Commentary Sexuality

How (And Why) to Root for Team Awkward

Heather Corinna

What to do when you're worried about physical intimacy with someone being awkward?  Try to embrace it. Intimacy is often awkward. And that isn't a bad thing.

Published in partnership with Scarleteen.

JanFirst2011 asks:

I am 15 years old and I have only made out once. I do not know the person I made out with, and I don’t exactly remember what it was like. I want to make out with more people, but I am afraid I will not be good at it, I also don’t want to embarrass myself with the person I do make out with. Another thing is, what if the person I do make out with tries to do more with me than I am ready? What should I do and how do you recommend getting over these fears of mine? Thank you!

Heather Corinna replies:

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Intimacy is often awkward. And that isn’t a bad thing.

In some ways, I’d even say it’s always awkward, in the sense that it’s never really something that’s exactly easy, especially when we’re just starting to get intimate with someone, rather than when we have been for a long time. Getting and being close to each other physically and emotionally always has it’s challenges and ways where we make ourselves vulnerable: if it didn’t offer those things, few people would be very interested in sex or other kinds of intimacy in the first place. Getting and being close to each other is a constant process of learning — about the other person and about ourselves — and growth, and learning and growing, especially around things or places that are deep and personal? Awkward. When we learn to walk, we fall over a lot, we’re shaky in our legs, we’re uncertain in our balance. Same goes for learning to be intimate.

The places we usually truly and deeply connect with other people are also most often our more imperfect places, or in our awkward moments. This is why you might hear professional performers say they have this amazing, intimate relationship with their fans, but if you ask them who their most intimate relationships are with, they’re not going to say it’s with their fans. They’re going to tell you it’s with the people who also know them when every step is not rehearsed, the spotlights and makeup are not on, they don’t have staff managing their every move and word, and they’re not having to put so much thought into what they do, but can instead just get comfortable and be who they are, even if they say dumb things out loud sometimes or fall on their faces walking across a room.

One of the benefits of intimacy when it’s right for us is that it can afford us the very fantastic opportunity to be awkward — to be human — and have that be totally okay. Making out with someone isn’t the same thing as say, giving a public speech on television or interviewing for a job: the stakes are a LOT less high and the environment should be a lot more forgiving. I know sometimes it can feel like the stakes are just as high, especially when we’re new to it, when we imagine worst-case scenarios, or when we really, really, really want someone to like us who we like, but the stakes with this stuff really shouldn’t be or feel that high. And in real-deal life, when we’re being intimate with people who care about us, not the super-scary stuff we imagine where our whole world ends from one clumsy kiss, the stakes really aren’t that high. We can fumble and it really will not be a huge deal unless we make it one.

My pitch around worries about sex and intimacy being awkward is for people to try and make peace with awkwardness, rather than trying to avoid it. I suggest that for a couple different reasons. For one, it is largely unavoidable, and I like to avoid getting people invested in fruitless efforts. But experiencing, getting through, accepting and, even more, embracing awkwardness can offer us some potentially positive things. For instance, we can learn to be a little less fearless and afraid of life and living as a whole: we can be more open to taking positive risks that get us and others the good stuff. It can help us get closer with people we want to be close to and have the people who know us know the real us, which is much more valuable to us and them than having them know a persona or only know us when we are trying to be perfect.

When you’re in a time of life like adolescence where it can feel like awkward and unsure is pretty much your EVERY moment, I get that all might seem a bit too rosy. This can be something a lot easier to recognize in hindsight then when you’re in it, and embrace when you feel a little more sure of yourself. At the same time, I still think it’s within reach for you now.

