How to be a better hookup

Sex educator Allison Moon teaches all of us how to be kinder, more playful, more ethical sluts

The morning after a really good hookup, I’m usually beaming, walking around with a spring in my step, writing more than I have in weeks. As if by magic, I feel more optimistic about the universe, more profoundly certain of the capacity for human kindness, more present in my body.

Great sex is a form of self-care for me. It reminds me that we’re not just brains walking around in inconvenient jars. We can be delightfully sensual, erotic creatures, with an innate capacity for play and exploration.

But finding great hookups isn’t easy. There’s no guarantee that steamy in-app sexting will translate to in-person chemistry. And even if it does: What next? The pandemic has put millions of sex lives on pause. It’s an opportune time for all of us to reflect on what we really want out of casual sex—and have better conversations with our partners about their desires, too.

Queer sex educator Allison Moon’s new book, Getting it: A Guide to Hot, Healthy Hookups and Shame-Free Sex (Ten Speed Press), offers advice on how to hook up with integrity. And it’s hot. Xtra talked with Moon about the social dynamics of hookups, sexual stereotyping in queer communities and navigating health conversations during the pandemic.

You’re already a prolific author, with a queer YA series (Tales of the Pack), a memoir (Bad Dyke) and a beloved, illustrated sex ed guide for queer women called Girl Sex 101. What’s the origin story of Getting It?

Girl Sex 101 was released five years ago. And even though the book was written for queer women, I found out that about half my readers were straight men. I thought it would be good to speak to all genders and sexualities about the etiquette of sex, about community and sexual citizenship.

There’s a lot of stuff out there about technique. But I think what people are looking for is content about the social niceties and navigating the complexities of sexuality in the current age. People are realizing sex is far more complicated and possibly far more rewarding than we’ve been treating it. They’re looking to deepen their understanding of themselves as sexual beings, and to manifest stronger partnerships, whether they last a night or a lifetime. 

If readers are expecting that I’m going to teach them how to trick people into having sex with them, this is not the book for them. Getting It is for people who want to explore what’s possible for themselves and for their communities around sexual health and pleasure.


What do you mean by “sexual citizenship,” exactly?

Sexual citizenship is the acknowledgment that the ways we approach and have sex affect our communities and society as a whole. Sex is not separate from the rest of our identities or interactions. Being a good sexual citizen acknowledges how your choices affect the physical and emotional health of people in your community. It acknowledges how your sexual awareness, your ability to get information and your access to health care all affect your sexual experience. It acknowledges that sex is part of what makes you a complete individual, and what makes each of us completely unique.

Sexual citizenship is the acknowledgment that the ways we approach and have sex affect our communities and society as a whole.

It’s kind of nice to have Getting It come out during a period when it’s harder for people to hook up in person. There’s more time to slow down and consider who you want to be as a sexual citizen.

I’m hearing from a lot of people who read this book because this is the first time that people have had the time to reflect on their sex lives. People who aren’t in partnerships are kind of all in a forced celibacy streak. People in partnerships may struggle with mental health affecting their cohabitation, and challenges already in the relationship being amplified. Quarantine has certainly put pressure on everyone.

This time is kind of a silent retreat where we have the opportunity to sit with ourselves and really examine what we want from our sex lives. That’s what Getting it is for: To teach people how to explore their own relationship with sex, and how to improve their communication skills and their self knowledge so they can have more fulfilling sex, whatever that looks like to them.

Right. There’s no universally applicable sex template, no “ideal” frequency or number of partners or style of sex. So I really appreciated the first section of the book about understanding yourself.

Thank you. People’s desires for sex are just as diverse as the kinds of sex we want to have. So often, literature assumes a heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla perspective unless they’re teaching specific techniques outside those norms. I wanted to take it down to the basics and talk about relating and sexuality, and how to have the sex that you want to have ethically, regardless of what that sex looks like. Because it’s going to look different for everyone.

Even folks who are heterosexual, monogamous and vanilla—the types of people to whom all the sex advice in the world is geared towards—can lack understanding of their own sexuality and communication practices.

There’s an assumption that sex is something we automatically learn by doing. It’s weird that sex is the one thing in this world that we’re just expected to “figure out.” We don’t get lessons about sex and desire from teachers or parents or trusted adults. We don’t have people who we can go to and ask, “Is this right?” “Are my desires to do this thing normal?” Sex is this weird black box. Even among leftist, radical, sex-positive folks, there’s cultural silence about specifics.

