Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the editor in chief of SELF and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about how to date and have sex when you’re newly out as queer.
Today’s question comes from a 23-year-old listener named Raven who says she recently came out as queer. She wants to know how to get started dating women. And she’s also curious about what she needs to know about sex—how to have it, how to be safe.
Raven says that most of her friends are straight, so she doesn’t really have many people to talk to about this stuff. Meanwhile, she also tells us that she’s having serious confidence issues. She doesn’t know how to talk to women, which is really surprising to her. “I realized that the level of confidence I had with talking with a man was completely different to the level of confidence I had with trying to talk with a woman,” she says. “The difference was staggering to me because usually I’m pretty confident. But the moment I tried to talk to a woman, I got so nervous, I got so anxious about it, I didn’t know what to do. So I just ended up not doing anything at all.”
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At Raven’s age, cisgender heterosexual folks have had many years to learn how to navigate romantic relationships, and likely have tons of examples in their lives, both among their friends and family and also in popular media, about what sex and love and dating for heterosexual couples might be like. Queer folks don’t have that—which can be really unsettling.
To help Raven out, I first speak with Casey Tanner, a queer sex therapist based in Chicago. She gives very clear, direct, and helpful advice about the logistics here—safe-sex basics, dating while queer, how to learn how to have sex in the first place. On safe sex, she talks about a range of things that Raven should keep in mind, from condoms to cleanliness and protection for your hands. She also mentions the important point that not all women have vulvas, and so Raven might still need to think about birth control and pregnancy prevention.