Consent with Caitlin: sexy times with… roommates?

Graphic by Haley Morkert.

CAITLIN SEGRAVES | STAFF REPORTER | csegrave@butler.edu

Ugh. It’s the end of a long week during a very cold winter, and all you want to do is get it on with your boo thang. All of a sudden, your roommate comes knocking. Even though you just want to enjoy sexy time with your partner, you’re finding yourself in the middle of a wonky love triangle: yourself, your partner and that other person you share your room with. 

It can be tricky enough just sharing a bedroom with someone — especially a stranger — but adding a romantic partner into the mix can make it real complicated, real fast. I talked about how to communicate boundaries with your roommate and your partner when it comes to sexy times with Jules Arthur-Grable, Butler’s sexual assault response and prevention specialist. She broke down why this can be a tricky situation. 

“You have to consider your partner’s feelings, and you have to spend time with your partner to make sure that you’re moving along at whatever pace feels comfortable for the both of you,” Arthur-Grable said. “But, you also need to consider the feelings of your roommates because they might not want to watch you make out with your partner for three hours, just a thought.”

I think that’s fair; you may want to consider not making out with anyone in front of your roommate. That’s a pretty good rule of thumb. Furthermore, if you’re the person with a significant other, you should be aware of the impact of your partner’s presence on your roommate. Arthur-Grable gives us a great example of the roommate’s perspective.

“For example, if you’re in your room with your roommate, you might be comfortable wearing your pajamas, but when your roommate’s partner comes over, you might be less comfortable in your pajamas and you might feel like you need to put on a sweatshirt or wear real clothes,” Arthur-Grable said. “So you might feel like you can’t be yourself in your own space, which can be really frustrating.”

While you can’t control how your roommate feels around your partner, you should be sensitive to them and respect their privacy and any discomfort they might be feeling. You wouldn’t want to feel uncomfortable in your own space, so why would you be okay with putting your roommate in that situation?

Of course, the first step to approaching this situation is just to communicate. Before either roommate brings a partner over, consider setting boundaries. Take this opportunity to explain if you’re okay with your roommates’ partner coming over to study, coming over to cuddle and watch TV or staying the night.

In the second conversation, explain to your partner what boundaries you and your roommate have set. Even if it’s disappointing, it’s not something you — as the partner — should try to pressure to change.

“That is the boundary that has already been discussed pre-you.” Arthur-Grables said. “You need to respect them, if you don’t like them, it’s not up to you to pressure your partner into changing the rules. There needs to be that constant communication going back and forth, and if somebody says no, whether it’s the roommate, person, or partner, that’s the end of it.”

While it may be frustrating to not have the alone time you want, it just opens up an avenue of other opportunities you and your partner can explore. It may be limiting right now, but boundaries are not to be pushed. They can change if everyone is on the same page, but again, it all needs to be consensual.

So sexy time with a partner can be tricky, but what if you want some sexy alone-time… with yourself?

First of all, can we finally normalize masturbation? The amount of science behind the positive benefits of self-pleasure for both people with penises and people with vaginas is incredible, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying your own body. But, having a roommate can turn masturbation into a tricky situation — instead of a sticky situation. 

The key to having solo sexy time while also having a roommate is based on consent. Shocker, right? You have to communicate with your roommate about what level of comfort they have with being present if you want to engage in those kinds of activities. Are they cool with you flying solo when they’re in the room? If so, are they okay with seeing it or hearing it? It could be an awkward conversation, but it is so important to talk about it. 

“Having that conversation and normalizing the behavior is going to be a slow process, but it is something that we can do,” Arthur-Grable said. “But it starts internally, you have to be okay with it yourself before you can start talking about it with others.”

So maybe you aren’t ready to have that conversation at all, and that’s okay! But then you can’t assume your roommate is cool with seeing or hearing you masturbate.

If you have the room to yourself — try to be conscientious of how loud your activities are. Randos walking past your room have not consented to hearing anything, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be in your best interest to have an entire floor of your residence hall hearing you scratching that itch, if you know what I mean.

“Yes, just don’t masturbate loudly.” Arthur-Grables said, “Just be quiet about it. Hey students at Butler, please masturbate quietly, thanks, bye.”

If your roommate can accompany you with any adult activities, that might make these conversations a bit easier. Wink wink. 

Lastly, let me remind you that consent is everywhere! It’s in our daily conversations: when we plan, make agreements or have discussions. Consent is a huge aspect of communication; it’s about respecting the other person. Consent is not limited to sex! As a fun game, try to notice how often you base your decisions and actions on consent in your daily life, you might be surprised. 

Please feel free to email me if you have any topics you would like me to cover in a “Consent with Caitlin” or if you have any fun alternatives to the word masturbation and self-pleasure. I would absolutely love to hear them!

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