Let’s talk about the way we treat one another when hooking up, dating and having sex.
Gay and bisexual men can give off mixed messages about what they’re up for and what’s not ok. On the one hand, we can embrace our sexual freedom and curiosity. This can sometimes be assumed to mean ‘anything goes’. But in reality, many of us have experienced an unwanted or unpleasant experience with someone in the past, and maybe wish we could set better boundaries when we meet someone new. We’re talking about consent. Consent is another word for an agreement. It’s not just about saying yes or no. It’s about everyone involved in the agreement being on the same page.
It might sound obvious but a satisfying sexual life begins by knowing what you want. This might take you some time to work out especially if this is new for you. You can start by asking yourself ‘what am I looking for sexually?’. What kinds of sexual activity are you interested in and what things would be a definite ‘no’ for you? When this is clear in your own mind it’s easier to be clear when you’re talking with someone else.
Then ask yourself what are you looking for online? Are you looking for a long-term partner, or prefer staying single and playing the field? If you’re looking for a partner do you want to be monogamous or be more open? Are you looking for someone to learn from or who’s interested in a certain type of play?
Check Your Assumptions
A common experience in gay men’s sex settings is that someone will keep doing whatever they want until the other guy tells them to stop. The assumption is that all touch or action is on the table unless it’s explicitly taken off the table. So, it’s down to each of us to set out our own boundaries and communicate them to our partners. Sometimes, this can be hard to do when we’re already caught up in the action. We can overcome this by having a wider and more explicit talk with a future partner before first hooking up.
Talk About Sex
When you start chatting with someone online or meet someone you are interested in, be prepared to talk about the kind of sex you want. This kind of conversation can be playful and fun. It can totally be foreplay too! But more than that, it serves to set up an agreement between you about what each of you like and don’t like – which is the basis of consent. By checking in beforehand where your interests are mutual, you can focus on what’s hot for you both at the same time as avoiding the potential for hurting or offending when you get together.
It helps to be specific about the acts, the positions, the locations you like for sex. Some guys find it easier to use stories about hot experiences they’ve had before or scenes from porn to help describe what they mean. Do you like things softer or harder, gentle or rough? Talking about sex openly beforehand can help you to be confident about your limits, which means you can be more in the moment when you meet.
When you’re planning to meet, agree that it’s okay that you or your partner(s) are able to change your mind if it doesn’t feel right in the moment. “Let’s meet up for a chat and see how we feel before we commit to (…)” If someone does not respect you changing your mind, that’s a red flag.
Talk About Your Sexual Health
When talking about the kind of sex you want, make sure to include what kinds of safer sex methods you want to use. It’s important to take control of your sexual health and be confident about your chosen protection (including condoms, PrEP, U=U, what sex you’re having, etc.). It’s empowering, sexy and normalises the conversation. Get tested regularly, it’s just part of an active sex life. Knowing and being confident about your STI/HIV status can encourage someone else to find out theirs. The stigma that surrounds STIs and HIV affects everyone, and we can overcome this by simply having a chat about it. Having a chat about safer sex can be a fun and flirty way element in your foreplay.
Being OK With "No"
Sometimes you want to say ‘no’ but don’t have the guts to say it. Sometimes someone will say ‘no’ to you and it hurts. One of the big lessons from the BDSM world is that any feedback or limits that someone tells you about is good to know, even if it’s a ‘No’. So if someone says they don’t want to continue with sex right now – that’s a good thing they are looking after themselves, even if it’s disappointing for you. If someone knocks you back when you approach them – that’s ok, it means they’re not for you.
Give some thought to how you feel about saying ‘no’. Maybe practice saying ‘no’ with friends to become more comfortable with it. Practice ways of saying no nicely. “Thanks for the messages, but not for me right now. Have a good weekend.” And “I’m not feeling up for that right now, maybe another time.” Or “That’s not really my thing, what else are you into?”
Remember if someone won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, be firm and don’t give in. Block, Report, Get out of there.
It might seem like an old-fashioned idea but do take the time to check in after you hook up with a guy – even if you are not going to see him again. It can be fun to chat about how the experience compared to the talk you had before you met. What did you enjoy and what might you do differently if you met again? “Thank you” can go a long way and this is a good time to indicate if you are open to seeing each other again, or if you prefer to leave it there. Being clear and direct can avoid all the awkwardness and hurt of blocking or ghosting. Be prepared to be gracious if someone says no.
You also don’t have to lock down your next meeting right away, just check in with each other. You can follow up about another meeting time later.
If you struggle with asking for what you want, with forming the relationships you want, or with negotiating your boundaries, you might consider speaking with a counsellor to work on these aspects of yourself. Also, there are loads of resources available to explore these topics online, in podcasts and books.
Two great places to start are these YouTube Videos: