Top 10 Things To Do Before You Have Sex

message to teensIf you’re considering having sex for the very first time or for anytime thereafter (and by “sex” we mean any sexual activity in which you can transmit an STI), there are things you and your partner should know and do, especially if there is risk of unwanted pregnancy.

In this article, Dr. Karen Rayne breaks down the important things you should evaluate before becoming sexually active, such as asking yourself: “Do I really want this?” “What am I looking for in having sex with someone else?”

So take note and see where you stand in terms of readiness.

This post was originally published on Un|hushed

BY DR. KAREN RAYNE | KarenRayne.com

(Just to be clear, these are things to do before you have sex: oral sex, sexual intercourse, or anything else that could get you pregnant or an STD.)

1. Have an orgasm.

Yes, before you start having sex, you should give yourself an orgasm. It’s important to know what feels good to you before you can show another person what feels good to you.

2. Know the other person’s sexual history.

And I don’t mean just vaginal intercourse for this one!

3. Know the other person’s STD status, as well as your own.

The only way to know this for sure is to be tested! And if you’re both virgins, well, you’re not going to be for long. You might as well get that scary first STD testing out of the way so you’ll know what to expect next time around.

4. Talk about exactly what STD protection and birth control you will be using.

These two issues go hand-in-hand (for heterosexual couples), and it is the domain of both parties to be intimately involved.

5. If you are part of a heterosexual couple, talk about what happens if the woman gets pregnant.

Here are a few options to talk about, in alphabetical order: abortion, adoption, raising the kid alone, raising the kid together. With the understanding that reality is different than the theoretical, make sure you’re both on the same theoretical page.

6. Have your best friend’s blessing.

We can rarely see someone we’re in love with clearly. It is often our best friends who can see our lovers and our potential lovers for who they really are. Listen to what your best friend has to say, and take it to heart. If it’s not what you wanted to hear, give it some time. Wait a month. A good relationship will be able to withstand another month before having sex. Then ask a different friend, and see what they have to say.

7. Meet your partner’s parents.

At the very least, make sure you know why you haven’t met your them. The best sex comes out of knowing someone well, and knowing someone’s family is an important part of knowing them. (Even if they’re really, really different from their family.)

8. Be comfortable being naked in front of each other.

You don’t actually have to strip down in broad daylight to make sure you’ve reached this milestone, but it sure helps!

9. Have condoms on hand.

Make sure they fit right, that they’re within the expiration date, and that they haven’t been exposed to extreme conditions (like the inside of a really hot car). Condoms should be part of any respectful sexual relationship. There need be no assumption of hook ups outside of the relationship, just an assumption of good sexual habits being made and kept.

10. Make sure that your partner has done all of these things too.

Part of a happy, healthy sexual encounter is taking care of everyone’s emotional needs and physical health. Both people need to pay attention to themselves and to their partner. That way each person has two people looking out for them. It’s just the best way to do things.

rayne2sm DR. KAREN RAYNE With a doctoral degree is in Educational Psychology, Karen provides advice and support to parents on how to educate their children and teenagers about sex and sexuality. Karen’s knowledge about adolescent development and education provides her with a solid background for guiding parents through these tricky conversations. And, as a college professor, helping young adults grapple with sexuality, she is known to change student’s lives. On twitter @KarenRayne

Why Your ‘Signature Move’ Doesn’t Work for all Women

Photo credit: Patrick McDonald

Photo credit: Patrick McDonald

It’s a common problem. Maybe mainstream sex advise magazines are to blame, but all too often people assume that those “5 Tongue Tricks” they read about in Cosmopolitan will work for every sex partner, every time.

The fact is, everyone is different. As Kate McComb writes, there is no universal best way to please all women and all men. The way you kissed your ex may not be the right way to kiss your new sex partner. This becomes a problem when one is not sensitive to what their partner likes and not open to learning new ways of pleasing the other.

That is the main point in sex educator, Kate McComb’s piece. We all must unattached from specific pleasure tactics and actually communicate with our sex partners about what turns us on. And if one person doesn’t know what they really want or like? Read Kate’s article for great advise on how to be truly present and sexually delight your partner.

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

I was having Sunday brunch with a friend in a Midtown café and she was telling me about her latest Tinder date. After sharing the basic details of the hookup, she got to the part where things went south – and not in a sexy way.

After some sexy making out and getting undressed, he pulled out the dreaded “signature move.”

In this case, it was some weird tongue choreography that was clearly rehearsed and not, as she put it, based on her “directions.”

It was a sex technique he probably read about once and, since it worked on one woman, he assumed it worked on all women.

Suffice it to say, she did not enjoy it. In fact, the exact word she used was “meh.”

I’ve heard similar stories from other women in my workshops. They have partners who are attached to a particular pleasuring tactic that “worked on the last girl” and aren’t sufficiently open to new ways of operating. Besides being super tacky (PSA: don’t bring up an ex’s sexual response in bed with a new girl), it’s ill informed.

In the sex ed workshops I teach adults, I often get questions about the “best way” to stimulate the G-spot or to give a blow job. The true but less-satisfying answer is that there is no “best way.” Human bodies are wired differently and even though we have the same basic parts, the way we like those parts stimulated varies tremendously.

I suspect years of seeing magazines with “10 Ways to Wow Your Woman” headlines have only reinforced the signature move. Additionally, mainstream porn and popular movies alike depict sexual behavior in a very narrow fashion. Variety isn’t depicted, so people don’t realize that variety is the only thing that’s really “normal.”

The only way to know what truly delights someone is to ask and listen fully to the response. It’s certainly OK to have some techniques – in fact, it’s great to have a toolbox of pleasuring techniques to draw upon. It’s just crucial that one technique doesn’t eclipse all others, especially in the face of constructive feedback.

Just as one size never fits all, one move does not delight all genitals.

Instead of rolling out some fancy strategy, ask for directions and be present for the response. And if they don’t know what they want? Suggest exploring different sensations together and see what feels good.

In addition to enthusiastic consent, good sex requires two things: good communication and the awareness that only your partner is the expert on what they like sexually. They are the sexpert on what delights them, just as you are the sexpert on what delights you.

When we reduce sex to a series of signature moves, we discount the variety of pleasure and preferences humans can experience. If you want to be amazing in bed, replace your signature move with delicious communication and erotic curiosity. It’ll make sex more adventurous and, most importantly, mutually pleasurable. It’ll also give her something to smile about, rather than commiserate about at Sunday brunch.

condom ad condoms too loose

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

How Do I Bring Up Sex Toys With My Partner?

Team Sex Ed!

Team Sex Ed!

“I’d like to bring a sex toy into my relationship but I’m not sure how to bring it up with my partner.”