A lot of us feel alone. It’s hard if we have nobody to ask, “Was that situation okay?” People don’t communicate, even with their friends, about their desires and interests because of the culture of shame.

My goal is to help undo that shame so people can talk frankly, and have healthy conversations about sexuality in public. That lack of conversation separates us from living in a liberated society. How can we imagine talking about the complexities of abortion or sex work when we’re afraid to talk about sex in general with people that we know?

Tell me more about your journey. How did you end up as a sex educator, facilitating  public conversations about sexuality, abortion and sex work?

Growing up, I was the sex talk kid. I was just curious about bodies and sexuality. And I’m very blessed to have had wonderful parents. My father was a nurse and so for him, it was important that his daughters knew the right words for things. I was the kid in Catholic kindergarten teaching my classmates the words vulva and scrotum. I realized I had secret access to this world of information that had been denied to my peers. I felt like I was investigating the occult. Then, once we all hit puberty, I realized that there was more stuff we weren’t being taught.

Growing up, I was the sex talk kid. I was just curious about bodies and sexuality.

It wasn’t until college that I got my eyes opened up. I met transgender people. I saw lesbians holding hands. I got to have my crash course in LGBTQ2S+ issues. And I quickly realized that I was queer and that there was more to learn.

The biggest gift my parents gave me was the self-confidence to explore my sexuality at my own pace and to advocate for myself. When sex became part of my life, I wasn’t afraid of it in the same way that a lot of my peers were. I didn’t feel isolated from my identity because of sexual desires.

Into my adulthood, I was still the friend that people talked to when they needed a gut check, or when they were interested in a kink and they didn’t know where to look for it. I realized how few people have safe people to talk to about their desires. So my calling in sex ed is being the safe person to talk to for anybody who accesses my book.

What can people who already run in sex-positive circles learn from the book?

In Getting It, I talk about how shaming people for their sexual interests is something that happens in sex-positive communities, too. It’s just that the shame looks different. Sex-positive communities sometimes shame people for not knowing things, or not liking things. My whole vibe is to stop with the shaming stuff, and teach people how to find ethical sexual experiences for themselves.

“We need to stop judging people for what they do or what they don’t do.”

We need to stop judging people for what they do or what they don’t do. I see a lot of people who are asexual or demisexual who feel completely isolated from other sex-positive communities because they don’t engage in sex with the same aplomb as some of their friends. That’s just as problematic.

I’ve been heartened by the rise in asexual and ace-spectrum visibility in the last couple of years. There are some great books out recently. But I still want to see self-identified super sluts say, “Hey, some people just don’t want to fuck, and that’s okay too.”

Totally. This is what excites me about sexuality. It’s an ever-unfolding exploration of self and society. It’s not just, “Gee, I found my label and I found my partner, and now it’s just that forever.” Anyone who is self-aware realizes that their own sexuality changes throughout their lifetime. And the way we speak about sex changes throughout generations.

I’m concerned for people who get calcified in their identities or in their expectations of other people. It’s far more problematic and dangerous. It creates TERFism, it creates hate groups, it creates bigotry. It’s far better to allow for the expansion and understanding of sexuality and eroticism.

There was this moment in Getting It where you talked about how people’s identity labels don’t necessarily correlate with who they sleep with or partner with. I felt so seen. Everybody keeps asking my husband Raj how he can still be married to me, like, “You’re a straight guy, and you’re married to a man?” And he’s like, “I love Andy. I’m sexually attracted to women. Stop bothering me.”

I think the expansion we’re seeing around sexual identity opportunities is in large part thanks to trans people. Especially trans people who are in partnerships that may be traditionally heterosexual from the outside. And then when someone follows their own inner sense of rightness or their gender journey, the couple engages in a conversation about what this is going to look like. How are we going to have sex? Do we want to stay together?

I really admire the bravery of trans people for even being willing to live their truth in that way at the risk of a relationship. And what I love about it is it has encouraged the average heterosexual person who doesn’t think they know any LGBTQ2S+ people to ask themselves, “If my husband or wife came to me and said, ‘This is who I am,’ would I want to stay with them?”

Thank you. You talk about your own identity shifts in Bad Dyke and Getting It, too.

Today, I accept every aspect of my identity as far more fluid than I used to. I think I started that way, fluid, but then sometime in my twenties, I got hardened. Until suddenly I was a lesbian who fell in love with a cis man. And I was like, “Fuck, now what?” It was frightening because I had heard so many horror stories of lesbians who were excommunicated from their communities when they fell in love with a man. I’m very grateful to all of my beautiful friends who said, “I might not understand it, but I accept you, and I love you.”

