"One thing I've learned is that you can't put it off," my friend tells me about telling potential partners about her HIV-positive status.
"At first I thought that it would be better to wait until the third or fourth date, when we feel more comfortable with each other. But it never gets easier and sometimes they get upset that it didn't come up sooner. If anyone is going to freak out and run for the hills, I might as well not waste several weeks on them."
There are many challenging conversations that sexuality might present.
It's hard enough for many of us to talk about basic health concerns – like STIs, contraceptives and safer sex – but, for those who are decidedly non-monogamous, have a particular kink, or just don't want to have kids, it's critical to be upfront in the relationship.
These conversations may crop up early or arise after a couple has been long established.
There can be a lot of anxiety when it comes to talking sex.
Our culture is uncomfortable with openness about bodily functions and desires. Many families never discuss sexuality so kids grow up to be adults who don't have the vocabulary, much less the practice to feel confident. And the more a partner matters to us, the bigger the fear that they will react poorly and reject us.
We're also trained to be bad at receiving these conversations too.
Our culture has a narrow idea about what sexuality is OK, which bodies should be seen, and who is allowed to be sexual & when. We are told that anything out of the mainstream is bad and weird. So when someone approaches us with a new subject, we often feel compelled to react negatively even before we really know what we're being asked, so no one thinks we're a freak.
A perfect example is the way some heterosexual men flip out at the idea of anal play on their bodies, even if they'd be game to try it on a woman.
Anxiety about violating the cultural script about what straight guys "ought to" be into prevents them from even finding out if they would enjoy that kind of pleasure.
"You set the tone for the conversation. If you're freaked out, they're going to be freaked out," my friend tells me. "If you open with 'I have this scary thing to talk about' then they'll prepare to be scared. If you talk about it matter-of-factly, they'll have an easier time being calm."
Read up and arm yourself with knowledge.
Look for others with similar situations: If you can imagine something, there's an online community of people sharing their experiences with it. There are forums about dating with herpes, coming out as transgender late in life, uncommon kinks, and more.
Expect to do some educating.
Explain clearly what your fetish is, logistics of trying out a new sexual act, or the ways you can keep your partner from contracting an STI. Give them the opportunity to ask questions, answer them honestly. Give them resources to look up information on their own later. Your knowledge will be reassuring.
Being the one who reveals a truth and facing rejection is daunting. But psychologist Robert W. Firestone says, "You can afford to love and be rejected; that's something people don't fully realize."
When the potential gains are important to us, it's worth the risk, especially if we know we'll survive either way. Firestone adds, "When we're vulnerable, it simply means that we're capable of pursuing our goals, wants, and intentions, and we're able to deal with the consequence on a feeling level… If you live fully, there will be much joy and a certain amount of pain, too. So we're not trying to protect against feeling."
Maybe your partner will be super open-minded.
There's actually a good chance they will be if your relationship is strong and lines of communication are open – but they might need a minute, too.
Give your partner the time and space they need to process so there's no feeling of being rushed. Converse in the sober light of day, in a place and at a time where they feel comfortable to talk freely. Mention that you don't need an answer right now.
A friend of mine had been putting off talking to his girlfriend about opening up their relationship.
"Is she dumb? Is she a stick in the mud?" I asked. "Absolutely not," he replied.
"Then don't act like she is," I said, "give her the opportunity to be cool. She may say no, she may need to think on it, she may say yes. But you gotta give her the chance to decide for herself."
If this person is someone you want to be with long-term, or are simply considering as a sexual partner, there needs to be some closeness, chemistry and shared interest. Only through mutually experienced vulnerability can anyone ever build intimacy. Give your relationship a shot at deepening and expanding by bravely telling your truth and asking for what you really want.
Dr. Timaree Schmit earned her Ph.D. in Human Sexuality from Widener University, where she now trains future sexologists and clinicians. Her passion is bringing rational, empirically-based, sex-positive information to the world, empowering others to celebrate their bodies, build intimacy and experience pleasure.