Think about some of the biggest laughs you ever had with friends or family. Or about how you felt with a best friend when they were willing to share something with you they felt embarrassed about they didn’t with anyone else in the world. Or, if it’s happened, when someone told you one of the things they found most beautiful about you was something you actually feel insecure about. Awkward, but awesome, right? That’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff that’s most unique about us and all the millions of moments that make up our lives. So, I don’t know about you, but I’m always cheering for Team Awkward. (And I say this to you as someone who HAS had very awkward and embarrassing moments even when doing things like large-scale public speaking, so if it makes you feel any better, know even that is something most of us can get through and eventually feel okay about.)

I also think that one of the ways we can know that someone we’re choosing to get intimate with — whether we’re talking about making out or way more than making out — is a good choice for us is when we feel pretty okay about potentially fumbling, or things being awkward or embarrassing. In other words, even if and when we still feel a little uncomfortable, we feel safe, we feel like we can trust the other person not to humiliate us or be a jerk, we feel like we’re vulnerable, but that’s something we’re open to and think the other person is likely to handle well. If we don’t feel like that, chances are good that a big part of why is that we know in our heads, hearts or guts, that that person isn’t or might not be someone to be intimate with. These feelings of discomfort or fear when they happen can be great helpers in choosing who to get close to and who to keep your distance from.

Do I expect you to be excited at the prospect of things feeling awkward or you maybe feeling embarrassed or uncertain sometimes? Nope. But my hope is you can get to a point where you feel pretty okay about it happening now and then, because it’s going to. Sometimes we’re going to try something when being intimate with someone where it seems like it’d feel good, but it just feels weird or silly to them or to us. Sometimes someone is going to fart in the middle of things: sometimes really, really loudly. We’re going to open our mouths when we want to say something really important and have the words that come out not be what we wanted at all. We’re going to have to pee at times that feel like the worst times ever. Something might hurt that we and another person really, really wanted to feel good.

These are things that happen simply because none of us has complete control over our bodies and nobody is a sexual or interpersonal psychic. We cannot always know what will feel good or work for us or others, not even when we know ourselves or others very well, because none of us stays exactly the same all the time. We can learn, and that’s part of this deal, but even then, things will change up on us or someone else and we’ll have to learn new things or do things differently than we did before.

Sometimes, or with some people, the idea of things like that happening might feel really, really scary. Again, when that’s the case, it’s probably because some part of you has the feeling that that other person isn’t emotionally safe for you — like, they might make fun of you because they’re just not nice people or lack maturity or you might not know them well enough to have any sense of if they’re safe for you or not — or because you, yourself, just don’t feel ready for being exposed in that way or up for it for whatever reason. Not everyone we feel attracted to or like (or who is attracted to and likes us) is going to be a good choice in an intimate partner for us at a given time. No matter how old we are, or what level of experience we do or don’t have, we also don’t always feel emotionally up to being as vulnerable as any of us are when we’re physically intimate with someone. Intimacy with someone can be awesome, but sometimes it’s not our own right thing.

Of course, sometime people want to be physical with people without being at all intimate. That’s a pretty tough thing to manage, especially on all sides. But if that’s what you or someone else wants, then yes: it’s going to feel WAY more scary for anything to go a way that could create vulnerability and a door to intimacy. The only way to get around that is truly to treat making out like a performance. I can’t give you clues or helps for that route, because my job is teaching people about sexuality, not theater. But, putting my bias on the table, I’d also say that you’re probably going to have a much better, and far more interesting time of things if you don’t go for that flavor yourself or pick folks who want that.

Let’s talk a little about your concerns about someone you’re making out with trying to do more with you than you want or are ready for.

Ideally, any time we’re getting down with someone else in any way that’s physical or sexual, including kissing or making out, we’re communicating with each other using our words, not just non-verbal communication like the way we might look at one another or physically react to a touch. What does that mean? It means that rather than just trying to feel out what someone wants with our lips or other body parts, we’re asking each other — not just them asking you, but you also asking them — if we can do things before and as we do things and if things are feeling good, saying when they don’t, and expressing what we do and don’t want as we go.