Looking to introduce sex toys in the bedroom? Kate and Louise over at Team Sex Ed answer this question and offer some tips and tools to make the conversation more easeful.

Many women and men are curious about sex toys but feel reluctant to talk with their partner about it for fear of offending them. One misconception is that sex toys act as replacements or make up for a partner’s inadequacies. As Kate and Louise discuss in the video below, it’s important to be prepared for this reaction. Be sensitive and stroke his or her ego a bit. As with any relationship, good communication goes a long way in solving any problem.

To start the conversation with your partner, consider these strategies:

  • Make sure you start the conversation in a relaxed and comfortable environment so it doesn’t feel rushed or pressuring.
  • Reassure your partner that the toy is not making up for any inadequacies, but simply is a fun addition to sex.
  • Go sex toy shopping together and pick one out that you both like. Kate and Louise offer recommendations for toy shops.
  • Select a toy that is proportional to your level of experience. Smaller toys are a good place to start if you are new to using sex toys.
  • Maintain a playful attitude and keep it fun. This will go a long way in nurturing your connection with your partner.
  • Check out our articles on body safe sex toys and how to safely share a dildo.

This video was originally published on the Team Sex Ed channel

BY KATE MCCOMBS & LOUISE BOURCHIER | Team Sex Ed! Kate & Louise

condom ad condoms too loose

kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

louise bourchier 150 150LOUISE BOURCHIER, MPH is a sex educator who knows health and pleasure. She teaches workshops to adult audiences throughout Australia and New Zealand, where her mission is to facilitate access to information that allows people to experience healthy and pleasurable sex lives. She works closely with D.VICE: the toy shop for grownups and is a proud emissary of Sex Geekdom Melbourne. Follow her on Twitter @louiselabouche

Can I Get Pregnant If…? A Pregnancy Scare Companion

pregnancy scareDo you think you (or your partner) might be pregnant?

We get a lot of questions from readers wondering, “Can I get pregnant if…”. Bottom line: You can’t get pregnant from activities like petting or oral sex, only from activities in which semen comes in direct contact with the vagina. But what if there was pre-cum, or ejaculation near the genitals? What if you are late for your period even though you used a condom?

If you are not sure if you experienced real risks of pregnancy, this post is for you. Heather Corinna of Scarleteen provides information and resources based on your unique situation. Whether you are late for your period, or tested positive for a pregnancy test, or don’t know where to find emergency contraceptives, this article will help you figure out the next best steps.

Here’s a quickie on how pregnancy happens:

  • Pregnancy can happen when semen (ejaculation or cum) or precum gets inside the vagina.
  • Emergency contraceptives (the morning after pill) can prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex.
  • You can reduce the risk pregnancy by not having direct genital-to-genital contact, or using condoms and birth control every time you have sex.
  • Read the article below for more information about the type of sexual activities that increase  risk of pregnancy.

This post was originally published on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

In the thick of a pregnancy scare? Freaking out? Not sure what to do? We know how scary this can be, and we’re here to have your back in it.

Take a few deep breaths (really: do some good, slow breathing, you’ll feel better and be able to think more clearly once you do), and have a seat. Based on your unique situation, we’ll walk you through your next steps, give you some extra helps, fill you in on some common self-sabotagers, and do our best to help you chill out and pull it together so you can get through a scare without losing your mind and your well-being in the process.

Is your (or your partner’s) menstrual period not yet due?

In other words, a period isn’t late or missed, because it’s not even due for another few days or weeks. Click here for your next steps.

Are you (or your partner) due for a menstrual period around now, but it’s not late yet?  Click here for your next steps.

Are you (or your partner) currently experiencing a late or missed menstrual period?

In other words, a menstrual period has not yet arrived and was expected at least five or more days ago. Click here for your next steps.

Do you (or your partner) have irregular periods, so you can’t really answer the questions above?

If your (or your partner’s) menstrual periods are irregular, or you (or your partner) use a method of contraception that often causes skipped or missed periods, click here for your next steps.

Have you (or a partner) had a menstrual period since the risk you are concerned about?

A menstrual period is happening now or has occurred since the risk you’re concerned about, but you’re still worried about pregnancy. Click here for your next steps.

Have you (or a partner) had a pregnancy test with a positive (pregnant) result? Click here for your next steps.

Have you (or a partner) had a pregnancy test with a negative (not pregnant) result? Click here for your next steps.

Has it been less than 120 hours since your risk?

If you would like to reduce your risk, you or your partner can use a method of emergency contraception (EC) to reduce the risk by as much as 95% with oral medications designed as EC, and as much as 98% using a copper IUD. EC is most effective when used within 24 hours, so you want to get a move on if you can and want to use it. For information on emergency contraception, click here. To find the kinds of EC available in your area, or which kinds of oral contraceptives you can use as emergency contraception, and how to use them that way, click here.

Not sure if you or a partner have had a real risk of pregnancy or not?

In order for pregnancy to be a possibility, the kind of contact that has to happen is:

  • Direct (with no clothing, at all, covering anyone’s genitals) genital-to-genital contact between someone with a penis and someone with a vulva, such as genital intercourse or otherwise rubbing genitals together OR
  • Direct contact with ejaculate (semen) and the vulva, vaginal opening or anus.

BUT (and it’s a really big one): If either of those kinds of contact did occur, but one or more reliable methods of contraception was used properly, that risk is radically reduced, by a minimum of 70%*, and as much as 99.9%. And even if you used two methods, any two reliable methods at all — like the pill plus withdrawal, or a condom plus a Depo shot — only typically, rather than perfectly, you still will only have had about a 10% risk of pregnancy at a maximum.

Scenarios like these are NOT how pregnancy happens:

  • Masturbation or mutual masturbation (masturbating in the same space with someone else)
  • Being in the same space as someone with a penis and doing things like using their towels, sharing a toilet, touching their clothing, or sharing a bed to sleep or rest in
  • Sitting somewhere where someone did or may have ejaculated
  • Taking a shower, bath or swim with someone with a penis
  • Thinking about sex or fantasizing
  • Kissing, making out or fondling
  • Dry humping (rubbing genitals together when one or more people involved have some kind of clothing on that covers the genitals)
  • Oral sex or manual sex (fingering or handjobs)
  • Contact with pre-ejaculate, but NOT during intercourse or direct genital-to-genital contact
  • Touching yourself after you touched someone whose hand has touched their penis
  • Having someone with a penis ejaculate on some part of the body other than your genitals, like your buttocks, back or breasts
  • Direct genital-to-genital contact or direct contact with ejaculate when you and a partner have the same kinds of genitals (like each of you having a vulva or each of you having a penis).

