

If they persist in using language towards you that you don’t like, touching you in a way you’re not comfortable with, or even subtly negging at you in small ways, YOU ARE NOT BEING TOO SENSITIVE. They are testing you. They will push bigger and bigger boundaries if you continue a relationship with them. And more often than not, you will find yourself in a full-on abusive situation.

What do you think, dear readers? Did I miss out any glaring red flags that our lovely friend should know about?

Do you want your question answering in a future Ask Amy column? Get in touch!

The image featured in this post was offered for use under Creative Commons Licensing.

Ask Amy #1: “I’m Jealous of Her Dildo!”

This is my first of what I hope will be a regular reader advice column. If you have questions, get in touch! I will strip away all identifying details, and I will never post your name unless you say it’s okay.

A close up of a bright green eye. For a post about being jealous of a girlfriend's dildo

“I’m jealous of my girlfriend’s sex toys!”

Q: Dear Amy,
I’m a 26 year old straight guy and have been with my girlfriend for a year. I love her very much, we communicate well and the sex is great. The only problem is that she likes to use sex toys, specifically dildos, when she masturbates. She also wants to incorporate them into our sex life together. I have a pretty average sized penis – about 6″ long when erect and average girth. The toys my girlfriend favours are all way bigger than me! How can my very average dick satisfy her when she likes such huge things inside her?

I’m scared that her dildo is going to replace me and she won’t want to have sex with me any more, or that she’ll leave me for a guy who’s bigger than I am! It seems so stupid to be jealous of a lump of silicone but I’m finding myself avoiding sex because I’m so insecure about my penis and my ability to please my girlfriend. She’s noticed and thinks I’m rejecting her, that I don’t love her or fancy her any more. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please help!
– Insecure

Oh, my dear ‘Insecure.’ I have so many feelings on this question.

First, I want to commend you for not suggesting that your girlfriend shouldn’t masturbate, shouldn’t use toys, or should switch to toys that don’t make you insecure. This, I’m sure you know, would not be an acceptable response to your feelings. I’m really glad you’re not going down this route. So good for you.

Look, sex toys are great! Loads of people use them and it’s very normal. It doesn’t reflect at all upon how we feel about our partners. My favourite toy in the whole world is the Doxy wand, but that doesn’t mean I wish my partner’s dick vibrated! (I mean, for real that would be fucking cool, but in no way in the world do I find him lacking because his body is different to my toys.)

Partnered sex is about so much more than just “does your body part satisfy my body part?” It’s about connection, about the feel and smell and warmth of a partner close to you, about the thud of body-on-body, about the rhythm and the dance and the responses between two (or more) people. Partnered sex is in-fucking-credible for so many reasons and a toy can’t fully replicate many of them. Pervocracy has a great article on some of the reasons people might love partnered sex. Maybe read it with your girlfriend and have a conversation with her?

Speaking of conversations, if you haven’t voiced your fears to your girlfriend, please do so immediately. Try some variation of this: “Sweetie, this is quite hard for me to say but I want to raise something I’ve been struggling with. The reason I’ve been avoiding sex lately is because I have some insecurities around my body and particularly my penis. I’ve found myself worrying that I can’t satisfy you because the toys you use are bigger than me. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them, but it would be helpful for me if you could reassure me that I do please you in bed and that I’m not in danger of being replaced.”

Hopefully, if your girlfriend loves you, she will respond with compassion. Then you can have a conversation that will help you on your way to feeling more comfortable. If your relationship is as good and healthy as you say, I can almost guarantee that your partner loves all of you exactly as you are, including your penis. (Which is fine, by the way. Genitals come in all shapes and sizes and colours and they’re all beautiful and perfect exactly as they are.)

However, reassurance can come from your girlfriend but working on your insecurities is your job and has to come from within. Becoming secure is hard and it really is a process, not a destination – we all have days where we feel really great about ourselves and days when we feel horrible. That’s normal. Techniques you could try include journalling, talking to a therapist, and – don’t underestimate the value of this – mindfulness and learning how to just sit with your feelings when they come up, knowing that they are lying to you and they will pass.

It can also be helpful to step outside the immediacy of the emotion and look at what reality is telling you. Like this: “My fear is telling me that my girlfriend is bored of having sex with me and I don’t satisfy her. However, she frequently instigates sex/usually has an orgasm when we play/tells me she loves fucking me. Therefore, the actual evidence suggests that she loves and desires me as I am. My fear is lying to me.” Repeat as often as necessary. I once spent an hour car journey literally reciting a list of mantras aloud to myself in order to calm a rising panic attack fueled by insecurity. It works.

Lastly, whether you want to incorporate toys into your sex life with your girlfriend is up to you. If you’re uncomfortable with it, that’s your prerogative. However, I’d like to challenge you to at least consider trying it. If you don’t want to fuck her with a giant dildo to start with, how about something like a vibrator? An anal plug? A suction toy like a Satisfyer or Womanizer? Or even a dildo that feels very different to a bio-cock, such as one made of glass or stainless steel?

Toys are not replacements for the things you can do with your body. They are tools to enable you both to feel a wider range of sensations and to give each other pleasure in different and exciting ways. And don’t forget there are also toys that can be used by a penis-owner. Try a Fleshlight, masturbation sleeve, a prostate toy, or even using a vibrator on your penis. I really recommend trying some, as you might be surprised and find wonderful new ways to experience pleasure yourself.

Talk to your girlfriend and keep that communication going. There really is no substitute.

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