For instance, let’s say you are making out with someone, and that’s started with kissing, and now hands are coming into the picture, and that’s cool, but more than that isn’t where you’re at right now. Active communication with that could go something like this:

You: This feels really good.
Them: It sure as skippy does.
You: Is it okay if I put my hands under your shirt?
Them: Yes, please. Can I do the same to you?
You: Yes. But for today, I want to keep it at that. I’m comfortable with that, but not with hands in my pants or anything, okay?
Them: Sure, just let me know if this doesn’t feel okay.
You: You let me know, too.

Now, an exchange like that might sound a little different with a bunch of kisses happening at the same time. It might involve less words, for instance (or words interrupted by lipsmacking or “Mmmmms”). Might that be awkward at first, or with someone new? Yep. Is that okay? It sure is. It’s also certainly less awkward than anyone  overstepping someone’s boundaries, not to mention way more likely to result in you and someone else only doing what feels good and feels right for you both. A little awkwardness is such a tiny price to pay for something so potentially great.

This kind of exchange-in-words also might not be something you’ll always need to have if you don’t want to. If you and someone else stick together for a while, as time goes on, you’ll get to know and recognize each others non-verbal ways of communication much more easily so that sometimes you can use words, and sometimes you can also just use things like looks or reactions to touches. But that’s not something we can usually read well with someone we are just getting to know: that takes time, for everyone. Even someone who has made out with several other people before you can’t know that from their previous experiences because they don’t know you.

You can also check in about this before you make out with someone. For instance, you can always tell someone there are things you’re comfortable doing or trying — with the given that if you try something and it doesn’t feel good, it can always stop — and things you’re not long before you get there. Or, if you’ve just been doing some kissing and know you want to do more or sense the other person does, you can start a conversation about this with something like, “Hey, now that we’re getting all smoochy, can we just check in to make sure we’re on the same page about what’s okay right now, what’s not, and how we want to make sure each of us is only doing things the other one wants?” That also lays the groundwork for a relationship where everyone can know how important communication is and start getting good at it sooner, rather than later, or only after learning poor communication can really mess things up.

I know, I know: if we look at TV or movies, there is not a lot of talking with making out or any kind of sex. We’ll also often see scenes where one person tells the other to just shhh when sex starts. But I’m going to assume you’re a smart cookie who knows that just like what happens with, say, cartoon characters and falling pianos isn’t how it goes in real life, the same goes with what we see on the screen and sex. In real life, people talk, including during and around physical intimacy. In real life, consent — on all sides — matters a lot. In real life, there is nothing unsexy about asking someone if they want to do something they really want to do, and if someone doesn’t want to do something, it’s all the more important they’re given the opportunity to say no, not right now, or not that way, but this way would be good, which is what asking provides.

This is another area where we are also figuring out who is a good fit for us to get physical with or not. If someone doesn’t think and act like it’s a given that NO ONE will keep doing anything when someone doesn’t like it or otherwise wants to stop, then we can know that’s a fish to throw back. If you or someone else don’t feel comfortable or comfortable yet communicating that openly and honestly about sexy stuff, that can be a good signal that something isn’t right, and this might not be a good choice or good time to get intimate just yet. Maybe you or they need to get to know each other a little better before you feel comfortable enough to do that. Maybe you or they need to get more comfortable with yourselves when it comes to things like talking about body parts or sex out loud, or being okay with people saying no to something or pulling back: not everyone is secure enough in themselves to deal with that. Once more with feeling: your instincts are so valuable, and so is just being honest with yourself about where you’re really at. If and when something feels too scary, you don’t have to do it.

The good stuff with anything sexual will still be there for you when you’re good and ready for it, and if you’re not really ready for it, or at least awfully close, it probably won’t be very good stuff at all.