Situations like these are ways pregnancy can theoretically occur, but where it is not at all likely:

  • Rubbing the vulva with hands that have recently touched semen
  • Intercourse or other direct genital-to-genital or genital fluid contact where two (or more) reliable methods of contraception were used properly
  • Unprotected anal sex without ejaculation

Are pregnancy scares a constant for you, or occurring even when you’re not having the kinds of contact that can result in pregnancy in reality?

1) Do you know the facts about how pregnancy happens, and what can and cannot present real risks of pregnancy? If not, you can educate yourself here or here. If you already know the facts, or find that now that you have them, you still feel scared or can’t believe them, then this probably isn’t about a lack of education about reproduction.

2) Do yourself a solid and take any kind of contact that is freaking you out like this off the table ASAP for now (that you can: for instance, if living in a house with family members who have a penis is freaking you out, you can’t very well ask them to leave so you can deal). If you are not in a relationship where you feel you are allowed to have any limits you need with sex of any kind, that’s a cue you’re not in a healthy relationship or dynamic, or just not yet able to assert yourself enough to manage sexual activity, so may need to get yourself away from that relationship, period.

3) Take some real time — not hours or a few days, but a week or two or even a few months or more, whatever you need — to figure out what you need to have these kinds of contact comfortably and without panic. Only engage in that kind of contact again when you CAN have what you need to be comfortable, whether that’s two methods of contraception, a different partner or kind of relationship, or counseling or therapy to help you with assertiveness, sexual fear or shame or an anxiety disorder.

4) If none of the above has any big impact on your fears over the next few weeks or months, then it’s time to seek out some help from a qualified mental health professional, like a counselor or therapist.

Want more information about pregnancy scares, pregnancy, contraception and making sexual choices you feel comfortable with?

Pregnancy Scared?
Human Reproduction: A Seafarer’s Guide
On the Rag: A Guide to Menstruation
Let’s Dial Down Some (Maybe) Ovulation Freakouts
Chicken Soup for the Pregnancy Symptom Freakout’s Soul
You’re Not Pregnant. So, Why Do You Think You Are?
Peeing on a Stick: All About Pregnancy Tests
Birth Control Bingo!
The Buddy System: Effectiveness Rates for Backing Up Your Birth Control With a Second Method
Have a Little Faith in BC
Who’s Afraid of Sperm Cells?
Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist
Risky Business: Learning to Consider Risk and Make Sound Sexual Choices
Whoa, There! How to Slow Down When You’re Moving Too Fast

Here’s some information from other credible sources:

Can I Get Pregnant If…? (Options for Sexual Health)
Could I be Pregnant? (Teen Health Source)
How Pregnancy Happens (Planned Parenthood)
Am I Pregnant? (Brook)

*Effectiveness rates for methods of contraception are figured for one full year of use. Figures presented here and elsewhere about effectiveness, with the exception of emergency contraception methods, present effectiveness rates over one full year of use, not per use or per day.

condom ad condoms too loose

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen

What Is a “Beacon of Permission”?

Photo credit: Carol Jones

Photo credit: Carol Jones

When you’re hanging out, do you and your friends, peers, sex partners, etc., talk about sex? Not just about who is a good or bad kisser, or what certain people are like in bed. Rather, do you have heartfelt conversations, do you ask personal questions that lead to more healthy, informed choices in your’s and other people’s lives?

Not many people have this opportunity with others. It is more common, instead, to avoid sex conversations altogether. When sex educator, Kate McCombs was asked during a panel discussion, “What can we do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” McCombs response was, “To become a beacon of permission.”

What she means by this is to become a sound board with whom others feel safe to talk about sex and ask questions they might not otherwise feel comfortable discussing.

It is about intentionally creating a safe, non-judgmental, shame-free space to talk about sex in a health-promoting way. As McCombs wrote elsewhere, “It’s someone who acts as a beacon to shine light on the shame shadows that traditionally surround conversations about sex.”

This does not mean to talk about sex in some radical, edging or pop-cultural fashion. Key to Kate McCombs’ concept is that the dialogue must be honest, educational and healing. When people are more informed about themselves and their bodies they are better equipped to take care of themselves and the people they care about. If we approached personal sex conversations with less shame and sensationalism, and more honesty and open-mindedness, we can explore concepts of sexuality in more healthy, positive ways. It makes the world a better place for us all.

This article was originally published here.

BY KATE MCCOMBS | KateMcCombs.com

As is glaringly obvious, I love talking about sex.

For me, being a sex educator isn’t just about teaching about sex in a vacuum – it’s also about talking about it with others in order to normalize discussions about sexuality.

Far too often, people feel uneasy talking about sex. And I don’t mean sensationalized, pop-culture sex. There’s a lot of that talk happening. I’m referring to genuine, sincere discussions about sex that lead to healthful, mindful choices and meaningful connection in people’s lives.

Some people might avoid sex conversations altogether, while others might make jokes to mask their discomfort. I’m all for finding the playful, humorous sides of sex, but I recognize that laughter can sometimes be an indicator of embarrassment or shame.

Many of us – not just professional sex educators and therapists – have the unique desire, knowledge, and skills to become what I call “beacons of permission” in the world. By “permission” I mean permission to have honest, educational, and even healing conversations about sex. Many people who describe themselves as “sex positive” or “sex geeky” fall under this category.

Does the following sound familiar? Many of the sex-positive folks I know describe themselves as always being “that friend” to whom others could turn when they had sexual questions. That sort of unofficial peer education is a manifestation of that permission-giving.

When I tell new acquaintances what I do for a living, I often become the sounding board for sex and relationship questions and (occasionally) whispered confessions. Nearly all of the sex educators I know describe having similar experiences.

This is what being a beacon of permission looks like: by communicating that you are a safe person with whom to talk about sex, you create spaces wherein people can explore ideas that have been marinating for days or decades.

Not all conversations about sex are equal. Most people notice that sex occupies a significant percentage of the airwaves. From “sexting” moral panic, to the recent sexual exploits of a B-list reality TV star, the media is full of sex, but it’s very rarely explored in a way that leads to better understanding of sexuality.

I suspect that some people may become so over-saturated with the sex alarmism and titillation that permeates the media that they may find it more difficult to hear messages that are actually educational, useful, or health-promoting.

Not all conversations have to be serious. I think it can be deeply cathartic to laugh about sex (see “Burritos and Ball Jokes”). But I think that bringing greater intention to the conversation – intentions like “shedding light on a taboo topic” or “reducing sex-negativity” – can go a long way in shaping our understanding of what it means to talk about sex.

So when an audience member at a panel I was on asked, “What can we as sex geeks do to make the world a more sex-positive place?” I lit up. I responded by describing this concept of being a beacon of permission and intentionally fostering meaningful dialogue.

