In this special bonus episode, Dr. Evelin Dacker explains the STARS method she created. It’s an easy-to-remember acronym that will help you begin conversations leading to great, consensual sex.
But I don’t want you to just get the theory behind the conversation, I want you to hear it in practice! So I invited my friend Ray to join me for a sample STARS conversation that you’ll get to hear about halfway through this episode.
EPISODE TRANSCRIPT (CLICK TO OPEN)
GGTAS episode 8a – STARS
LEAH: In this bonus episode, Dr. Evelin Dacker explains the STARS method she created. It’s an easy to remember acronym that will help you begin conversations leading to great consensual sex. While the obvious time to use it is before engaging with a new sexual partner, it can also be a great tool for long time partners to reconnect and get back to basics.
As Evelyn says on the STARS website, maketimeforthetalk.com, think of it as a way to check in with yourself about your needs, desires, boundaries, and any other aspect of your sexuality that are important for you and you partner to understand. It’s perfectly normal that these things will change over time and with different partners.
But, I don’t want you to just get the theory behind the conversation I want you to hear it in practice so you’ll be comfortable using it yourself. So I invited my friend Ray to join me for a sample STARS conversation and you’ll hear that about halfway through this episode.
I’m so pleased to introduce the STARS conversation!
EVELIN: Sex positivity means looking at sexuality as a healthy normal expression of one’s body and soul and self. It is about acknowledging that sex is one of the most powerful forces that we carry in our bodies and that it cannot only help us integrate into our own bodies. It actually helps us integrate into other people regardless of whether we’re sexual with them or not. It is our connection to our heart that we can use then to manifest connection and love and community and power in every single thing we do. Our society doesn’t know what to do with it so it tries to control it, and therefore, all of the ways containment and stigma and guilt and fear that surrounds it.
So I’m trying to take it out of that box and be like, “We don’t need society and other people to control our sexuality. If we could be better integrated within ourselves, then we are healthier in everything else that we do.” In that so much in medicine is about trying to use negative and fear to make people healthier like we don’t talk about pleasure in terms of becoming more fully embodied as humans.
So instead of being like, “Oh”, it should be like, “Oh, as a child, when I was sexual and I had that energy, it was comforting. It was like my comfort. It was a way that I was able to integrate my body. Oh, if I was upset, this is the way that I could make myself feel better.” Some kids suck their thumb. Some kids have to rub themselves or a blanket because it’s soft and sensual.
These are all ways that we teach ourselves to take care of our bodies and our needs and to calm ourselves down. And so, instead of saying sex is something good, we scare people out of it or it feels so big. I have people who have told me, “Nobody said anything bad about it but it just made me really uncomfortable.” It’s like so big that you didn’t know how to handle this emotion or this feeling of what happened in your genitals.
So if we’re able to teach from the very beginning that this is something good and healthy, we might be able to be balanced in it. I’m trained in functional medicine which is looking at the root cause of the disease and I went to all these conferences and learned everything. They never talk about sex. Ever. Ever. So I’m like, “Okay. We need, in medicine, to start addressing the sex silencing and start recognizing how powerful and important it is for people to be healthy.”
That’s where I decided. I appointed myself to be that person who is going to make that change. And that’s what brings me to Sex Positive Portland and STARS. So I learned about the safer sex talk in one of my classes at SheBop because I went to many.
And I was like, “You know this is fantastic. We need to mainstream this idea.” So I started talking to my patients around it and writing down all the points down on a piece of paper and I was like, “They’re never going to remember this. All the various things and why it’s important.”
And so, I started playing around with the idea and came up with the acronym STARS, which I think pretty much encapsulates it as well as makes it malleable. So it stands for STI status, your turn-ons, your avoids which are your boundaries, your relationship intentions or expectations or what you need out of a relationship, as well as your safer sex etiquette.
I started this a couple of years ago. I really wanted this to be ready for someone who went to college so I kind of printed stuff up, created a website so that was there for him to take to college. Also teaching STARS and I came up with a curriculum and started teaching this to people.
And over the year, I’ve been teaching it for a year, I’ve been able to really dive deeper into what each of these components are and what they mean. STARS I think is the gift to the world that I feel I can actually start birthing first and bringing out and I really want to mainstream it. I want to get it out to colleges.