I do want to make sure that you’re not self-imposing any kind of deadlines here. It’s totally okay to be 15 and to only have made out once. It’s totally okay to go as slow as anyone might need to so that when they choose to get intimate with someone they feel pretty comfortable instead of feeling terrified. We all get to have whatever our own best pace is and honor that, and when we do that is when we’re most likely to have intimate experiences we do remember, we do feel good about, during and after, and that might feel a little awkward or uncertain, but only to the degree that we can and want to handle.

I’m going to leave you with a few links that I think will be helpful to you. Some of them may seem more about sex past making out, but they’re just as applicable. Also? I’m lending you my pom-poms so you, too, can root for Team Awkward. I require you try and do a cartwheel while holding them. You will probably fall flat on your butt, and can then practice shaking them with dust on your knees and a grin on your face, fine practice for how much of life and everything in it tends to go.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Republican National Convention Edition

Ally Boguhn

The Trump family's RNC claims about crime and the presidential candidate's record on gender equality have kept fact-checkers busy.

Republicans came together in Cleveland this week to nominate Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention (RNC), generating days of cringe-inducing falsehoods and misleading statements on crime, the nominee’s positions on gender equality, and LGBTQ people.

Trump’s Acceptance Speech Blasted for Making False Claims on Crime

Trump accepted the Republican nomination in a Thursday night speech at the RNC that drew harsh criticism for many of its misleading and outright false talking points.

Numerous fact-checkers took Trump to task, calling out many of his claims for being “wrong,” and “inflated or misleading.”

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 Among the most hotly contested of Trump’s claims was the assertion that crime has exploded across the country.

“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement,” Trump claimed, according to his prepared remarks, which were leaked ahead of his address. “Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”

Crime rates overall have been steadily declining for years.

“In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore,” explained Washington Post fact checkers Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee. “But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.”

Ames Grawert, a counsel in the Brennan Center’s Justice Program, said in a statement posted to the organization’s website that 2016 statistics aren’t sufficient in declaring crime rate trends. 

“Overall, crime rates remain at historic lows. Fear-inducing soundbites are counterproductive, and distract from nuanced, data-driven, and solution-oriented conversations on how to build a smarter criminal justice system in America,” Grawert said. “It’s true that some cities saw an increase in murder rates last year, and that can’t be ignored, but it’s too early to say if that’s part of a national trend.” 

When Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, was confronted with the common Republican falsehoods on crime during a Thursday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he claimed that the FBI’s statistics were not to be trusted given that the organization recently advised against charges in connection with Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

“According to FBI statistics, crime rates have been going down for decades,” Tapper told Manafort. “How can Republicans make the argument that it’s somehow more dangerous today when the facts don’t back that up?”

“People don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods,” said Manafort, going on to claim that “the FBI is certainly suspect these days after what they did with Hillary Clinton.”

There was at least one notable figure who wholeheartedly embraced Trump’s fearmongering: former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. “Great Trump Speech,” tweeted Duke on Thursday evening. “Couldn’t have said it better!”

Ben Carson Claims Transgender People Are Proof of “How Absurd We Have Become”

Former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized the existence of transgender people while speaking at the Florida delegation breakfast on Tuesday in Cleveland.  

“You know, we look at this whole transgender thing, I’ve got to tell you: For thousands of years, mankind has known what a man is and what a woman is. And now, all of a sudden we don’t know anymore,” said Carson, a retired neurosurgeon. “Now, is that the height of absurdity? Because today you feel like a woman, even though everything about you genetically says that you’re a man or vice versa?”

“Wouldn’t that be the same as if you woke up tomorrow morning after seeing a movie about Afghanistan or reading some books and said, ‘You know what? I’m Afghanistan. Look, I know I don’t look that way. My ancestors came from Sweden, or something, I don’t know. But I really am. And if you say I’m not, you’re a racist,’” Carson said. “This is how absurd we have become.”

When confronted with his comments during an interview with Yahoo News’ Katie Couric, Carson doubled down on his claims.“There are biological markers that tell us whether we are a male or a female,” said Carson. “And just because you wake up one day and you say, ‘I think I’m the other one,’ that doesn’t change it. Just, a leopard can’t change its spots.”