I suspect that people are hungry for this kind of meaning, so when a safe-space creating, sex-positive person enters their lives, they’ll usually take the opportunity to engage. Whether you would consider yourself a “sex geek” or not, I encourage you to become a beacon of permission to others.

I argue that in order to reduce sex-negativity, the world needs to start by having more of these safe spaces. I’m grateful that it’s my job to help facilitate them.

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kate_mccombsKATE MCCOMBS is a NYC-based sex educator, writer, and maker of puns. Ultimately, all of Kate’s work is about helping people feel more comfortable talking about sex. She believes that meaningful conversations + accurate information can help us create a healthier and more pleasure-filled world. Kate writes articles and teaches workshops about sexual health, pleasure, and communication.
Follow Kate on Twitter @katecom

What Does Sexual Consent Look Like?

Image from Bedsider

Image from Bedsider

When it comes to sex, consent is essential. As JoEllen Notte of the RedHeadBedhead.com writes, consent is to sexual play as a doorbell is to a home. We do not question the validity of houses having doorbells. And yet, the topic of sexual consent generates heated debate.

What does consent actually mean? What does sexual consent look like? Do I have to sign a contract with my partner about everything we do together before we take our clothes off?

This confusion is not surprising. Movies typically portray sizzling sex scenes without any talking. The characters are so in sync with each other that communication seems unnecessary. In the article below, JoEllen points to ways in which “enthusiastic consent” is the brunt of media jokes that poke fun at anti-harassment activists as out-of-touch, over-the-top PC mood killers.

How did we get to this political climate around consent?

According to JoEllen, it all begins from a faulty model taught from a young age: The “no means no” model.

In this clever piece, “I Got Your Consentlandia Right Here“, JoEllen runs through the flaws and harmful effects that longstanding approaches to consent have had in our media, our legal system and our personal well being. Then she demonstrates practical ways that consent takes place and how it looks in different contexts. When you’re done reading, you’ll never think of consent as a drag again.

Here are key points to take away:

  • “No means no” perpetuates the stance, “They never said no”, as a valid response to sexual harassment and rape charges.
  • The new model, “Yes means yes”, implies collaboration. Real consent happens only once there is an active, voluntary “yes” or “F*ck Yeah!”.
  • Consent is an on-going process that requires constant communication.
  •  “Yes means yes” allows for no confusion, no mind reading, and much better sex!

This article was originally published at theRedheadBedhead.com

BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

The topic of consent has been weighing heavy on my mind this last week. I’ve watched people wrestle with it, spring into action around it, snark about it, debate it, discuss it and even mock it, dismiss it and reduce it to a meme. A conclusion that I’ve come to (a conclusion that I’ve come to many times before) is that most people— even the ones who want desperately to help— don’t really get consent. The fact that the topic breeds debate and frequently causes people to get angry (“What, do I have to fill out a form before I touch someone now?!”) is actually absurd because when it comes down to it, consent is just about not violating boundaries. That shouldn’t piss us off. We’re not outraged that houses have doorbells rather than coming with the assumption that we can all just walk on in, right? Right. But somehow when you suggest to people that they may want to ask before stomping all up into another person’s space, there is backlash. So how did this happen?

Think back to how you were taught about consent. Odds are you weren’t really. You were more likely taught about “no”. If you were born with a vagina, you were probably taught to be careful because people might rape you and you should say “no” or, if you were born with a penis, you were told that “no means no” and if you hear “no” then you should not proceed because, rape¹. What has happened here is that you learned a couple of things:

  1. One partner should charge ahead until they get the red light from the other.
  2. Listen for a cue to stop, rather than a cue to start.
  3. If you don’t hear a “no”, you’re good to go.

This model has proven disastrous in myriad ways. From lawyers who argue that unconscious victims weren’t raped because they didn’t say the all-important “no”, to people who have no idea how to communicate sexual needs because everything we’ve been taught is based in negatives (i.e. what DON’T we want), to the general pattern of blaming victims not rapists because, obviously, they didn’t “no” hard enough, to the fact that no one knows what the hell “yes” looks like, to this bizarre idea that if we ask people if we can touch them before we touch them we will never touch each other again/it will be super-awkward and not fun.

Folks, it’s a steaming pile of horse shit. All of it.

Seriously.

As you may have noticed, I’m a bit consent obsessed and, while consent is not always about sex (in fact, a lot of what we’re talking about applies to most non-sexual situations and, ahem, communities), I’m happy to report that my own life got way easier, more comfortable, more fun and, frankly, sexier once I figured this consent business out….

Continue reading at The Readhead Bedhead.

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JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

Best Lines of Defense Against Partner’s Excuses Not to Practice Safer Sex

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This post is for anyone who has ever complained about condoms/dams, or has faced complaints from a sex partner; or you are new to safer sex (or you’ve been out of the game for a while) and want to start practicing. In many ways, this post is actually for everyone! We’ve pooled together resources from Condom Monologues and Lucky Bloke to help prepare you with the best lines of reasoning and defense to common excuses against protective sex barriers.

Note: Negotiating safer sex is not confined to heterosexual relationships in which the female is making the male do something. This is an issue that happens in all types of relationships and power dynamics across genders. Knowing how to assert health boundaries is a tool for everyone (of all genders) to have:

Partner: “Condoms never fit me.”
You: “If you’re too big to fit any of these different sizes than you are too big for me.”

There is a deluge of condoms on the market today, all in a variety of smells, tastes, materials, and yes, sizes. There are condoms that are as small as 1.25″ in diameter and ones as large as 2.3″ in diameter. You would be hard-pressed to find a sexually active man who didn’t fall in that range! Need help determining his condom size? Find it here: http://www.luckybloke.com/choose-size

Partner: “It doesn’t feel good.” “I can’t feel anything”.
You: “I can’t enjoy sex if I don’t feel safe.”
“The safer I feel, the hotter the sex.”

or

Partner: “I want to be closer to you/feel you.”
You:“I can’t feel close to you if I don’t feel safe.”

Condoms, dams and lubes have come so far that, in a lot of ways, sex can actually be enhanced with these safety tools. Most importantly, you can feel safe knowing that you have greatly reduced your risk of catching STIs or getting pregnant when you aren’t ready to. Think of protective barriers as sex accessories.

Heather Corinna explains it best: “Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you…sexual health or even just how to use condoms and use them in a way that works for both of you is not something that keeps people apart, but that brings people closer together.”

Partner: “You think I have an STD”. “You don’t trust me.”
You:“This isn’t about me thinking that here is something wrong with you; this is about both our health.”

You know what? Using a condom and other protective barriers shows that you both care about yourselves and each other! Having unprotected sex is not an act that builds trust. Instead, it is an act that can occur as a result of already-built trust. Knowing that your partner will be there for you if sex results in a pregnancy, and knowing that your partner is not exposing you to a sexually transmitted infection, are what enables you to trust them with the act of bareback sex. See how that works? Trust is earned.

