Exploring new sexual terrain in a healthy way requires self-reflection, communication, and experimentation. Guest author Deanna Richards, LMHC, outlines how queer women can safely expand their sexual experiences.

Sexual exploration is an important part of every individual’s journey to self-discovery, and is a process that — if done safely — can be emotionally and physically rewarding. Whether you’re in a monogamous relationship, an open relationship, are polyamorous, or otherwise, expanding one’s erotic horizons can help promote self-knowledge and combat societally conditioned feelings of shame around sexuality.

From iPhone apps to sex parties to toys, there are countless ways to discover and experiment with new or underdeveloped sexual interests. I encourage my clients to start with low-risk outlets for experimentation to get a feel for what they’re curious about and comfortable with, and then scale up to events like sex parties if they feel they’re ready.

Below, I’ll outline the four phases I recommend my patients try in sequence to ensure their exploration is positive, empowering, and enjoyable:

Level One: There’s An App For That!

Before you get started exploring, it’s important to create a sexual “Yes, Maybe, No” list in order to set boundaries and get an idea of what you’re looking for. Thankfully, there are a number of smartphone apps you can use to do so.

The apps that I’ve found useful for my patients include Kindu, Undercovers, and PlsPlsMe. Each of these provides different ideas — some flirty, some kinky — that you can learn about and determine if you’d like to try. Kindu is designed for couples and helps you and your significant other identify shared sexual fantasies. Once you know what’s out there and what piques your interest, you’ll have a better idea of how and where to begin experimenting.

Read more: A Therapist’s Guide to Navigating Kink

Level Two: Toys and Workshops for New Sexual Experiences

While the rise of apps and digital resources has been both transformative and educational, sex shops offer a great way to connect with experts and ask questions IRL. If you’re in New York, consider swinging by one of Babeland’s three locations. This shop has a queer focus, and is a great place to go if you’re not quite sure what you want, but are open to different ideas. The friendly and helpful staff can guide you toward the best toys, lubes, condoms, and accessories. Trust me — you won’t be leaving empty handed.

Most sex shops also offer sex-positive workshops designed to combat the sense of shame that so many of us have when it comes to sex and experimentation. Workshops offer a comfortable venue to expand your understanding of particular topics or activities that you may have heard or thought about but haven’t yet tried. Not only will you have a chance to hear about other attendees’ experiences, but you’ll also practical leave with practical takeaways — no matter what kind you may be having.

Level Three: Makeout Parties

For those who are ready to take their exploration outside the educational sphere and one step further, makeout parties provide an exciting, low-stakes environment for experimentation within a culture of consent. If you don’t know already, a makeout party is literally just that: a party where singles and couples can go to make out with both strangers and friends. They provide a safe setting to explore opening up a relationship, or to simply navigate what it’s like to openly discuss sexual feelings with strangers.

An added bonus? Makeout parties often provide an environment where women can practice assertiveness and feel empowered to make the first move.

In New York, I recommend House of Scorpio, which hosts a pansexual kissing and cocktail party. Even if you show up and decide it’s not your scene, you’ll still enjoy a gorgeous venue and a nice cocktail.

Level Four: Sex Parties

Once you’ve navigated a makeout party and feel that you’re ready for something more intense, sex parties provide an exciting, liberating environment to meet and engage with new people or explore mutual fantasies with a partner.

But before you dive in, take time to mentally and physically prepare for new sexual experiences. Be sure to map out what you are and aren’t comfortable with, establish hard limits, and make sure you’re prepared to say no if necessary. On a practical level, it’s important to bring the appropriate type of protection, avoid becoming too intoxicated, and think about how you’ll be getting to and from the party. If you’re going alone, don’t hesitate to arrive early (really, it’s ok!), communicate with a host or bouncer, and ask them to keep an eye out for you.

Different sex parties have different demographics — so make sure you check out what the theme is and who the party caters to. Skirt parties, for example, remove men from the equation altogether, creating a safe, female-only space for lesbian exploration among thoroughly vetted guests. With men out of the picture, Skirt parties are typically less sex-oriented and more about flirtation and cultivating a sensual vibe. If sex happens, great. If not, that’s not a problem. Mini Skirt parties are an even softer point of entry, and are typically — you guessed it! — shorter and less intense.

At the end of the day, sex parties, like makeout parties, are generally predicated on consent. Because they’re organized and monitored, they’re often very safe spaces.

Exploration Should Be Fun

Regardless of your level of experience, it’s important to do the following before you dive into any new sexual experiences:

  • Communicate clearly and consistently: let your partner(s) know what you want, don’t want, and are comfortable with.
  • Know thyself: decide what you aren’t comfortable doing before you enter a sexual interaction.
  • Make a Plan: have an exit strategy should something go wrong.
  • Reflect: take time to consider how your new sexual experiences are making you feel.

If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsure about a particular activity, never hesitate to to check in with yourself, slow down, and say no. Expanding your sexual repertoire should be, above all, empowering and enjoyable.

Interested in learning more? Make an appointment with Deanna Richards today, or visit her website for more information. 

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