What To Do If You’re Inexperienced or Unsure What You Want
Working on a yes-no-maybe list is great, but what if you just don’t know what you want?
Experience isn’t always an indicator of knowledge or wisdom. There are people who have never had a sexual experience and/or never dated who have a well-defined sense of their own preferences about sexual, romantic, and/or emotional intimacy. There are people who have experience who don’t always know what they want or what works well for them. It’s okay!
Also, asexual, aromantic, demisexual, grey ace, and other ace spectrum sexualities exist. You can read more about these identities on Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN).
You don’t have to have (or necessarily want) a current partner to fill out a yes-no-maybe list. You can gauge your own interest and research what you don’t know much about.
I’ve divided these sections into sex and romance, so if you’re not interested in or have an aversion to one or the other, you can skip to whatever is relevant to you.
Exploring Your Sexuality
Content warning: abuse mention in this section
A recommendation I often hear for “what to do if you’re sexually inexperienced or you have never orgasmed” is to watch porn. Porn, especially conventional porn made for straight men, is not for everyone—for me, at least, I have zero interest in the male gaze, the (sole) focus on men’s pleasure, and the fetishization of (cis and trans) women’s bodies, gender and sexuality. If you do like porn, consume it ethically! Buy from studios run by women and queer folks. You might start with Oh Joy Sex Toy, in which queer cis artist Erika Moen reviews sex toys and porn with her husband and guests: https://www.ohjoysextoy.com/
If you also don’t enjoy watching porn, consider literature. Erotica, fan fiction, romance novels, zines and comics, etc. aren’t always perfect and certainly have their problematic elements and sectors, just to be clear. For example, there’s discourse on the production and consumption of m/m fan fiction by straight-identified cis women as well as wtf sex writing and “bodies don’t work like that.” (For a humorous example of the former, see the Harry Potter fanfiction episode of Mortified; for the latter, the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards.)
I do also want to point out that your sexy literature of choice doesn’t have to be strictly “erotica”; for example, one of my favorite novels with romance and sex in it is Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s Fall of Kings, which is a court-intrigue fantasy drama about a bisexual aristocrat and a history professor who is trying to revolutionize the study of ancient history. By the time I encountered this book I was already pretty set in my preferences, but one of the things I discovered from reading a lot in general is what elements of sex and romance I really enjoy. (Or, put another way, Basil St. Cloud and I share a kink for citing primary source materials.)
Here are some places to get started:
Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic: transgender erotic by and for trans folks.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: romance-novel readers review (and rant about) romance novels.
Archive of Our Own: an internet archive of fan fiction with ratings as well as information on pairings, content, maturity level, etc. Being able to see the content warnings is nice because if you do have a trigger or a squick, it’s easier to avoid.
Sex with Partners
What counts as sex varies from person to person. The message we often get from mainstream cisnormative media is that sex is being penetrated vaginally or anally with a penis. While that’s the expectation for sexual interactions, that’s certainly not the only way to have sex, nor should it be, in my opinion, the sole focus of sex. (Particularly since not everyone uses a penis for penetration during sex!) What’s really strange to me as a bisexual nonbinary person is that what counted as sex when hooking up with women and AFAB folks was “foreplay” to cisgender men. It’s all sex, pals. For more on this topic, check out “Queering Virginity” on Popaganda (Bitch Media)
Be aware of a more experienced partner fetishizing your inexperience. People who are a little too enthusiastic about being your first sex partner or your first partner of a certain gender (or other identity/status) might be grooming you. This was actually my experience with my abusive ex—he was my first significant relationship and sex partner and often said things like that he fantasized about sleeping with a virgin, he wanted to teach me how to do sex acts. As I found out later, that 1. He didn’t actually care about my pleasure or my safety as long as he got to do what he wanted to my body and/or I focused on pleasing him without asking for him to reciprocate and 2. He really, really had no idea how to perform the (rather basic) sex acts he claimed to be a master at. (A bit like the trope of men pretending to be bad at cleaning so their partners are forced to do it themselves.) Don’t feel like you have to stay with the first person you have sex with.
If you’re significantly more sexually experienced than a partner, don’t be a creep! Don’t fetishize or make a big deal out of their status as a “virgin,” and don’t fetishize it if you’re the first person (or gender of person) they’ve ever had a relationship with or performed a sex act with. Treat them with kindness and respect, and make sure you’re communicating. Unless their fantasies or requests are problematic and/or hurt you or make you feel unsafe, don’t brush them off—talk with them.
Also, regardless of your experience level, don’t slut shame a more experienced partner! If they were enjoying sex with others before you, it’s not your business.
I think there’s some fear that if you don't sleep with a lot of people, you won't know what you want. I don’t know if that’s true,, but you have to trust your comfort level with new partners. Are casual partners okay for you, or do you prefer having an emotional commitment? It’s okay to feel strongly about needing to trust a partner, but that doesn’t automatically mean you have date anyone you have sex with or have sex with anyone you date—you need trust whether the relationship is casual, serious, exclusive, or non-monogamous.
I do think it’s worthwhile to read up on technique (and not from heteronormative sources, even if you and your partner are both cisgender and in a straight-appearing relationship), whether you’ve never had sex with another person or if you’ve had lots of partners. Take your time. Don’t be afraid to tell them how you like it or how you’d like to try something; also, let your partner(s) tell or show you or discuss with you what they like—both in the yes-no-maybe list and during sex. And slow down! I feel like half the problem I had with dating cis men was that they rush through badly performed “foreplay” and then try to penetrate you immediately. Stop doing that, folks! Rethink your ideas about what sex is, communicate while you’re having sex, and take your time to listen to your body.
Dating doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with sex, and that’s why I like a yes-no-maybe list that acknowledges aspects of romance and emotional intimacy: preferences on pet names, what to call your partner, cohabiting or being in the same space, public displays of affection, being out, allergies, etc.
We are intensely socialized about romantic norms, not just from media like romantic comedies, but also from family, region, religion, school, peers, and social media. (And some of those may conflict with each other!) My partner and I had both been socialized to think of romance in very heterosexual terms. When we got together, I felt very freed (and also unmoored) from not just straight but also gay/lesbian relationship norms--as bisexual nonbinary folks, we don’t fit in to most narratives, so we made our own rules. It’s a continuing conversation, and I’m so grateful to have this chance to get off the relationship escalator and take things on our own terms.
One resource I really like about interrogating your expectations about romance is Anzalduing It’s “Marriage is a Sham, Y’all,” in which the hosts discuss not just the problems with marriage as an institution, but how they both came into their own personal feelings about wanting or not wanting to get married as related to their activist circles, queerness, and family history.
Using a yes-no-maybe list is helpful to set boundaries, discuss romantic/affectionate touch and emotional intimacy, potentially talk about future plans, and find out what you find to be romantic and why.
While I cannot recommend the Five Love Languages book because it is so painfully cisheteronormative, I like the idea of love languages. I also strongly believe that, even if you are straight and/or cisgender or in a straight-appearing relationship, that queering your concept of romance is both revolutionary and beneficial. The Span of My Hips has an expanded, queer-focused version of the love languages, including Acts of Solidarity and Belief, Acts of E