Partner: “Just this one time.”
You: “We’ve got all these condoms/dams. Let’s do it more than once!”
“Once is one too much for me.”

Being prepared with a variety of condoms/dams will be a great help. It is everyone’s personal responsibility to take care of their own health. Don’t assume one partner will be prepared, unless you have talked and made this arrangement with them.

It’s best to prepare with a variety of shapes, textures and flavors, latex and non-latex, because you want to find barriers that suit both you and your partner best. Plus experimenting adds a whole new dynamic to play. There are variety sample packs, like the one’s curated by Lucky Bloke, that can help you on your safer sex discovery.

condom-monologuesCONDOM MONOLOGUES SexEd, Activism, Storytelling and More… Condom Monologues dispel harmful myths about safe sex and sexual stereotypes that permeate our ways of understanding what is “healthy sexuality”. They accomplish this through sex-positive, pleasure-focused approaches to sexuality that affirm the diversity of people- genders, sexualities, kinks and relationships. Find them on twitter @CondomMonologue

6 Ways To Make Safer Sex Sexy

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BY JOELLEN NOTTE | theRedheadBedhead.com

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment it can feel like safer sex is a huge, unsexy wet blanket, taking sex from something steamy and fun to something clinical and full of fumbling. It doesn’t have to be that way though! You can engage in safer sex practices and keep it fun and sexy. All it takes is a little preparation and a little know-how. Here are 6 things you can do to have the sexiest safer sex ever!

Learn your options

When it comes to safer sex, there are so many options available to you. Condoms come in various sizes, thicknesses and materials. Check out the variety of condom samplers available online. (Note: Many men who face erection issues with condoms are trying to wear ones that are too small!). Don’t know your size? Check out this handy condom size chart.

Dental dams and condoms come in a variety of flavors. There are tons of lubricants to choose from and you can mix and match to find your ideal pairing! Get educated as to what your options are. Here are lube samplers worth exploring. That’s what’ll help you determine what makes sex both sexy and safe for you.

Learn what your like

Now that you know so many options exist it’s time to find the ones that will make up your sexual toolbox. Whether it’s condoms that feel fantastic, lubes that make things glide more smoothly, or the dam that comes in a flavor you actually enjoy, get out there and find favorites. Enlist a partner to help you hunt. Best. Testing. Process. Ever.

Keep a stockpile handy

One of the biggest spoils to good intentions is lack of preparation. Suddenly folks find themselves about to get down without a condom in sight. Cue frantic late-night runs to the pharmacy or (perhaps more likely) someone just saying “What the hell?!” and forgoing the safety measures altogether. So always be prepared.

Once you have found something you like, make sure you have a ton on hand or nearby at all times. Build a safer sex toolkit. Find a fun, convenient way to store it. I use a cool, glam, 1950s make-up case and it is STOCKED: Regular condoms, female condoms, flavored condoms, dental dams, nitrile gloves and two kinds of lube – all at the ready. This kind of set-up saves you from the frustrations of being unprepared.

Learn about your partner

I’m constantly saying that I think we need to talk more about our sex. Thankfully, I’m not the only one. Check out beforeplay.org, a website devoted entirely to the concept of talking openly before sex. LOVE this!

Something I recommend all the time is Safer Sex Elevator Speech. It’s an amazing tool for initiating the safer sex conversation. it comes from sex educator Reid Mihalko of ReidAboutSex.com. I love the Elevator Speech because it is quick and easy, allowing both partners to get on the same page and quickly get on their way to getting it on.

Find out what everyone is comfortable with, what everyone’s safety needs are and how you will meet them. Most importantly, do not argue about safety. That’s not sexy! If your partner wants more safety measures in place than you do go with that. Why? Because if you are right and the safety measures were unnecessary, well then, nothing happens. But if you are wrong, don’t use them and it turns out that you should have, well, you will have a problem on your hands. If you really don’t feel comfortable with the precautions a partner wants to take, you may want to consider alternate activities or exploring whether you and that partner should be playing together at all.

Make it sexy

It’s important to treat safer sex measures as a part of your sexual play rather than a speed bump along the way to real fun. Don’t let your sexual energy drop just because you need to put on a condom. Keep kissing, keep touching, keep talking. Use it as a means of building sexy anticipation.

Enjoy yourself

Sex is play time for adults, so make sure you have all the fun! Try ALL the condoms! Play with how you use that dental dam. Giggle with your partner when you snap on nitrile gloves (silliness can be hot). Experiment. Try things. Enjoy both, yourselves and each other.

JoEllen-NotteJOELLEN NOTTE is helping to share the gospel of better living through better sex ed (amen!) – serving as both the Education Coordinator & Lead Sex Educator for the Portland Academy of Sex Education and a co-Emissary of Sex Geekdom Portland. Working as an adult retail consultant, she is working to help promote better sex through better adult retail. JoEllen first began fighting sexual mediocrity on her site theRedheadBedhead.com. Follow JoEllen on twitter: @bedheadtweeting

What Is It Like to be Tested? STI/STD Testing in 5 Simple Steps

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With all the stigma and fear surrounding sexually transmitted infections (STIs), going out of your way to specifically get tested can seem like a burden. According to the CDC, less than half of Americans ranging from 18 to 44 years old have never EVER been tested for STIs. This is a serious obstacle that cannot be overlooked when talking about sexual health.

Jenelle Marie, founder of The STD Project, takes on this social fear of getting clinically tested by demonstrating just how easy (and shame free!) it really is. She walks us through her real-life experience of going to the clinic (with her boyfriend):

Here are key points to learn from her STI testing experience:

  • Health practitioners don’t test for all STIs. You need to ask for specific test to be done, particularly for those which do not always show symptoms, like HPV, Gonorrhea and Syphilis.
  • STD testing is available for free!
  • Test results are strictly confidential. In most states, once you are 13 years old, you can get tested without a guardian’s involvement. The clinic cannot share your identity and results with anyone.
  • Depending on the STI, you may be asked to give a blood sample and a urine sample.
  • No single procedure or test will detect all STIs.
  • Getting tested is simple, quick (depending if it’s walk-in or appointment) and the trained staff do not make moral judgement on your sexual behavior.

This article was originally published here.

BY JENELLE MARIE | theSTDProject.com

Are you wondering what it’s like to be tested for STIs/STDs?

 Step One: Decide whether to schedule an appointment or go on a ‘walk-in’ day (wait is usually much longer, so patience is a virtue should you choose the latter) – I made an appointment as I have little patience 🙂

Step Two: Fill out some paperwork (this is the government we’re talking about) – HIV testing is the only test they can do completely anonymously (if they do rapid-tests onsite) where they do not require a name (they give you a number) or a lot of other information – this health department did their HIV tests on-site (which means results in 15 minutes), but I was also testing for 3 other STDs, so the paperwork was still required.