It’s almost again, the younger the better that we can start people having these conversations. Then we can start de-stigmatizing our difficulty talking with each other about sex. And I mean everybody says it to me and I say to myself, “Damn it. If I had STARS when I was meeting David, our relationship might have been super different.” I might have then been able to say, “You know.” And If I had the language like, “Oh. I’ve been in non monogamous relationships up until I met you.”
EVELIN: Hmm. Maybe there’s something to that. I’m curious sexually. This is what I want to explore more. This is what turns me on rather than never, ever having those conversations. This is what I need to avoid to feel safe with somebody. I mean, damn it. I wish I had this years ago.
LEAH: I don’t know if I’ve said this to you or not. Going through STARS has been a total game changer for me as I think it is for a lot of people.
So I’ve been through the class several times and now, I really enjoy being one of the small group leaders because I’ve gotten so much out of it. But the first time I sat in that class, when they said, “Okay. Now you’re going to go in your small group and talk about your turn-ons and avoids”, I started sobbing. And I couldn’t speak. Thank God, I had a group leader who was able to sit with me through that and be like, “It’s okay. Just keep breathing. Speak when you’re ready.” And he really helped to take me through that process.
But the idea of actually admitting to myself, let alone to a group of people, that there were things that turned me on was beyond terrifying. And the idea that I was allowed to say there are things that I don’t want to do was so mind-blowing that I couldn’t even integrate what that might mean.
And then I think it was either the first or the second time that I took the class that I heard another woman say, “I choose to have men not ejaculate in my mouth or on my face.” And I thought, “Holy shit! You’re allowed to say that? You’re allowed to have that boundary?” That’s just not something. That’s an absolute given that you’re supposed to let men do because they want to, total game changer for me.
And for me, I’ve now had that conversation with a bunch of people, and I’ve never had once had a bad response to it. I’ve never had once have a man say, “Yeah. If you’re not going to swallow, I’m out.”
LEAH: Which is I think is this message that we get like, “You only really love him if you swallow.” Bullshit! [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: So I want to say to you thank you because it has just been massively life changing for me and I see it rippling out into other areas of my life too where I’m feeling more comfortable with being like, “No. This isn’t working for me. Let’s try something different. Surely there’s a way we can come to a win-win solution.” You’ve said what each of the letter stands for but what’s under each of the letters?
EVELIN: Well, talking about STIs is really difficult for people and it’s not so much talking about what infections they’ve had or currently have or what they don’t have, it’s more about shame, stigma, and fear. And so that’s what we bring when we talk about STIs, we’re talking about our shame, stigma, and fear. Yeah. These are infections and we get all sorts of infections that are far worse sometimes from just eating a salad.
EVELIN: So when I say, “Why are people so much more scared about having sex and talking about STIs than they are about eating a salad?” It has to do with this and this keeps us from being able to take care of our bodies and taking care of ourselves.
So if we can first address the fact that we’re scared of doing something and then we realize, “Oh, if we talk about what we’re doing, then we won’t be so scared about it. It’ll make us feel better about what we’re getting engaged in.” So I like putting the STIs up first because it really makes you have to deal with your discomfort and your shame about sexual activity. And I usually start my conversations on that note because I want to see where people are and how they feel about that and then kind of deconstruct their fears around infections.
Turn-ons is about what you want or what you enjoy and what you think you might want to explore with somebody or have been fantasizing about. It could be anything that turns you on, whether it’s really good kissing or hanging out and having a great conversation. It could be anything. But it makes you have to think about it and it makes you have to take responsibility again for what you desire and we tend to do this very blindly and unconsciously. In fact we tend to live life blindly and unconsciously so the STARS talk is really about being conscious and presenting yourself authentically.
Avoids are your boundaries and the things that you may have discovered through life that you just don’t like. Like having somebody cum on your face or it could be something you’re uncomfortable with the idea and you’re not really ready to explore that. They could be a trauma that you’ve had in the past and you absolutely don’t want to go near, and none of these things necessarily have to be cemented. I mean you may decide that you don’t want anybody to cum on you, and then you’re in a relationship and you think, “You know, I kind of want to figure out if it’s really a boundary of mine or not.” Or could that change if I felt safe?
