What Are the Rules for Talking About Your Sex Life With Friends?

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When it comes to kissing and telling…your friends, it can be hard to know what crosses the line. There’s the issue of respecting your partner, of course: Are you spilling dirty details that they’d rather you keep private? Plus you might not know what’s TMI versus TAI (totally acceptable information)—you don’t want your pals desperately wishing they could unhear one of your X-rated anecdotes.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you should keep all your business to yourself, though. Revealing parts of your sex life can be good for you and your friendships, Todd Baratz, LMHC, a New York City–based certified sex therapist, tells SELF. “By openly sharing, you can help normalize conversations about sex, become more comfortable discussing it personally, and potentially receive support if you’re struggling with something,” Baratz says. “And let’s not forget—it’s sex, so it can be fun to talk about too.”

Still, you don’t want to end up violating your partner’s trust (or your friend’s ears). To help you determine how much of your sex life is okay to share with your social circle, we spoke to a few experts for some guidelines.

First, find out what your partner’s cool with.

They have a right to confidentiality, so you shouldn’t talk about anything they wouldn’t want you to. And the only way to know what your partner is comfortable with is to ask, Sara Nasserzadeh, PhD, a Los Angeles–based social psychologist who specializes in sexuality and relationships, tells SELF. Having a conversation upfront about what each of you considers private (when it comes to sex or anything else), is a good way to ensure you’re in the clear and minimize the potential for hurt feelings later on.

To help the chat go as smoothly as possible, you’ll want to be thoughtful about how you broach the subject too, Janelle Peifer, PhD, LCP, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Richmond, tells SELF. Dr. Peifer suggests giving your partner a heads-up and picking a time that works for both of you, so you’ll feel more relaxed. And instead of diving in with “I want to talk about our sex life” (potentially scary), she recommends making it clear that you want to understand what’s important to them when it comes to confidentiality and respect (less scary). “This subtle reframe can help you feel aligned and prevent your partner from feeling defensive,” she adds.

It’s important to have this talk with each new sexual partner, too, because everyone has different values and preferences when it comes to kissing and telling, Eliza Boquin, LMFT, a certified sex therapist based in Houston, tells SELF. You might have a lover who doesn’t mind you bragging about your hottest moments, for example, but draws the line at you sharing less satisfying experiences. Or you may agree that neither of you should spill anything to your friends without discussing it first.

And what if you had a casual hookup or a one-night stand? Odds are you’re not about to call them up and ask for explicit permission to rehash the night with your friends. For situations like that, you can stick to your own experiences—how you felt or what you did, for example—out of respect for the other person’s privacy, Dr. Peifer says. (It may also help to think about what you’d be okay with if the roles were reversed.)

Remember: Just because you’re “allowed” to talk about certain aspects of your sex life, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

While probably unlikely, you do run the risk of having people use certain details against you (in a friend breakup gone ugly, say) or viewing you or your partner in a different way (like being judgmental about your bedroom activities, perhaps), Boquin notes. It’s also possible that one of your pals could start fantasizing about your partner or sex life, Dr. Nasserzadeh adds. You can’t control people’s thoughts, obviously, but if you’d rather not have a friend picturing your significant other (or you) in a particularly graphic situation, you might want to reconsider disclosing private details—or at least keep the conversation PG-13. And maybe save the juicier stuff for close friends you fully trust, Dr. Nasserzadeh says.

Give your friends a chance to opt in.

As we mentioned above, what’s okay to share according to one partner might be totally off-limits for another, and the same goes for your friends. Some of your besties may want all the intimate details, while others might prefer that you keep things a little less explicit. Out of respect for your friends’ boundaries, Dr. Peifer says it’s probably a good idea to offer anyone listening a quick “Do you mind if I get detailed or do you prefer I keep it vague?” before jumping into the deep end of a sex story.

(And it doesn’t make them a prude if they opt for the latter, by the way. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just don’t want to picture my friend—or their partner that I’ve only met once at brunch—like that!)

Know how to recover if you overshare.

If you spill too much, you might feel a sense of regret (the dreaded emotional hangover), Dr. Peifer says. Maybe you know your pal is on the reserved side and now you’re worried that the sex tale you told is going to make them feel uncomfortable around your significant other. (Hypothetically, I might try not to be judgmental but still end up feeling super awkward when my bestie leaves to go to the bathroom and all I can picture is her boyfriend meowing like a cat in bed. Hypothetically.) Or perhaps you crossed a line by breaking one of your partner’s privacy boundaries and now you feel guilty.

No matter the scenario, your best bet is to be honest and take accountability for what you did. Tell your partner you overshared with a friend, say you’re sorry, validate any hurt feelings they have, and explain that you learned your lesson and are going to be more careful in the future, Dr. Peifer suggests. Similarly, if you said too much to a friend, she recommends owning up to your mistake: Apologize, acknowledge that your disclosure may have crossed a line, and assure them that you’re going to try not to do it again.

The above advice may seem like a lot to keep track of, but when in doubt, think about the rules for good (and respectful) sex: You’ve got to make sure all parties are on board beforehand—and honor other people’s boundaries and preferences as best you can.


Originally Appeared on SELF