“It’s not as if they woke up one day and decided, ‘I’m going to be a male or I’m going to be a female,’” Couric countered, pointing out that transgender people do not suddenly choose to change their gender identities on a whim.

Carson made several similar comments last year while on the campaign trail.

In December, Carson criticized the suggested that allowing transgender people into the military amounted to using the armed services “as a laboratory for social experimentation.”

Carson once suggested that allowing transgender people to use the restroom that aligned with their gender identity amounted to granting them “extra rights.”

Ivanka Trump Claims Her Father Supports Equal Pay, Access to Child Care

Ivanka Trump, the nominee’s daughter, made a pitch during her speech Thursday night at the RNC for why women voters should support her father.

“There have always been men of all background and ethnicities on my father’s job sites. And long before it was commonplace, you also saw women,” Ivanka Trump said. “At my father’s company, there are more female than male executives. Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.” 

“As president, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all,” she continued before pivoting to address the gender wage gap. 

“Policies that allow women with children to thrive should not be novelties; they should be the norm. Politicians talk about wage equality, but my father has made it a practice at his company throughout his entire career.”

However, Trump’s stated positions on the gender wage gap, pregnancy and mothers in the workplace, and child care don’t quite add up to the picture the Trumps tried to paint at the RNC.

In 2004, Trump called pregnancy an “inconvenience” for employers. When a lawyer asked for a break during a deposition in 2011 to pump breast milk, Trump reportedly called her “disgusting.”

According to a June analysis conducted by the Boston Globe, the Trump campaign found that men who worked on Trump’s campaign “made nearly $6,100, or about 35 percent more [than women during the April payroll]. The disparity is slightly greater than the gender pay gap nationally.”

A former organizer for Trump also filed a discrimination complaint in January, alleging that she was paid less than her male counterparts.

When Trump was questioned about equal pay during a campaign stop last October, he did not outline his support for policies to address the issue. Instead, Trump suggested that, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Though he had previously stated that men and women who do the same job should be paid the same during an August 2015 interview on MSNBC, he also cautioned that determining whether people were doing the same jobs was “tricky.”

Trump has been all but completely silent on child care so far on the campaign trail. In contrast, Clinton released an agenda in May to address the soaring costs of child care in the United States.

Ivanka’s claims were not the only attempt that night by Trump’s inner circle to explain why women voters should turn to the Republican ticket. During an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Manafort said that women would vote for the Republican nominee because they “can’t afford their lives anymore.”

“Many women in this country feel they can’t afford their lives, their husbands can’t afford to be paying for the family bills,” claimed Manafort. “Hillary Clinton is guilty of being part of the establishment that created that problem. They’re going to hear the message. And as they hear the message, that’s how we are going to appeal to them.”

What Else We’re Reading

Vox’s Dara Lind explained how “Trump’s RNC speech turned his white supporters’ fear into a weapon.”

Now that Mike Pence is the Republican nominee for vice president, Indiana Republicans have faced “an intense, chaotic, awkward week of brazen lobbying at the breakfast buffet, in the hallways and on the elevators” at the convention as they grapple with who will run to replace the state’s governor, according to the New York Times.

“This is a party and a power structure that feels threatened with extinction, willing to do anything for survival,” wrote Rebecca Traister on Trump and the RNC for New York Magazine. “They may not love Trump, but he is leading them precisely because he embodies their grotesque dreams of the restoration of white, patriarchal power.”

Though Trump spent much of the primary season denouncing big money in politics, while at the RNC, he courted billionaires in hopes of having them donate to supporting super PACs.

Michael Kranish reported for the Washington Post that of the 2,472 delegates at the RNC, it is estimated that only 18 were Black.

Cosmopolitan highlighted nine of the most sexist things that could be found at the convention.

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) asked, “Where are these contributions that have been made” by people of color to civilization?