A lot of our boundaries are there because we don’t feel safe and again, it’s about being able to verbalize, “This is my boundary and this is what I need to avoid.” And it’s about the other person hearing that in a non-ramped up, endorphin filled sexy time where they can’t hear it. And for people tot be able to enter things again and it creates safety.
Relationship intentions is about who are you, what do you bring into the table, and what is it that you want with that person? What are your expectations with that person? What do you need from them? And this is really, really hard. It takes a lot of vulnerability to get to this place and say, “You know. I like you and I want to explore hooking up with you or being in a relationship with you or getting to know you as a friend” and whatever it is you want because you’re scared that they may not want the same thing or they want more, they want less.
But being able to put it out there, it’s like putting your cards on the table and therefore, it minimizes projection onto the other person and it’s a foundation and it is scaffolding. And then you can build everything on that foundation and scaffolding.
It’s not a “This is the only thing that I want”, because things always shift and change but putting out, “I’m a bisexual woman and I really enjoy bisexual men” or “I enjoy bisexual women. I enjoy people who are able to have the masculine and the feminine together and what I want from you is to figure out what kind of relationship will unfold” or “Hey, I just want to talk. Let’s just hook up and have fun and realize that there’s nothing else that I would want or need afterward. I don’t need you to check in with me and text me and I might be really busy and forget to text you so if you need that, let me know now because then I’ll make it happen. And if you don’t, tell me and I may not and it’s not because I don’t like you, it’s because I’m a super, really busy person.”
And then, safer sex, it is about “Hey, I like using condoms so when we get in the heat of the moment if you can’t get an erection.” And I say, “Hey, let’s try not using it. Or every time you put on a condom, you lose your erection, leave me an agreement that we’re only going to use condoms. So we’ll do something else.” Or “Let’s use different options where we use an insertable condom if you can’t put on a wearable condom.” Making that agreement and listening to it and saying, “This is what it means for me to feel safe with you because if we break that, then I’m not going to feel safe with you.”
About contraception, do you know what contraception your partners have? And what if it doesn’t work out? Like what if you’re having a hookup and then you get pregnant because believe me, I know people that this has happened to. What are you going to feel like if your partner gets pregnant and you’re a 21 year old guy and you’re just hooking up? Do you feel okay about that? Or you make sure, if you say at the beginning, “Look. If you get pregnant, I don’t want to have a child.” And if they say, “No, I would want to have the kid”, then maybe it’s not a good idea to go forward.
So these are really important conversations for everybody else to have but safer sex isn’t just about protection, condoms and contraception, it also means what do you need to feel safe. For me, I don’t feel safe with somebody who is intoxicated and I like to let people know even before I go on a date that I do watch how much people are drinking, I can’t help it. If somebody is pounding down the drinks while we’re having dinner, it’s not going to go anywhere so I might as well not have dinner with you. Two drinks is about as much as I could tolerate a person having and that’s good.
I’m really super sensitive to that. Whereas I might not be as sensitive to someone who is smoking weed, so this is what I need to feel safe in terms of intoxicants and things that are mind-altering. I also sometimes need to know that if I’m going to go home with them, do they have a roommate there. Am I going to notify my friends like I’m going to let my friends know where I’m going? Am I going to just be limited to a public space? What does my surroundings need to be for me to have safer sex? So I need to know all of this before I even enter into something. And communicating it is a good and healthy thing.
LEAH: Not to mention. It can be really sexy.
EVELIN: Totally, I mean it totally can. [LAUGHTER]
EVELIN: In many different ways and yeah, I tell my patients, I’m like, “Why don’t you try it out and just say your doctor told you to do it?”
EVELIN: Write it out and say, “You know what my doctor gave me homework and they said to do this.” [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: So after having heard that conversation with Evelin, I have asked my friend Ray to join me to do a sample STARS conversation so that you can actually hear it in practice. So Ray, thank you so much for doing this with me!
RAY: So Leah, I’m really interested in getting to play. LEAH: I would like that too.
RAY: Would that be okay?
