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Some thoughts on Sexuality, Communication, Safer Sex and More!

Written by Pamela Harter, BSW, Health Educator and Family Planning Counselor. This essay can also be found in the
Teen Section of this Web Site.

Our sexuality is a normal and healthy aspect of being a human being. Our desire for closeness and intimacy is a powerful force which is core to our very survival at birth when we bond with our mother. As we grow up and mature, we seek to expand our intimate relationships as a normal part of our development. As we evolve from children to young adults, we desire more independence or autonomy. There is a desire to experience intimacy and to form mature and adult bonds with other adults. When the combination of emotion and friendship evolves with a desire to physically express and bond with another adult, this is sexual expression.

There are many ways to be affectionate, loving and even sexy, without having intercourse or "going all the way". Kissing, touching, hugging, caressing and pleasuring each other can be very satisfying and you can avoid the risk of unplanned pregnancy and disease. Getting accurate information on sexuality and learning about the full range of expression available to us can be a life long adventure and one of the most pleasurable and satisfying aspects of being a human being. In the last 25 years, we have learned a tremendous amount about human sexuality which we did not know in the past. There are many myths about human sexuality which have been turned upside down. There are fascinating new facts which have been learned about our capacity to enjoy sex which are pretty amazing.

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In a rush to grow up and experience all that we can in life, it is possible that we can rush into sexually expressing ourselves at levels we may not be emotionally ready to handle. Unfortunately, our sexuality is not without consequences. If we choose to have intimacy and express ourselves sexually, we also need to have the muturity to accept the whole package. We must consider the possible consequences of our actions and the effects they will have on ourselves and others.

Our society broadcasts lots of mixed messages about sexuality which makes figuring this stuff out very confusing. Sexual messages are everywhere we turn: on tv, in the movies, in the commercials, in music and in the music videos, and of course, in casual conversation amongst our friends. And yet, no one gives us very much guidance how to explore and sort everything out. Lots of the information we get is not based on reality but fantasy. We are getting information which can lead us to make the wrong conclusions about sex.

Communication is one of the most important things that must take place in order to have a mutually pleasurable sexual relationship. Unfortunately, people often are not good communicators. We seldom are taught how to communicate clearly. We may have difficulty talking about our feelings or listening to someone else's feelings. It may be very hard to ask for something we need or want. We must learn how to communicate sexual needs in a positive and helpful way. Avoid sending negative messages.Try to encourage and suggest another way. People do not like to feel criticized when they are trying to be affectionate. You could say "that feels pretty good, and could you maybe try this also, I think it might feel good too".

If you and your partner make an agreement that you both want to learn how to please each other, this is a great place to start. Then explore how you can hear and receive feedback without feeling criticized. Learn how to encourage the good and redirect the things which are not working. Many couples work out non-verbal or non-speaking ways of letting their partner know that they want something slower or faster, more forceful or more gentle or in a different position. Some couples find that they have success when they trade off pleasuring each other. Sometimes you need to just allow yourself to receive the attention and not to worry about pleasing the other. Then you can trade off. A popular idea, which we often see in the movies, is that people have orgasms or climax at the same moment. This is not nearly as common as the movies would like us all to believe, according to the sex experts.

We often do not know what we like or want. If we do not know what we like or want, it may be difficult to communicate that to someone else and then it may be hard for someone else to know how to please us. Exploration takes patience and a gentle and loving attitude toward ourselves and toward our partners.

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Therefore, an important part of exploring our sexuality begins with self knowledge or getting to know our own bodies and learning what we like and what we don't like. Self knowledge and self exploration is very important. If we have ambivalent or negative feelings about our bodies, it is more challenging to feel good about self exploration. Reading about human sexuality can also give us facts and accurate information instead of depending on incomplete and inaccurate information. So many people are limited by narrow thinking and inaccurate information.

Many of us were not taught to have good or positive feelings about ourselves or to have positive self-esteem. We are not usually taught to have positive feelings about our bodies or our sexuality. We measure ourselves up against unrealistic standards of people like models and movie stars. These people have a certain body type which is not the standard, less than one percent of the population, and their bodies are touched up in the magazines. Even fifteen year old models have the wrinkles and shadows removed. Models and actors have hair stylists and makeup artists, very expensive clothes, personal trainers etc. It is their job to look incredible all the time.

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We are all too hard on ourselves. We have unrealtistic expectations of what beauty is. Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. Outer beauty can fade with time but inner beauty continues to shine even when we are old.

It is difficult to be true to ourselves when we do not have any clear path or guidance or support. We can often feel lots of pressure from others. It may seem easier sometimes to try to please others than really understand or know what it is we want for ourselves. We may want approval and acceptance from others at the expense of doing the right thing for ourselves. We have a responsibility to ourselves to respect our needs and desires, learn about our bodies and to learn what is pleasing to us.

Men and women are very different in many ways. Men and women may often have differences in the pace that they wish to proceed sexually and this can cause conflict. Women often desire or need to take a certain amount of time kissing and caressing before they feel like moving to the next step.This is called foreplay. On the other hand, some men may want to move much more quickly and may not want to take the time. This is very individual and varies from person to person, but without foreplay, some women may find that sex or intercourse may be less pleasurable, uncomfortable and even painful.

Every person is different, so what one person may find pleasurable may be an absolute turn-off to another. As women get more excited, they become more sensitive and so what may have felt good two minutes before may now be hyper-sensitive or even painful. This is challenging for both men and women to learn how to deal this type of changing sensitivity. That's why communication is so important. Sex should never hurt. If it hurts, you need to stop and figure out what would work better.

