On Safety Rules for Casual Sex, and on Premature Ejaculation

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe,

I’m wondering about hook-up etiquette and safety. I’m newly single and online dating is a thing now. If you want a hook-up with someone, should you meet them in a public place first instead of just having them come over to yours/you to theirs? Go for a drink and then what, when they’ve passed your magic non-murderer test, go back to yours? They’re still pretty much a stranger after a drink and I don’t necessarily want to go on a date with someone I just want to have sex with (this is assuming we’re both on the same page). Is it that different to going home with someone after a night out?

Any friends I’ve asked think it would be crazy and dangerous to just have them call over, but, while they’re not being judgmental, I think they wouldn’t be into this situation at all so I wonder is that colouring their opinion? Though it’s true that if you’re not attracted to them or not into it for some reason in real life it’s less awkward to extract yourself from a pub than someone’s house.

I don’t know anyone else doing this kind of thing so what’s the done thing these days? I’m new to all this so guide me please!

The first rule of casual sex is there are no rules.

Though there probably bloody should be, to be honest, and I’ve previously written some guidelines on the Golden Etiquette Rules of Casual Sex and how to talk about STIs with a casual sex partner.

In that column, I wrote about how it’s impossible to have casual sex and be 100 percent sure that you’ll never end up catching an STI, because frankly, shit happens.

And even if you have all the conversations with your partner and use protection and all that responsible stuff, sometimes you can just get unlucky, or have sex with a lying asshole, and so the only safe thing to do is to assume that everyone has an STI and proceed accordingly by taking all the precautions you can – while not being so obsessive and paranoid that you take the fun out of the whole thing.

Frankly, I think the same attitude applies to having casual sex generally. You have to be aware of the risks and be sensible, while also accepting that some things are just out of your control. You’re right; there is no magical murderer test – and even if there was, as a woman your husband or long-time partner is far more likely to pass it than a random stranger off Tinder. (Yes, statistics and the world are depressing. Thanks, Patriarchy!)

But I think you can be smart about the risks without ruining the mood completely. And generally, it involves meeting them in person, letting someone know where you are, and also judging how your potential sex partner reacts to you wanting to feel safe.

So, the gist: if you’re planning a rendezvous with someone from an online dating or hook-up site, always arrange a little pre-sex meeting with them first. Always and forever amen.

I’m a firm believer in gut instinct, and the importance of in-person dynamics. And not just for safety reasons, but for basic attraction reasons. No matter how hot their online photos are or how deft their use of vaguely sexual emojis, you just don’t know how your pheromones and chemistry and banter is going to translate in real life until you meet someone in person – and it’s always better to do so in a way that lets you exit stage left easily should you want to.

As a personal example, I always have a very strong reaction to the particular tone and timbre of people’s voices, and have on several occasions had a lot of flirty banter with people on dating sites, only to meet them in person, hear them say “Hi” and have my previously very willing vagina shut down like those temple walls in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

I’ve also had some very strong gut reactions when it comes to my safety. Meeting people in person can immediately let you know how they treat your personal space, how they look at and or/touch your body before your encounter becomes sexual, how they react if you lay down a boundary, how they communicate generally, and whether you feel safe with them.

Is this a foolproof way of judging whether someone is a murderer or not? No, but it’s a pretty foolproof way of judging whether you’re comfortable with them, and that’s always important to know before you’re in someone’s bedroom, when it gets harder and more uncomfortable to extract yourself from the situation.

This doesn’t have to turn any casual-sex encounter into dinner and a movie, and neither do you have to necessarily conceal what you’re doing. When arranging a no-strings-attached encounter, simply ask them “You mind grabbing a quick drink/going for a walk/meeting me outside for a few minutes first so we can both make sure we’re into it?”

That’s an absurdly reasonable request, and frankly anyone who objects to spending a few minutes making sure you feel safe and comfortable should set your alarm bells ringing immediately.

Even if you’re arranging to have a one-night-stand with someone, consent means that you get to end the interaction at any point, and they have to respect that. By immediately raising the idea that you may not go through with having sex with them if you don’t want to, and seeing their reaction, you get to see how they approach sex and consent, which is an invaluable piece of information to have before meeting up with them.

Next up, tell someone where you’re going. Pick your most open-minded, non-judgmental friend and get them to be your safety wingperson.

Agree in advance that if you’re going over to someone’s place that you’ll just send them a quick text letting them know that you’re going to meet up with someone (and, if you like, the person’s name and number), and that you’ll text them whenever you leave the person’s place safe and sound. This doesn’t take any effort on anyone’s part but is just a good way of making sure someone knows to be looking out for you.

Again, I also wouldn’t shy away from being open about this. If you’ve met someone cute and are heading back to theirs, you can just whip the phone out and say “Oh, give me a sec; me and my friends have this thing where we text each other if we’re going back to someone’s place – half a safety thing and half just to congratulate each other, you know the drill!”

It’s light, it’s breezy, and again, so damn reasonable. Again, anyone who would object to this is already dodgy in my book, so it’s a nice little litmus test.

Finally, make sure you have an exit route. If you’re going back to someone’s place, make sure your phone is charged, you have their address, some form of taxi app on your phone, and enough money to get home. You never want to be in a situation where you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, but you can’t get home.

And you get to assume that your potential sex partner will do the same if they come to yours. If someone comes back to your place and for whatever reason you decide you want them to leave – they have to leave.