RAY: Good. Yay! I’m all in there now.
RAY: But I really want to have a talk. I want to make sure that we do this consciously, right? So one thing of the things I’m really interested in is getting some information so we can kind of decide how we want this to progress without getting swept up in the moment. When I lose my mind and kind of just fall into you and the desire, right?
LEAH: I like that idea.
RAY: So can we get a couple minutes and talk?
LEAH: Yes please.
RAY: Okay. Great. So I’m going to start the STARS thing and I’m just going to go down the list. LEAH: Okay. Great.
RAY: So I guess the first part is the sexually transmitted infections. I want to talk about my history. I served in Peace Corps a couple of years ago for the first time in my life, came home with an STI. And I was really startled by that. It was gonorrhea and it was trichomoniasis and I’m kind of embarrassed to even admit that to you. I’d always pride myself in being really safe and being without STIs. So it really got my attention and I had been pretty religious in testing before that and I guess it was unexpected that that came up and since then I’ve been pretty vigilant. I get tested every six months right now. I was tested back around Christmas for HIV, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, trichomoniasis, and Hep C. I have been tested for herpes, both 1 and 2 in the last year. I’m positive for Herpes 1 and negative for Herpes 2.
LEAH: And Herpes 1 is the oral version and Herpes 2 is the genital version? Okay.
RAY: Yeah. Most often. There’s sometimes a crossover but that’s what it stereotypically is. Most people
have Herpes 1. That’s what 7 or 8% of the population carries it.
LEAH: And so can you tell me, you came home with the STI, what was the treatment protocol? Are you now negative?
RAY: Yes. I’m now negative just took extra care about it.
LEAH: I’m really happy to hear that. Thank you for being transparent. RAY: Sure.
LEAH: So for me, I was tested for the full panel of STIs, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, HSVs, syphilis, Hep, and HIV about three weeks ago. Everything came back negative with the exception of syphilis which they said they didn’t have enough of a blood sample for.
LEAH: And so I needed to come back in and have some more blood drawn. And I haven’t done that yet. I had to push to get it done because they’re not real free with the herpes test unless you have an active infection.
But I pushed and I got the herpes test done and actually, to my surprise, came back negative for both 1 and 2. Not that I’ve ever had a reason to believe that I have it but I know that they’re both quite
prevalent. I just assumed that I would have come in contact with it. In terms of risk factors, over the last six months, I have been active with multiple sex partners and I have been sexually active with men who have sex with other men. Again, I have been tested since all of that ended so at this point I think my risk factors are pretty low.
RAY: Great. Turn-ons and avoids. Looking at the possibility of getting the chance to play with you, I like to move slowly, right? And I want this to be conscious so I like playing with energy and sort of stirring the pot and seeing what we’re going to do. I like everything from just basic vanilla, what we consider regular encounter, yeah? And I like playing with power play a little bit just the topping and bottoming and trading who is taking initiative and I guess I can be kinky at times but that’s something that I like to grow into, right?
Really what I’m interested with you is just getting to connect with you and just getting to feel you. So as I move slowly, we can play and see what feels good and what doesn’t. Other than that, I don’t have an agenda. There’s nothing that I really need from you other than be connected with you, right? And see what comes from that and really what works for you is what works for me. The avoids, I’m not much into anal play.
LEAH: Giving or receiving? RAY: Receiving.
RAY: Actually I like giving. LEAH: Okay.
RAY: My nipples are really sensitive so I kind of need to be careful with the attention I get there. And I really don’t have many avoids outside of that.
LEAH: What about sort of the three biggies? Piss, poop and blood? RAY: Oh, see I don’t even go there.
RAY: I don’t think of those as options. Absolutely not.
LEAH: Okay. What about breath play?
RAY: Now that’s kinky. I consider that really, fully in the realm of kink so as I talk about what I’m interested with you at this point, that is certainly not something that I would go to. I have not done much breath play. I have some curiosity around it but that’s not something I’m going to do.
RAY: And I think that pretty much covers it. I like lots of kissing everywhere. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: Thank you so much for sharing. I love knowing all of that about you because for me, the biggest turn-ons is knowing what my partner enjoys so that I can do that without feeling like I’m going too far a field or wondering if this is going to be something that he or she enjoys, so thank you.
