How to Ask Your Partner to Have Better (Sexual) Hygiene
If you have as many bottles of hand sanitizer as you do lube by your bed, it might say something about your state of mind regarding sexual hygiene in the COVID-19 era. After a year of obsessive handwashing, mask wearing and social distancing to protect against an airborne pathogen, it's understandable if you've become a total germaphobe—even in the bedroom.
As awkward as it may be, discussing your hygiene obsession—whether you're actually concerned about where someone's hands have been or you're trying to talk to a new fling about BO or genital odors—is just as important as discussing protection and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Think about it this way: In a best-case scenario, it's merely a turnoff; worst case, germs from their body can get into your body, leading to infections (no one wants someone else's grimy fingers inside them, right?).
Do's and don'ts
While it's one thing to ask a guest to wash their hands after handling doorknobs, it's a stickier conversation to ask them to sanitize before handling your knob. And it's the kind of conversation that, done inexpertly and insensitively, can tank a relationship. So how do you bring up such a potentially cringey topic with a partner?
For starters, don't bring hygiene up immediately after sex. That tends to be a vulnerable time, so mentioning the persistent waft of yeasty odors among a few passionate I-love-yous probably won't go over well. Instead, broach the topic outside the bedroom, advised Shannon Chavez, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified sex therapist in Beverly Hills, California.
And keep it positive. "Talk about all the ways to make your sexual interactions a better experience for both of you," Chavez said. "Be concise and direct. For example: 'I noticed when you shave before sex I don't get scratched' or 'I noticed there's less body odor when you groom a bit before sex.' This will encourage your partner to incorporate these changes without it being embarrassing for either of you."
One thing you should never do is blame a partner. "If you say, 'You need to change this, you need to improve that,' your partner will be more defensive and less receptive," Chavez said. "Opt for emphasizing how much these changes will improve the experience you're sharing."
It's not a bed of roses
If you just can't face that conversation, you can try making cleanup an integral part of foreplay, said Rachel Zar, a certified sex therapist in Chicago. "Suggest taking a shower together before sex," Zar said. "Make it fun and consider it something that can be part of the experience."
Hygiene concerns aside, however, remember that it's OK if your partners don't smell like lilacs and rainbows down there.
"We need to normalize the fact that genitals are supposed to smell," Zar said—and natural odors are some of the best pheromones there are. "There's nothing wrong with someone being a little sweaty or having the smells of the day on them when you have sex," Zar added. "If you're having enough fun, you won't notice."
And remember this: Even after COVID-19 paranoia wears off, these conversations are still going to be relevant. Just don't spray hand sanitizer on your genitals in the heat of the moment—even when the pandemic is behind us. Unless that's something you're into.