I recently hit the streets of New York with a big sign that said “Let’s Talk About Sex.” As the granddaughter of a southern woman who avoided even saying the word—she would say ‘seg’ if she absolutely had to reference the act—I had come a long way in finding my sexual voice as I waved women over to be interviewed for a web series. So I’m excited to share a few secrets I’ve learned for discussing sex or birth control with anyone—including your mother and your boo.
Because, seriously, it doesn’t have to be this awkward:
1. Embrace your sexual self.
If you were born and raised on a desert island, you wouldn’t miss your iPhone or know that the Internet exists. But you would still have four natural desires every human is born with: for food, water, sleep, and sex. Part of the reason talking birth control can be awkward is it forces us to acknowledge our own sex drives.
Get comfortable embracing the fact you were born a sexual being—even if that means setting a monthly date on your Google calendar to explore your sensuality. The more you engage with your own sexual identity, the more empowered you’ll be to take charge in and outside the bedroom. There’s nothing sexier than being responsible for your own destiny.
2. Remember, everyone else is sexual too.
Finding out your grandma was called “buttered biscuit” may be a bit much to take in, but the truth is all of our grandmothers had sex! While embracing your own sexuality, remember that everyone else is sexual too. So if your aunt or older sister bring up getting it on or getting on birth control, take it as an opportunity to ask about their experiences. Or feel free to bring it up yourself—they probably have great insight to share.
Now that I’m well into my twenties, my mother and I have more woman-to-woman chats. In one of our conversations a few years ago, we started to talk about birth control. She let me know she got pregnant with me as soon as she took out her IUD. It was an eye-opener that more than 20 years ago she had used a birth control method I had looked into trying myself and I hadn’t even thought to ask to her about it.
3. Use birth control to bond with your partner.
My boyfriend and I have shared many laughs over our adventures in condom buying. There was the time a sales associate announced over the mic that he needed access to the locked condom shelf and the embarrassing moment when I was visiting family down south and stocking up at Walmart, only to have my aunt come over as the sales associate rang up four boxes.
Discussing your body and future is way more revealing than taking off your clothes, so talking with my boyfriend about protecting ourselves from unplanned pregnancy has only increased our intimacy. It also forces both of us to actively contribute to our birth control plan since we know we’d both be responsible for a baby.
4. Break the ice on your birth control convos.
All that said, bringing up sex and birth control isn’t always easy at first. So it’s totally fine to talk about hookup scenes on True Blood or the latest celebrity baby as an icebreaker to transition to your own sex life and questions.
Technology can also be used to your advantage to email or text quick questions. “Got condoms?” is worth the ask before accepting your winter mister’s invite. And remember, if you are comfortable enough with someone to get sexually intimate, it should be okay to ask if they’ve been tested and insist that a condom is used. For more serious talks, you might want to give a heads up beforehand that you want to have a private discussion soon.
5. Find your birth control council.
For many of us, the most important birth control conversation to have is with our health care provider. Make the most of your time together by already having questions in mind and not being afraid to speak up. With my gynecologist, I always bring up things I’ve heard from friends and family to get her perspective, since someone else’s perfect method might not be a fit for me—and their problems may not apply to my individual situation.
And speaking of friends and family, they can be your own focus group on birth control. The next time you’re at brunch or girls night, bring it up. You may be surprised what information you discover and the variety of birth control methods and myths you’ve collectively had experiences with. (Say no Saran wrap!) Why not kick off the conversation by seeing how many different types of birth control each of you can name?
There is no shame in taking charge of your future. And let’s be honest: sex is more enjoyable when you aren’t stressed about a surprise pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. If the thought of talking about birth control still makes you uncomfortable, click around Bedsider for answers to your biggest birth control and sex questions. One of my favorite features is real women and men sharing their experiences—because we all have a birth control story to tell.
Charreah K. Jackson, relationships editor for ESSENCE Magazine.