So for me, my absolute rock-bottom requirement in terms of turn-ons is communication and connection and respect. If I don’t feel like I’m communicating well with somebody and if I don’t feel like there’s a really good level of connection, I’m not taking my clothes off.
LEAH: Period. The fact that we’re having this conversation means that I already feel like I’m there with you. So thank you for that. So my erogenous zones are basically my skin.
LEAH: All of it. And the kind of touch that I really like is feather light touch pretty much anywhere. And I’m actually going through this process, for a long time my whole body was shut down and I couldn’t feel much. And now, various parts of my body seem to be turning on. Sometimes they turn on and turn off again.
LEAH: Sometimes they come online and stay online. I don’t think there’s anywhere that I don’t like to be touched but the places that I particularly enjoy it are my back, my butt has recently come online.
LEAH: And the top of my chest. I really like it when people touch my face because it makes me feel cared for and that’s a really sweet and lovely thing that helps me to feel safe and therefore more present and turned on. So I’ve done a little bit of exploration in the sub-y, top bottom activities and I definitely am enjoying that and I’d like to explore that a little bit more.
LEAH: But like you said, that has to happen in a container of already feeling safe and comfortable so
that’s maybe a little bit later on.
I really like it when my partner makes noise and lets me know what they’re enjoying and what they’re not enjoying. I want you to tell me if there’s something I’m doing that’s not working for you so I can do something different that is working with you. And I’m not going to get into a bad shape about that.
RAY: We’re really on the same page with that. What turns me on is what turns you on so I need to be connected to you and I need you to be able to communicate with me. And if that’s not happening then we’re not happening. I share that with you actually.
LEAH: Excellent. For me, a major avoid is playing with somebody who is impaired with either drugs or alcohol because I have a history of abuse where my abuser was most often drunk and I had another relationship that was emotionally abusive where my partner was high. Those are pretty hard red lines for me.
It’s fine with me if we go out for dinner and you have a drink with dinner, but if I start to see your eyes going fuzzy or if I feel like you’re not present in the room with me, I’d probably put a halt on the activities for that evening. A big turn off for me is any sort of humiliation or degradation which I think is entirely separate from any sort of sub-y activities that can happen without humiliation and degradation.
RAY: Right. I agree.
LEAH: Absolutely. And I would like to request that you not make any comments about my body unless
they are excessively positive. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: You can tell me all you want how much you love my curves and my flesh and all of that but if you’re thinking anything other than how much you love it, please don’t verbalize it.
I’m not interested in the big three. Pee, scat, blood. I am not interested in breath play at all. For me, a hard red line is not being able to communicate so I’m not interested in gags or anything that would impair my ability to speak. And I request that my male partners not ejaculate in my mouth or on my face. Other places are fine.
And I also enjoy the first time I play with a new partner getting to feel our bodies together and discover how we are together without penis and vagina penetration the first time we play. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
RAY: Yes. Yeah, that’s fine.
LEAH: Thank you. I appreciate that. It’s something to look forward to the second time. RAY: I don’t have an agenda with you.
LEAH: Excellent. I like that. Do you have any questions about anything that I’ve said? RAY: No, that’s pretty clear. And that felt really good.
RAY: Yeah, so the relationship expectations. I am a cis male, basically hetero, I am poly. I have a very full life. I’m looking for friends who I can be lovers with. I want to make sure that I’m not misleading with you.
I like being close to you. I love the idea of being able to play with you. I feel like it’s important for me to be connected to the people that I do play with but that doesn’t mean that I have expectations as to where this is going.
If we get to spend a night together, a text in the morning knowing that you’re still smiling and that we look forward to the next time we see each other is plenty to me.
LEAH: So I am a bisexual cis female. I have been traditionally monogamous. I never actually considered that anything was even possible or not morally repugnant.
LEAH: And now that I’m in a community where many of my friends and a lot of the people that I come in contact with are either poly or in open relationships or in some other configuration, I’m beginning to understand that that’s actually really lovely. Not to say that all of those are healthy relationships but they sure seem to have communication down a lot better than many of the monogamous relationships that I’ve been in.
