If you come, like I do, from a state where abstinence-only sex ed is the norm, then you probably entered young adulthood with terrible misconceptions about all aspects of sex: sexual behaviors, sexual orientation, and safe-sex practices. I remember sitting through a sex-ed lecture, and I kid you not, the gist of the lecture was “if you have sex before marriage, then you will a) get an std, b) feel like a worthless piece of trash, and c) potentially mess up your future relationships. I literally walked out of sex-ed knowing absolutely nothing useful about sex. Indeed, research indicates that of the 23 abstinence-only sex-ed programs in the country, 80% teach students lies about sex. Moreover, the majority of these programs are ineffective. Of course they are. They teach us absolutely nothing about sex.
Indeed, can we take a moment to pause and acknowledge the fact that we learned most of what we know about sex from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? Thank God for her and for Alice.
The sad reality is that the majority of America’s young adults enter their young adult relationships knowing, at best, something slightly accurate about sex, and at worst, know something about sex resembling a grainy 1980s German dungeon porno set to the same soundtrack as a grainy science film from their biology class.
As an educator of young adults, it makes me sick and sad to see eighteen, nineteen, and twenty-somethings without even a basic understanding of sexuality. I watch with mild horror as they experience the basic comprehensive sex-ed materials I stealthily incorporate into lectures on adolescent development. Since you, dear reader, may or may not have the distinct misfortune to take my class, I’ve decided to compile this information for you here to peruse at your own speed, be it a 10 second power read or a half-hour pleasure read.
- Sex is Normal. It’s ridiculous that this even has to be said. However, the taboo and the guilt which surround the practice of sexual behaviors reveals the fact that subconsciously we think it is dirty and wrong. Our thinking that there is something inherently filthy about sex unless it is practiced within the bond of marriage is directly responsible for the high rate of unplanned teenage pregnancy, STI/STDs, and sexual assault. Sex is normal. I repeat, normal. It is essential for the survival of our species, and as such it incites pleasurable sensations and associations which keep us coming back for more.
- We All Have A Sexual Orientation. Regardless of whether or not you are a man who likes men, a woman who likes women, two people who like each other, or a group of people who like each other, sexual arousal and pleasure are experienced in identical ways. Indeed, there is literally no significant difference between sexual orientations in the way in which we experience all aspects of sex. We also should note that some people are not sexual, or do not experience sexual arousal based solely on physical attractiveness. Asexuality and its related forms are normal expressions of human sexual experience. Unless you are distressed by your lack of sexual attraction, your experience (or lack thereof) of sexual arousal is normal for you.
- Consent is a Three Letter Word. Consensual sex is the ONLY sexy sex. Unless someone has said both unambiguously and emphatically that “yes, they’d like to bump ugly with you” you do not have consent. Having sex with someone who does not want to have sex with you, or who has zero input in the matter, is morally, ethically, and legally wrong. Pressuring someone who has said “no” to say “yes” is also wrong and is not consent. If you hear nothing else hear this: the answer is automatically “no” if they haven’t explicitly said “yes.”
- There is No “Right” or “Wrong” Way to Have Consensual Sex. If your partner has said yes to your offer of love and you both establish a practice and rhythm that work for you, then you are doing it “right.” We are all different in the things which arouse and sustain our sexual interest. If you are into leather, chains, whips, and swings, and your partner is to, then more power to you. If your speed is closer to a page of modest innuendo from a Victorian novel, then get it on like its 1899. The important thing to remember is that everyone involved should consent both to the sex and the practice. Everyone should enjoy the experience. It is not about one person fulfilling their fantasy on an unwilling or uncomfortable partner.And if it is not working, then say so.
- Slide and Glide. Yes, we have to get into the technical aspects of sex because my most horrified moment as a sex educator was being asked if hand sanitizer was an acceptable substitute for lube. No. No, it is not. There is nothing more unfortunate that a potentially good episode of Netflix and Chill being aborted because of poor sex practices. While a whole article could be written on the topic, here are the things you must know: 1) protect yourself and your partner by using condoms and being regularly tested, 2) you must lube with a proper sexual lubricant (you can live dangerously with some unscented lotion, but just spend the money on lube), and 3) remember that you are not performing a jump off of the high-dive at the Summer Olympics; take it slow and gentle until everything is warmed up and ready for a key change.
The next time you have an adult sleepover, think of these things and hold them in your heart. May they bless your love, enhance your relationships, and keep you safe.