Sometimes it is just a simple matter that you are moving too fast or you need more lubrication or moisture. The woman may not be ready to move to the next step. Always use water-based lubricants instead of oil or petroleum-based lubricants. Oil or petroleum-based lubricants such as vaseline, creams or lotions can destroy latex condoms and may not work well. Some common water-based lubricants are Probe, AstroGlide, AquaLube, Wet, Silk or KY Jelly which you can find in a pharmacy in the section for condoms and birth control. Ask the pharmacist if you can not locate a water-based lubricant.

The bond which develops between two people sexually is very powerful. People can easily fall in love and bond before they have the maturity or the resources to deal with all that a mature sexual relationship can bring into their lives. To use an example, just because a young child can put on lipstick and highheels, does not mean that she has become a grownup. It may sound silly to some, but the fact is that lots of young adults think that if they have sex, then they become grownups. Things are not that simple.

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Safer Sex

Sexuality is not just about romance and feeling wonderful. There are other issues which can have a profound and long-term impact on our lives. If you are mature enough to consider sex then you must be aware of the risks that go along with being sexually active. Without being informed and aware, there is the possibility of becoming pregnant or contracting and spreading disease. Every person who decides to become sexually active, must take responsibility and know what practicing Safer Sex means.

For information on Safer Sex see:
The Coalition for Positive Sexuality.
You will find honest and specific Safer Sex education geared toward young adults, and information in Spanish too.

Also check out:
Hotlines and Links
Reproductive Health Links
Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Young adults, and adults of all ages, need to be aware of the risks of sexual activity because the fact is, that the risks can have consequences which can affect us for the rest of our lives. When you are in your teens and twenties you are the most fertile. It is very easy to get pregnant. The risks are very high that if you have unprotected sex, you can get pregnant. Most people think it is a rare occurance until it happens to them.

If you are a teen and have unprotected sex, you have an 90% chance of getting pregnant within one year.

(Harlap S, Kost K and Forrest JD, Preventing Pregnancy, Protecting Health: A New Look at Birth Control Choices in the United States, New York: AGI, 1991, Figure 5.4, p. 36.)

Unfortunately, young adults 25 years of age and younger are at the greatest risk to contract Sexually Transmitted Diseases or STDs as well. Teenagers are at the highest risk. Behavior and lifestyle have a great influence on your risk. Understanding what Safer Sex is and why it is important, is everybody's responsibility. Sexually Transmitted Diseases can often have no symptoms and can affect your ability to have children in the future or cause infertility. Some Sexually Transmitted Diseases can be treated and cured. However, some diseases such as Herpes or HIV, which are caused by viruses, can be treated but have no cure at this time.

For more information on STDs or Sexually Transmitted Diseases, check out these links:
Hotlines and Links
Reproductive Health Links
Sexually Transmitted Diseases

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Choosing not to have Intercourse-the right to say No and feel Safe.

Many teens feel that they get in "over their heads" due to pressure and then don't know how to back out to a safer place. They feel the pressure from their partners or from other friends that they should be having sex or intercourse. Listen to the voice inside of you and trust that when your voice says "I don't feel comfortable", honor it and listen to it and then take action. To be sexual should always be your choice. You have a right to change your mind and you can do this. Just because you have had intercourse in the past, this does not mean that it is now the only way to have closeness or be sexy with a partner. If someone trys to tell you that, they are wrong.

You are the final judge of what you do with your body. When and with whom you choose to have a sexual relationship is always your choice. No means NO! Be clear with yourself if you mean No and be clear with your partner. Sending mixed messages can be frustrating and confusing to ourselves and to others. Setting clear rules or boundaries and communicating them clearly is important. If your partner is having difficulty respecting or understanding your boundaries or rules, it is important to take a minute and consider what this means in terms of your relationship. Is this healthy for you? Are you feeling pressured to put your needs and desires to the side? How does this affect your feelings of having control in your life? How does this affect your feelings for your partner? Do you feel respected? Do you feel resentful? Do you feel safe?

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Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol and drugs have been around for many thousands of years. These substances have powerful short-term and long-term effects on our bodies and our behavior. Some of these substances are well known for changing our behavior or lowering our inhibitions. We might do things after we have had several drinks or some other drug, such as marijuana,that we would not dream of doing when we are sober. We may find that we can lose our normal judgement and we may act foolish or even do dangerous things. If you choose to drink or take drugs, you may find that your sexual boundaries or standards may go out the window and stronger forces may take over. This is a very well known fact but something we don't always think through. The powerful effects on judgement are hard to imagine until you have experienced this first hand and you have seen someone who has lost control under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

If you want to be in control, it is smart to avoid alcohol and drugs, especially when sexual activity may be a possibility. If your judgement is lowered, you may have sex with someone before you have decided if it is truly right. You may not have the opportunity to make a clear headed decision to have sexual intercourse or "go all the way". You may not be able to practice safe sex or be prepared.This is the type of risky situation which can bring a lot of heartache afterwards. It could bring unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Be smart and be in control. If you choose to use alcohol and other substances, use them with awareness, caution and in moderation. Never get in a car if the driver has been using drugs or alcohol. Never drive under the influence. Respect your life and lives of others.

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Hotlines and Links

Girl Power Sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services to help and encourage 9-14 year old girls.

Coalition for Positive Sexuality Sex Education and in Spanish also.

Safer Sex Institute

Go Ask Alice Sexuality and More Very specific, detailed information.

Go Ask Alice-Relationship Information

Go Ask Alice-Alcohol and Drug information

Teen Wire-Cool Web site

Be sure you check out these other sections on our Web site too:
Choosing a Birth Control or Contraceptive Method
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Resources and Links
Reproductive Health Links

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