So I don’t know where I fall. Right now, I am allowing myself to go where the energy is at any given moment but I’m also not looking for a relationship right now. If one were to develop with somebody, I wouldn’t turn that down but I’m not making promises to anybody or looking for anybody to make promises to me.
RAY: I’m glad that we’re having this talk because we can be really clear with one another about what our expectations are.
LEAH: As far as after whatever encounter we have, I do enjoy communication. I am a communicator so I probably will reach out to you by text or email and I enjoy having some communication. I don’t require it to be all the time every day. We’ve already established that we’re not becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.
LEAH: And as far as social media, I am very private on social media. So if we take pictures together, if we just go out to the park, that’s fine. I’m fine if it’s posted and tagged but if there’s anything that speaks to something more intimate, I definitely want to be consulted or something like that.
RAY: I’m glad you brought that up. It’s not something that crossed my mind. LEAH: Yeah, that’s important to me.
LEAH: All right.
RAY: All right. So safer sex etiquette because I’m poly and I’m connected to other people being safe is really important to me. So you know that’s how I show self respect and how I respect my partnerships.
I’m fluid bonded with one partner currently. I was with another one. I’ve been tested since that relationship ended. I’m actually planning on being tested Wednesday. I use barrier protection for any kind of penetrative sex but I don’t use barriers for anything else.
LEAH: So you say fluid bonded that means you don’t use condoms?
RAY: I don’t use condoms.
RAY: I would expect us to use condoms if we decide that we were to progress to any kind of intercourse and that’s not negotiable. Other than that, I feel pretty relaxed.
LEAH: Okay. Great. So for me, I’m actually reliant on men to use condoms because I have tried to use most of the forms of female birth control and I become a raging lunatic bitch.
LEAH: Which is an effective form of birth control!
[LAUGHTER] RAY: Irony. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: But not the way one wants. And because I am still menstruating, it’s imperative to me that men use condoms. So other than condoms, my choice is not to use barriers for oral sex with men or with women unless my partner is more risk aversive in which case I will certainly go with their preferences.
And I do not want children. So one of the questions that’s important for women who are still fertile to talk about is children and whether we’d be willing to carry an unintended pregnancy. I do not want children and I’m 44, which is considered a geriatric pregnancy. It would be very high risk so I would not be willing to carry an unintended pregnancy.
Wow, that is a really awkward place to end the conversation. [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: So how are you feeling after we’ve had this conversation?
RAY: A lot clearer and a little more connected. It just means that I know who you are and that I’m really glad to be able to make our integrity first as we move forward. And so I just like the practice of being connected to people before I lose my mind and jump into something without thinking it through.
LEAH: Yeah. And then we don’t have to be say, in the middle of sex and I don’t have to say, “Wait. Wait. You can’t ejaculate in my mouth” and have you feel rejected. That’s not about you. That’s just about a personal preference.
RAY: Right. Cool.
LEAH: Thank you so much for doing this. RAY: Now, can we make out? [LAUGHTER]
LEAH: Thanks for joining me today on Good Girls Talk About Sex. If you have questions or comments about something you heard or if you’d like to record a voice memo for use in a future episode, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, let me know if you’d like to be a guest on a future episode. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at IamLeahCarey. Links to any people and resources mentioned in this episode are in the Show Notes. I’m Leah Carey and I look forward to talking with you again next week.
- 1:26 – What is sex positivity?
- 4:00 – The lack of conversation about sex in the medical profession
- 5:00 – An overview of what the letters in STARS stand for
- 6:50 – Leah’s experience with STARS
Breaking down the STARS conversation:
- 9:07 – STI Status
- 10:32 – Turn Ons
- 11:13 – Avoids
- 12:18 – Relationship intentions
- 13:55 – Safer sex practices
A sample STARS conversation:
- 16:48 – Introducing Ray
- 17:51– STI Status
- 20:35 – Turn Ons and avoids
- 27:56 – Relationship intentions (for the sake of clarity – this conversation was taped last summer, prior to entering a monogamous relationship with my current partner who you have heard me references in episodes that were taped more recently)
- 31:16 – Safer sex practices