Queer sex educator Allison Moon. Credit: Reid Mihalko

We should all be so grateful to live long enough to explore different ways of living. Sometimes that exploration is about a sexual identity or a gender identity. Sometimes it’s about, “I was widowed young and now I have a slut phase in front of me at 40. What’s that going to be like?” When we get attached to rigid ideas of what our sex life has to look like, we undersell our own life experience. When we can approach our sexuality with curiosity, with compassion, with enthusiasm, then we actually get to have a very rich sex life. 

I’m curious about how that shows up in different sexual subcommunities. 

The etiquette for hooking up will be different in a bathhouse versus a BDSM club versus a lesbian bar versus a straight hookup party. And that’s okay. The problem is when a person approaches another person expecting them to act, think and behave in a certain way based on their gender and their sexual label. This just comes from label-first thinking.

So many different sexual stereotypes follow people into any sexual community. It comes from these insular micro-cultures. But what I think is often more fruitful is giving people their voice and the room to express what they’re interested in. When we learn to use our words, we get better at communicating what we’re into, what we’re about, what we want from the other person. And then we can find the overlap. Doing that requires you to give people space to answer, to advocate for themselves.

Totally. One of the things I love about my favourite sex party spaces is the diversity of pairings and groups that you see, all kinds of genders and orientations and body types, surprise tops and bottoms.

I wish that everyone could experience play parties because they make you understand the true diversity of sexuality. Most people’s experiences of seeing other people have sex is porn, which is an entertainment medium, not an education one. People in porn are going to be extraordinarily good-looking sexual Olympians. When we treat that as how sex is supposed to look, of course we have body image issues. Of course we feel inadequate about our penis size or about our breasts or about our ability or inability to squirt across the room. 

What’s really been beautiful about being in a sex-positive community is getting to see people have real sex right next to me. It’s been huge for me specifically, understanding that as I age, if my body changes dramatically, if I fall in love, I don’t have to leave behind my sexuality.

Beyond sex parties going virtual, how has the pandemic changed how we negotiate hookups?

I find that sex nerds are uniquely suited to live through COVID-19 because we are adept at talking about how our health choices affect the people in our lives. We talk about our testing, our STI status, our safer sex protocols and our relationship protocols when we’re learning how to be ethical sluts. Nowadays, it’s not any different for us to talk about who we’ve seen recently, who we’ve been indoors with and what their protocols are, because we already understand that our health affects our partners’ health.

I want to encourage people to practice having frightening health-related conversations with their friends. Talk about what your contraception rules are if that applies to you, and what your STI testing protocols are. Because if you can’t talk about it with your friends when you’re not naked, how can you talk about it with a person you’re really excited about, right before you do the do?

It’s always harder to talk about things under pressure. Practice is a beautiful thing. And it can be fun. Pleasurable, even.

The homework associated with sexual exploration is pretty cool. Masturbation is great. Exploring the practice of conversation and the practice of talking about your feelings after sex is great. I’ve hooked up with all sorts of folks and I’m so grateful for the people who don’t treat emotions like something to be avoided. Whether it’s a one and done thing or an ongoing lovership, I appreciate the people who have the emotional intelligence to handle the unique way we’re getting together.

Another thing a lot of people don’t realize is that when you meet somebody who’s got their shit together on sexuality, they are like gold. You want other people to experience the beauty of that. I’m partnered to a total slut and I have had so many women be like, “I need to get laid so badly.” And I’m like, “Would you like to have sex with my husband?”

We think a sexual reputation is negative only because we live in a sex-negative culture. But a good sexual reputation can get you laid, and it can get you invited to the right party.

Understanding the diversity of bodies and ways to have sex also removes the expectation that you should want or not want certain things, like the assumption that trans folks should or shouldn’t want bottom surgery.

There might be some slutty people who only want to hook up with a certain type of person, and that’s it. You do you, I guess. But I think one of the best parts of being a slutty person, or a sexually exploratory person, is getting to explore and be introduced to new bodies, new ways, things that you didn’t think you could find hot but suddenly are super hot.

It’s cool to explore people’s relationships to their bodies, people’s gender identity on any given day. I think these things are really exciting and fun, but we so often treat them as dire or prohibiting. That’s just the wrong way to approach pleasure.

