I was raised conservatively, and despite all my changes after getting out into the wide world, it still shows. I'm quiet, dress fairly modestly, and never swear in public - I have strong inhibitions about saying certain things out loud. The first time I swore (as a senior in college) it was very difficult to get the sound out! But it's all personal, I really don't care if other people say those things.

This has led to some situations where people around me hold back because they think my sensibilities will be offended. For instance, they will cast a nervous glance at me before using a mild term, or say "pardon my French!" after a swear.

Another example is when I hung out with a couple of girl friends from work. The subject turned to terrible dates we'd been on, and from there a discussion of sexual acts. I felt like they noticed I wasn't saying much (although it was quite entertaining!) and that they changed the subject because they felt awkward talking about it in front of me.

In both situations, I didn't want them to think that my embarrassment meant I was judging them for talking like that; it was just my upbringing tying my tongue. I would like other people to feel comfortable around me! Perhaps it would also help me feel more comfortable with my inner voice too.

I do try to say "oh, I don't care" when people make direct comments, but they don't always. This happens most with people I'm just getting to know, so they're already more cautious than usual. I'm sure some people won't be comfortable unless I join in, but I'd still like to know what I can try.

How can I signal that it is totally fine for someone to talk explicitly around me, even if I don't talk that way myself?


2 Answers 2


A couple of years ago some friends and I played an absolutely NSFW knockoff version of Cards Against Humanity... if you've ever played CAH, you'll know that it's already pretty NSFW. This game, aptly titled Personally Incorrect was a last-minute buy when we realized that one simply doesn't walk into Target and buy a copy of CAH...

There were six of us - three couples - and one of the other girls was somewhat like you (despite being an actor). I remember her very clearly being baffled with one of the cards she drew and had no clue what it meant. She turned to me and asked "What are 'beef curtains'?" and we all broke out laughing and she turned a lovely shade of pink.

There were several such uncomfortable moments because, as I've already implied, this game is horrid and way more explicit and objectionable than anything I've seen CAH do... but we had an awesome time despite that and nearly every time we've gotten together since then, we make some reference to it, so it's become a bonding memory we all share.

I tell you this because part of what allowed us to continue the game and have fun was, despite her obvious discomfort, she was genuinely trying to figure out what these awful terms meant and we all had fun laughing over her innocent lack of knowledge.

So, for you, be like that. If they're talking about stuff that makes you uncomfortable, explain why it does (tell them your story if they don't know already) but let them know that you want to be more comfortable around it and you want to learn because you don't feel like you will be able to be "with" them and that they will be comfortable around you if you don't learn and spend time being exposed to it.

You may not join in a conversation about bad dates if it really makes you uncomfortable (or if you don't have anything to share) but asking questions to learn more about what they're talking about will show them that you want to continue the conversation. If they're talking about one guy's Jacob's Ladder (please don't Google this if you're at work) and, if you don't know what that is, ask them! And when they tell you, look appalled or giggle nervously and make a comment about how that must have been really painful or that you'd never want to date a guy who had that.

Being inquisitive while being uncomfortable is the best way I've found to show that you're interested in them continuing the conversation... and if you get really uncomfortable, let them know that you're ready to move on to another topic.

Your other (related) option is to be the person starting these conversations. If you're the one making these conversations happen, that usually means that you're trying to get more comfortable with them... and starting them doesn't mean you have to actually use the words or do more than listen and ask questions... so, maybe you should consider finding a copy of this game, take it to a game night with people you trust and say, "Hey, I hear this game has a bunch of words in it I don't know... want to play it and explain them to me?"

  • 1
    Oh boy!! I did go through a time when people (mostly guy friends in college) would try to see who could make me blush the most, haha. Now I've learned a few things, but I am still shy about letting on :P
    – Em C
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 22:43
  • 1
    :D I actually like it when people make me blush... it's not easy, I'll admit... I've spent too much time with band geeks and SCA people to have any claims on "innocence" but there's something about the warmth in my face and the smile it brings... though it's usually something that's a positive for me, not a negative, so you may feel differently.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 22:45

You can try showing your comfort with explicit topics by engaging in the conversations a bit more actively and/or enthusiastically, but since you don't necessarily want to talk about certain things you self you can ask questions or prompt people for more details (if appropriate).

Basically you want to show interest, even if you are not the "driving force" behind the conversation, because otherwise people have no real way of knowing what you are/aren't comfortable with. By the time they catch themselves wondering if they offended you or not it's often too late to let them know everything is fine, the momentum is lost.

So try to smile or laugh (if it's funny), or ask a question, make a comment, doesn't have to be often, but just to show that you are with them still and not uncomfortable

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