For those clinics that do not have rapid-tests, HIV tests will only be confidential. Confidential testing means you must fill out your name and birthday and answer questions about your sexual experiences. This DOES NOT mean they will call your parents or your partners and tell them your test results – test results are strictly confidential. The health department asks that you tell all future partners but does not make you retro-actively tell people, because, presumably, you wouldn’t have known you were positive for an STD until now.

Also, it is very important you answer the questionnaire with complete honesty – depending on the type of sexual activities in which you engage, they may do STD testing for additional types of STDs or they may test different areas of your body for STDs – chlamydia and gonorrhea can both be in the throat or anus, for example.

Lastly, the women my boyfriend and I met made no assumptions or judgments about the types of activities we enjoy – they simply share the risks and make sure you’re safe in all directions (your mind is whirling now, I’m sure). 🙂

Step Three: When your name gets called, a nurse takes you back, asks some additional questions, sometimes does a little preventative counseling and starts the tests by giving you a finger prick.

The finger prick begins the rapid blood test for HIV which is complete 15 minutes later.

Next, a traditional blood sample is taken from your arm for Syphilis testing. The Syphilis is sent to a lab and results are available 7 business days later along with your Chlamydia and Gonorrhea test results.

Step Four: Pee on your hand while attempting to pee into an impossibly small cup for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea testing (you do this in a private bathroom, so no one has to watch you wonder whether to pull up your pants with pee on your fingers or waddle over to the sink for washing – pants still at your ankles).

Important to note: the longer you hold your pee, the better – anything over not having urinated in an hour should be good.

The nurse said chlamydia and gonorrhea bacteria flush out and are harder to detect when having urinated recently; however, after a longer duration of time, they come back again.

Unfortunately, peeing profusely will not make your STD go away. Dang it!

Step Five: Meet the nurse back in the testing room, get your HIV results, and your FREE CONDOMS!!!! YEY!!!

Who doesn’t love free condoms?!?!

I say, you might as well go get STD tested just for the free condoms!!! (I’ll say anything – obviously – to convince you STD testing is totally harmless and will make you feel much much better!)

condom ad condoms too tight

1533882_446848112083407_2051712922_n THE STD PROJECT is a multi-award-winning independent website and progressive movement eradicating STD stigma by facilitating and encouraging awareness, education, and acceptance through story-telling and resource recommendations. Fearlessly led by Founder, Jenelle Marie, The STD Project is committed to modern-day sexual health and prevention by advocating for conscientious and informed decisions. Find them on twitter @theSTDProject

10 Of The Best Things You Can Do For Your Sexual Self (At Any Age)!

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When you stop to think about birth control, infections, relationships, feelings, logistics and everything else, sex and sexuality can seem overwhelmingly complicated. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sexual education to the rescue with 10 things you can do for your sexual self!

This article is meant to help you remember the human element of sexuality, and keep the essentials in the forefront of your mind.

Here are main points for how you can best care for your sexual self: 

  • Get to know your body and what you like on your own – be your own first partner!
  • Learn to talk openly about sex.
  • Be honest with yourself and your partners.
  • Remember, drama isn’t love.
  • Use and trust your own best judgment.
  • Love your own body.
  • Own and respect your feelings— even when it’s not fun.
  • Don’t try to make your sexual identity your WHOLE identity.
  • Become sexually educated— know your stuff!
  • Enjoy yourself and your sexuality.

View the original article on Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

10 thingsIf we look at our sexuality one way, it looks a million times simpler than it actually is. If we look at it another way, it appears a million times more complicated. While it’s important that we bear everything in mind we need to in terms of infection and disease, birth control, our relationships, our bodies and the whole works, now and then we need to remember the bare bones and the human element of the thing, and keep the essentials in the forefront of our minds.

Choose yourself as your first partner

We hear a whole lot about who should be our first partner. Most of the time, we’re told it should be someone we love and who loves us back, someone committed to us long-term, perhaps even someone we plan to spend the rest of our lives with. I agree completely, because you, all by yourself, have all of those qualities, more than any other person ever can.

No one is ever going to know your body like you are, and no one else is ever going to be able to GET to know your body well unless you do to begin with. Really claiming and recognizing yourself as your first and foremost sex partner is a powerful thing. It equips you with some tools for healthy sexuality and balanced relationships for the rest of your life: it can help you to best determine when it’s the right time for you to have solo sex (like when you’re just plain horny) and when it’s right to take a partner (like when you’re wanting deeper intimacy, or are able to account for another person’s feelings and desires). Getting to know your own body and sexual identity through self-evaluation, through masturbation, enables you to find out a good deal of what you like and dislike physically, to see and feel what your genitals and the rest of your body are like in a healthy state, to discover how your individual sexual response works, explore your orientation and gender identity, and to gauge your sexual expectations realistically.

All too often, young men and women — more often young women — may rush into sexual partnership simply because they think a partner can give them something on a sheerly physical sexual level that they can’t give themselves because they haven’t become their own first sex partner. And many times, that results in hurt feelings, overly high expectations, and careless treatment of sexual partners, especially when a person just isn’t ready for all that sexual partnership requires. All too often, “hormones” are said to be why a teen feels the drive to partner with someone else, but the truth is, your “hormones” and your physical body do NOT know the difference between your fingers and someone else’s. Your mind and your heart might, but your clitoris or penis do not. Spending dedicated time being your own lover first helps you be able to know the difference.

Let’s talk about sex, baby

When and if you’re sexually active with a partner, communication is typically the biggest hurdle in those relationships. If we feel awkward or uncomfortable — or unable — bringing up issues about birth control, safer sex, sexual boundaries, sexual satisfaction or dissatisfaction, things we need to be emotionally or physically safe, we not only greatly limit the mileage of those relationships, we put ourselves and our partners in positions which can be very detrimental to all of us. At best, being unable to communicate can greatly limit our pleasure, enjoyment or emotional well-being. At worst, they can get us deeply hurt emotionally or physically or hurt others, or be the root of an unwanted pregnancy, disease or infection transmission. Being able to talk openly about sex can’t just protect our hearts, minds and bodies, it can save our lives.

We can all learn to talk about sex, even in a culture where that is a major handicap. Start simple: talk to friends or family about sexual issues or questions. Learn to ask your doctor when you’ve got questions or concerns about sexuality or sexual anatomy, even if it feels embarrassing or a little funny at first. And well before you get sexually involved with a partner, start establishing meaningful dialogue about sex: about both of your expectations and wants, about your readiness levels, about birth control and safer sex practices, about how you’ll plan to deal with friends and family regarding your sexual relationship, about what relationship model you’d like to build, the works.

