I’m a 19 year old lesbian (“Lipstick”) and my girl friend is a “Dyke” and I know she has had previous partners and well so have I but never a Dyke. I’m scared of what may happen when we actually do have sex. What if I do something she’s not comfortable with? Matter of fact what do I do if I do? I’m scared that I’ll completely blow it and ruin our sexual relationship.
Heather Corinna replies:
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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Those words also can never tell us all or even most of what someone is comfortable with sexually, what their sexual boundaries and limits are and what they are and are not interested in doing sexually. All of those things are complex, very individual, and often situational, and words like lesbian or dyke are only very broad shorthand. Shorthand has its uses, for sure, but it can never sum a whole person up or do a good job of telling us or expressing all there is to know and all we need to know about some of the most complex parts of ourselves and others.
I can’t know for sure what the words you are using here mean to you or to your girlfriend. To some people, lesbian and dyke mean the exact same thing — as in, both are words to describe homosexual or queer women; women who attracted to other women sexually and romantically. To others, they aren’t synonyms, but mean or describe different things or a different way of experiencing or identifying something similar. For some people, those words are just about sexual orientation. For others, they’re also about gender identity. And whether they’re about just one of those things, both of those things, or more than those things, it’s never sound to assume that everyone experiences or defines those words or identities the same way.
For instance, while you may have been with other partners who have identified as lipstick lesbians like you do, they probably did not have the exact same experience of that, and certainly all didn’t like exactly the same things you did sexually the exact same way, or have exactly the experience you had sexually, because you’re still different people, even if you used the same terms to define yourself. Just like I suspect that if both you and I identify as women, what that means to us and what our experiences have been as women have likely been very different, the same goes here.
I’m guessing from your context that you’re saying you’re femme and your girlfriend is butch, and that until now, you have only been with other femme women. If I’m wrong in that, by all means, email me back with some more information and I’ll have another go at this. After all, I’ve known femme lesbians who identify as dykes, women who identify as lipstick dykes, a butch woman who wore lipstick, as well as dykes who didn’t identify as women at all, so just because you ID the way you do and your girlfriend IDs as a dyke doesn’t mean she’s butch, identifies that way, isn’t femme or lipstick herself or is all that different from you. She likely is different from you in many ways just because you’re different people, and how different you are based only on two different words you’re each using for your identities is totally up for grabs.
If butch/femme or something like it is what we’re talking about here, know those are also words and identities that, like the other words we talked about, don’t mean the same thing to everyone, and where everyone’s experience of being femme or butch are not the same. Same goes for relationships between people who are femme and people who are butch: there’s not one way of doing that or experiencing that.
What it sounds like you might be saying at the core of this is that you feel that your sexual identity and your girlfriend’s sexual identity seem radically different, perhaps even opposite in some ways, and hers is so unfamiliar to you that you feel clueless, especially when it comes to sex.
If you’re feeling like there’s some Big Book of Butch Sex that you haven’t read and feel like a dolt without, know that there is no such book (even though there are some great books about being butch). There’s only a guidebook that explains what your girlfriend is and isn’t comfortable with, and how her identity is part of that, if she wrote one herself.
Even if you’d dated someone who identifies like she does in the past, it wouldn’t be sound to assume you could know or did know the things you don’t know now based on one word, how she dresses or otherwise presents, or on her gender identity just because they did feel more familiar to you. If you made assumptions about her based on other dykes you’d dated, you’d be far more likely to be wrong than right much of the time. You’d also miss out on the opportunity to really get to know who someone is uniquely, which is what can make romantic and sexual relationships rich experiences in the first place. I don’t know about you, but sex with a stereotype sounds a lot less fun, exciting and deep to me than sex with a person does.
I’m not sure what your expectations are here, but I’m concerned you’re saying you feel scared of being sexual with this person. That right there tells me that before you two even start getting sexual, you’ll want to do a few things.
First, you’ll want to think about why you’re feeling so scared right now. Is this a healthy relationship? If it’s not, that’s one common and very valid reason for feeling scared. If that is the reason, or you’re not sure, then your best bet is not to further the relationship right now, period, but to move away from it, even if that just means giving yourself some space and time where you figure out that it is healthy, and you really don’t need to be afraid of this person.
If you know your relationship is a healthy one and that this is a safe person, I’d say the next step is to just check in and see if maybe it’s about not feeling ready to get sexual with this partner just yet, or not being in a good space in your own head, heart or life right now for sex with a partner, period. After all, sometimes the timing of a cool person coming along can suck and happen when our heads, hearts or lives just aren’t in a good place for a new relationship or sex with someone.
If you rule those things out, then what seems most likely is just that you feel intimidated because she’s new to you and her identity is new to you. If you’ve never felt this way about a new partner before, consider this a bit of a wakeup call: every new partner is new to us and unfamiliar, even if we make assumptions to the contrary. And when we want to do our best to do sexual relationships right, it’s super-important we always keep that in mind and lead with that, knowing and understanding that we need to figure we’re always a freshman with a new partner, never a senior.
So the last thing you’ll want to do, which is more about starting a constantly ongoing process, is to establish and then maintain good communication. These things you’re freaking out about don’t have to be a mystery to you, and you don’t have to go into sex together clueless. You just need to ask a lot of questions, listen, share your own input, feelings and feedback, and your partner needs to do the same. That’s something everyone should be doing with every partner, even the partners they feel certain will want exactly what they do, be comfortable with exactly what they are or are some kind of long-lost identical twin. No one you’re with is ever, ever going to be exactly like you, and the less you assume, the better your relationships and the sex in them will be for both of you.
I can’t know what your girlfriend is and isn’t comfortable with sexually, what she does or doesn’t want, or how she likes things to go if and when any of her sexual partners do something sexually that makes her feel uncomfortable. But she probably knows, and she’s the expert about herself. All you’ve got to do is start asking her so you can start finding out.