Don’t settle for any “I don’t have cash to get home/I missed the last bus/it’s too late to go home now” excuses. They’re an adult, they managed to meet up with you for sex, they’ll manage to survive getting home.

If they keep insisting they don’t have enough cash to get home, or if you’re worried that they’re too drunk/whatever to make their own way, tell them to phone a friend who can pay for a taxi home. If they’re comfortable disturbing your night, they should be more than comfortable bugging their mate.

If they still insist they can’t leave your place, call a friend or the Gardaí. Seriously. Either they’re a dangerous coercive creep who is trying to manipulate you into letting them stay at yours, or they’re genuinely too drunk/broke/incapable of getting home – which is still not your problem, and you don’t have to pretend it is.

As you date and have casual sex a bit more, you’ll realise what makes you feel comfortable, but I hope these general guidelines help – and readers, please leave your own safety tips in the comments!

***

Dear Roe,

I’m a 32-year-old woman and I’ve recently started dating a new man. I like him a lot, and find him so attractive, but I’m a bit worried about our sex life. We’ve only slept together a few times, and he’s very generous when it comes to foreplay and oral, but I think he may have an issue with premature ejaculation because he doesn’t last very long. During penetrative sex and when I’m going down on him, he has finished quite quickly, within a few minutes. Do you have any advice on how to handle this problem?

Dear Reader,

I have advice, though it may not be exactly what you’re looking for, for the simple reason that I’m not actually convinced that you or your partner has a problem.

(Just a note before we begin: I’m going to refer to men in this answer because you say you’re dating a man, but not only men have penises or experience issues to do with what you’re calling premature ejaculation; trans women and gender fluid and non-binary people and anyone with a penis can experience this too, and the same advice applies.)

You’ve only dated this person for a while and had sex a few times, which means that that uber-excited level of attraction and sexual chemistry is at its most novel. Many men and people with penises finish quickly the first few times they have sex with a new person, because, y’know, sex with a new person is exciting and nerve-wracking and new and unfamiliar and a host of other feelings and sensations that might make them orgasm quickly. Often, when you’ve been with someone a while and you both become more comfortable and familiar with each other’s bodies and your own sexual responses, sex can last longer.

But “longer” is a relative term, and I’m wondering what your definition of that is – and what your definition of what “premature ejaculation” is, to boot.

Premature ejaculation is a difficult thing to diagnose, and a term I’m not at all fond of, because it’s hugely subjective. Diagnoses are largely based on a person with a penis saying that they’re unhappy with how quickly they ejaculate, which itself is based on the assumption that there’s an ideal amount of time a man should last before ejaculating – and many men overestimate how long other men last.

The reality, by the way, is that on average, most men last between three and eight minutes before ejaculating. This means both that the average length of time a man lasts varies significantly while still being considered average, and that generally, most men aren’t putting in a Game of Thrones-episode-length performance – and no one should expect them to. So when you say your new man finishes “within a few minutes”, my immediate response is, “Sounds about right, yeah.”

Apart from these misconceptions around the length of times a man “should” last, there’s another reason that I’m staunchly against anyone other than the person with the penis in question using the term “premature ejaculation”. Because the diagnosis is based in dissatisfaction around the length of time the person lasts – but is being defined by someone else. So when you say you think your man has premature ejaculation, what you’re doing is slapping him with a diagnosis based on your standards, expectations and enjoyment – not his.

And those standards and expectations of yours, by the way? They seem fairly limited. You say yourself that your new man is generous when it comes to oral sex and foreplay – do you know how many women would love that? And yet you’re still saying that there’s a problem because you think your man finishes during penetrative sex and oral too quickly. Frankly, it seems like the problem may not be your partner, but your desire to prioritise a very limited aspect of your sex life, and your staggering lack of imagination.

Let’s examine your use of the term “premature ejaculation” and your complaint that your man finishes too quickly, and let me ask you two questions: what are you valuing here, and what would you like to extend?

It seems that by giving you oral and putting effort into foreplay as well as having penetrative sex, your man values giving and receiving pleasure in a variety of ways, and is actually extending your sexual encounters and pleasure through these activities. Are you including this time in your account of how long he lasts? I’m guessing you’re not, and are solely problematising your sex life based on the amount of time penetrative sex lasts.

By doing so, you’re assuming that the most important thing about sex, and its end goal, is extending the penetrative portion of it. Is this because you actually enjoy penetrative sex over everything else, or have you just internalised the idea that it should be the most important, and longest-lasting portion of sex?

Now, it could well be that you enjoy being penetrated above anything else, and that’s fine – and completely manageable. Because frankly, penetration doesn’t always require a hard penis, nor does it have to be performed for a long, uninterrupted length of time to be effective.

During penetrative sex, tell him to let you know if he’s getting close to orgasming so that you can stop what you’re doing and let him take a break. This doesn’t mean all penetration has to stop; get him to finger you, go down on you, or use a sex toy on you for a few minutes until he feels ready to enter you again and continue for a few minutes.

You can also ask him if there are certain positions you can try that might be less sensitive for him, or would he be comfortable trying some thicker condoms that might also lessen his sensitivity so you can have penetrative sex for longer – he could even switch to a thinner condom after a few minutes so that you both get the best of both worlds.

But do be aware of what you’re valuing and prioritising, and what you’re asking. Because the reality could be that you actually have a great sex life with this person, but by imposing arbitrary standards you’re not realising it. And it would be an all-too-unfortunate irony if your relationship was to finish too quickly because of that.


Do you have a question for Roe? Submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

Author:

Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

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