The book discusses how hooking up can mean many different things, and that’s okay. Let’s talk about the different casual sex styles you touch on. 

Most people think of a one-night stand as the standard definition of casual sex. But I also think that a lot of people, even with one-night stands, are still open to the idea of seeing people again. 

Friends with benefits is another common form of casual sex: You’re friends first, but then you enjoy sex with each other here and there. It’s one of my favourite forms. If I like you enough to have sex with you, I can enjoy you another way.

No strings attached sex is floating in and out of people’s lives for sex, and not having much overlap in their lives other than sex, which is a fun and fine option as well.

And then there’s anonymous sex, which doesn’t get talked about a lot in most sex books. But I wanted to acknowledge it because it’s a really important part of a lot of people’s sex lives. Think of bathhouses, hookup apps with fake names and limited pictures or, back in the early days of the internet, Craigslist. Anonymous sex is a part of certain subcultures. For example, some aspects of gay male culture focus more on anonymous sex than other communities.

Those are the primary styles, and there are variations—from booty calls to sleepovers. Once you decide what you want, it’s time to explore the etiquette of how to best go for it.

For folks who are new to this conversation, can you illustrate what a negotiation might look like from the initial contact, to getting together, to wrapping up?

The first thing to know is it generally takes a significant amount of talking. Before sex, it’s a lot of talking about what you’re looking to experience, what you’re up for, any agreements that you have and any boundaries that you have. For example: “I am in an open marriage with this man, and you should know that about me. I’m open to dating, but not ever settling down with another person.”

This is also a good time to share what kinds of words that you like to use or don’t use for your body. If there’s anything that can derail the joy, air it upfront. For example, “I’m trans, I have a vagina, I like my vagina. You can touch it, but please ask before you penetrate.” Whatever those things are for you—the ways you like to be touched, things that are just no zones.

Next comes STI protocols and needs. For example, “You need to use condoms, and these are my birth control needs,” if that’s important. Just front-load that whole conversation.

It sounds like a lot, but it really doesn’t have to be. You can negotiate this over an app before they head over to your place. You can negotiate it over dessert or on the walk home. These conversations can take months or minutes, and can be incredibly efficient or incredibly effusive, depending on what you’re interested in.

You’re giving them a roadmap for how to rock your world. And if you listen when somebody shares that with you, you’re golden. This type of information allows all parties to relax and to know enough about each other’s bodies to proceed in a way that feels pleasurable.

“You’re giving them a roadmap for how to rock your world. And if you listen when somebody shares that with you, you’re golden.” 

Can the conversation continue once sex starts?

During sex, it’s all about being good at advocating for yourself, speaking up when you know that you need something adjusted. That can be as dramatic as, “I’m feeling like I’m having a panic attack,” or as mild as, “My foot’s cramping, can we adjust our position?”

It takes practice to get to a place where you feel safe advocating for yourself, where you know what you actually need. So practice. Practice saying no to people if you’re bad at saying no. Practice saying yes if you’re bad at saying yes.

And ask good questions. Stay connected during sex. Don’t tune out. If you notice your partner is tuning out, pause and check in with them.

If you tend to tune out during sex, go slow. Notice your triggers. Practice mindful masturbation. Choose partners who value your presence. And start doing the work necessary (whether through therapy, 12-step groups or something else) to work through and heal your trauma.

If we’re trying to have a sensual and erotic experience, then we should be making sure that we’re all having a good time.

And then after?

This is the hardest part for a lot of people, because often those feelings of shame that we squelch before and during sex come back, or even feelings of awkwardness of embarrassment.

What I encourage people to do is to stay connected, stay present and stay communicating. Talk about your favourite parts. Talk about anything that you need to talk about to clear the air. Ask questions that you may have and bring up your expectations or desires about doing it again.

So if you could share one thing that you wished everybody knew about hooking up, what would it be?

The best sex is the sex that you want to have.That can look like a lot of different things. It’s going to look different for everyone. Take the time to figure out what a fun hook up looks like for you. Then you’ll have much better results.

Beautiful. What are you working on next?

I’ve got another book proposal I’m working on. And I’m really enjoying dramatic writing, so I’ve been working on a play and I’ve written some screenplays. I’m also working on some projects to expand Girl Sex 101.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Andy Bandyopadhyay is a bisexual trans man and sex educator based in Brooklyn. He's writing a memoir, I Took Your Name, about how he told his straight husband he was a man.

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