Live in the real world

Honesty, like most things, starts at home: in other words, with yourself. Sex can be a veritable minefield when it comes to game-playing, delusion, manipulation and control, even when no one intends any of those things. Being willing and able to be honest about your sexuality is your biggest asset when it comes to being happy, healthy and whole in this regard.

Be willing, for instance, to take a deep look at what you want and what you need and to make choices based on the real deal when it comes to those things. For instance, if you know that you’re not entirely sure about a sexual partner in terms of furthering your activity with them, don’t shove that feeling in the closet for fear of losing them if you don’t agree to what they want. If you know you’re questioning your sexual orientation, be clear on that with potential partners.

If you know you can’t be sexually active without lying to friends and family, consider putting a hold on things until you can be honest about that. If you aren’t as into someone else as you know they’re into you, let them know, don’t lead them on or take advantage. Don’t make promises you can’t keep: of eternal love (even if it feels that way), of monogamy, of sexual favors you aren’t sure you want to, or can, deliver.

Insist on honesty from your partners as well as from others involved, even tangentially, in your sexual life: friends, family, your doctor, and learn to accept that honesty, even when it’s not so easy. Being in an environment of honesty sometimes means that the people we’re involved with tell us what they really feel, rather than what they think we’d like to hear, which isn’t always comfortable, but which, both long and short term, is the best thing for everyone.

Break down your drama addictions

It’s easier than any of us would like to think to mistake high drama for love or passion, especially when we’re younger. Most of us are pretty restless in our teens: maybe school is just utterly boring, maybe we’ve had the same social circle for years, maybe our towns or cities don’t offer us much to do, maybe we’re just feeling ready to move on with our lives, but can’t because of our age. So, it’s not at all surprising that when a love affair enters our lives, we’re going to be pretty excited about it.

But it’s very clear that a lot of teens (and older people, too!) confuse drama with love, affection or real connection. The higher the level of drama gets — parents disliking a partner, promises of marriage, a profound age difference, even emotional or physical abuse — the more a feeling of love or passion is interpreted because the emotional stakes are raised and the tension is elevated.

That’s not unreasonable, after all, writers have been using that exact same device to elevate their readers emotions for thousands of years. But. It isn’t real, even when it very much feels real. We’re simply reacting to those escalated circumstances, and all too often, that drama can keep young couples together, not love or real bonding.

So, when the drama kicks in, try to learn to see it and know that then, more than ever, is NOT the time to leap in with both feet, but to step back and really look at what’s going on. To take a break to do that, if need be. To do whatever it is you need to to get a good, solid reality check. One of the best tests of love, really, is if it still feels like love when it’s at its quietest and calmest, not just its loudest and most tumultuous.

Be a smartypants

Let’s be honest: very few of us, whether we’re 15 or 65, can be truly objective when we’re head over heels in love or in lust. So, it’s a bit of a given that when making sexual choices, we can rest assured that our judgment is bound to be a little colored from the get-go. Being in love, having a crush, and sexual partnership is heady stuff. That’s some of why it can feel so nice. Colloquially, some of us call that space NRE, or new relationship energy. It’s great stuff, and it feels fantastic, but it can do quite a number on our analytical or critical thinking.

It’s important to recognize that when we’re in that space, we probably need to use a little more caution than usual when making decisions because those feelings can really do a number on our heads as well as our hearts. Other additional factors may also be at play which can impair sound judgment: body or self-image issues, feeling pressured to be sexually active or have a sexual or romantic partner, performance pressures, rebellion or conformity issues, and even simple curiosity.

And by all means, handicapping your judgment intentionally from the outset with alcohol or drugs which impair your critical thinking is just never a wise idea.

Start a revolution: Stop hating your body!

We live in a culture that is obsessed with appearances, in which lookism and ableism are epidemic. The messages we’re sent via our culture and media about our bodies are almost always about how they look or how perfect they should be, and more specifically, how they look to the opposite sex (despite the fact that some of us aren’t even interested in the opposite sex, all of the time, or ever). Advertisements for gyms or exercise regimens rarely talk about feeling increased energy, getting sick less often, getting better strength or balance, but all too often, instead work to sell us on trimmer thighs, tighter bottoms, or washboard abs because those things fit our current physical ideals of beauty and attractiveness.

That isn’t to say we have to ignore how our bodies or faces look. People are amazing creatures, great to look at, and sexual attraction is part of our physical nature. But it’s only one part of many. Our bodies enable us to do everything we do each day: to go to work or school, to build cities and cultural movements, to create and nurture families and friends, to live out our whole lives. And the state of our bodies effects the state of our minds: when we’re physically healthy, it’s a lot easier to be emotionally healthy.

So, take good care of your body in every way you can. Give it healthy food, the rest and activity it needs, the healthcare — sexual and general — it requires, both preventatively and when you become ill. Don’t sacrifice your health or well-being for appearances with fad diets or starvation, with obsessive focus on physical perfection, with conformity to ideals which not only may not fit you, but which change almost as often as most of us change our underpants. Understand that when it’s right for you, be it by yourself or with a partner, sex can also be part of honoring your body, whatever it looks like, however it works. If any sex you have with someone isn’t about your bodies just as they are, it’s not likely to feel very good or leave you feeling very good about yourself….

…Screw magazines that tell you to focus on what you’d like to improve about your body. Heck, if you’ve got one, burn it. If you’ve got health issues to deal with, or need to make some healthy changes in terms of what you’re eating or not getting enough activity, do that. But your body is not a home-improvement project. Most of it is perfect as-is, right now. So, document that. Sit down and make a list of all of your favorite parts, and write down why they’re your favorite. Maybe you like your eyes because they’re aesthetically beautiful, or your legs because they get you where you need to go. If you need extra help when it comes to appearances, instead of comparing yourself to fashion mags, get some pictures of your relatives, as far back as you can go, if they’re available to you. In them, you’re going to find your arms, your hair, your face — you can discover where a lot of you came from and see yourself a bit differently when you’re looking at you in someone else.

Some studies or philosophies have put forth that young people, especially young women, who are sexually active suffer from low self-esteem in ways those who are not do not. The usual assumption made about that premise is that sex, especially sex when you’re young, must be bad for you, but I’d posit that that isn’t so. Instead, what I’ve seen a lot of over the years is some people who seek out sex or sexual partnership to try and fill a void in terms of self-esteem or positive body image reinforcement that already exists before they seek out the sex, and then most of them discover — alas — that the sex or boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t fill that void and get even more depressed and self-hating, thinking something must be wrong with them.

Honor your feelings

Sometimes it takes a lot of tries before we meet someone whose needs and wants are the same as ours. Because of that, it’s tempting to try and compromise things we really shouldn’t compromise, like limits and boundaries, relationship models we know we don’t want or can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just too fast.