Sometimes starting communication with the “I don’t know” can be really powerful. It usually feels good to know a partner isn’t making assumptions about us, feels good to know someone has a real investment in finding out what we want and need and feels good to know that person we’re talking about getting intimate with really wants to get to know us deeply and clearly, rather than just projecting any ideas they might have about who we are unto us. Those are all powerful, positive things. So is someone making clear that they don’t think they know us without us telling them and showing them who we are. That’s a big deal to everyone, but for those of us who are queer in any way, and often have so many quick assumptions made about us, and so many projections put on us by others, it can be ginormous.
So, you can tell her that you feel like you’ve never dated anyone just like her, and that you are feeling nervous about sex together because you don’t know what she wants and feels comfortable with. You can tell her you want to find out, and that you also want to fill her in about all of that on your end, too. Then you are creating a beautiful invitation for her to show you who she is and for her to find out who you are. Again, that’s all great, big-hearted, big-minded stuff.
Then you just start asking your questions, the ones you know you have now. No doubt, you’ll have more questions and things you want to find out as you continue your relationship, too, but you don’t have to try and predict what those will be. You just need to get started right where you are. She’ll probably have her own questions, too, since you two are clearly still just getting to know each other, and she’s no mind-reader, either. This also, even just getting started, is likely to involve more than just one conversation.
Some of the places you might get started with are in talking about things you each know, for now, you are and are not comfortable with. Then you can each talk about what you find or feel you need if and when someone oversteps your lines or boundaries on accident, or does something that makes you feel sexually uncomfortable. If you have questions about what, if any, roles she expects when it comes to both of your identities and sex together, you can ask about that. And by all means, if anything comes up in these talks where either of you have some conflicts, you can start working through that together, even before you get sexual at all.
One thing I want to make sure you know is that no one should ever feel like they can’t have a learning curve in sexual relationships or can’t make “mistakes.” Sex is something we learn with partners, not something we can ever just know walking in, even if we’ve had hundreds of partners before. I put “mistakes” in quotes because I think mistake isn’t even the right word for something like experimenting with something sexual someone enthusiastically consented to and having them not be into it or find they feel uncomfortable. It’s kind of like putting effort into making a meal that just doesn’t turn out to be all that, or that you like, but someone else isn’t that keen on. It’s just not a big deal, and not even a mistake so much as a difference in tastes and experiences.
Hopefully you noticed that I said I was talking about things someone consented to do or try.
With any new partner, clear consent with words is so important. As a relationship goes on, we’ll get to know each others nonverbal responses a bit better so, if we want, we can use consent-in-words less, but it’s still always going to be core if we want to be sure we always have it — and vice-versa — and are not doing things a partner doesn’t feel good about or doesn’t want to be doing.
If we’re always asking first, and our relationships are healthy, including an environment where we all know we never have to do anything sexual we don’t really, really want to do, it’s awfully hard to do anything someone isn’t comfortable with or doesn’t want. Sometimes we or partners may say yes to things and think they’ll feel good or that we’ll be comfortable, but then we’ll find out when we try them at a given time that they don’t feel good or we don’t feel comfortable with them. If and when that happens, so long as our partners know they can always say to stop or adjust things, and we’ll always respond to those requests, it’s all good. Seriously.
Doing consent well is important with every partner you have and may have, no matter what their identity or yours is, whether they’re different or similar. Any kind of partner is still a separate person, not you, so it’s always important to be checking in about how you want to touch them and other ways you want o be and are being sexual together, continually assuring that whatever either of you wants to do, is going to do and/or is doing, you’re both freely, willingly and gladly consenting.
And if and when we do wind up overstepping something unintentionally, or a partner simply has an experience where something makes them feel uncomfortable, both of which can still happen now and then even when none of us expect it, all we’ve usually got to do is be caring and kind. Responses like “Hey, I’m sorry that didn’t work out for you, let’s try something different,” or “I thought that would feel right for us, too. Sorry it didn’t. Do you need or want anything from me right now?” do the job just fine. That’s it, just like when we accidentally say something in a way that hurts someone’s feelings or step on someone’s feet when we’re dancing.
If you want to do the best you can to assure that any sexual relationship you have will be positive for everyone, then the very best things you can do are the kinds of things I’m suggesting here: laying a great foundation for consent, supporting and nurturing enthusiastic consent (rather than anyone saying yes to things out of feelings like obligation, guilt or fear), engaging in lots of honest, open conversation that includes asking a lot of questions, and always recognizing that any partner you have is an incredibly unique person who no one word or term is ever going to describe. If you do this stuff, I promise, you’re not going to ruin anything.
If you haven’t done all of that before, this may be one of life’s special Ur Doin It Wrong moments. If this is miraculously the first time you’ve had one of those, know it won’t likely be the last, especially with interpersonal relationships, where most of us have about a billion of those moments in a lifetime. We’re all constantly learning, and sometimes we don’t recognize ways we have or have not been doing things until we’re presented with a new person or situation that makes it clear. It seems to me that this relationship may well be presenting you with some awesome opportunities for some positives you might not have otherwise created and experienced. How cool is that?
I’m going to leave you with a few links to look over, including a worksheet you both could use together, if you like, to help you get started in finding out what sexual activities both of you may or may not be interested in, how you each like to sexually communicate, and some other aspects of personal sexuality we’ll want to get to know with partners. I think you might also find the links about doing consent well and communication helpful.
- Driver’s Ed for the Sexual Superhighway: Navigating Consent
- Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist
- Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner
- Genderpalooza! A Sex & Gender Primer
- Hello, Sailor! How to Build, Board and Navigate a Healthy Relationship
- She’s a tomboy, so she likes girls, right?