In which my ideas about sex become one with my ideas about art, community, and love, some of which are here.
My mom asked me to give my 14-year-old brother a sex talk today. I’m not sure whether I will. My mother specifically wanted someone to talk to him about how to put on a condom. No idea why she though I would understand that better than she does. I’ve actually never participated in any sex act in which a condom was used, ever.
I told her I would try to find a good book. Any suggestions? I’ve seen a bunch for girls, but I’m not sure where to start for a boy. Looking for something sex- and body-positive, (pro-)feminist, with good, accurate information.
Anyway, it got me thinking about what kinds of things I would want to tell a kid about sex, in an ideal world where embarrassment does not exist. If I could talk to my 14-year-old self, what would I tell her about sex? What would you tell your younger self? What information would actually be useful?
I had good sex ed for someone growing up in the US today, which is more a statement about the sorry state of sex education than the completeness of the information I received. I learned how heterosexual sex leads to pregnancy and about a few different kinds of protection, and heard some scare-stories about teen pregnancy and HIV. That’s it.
There are many things missing from this picture, but the big one is so obvious, hidden in plain sight: nobody ever thought to mention why people have sex. It’s really the clear starting point. Why would you talk about the terrible things that can happen when doing something before you’ve even established why people do it? Why would you learn how to do something before you understand what it is, before you see its function? Before you know how to gauge when it’s a good idea, and when it’s not?
If you start there, you naturally get to all the other missing information: consent, sexual orientation, orgasms, etc. You know, the stuff that people actually need to know, in addition to the mechanical things.
So, with all of that in mind, this is what I would tell my younger self about sex. It is, of course, tailored to me, but I think it applies beyond that.
People have sex because it feels good. There are a lot of things that can get tied into this, but, at its most basic level, sex is about pleasure. People have sex to enjoy their bodies, alone or with another person. That’s the goal.
It’s important to keep this in mind. Sex is about feeling good. Since sex is about feeling good, while having sex, you should do things that feel good. There are a lot of ways to do this. Everyone’s body is different, so you will have to learn what you like, and whenever you sleep with someone, you will have to learn what she or he likes. It will take practice.
It’s important to pay attention to yourself, to notice how you are reacting. It’s also important to pay attention to your partner and notice how he or she is reacting. It’s important to tell your partner what feels good, and to ask him or her what feels good, which can be scary. Having these conversations is part of having sex.
Since sex is about feeling good, while having sex, there is no reason to do something that doesn’t feel good to you. If something feels bad, there is no reason to do it. If you feel like you’re supposed to do something, but it feels bad, don’t worry: you’re not supposed to do it, because you are only supposed to do things that feel good.
Sex isn’t something you can understand by seeing it in a movie or reading about it in a book. It’s good to learn as much as you can, but it will almost certainly surprise you. If nothing else, you may find yourself surprised by its realness, by the fact that it is actually happening, by the knowledge that you are feeling what you are.
Sex isn’t something you can understand by doing it. Sex is like speaking.* You can learn how to talk or how to make somebody come, but that is just the beginning. Then you go out and start having conversations. You start reaching out to people.
Some of these conversations will be boring. Some will be tender. Some will be angry, some sad, some euphoric. Each will be attempt to communicate, to connect with another person. An attempt to ask a question or give an explanation, an attempt to tell a story. You can have these conversations with as many people as you meet, or with the same person over and over. The important thing is that you keep having them. Keep asking questions. Keep making connections.
Sex is like archeology. You will uncover layers, one and then another, deeper and deeper. There is no way to know what you will find there.
Sex is like art. You will begin exploring yourself and you will never stop, for you are infinite. There are worlds of things to discover, things to express, things to process, things to attempt, things to remember and to forget. And there are always different ways to approach the same things, new frames to put around them, new perspectives to try.
Sex like art: it’s about communication. It’s about sharing your most secret self. And there is no wrong way to do it, as long as it’s sincere. As long as it is yourself you are sharing. Just as with art, when what you’re doing is what you want to do, when you’re making what you at your most honest are moved to make, it will be something beautiful. It will be something worth listening to.
* Image appropriated from here.
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