So you’re having a nice little chat with one of your best friends and “the subject” comes up, specifically about how your dear friend needs some help with it.
“The subject,” of course, is sex: and situations like this can be equal parts uncomfortable and/or touching.
So here are a few thoughts on how to handle it when someone close to you asks for your help. Especially the advice to give and, more than anything, when to just listen.
Put yourself aside
First of all, never forget that this is about your friend and, not at all, about yourself and your own desires. Unless it’s clearly asked for, this is not an invitation to do anything but be there for them.
The second, and equally important thing, is to put your own issues and biases aside. Again, this is not about you but about your friend—and what could very well be an extremely difficult thing they’re going through.
And if for some reason you can’t deal—and this can’t be stressed enough, —politely explain your discomfort and wish them the best in their sexual journey.
Not to get all dark all of a sudden but if your friend is expressing something violent, non-consensual, or involving those who cannot give consent, then clearly and certainly explain the illegality and ethical ramifications of that—or even alert the authorities if you feel that’s necessary.
Listen, listen, listen
Okay, back to sweetness and light. While, again, this isn’t about you this still can be a massive compliment and honor—so treat it as such: thank your friend for putting their trust in you and respect how difficult talking about sex, even with a good friend, can be.
The next thing would be to remind your friend that while you can listen, even offer some advice, sex is always a very personal journey, and that your friend is the only person who can decide what feels good and right to them.
Another thing to consider is to refer your friend to other resources. There certainly are many of them, such as the well-respected San Francisco Sex Information, so it shouldn’t be too challenging for you or your friend to find places to answer their questions and even give them help in their explorations.
There’s no hurry
While it might be tempting to do so, especially if you are sexually confident or well-educated, listen before saying anything. Give your friend all the time they need to say what they want to say and if they do have questions then answer with support and kindness.
Often someone struggling with their sexual identity will feel isolated: that they are the only ones feeling these thoughts or desires. Because of this, offer to be there as much as you comfortably can as well as encouraging your friend to seek out social venues like LGBT+ support or social groups, BDSM munches (casual gatherings for those into power exchange) or similar.
Along with finding resources and community support, you might also suggest that they find a good therapist. Again, this is not saying “you’re sick and need help” but instead always “sometimes a professional can really help.”
Another thing to discuss with your friend is for them to take their time, that there is no deadline for finding their sexual selves. This is not being dismissive but instead should be reassuring that doing this kind of deep self exploration isn’t something that’s done overnight. There, too, will be up and down days but they should still continue to examine their desires, look at what gives them pleasure, and not push themselves.
Best of all, ask them to remember that you, and their other friends, will be there to hold their hand no matter what.
Friends care for friends
To reiterate, while being asked by someone close to you to help in their search for their sexual identity can sometimes come as a surprise, you owe it to them, as well to yourself as a good friend, to respect the difficulty they no doubt are going through—both on the journey as well as opening up to you about it.
So put yourself, and any issues or biases you might have, aside and be there for your friend. Because, who knows, there might come a time in the near future when you too will find yourself questioning your own sexuality; and by caring for your friend with tolerance, acceptance, and kindness you could very well be helping yourself on your own journey of discovery.
If they want you to, then hold their hands, look into their eyes and be there for them. Afterall, it’s what friends, especially good friends, do for each other.