Sure, part of any relationship is compromise, but we should not and cannot compromise our essential character or nature, nor what we know we need in a relationship to participate in one healthily and happily. If we find we’re sticking in a relationship where we know our partner wants things we can’t or don’t want to give, for instance, we’re likely not honoring our feelings, perhaps because we don’t want to hurt them, or because we’re afraid of being without a partner, or because we just don’t want to make a huge mistake. But, you know, in relationships that are right for everyone, we can safely voice our feelings and work with them, and we need to be able to do that to be in good relationships. Most of us adults have been in relationships where we’ve voiced deeper feelings than our partner felt, or asked for more than they could give, and that’s resulted in a split we didn’t want. Or, we’ve had to tell a partner they were asking for more than we had available and either pull away from the relationship or take it back a few paces. While at the time, none of that is ever fun, in hindsight, we’ll all know that was best for everyone. As well, most of us have happier tales of honoring our feelings that brought about far better outcomes than we would have had had we not voiced our true feelings. Sometimes, when you love someone deeply and tell them, they tell you — and mean it — that they love you just as much back.

A big part of honoring your feelings is being able to first look at them and recognize them yourself. So, take a good look at them, even if they’re not so realistic. If you have a good idea of what they are, in a given situation or in general, you’re in a better place to honor them, to see how they may or may not be creating obstacles, to get a good idea of what you really want and need so you’ll be able to recognize when those needs can be met and when they can’t.

And while we’re at it, don’t talk yourself into a situation that isn’t really right for you, especially when it comes to casual sex. That isn’t to say that casual sex can’t be okay for some people sometimes, because it can. But much of the time here at the Scarleteen community, we see people clearly talking themselves into believing they’re okay with no-strings-attached or friends-with-benefits scenarios when they truly want more than that, but have convinced themselves to settle for less because they feel it’s better than nothing, or think that sex with someone casually will make that other person develop romantic feelings after all. Bzzzt. What you don’t want isn’t better than waiting for what you do want, and sex can’t change anyone’s real feelings. To boot, saying you’re okay with casual sex to a partner suggesting it when you know you aren’t in your gut makes YOU the bad guy for being manipulative and dishonest, not them for wanting less than you do.

Don’t try and use sexual identity as your whole identity

Part of our development in our teens and twenties is seeking out and discovering our self-identity. It’s why it’s not uncommon for teens to be very enthusiastic about something one month that’s completely forgotten the next. A little embarrassing when we have to backpedal sometimes, but it’s all normal, and we’ve all been through it (some of us way more times than we’d care to admit).

So, it’s also not unusual to do the same with sexual identity.

Sexual identity, is, by its nature, somewhat fluid. While some portions of our sexuality are at least somewhat fixed, like our sexual orientation (whether we’re attracted to men, women or both/all gender), parts of our gender identity as well as some of our preferences, many aspects of our sexual identity will develop and shift all through our lives. So, while your sexual identity is an integral part of who you are, there’s never any hurry to claim or label it, nor is it a good idea to make your current sexual identity your whole identity — because when it shifts and evolves — and it always will — you may find yourself feeling utterly lost in terms of knowing who you are. As well, sex is only part of our lives. If every part of us is completely wrapped up in it, we’re likely to miss out on other equally enriching and fulfilling parts of our lives.

Who are you, besides so-and-so’s girlfriend/boyfriend or Jane or John, queer or straight person? Jot it down, and make note of what accompanying activities you engage in to support all those other aspects of your identity. Are you a musician? If so, how much time are you getting to play and practice? Are you a good friend? Spent much time with yours lately? Are there aspects of your identity that keep getting shoved on the back shelf, even if you would really like to explore them? Look at your time during the week, and carve out some for those parts. Sex is great, and having a partner equally great, but if we aren’t more than our sex lives or sexual identity, not only are those aspects of our lives going to peter out fast, the rest of our lives are going to seriously suffer for that.

Become a sexpert!

Obviously, no one needed a book to figure out how to put Tab A into Slot B when it came to sex. If they had, none of us would be here today, because our eldest ancestors certainly didn’t have The Joy of Sex hidden under a straw pallet in the back of the cave. While there are some things we don’t need books or media for — and some it’s best we learn on our own anyway, like discovering what a partner finds pleasure in — there are others we do. We live in a different world than our hunting and gathering forebears. We have longer lifespans, different and more complex health issues, we choose not to procreate, we have factors in our lives and culture that make our relationships more complex. As well, we simply know things now we didn’t back when that really can benefit us, like understanding how our reproductive cycles really work, how disease or infection may be spread, like that our sexual or gender identity doesn’t have to be what is prescribed for us.

So, dig in and educate yourself! Hit the library or the net and read up on your body, the body of your partner if they’re opposite sex, on safer sex practices and disease and infection news, on birth control options. Fill your mind with material to help you start to evaluate things like orientation and gender identity, the quality of your relationships, and your own wants and needs when it comes to sex and sexual partnership.

Do yourself a favor, though, and be selective with that media. Look for sources that offer you real information, not salacious tips on how to bring someone else to orgasm or how to achieve firmer breasts. On websites and with books, look for mentions or endorsements by credible organizations or resources in sexuality and sexual health. We get enough garbage and misinformation on sex from television, movies and popular magazines as it is — none of us needs any more of that gump.

It truly is best to educate yourself about sex and sexuality BEFORE you leap in headlong, especially with a partner or partners. All too often, people only start educating themselves during or after a crisis (such as a pregnancy scare, an acquired STI, or being physically or emotionally hurt during sex), and while late is always better than never, in advance is always better than after the fact.

Most of all…

… don’t forget that sex and sexuality are supposed to be pleasurable and bring you joy and richness. So many of the messages sent out to young people are about the dangers of sex or dating, are about saying no to sex based on very general and arbitrary ethics that may not be your own, and make sex out to be the Big Bad, when really, it doesn’t have to be. If you aren’t ready for sexual partnership, then no, sexual partnership isn’t going to be right for you right now. But even if you try something out and discover it isn’t, it’s unlikely to cause you lifelong trauma. We all err sometimes; we learn, we move on. We’re an adaptable species like that.

Your sexuality is yours to have, explore and enjoy even all by yourself, and yours to share with partners, when and if you’re ready and willing to do that. When you respect it and you, it’s a wonderful part of who you are, one that has the power to enrich your life and make you feel physically and emotionally great. And it can be great responsibly and healthfully: a lot of the time, we plop sex and adventure into the same pile, and assume that for sex to feel great, it has to be risky or we have to feel “naughty” doing it, and that just isn’t the case. In fact, it’s reasonable to say that if our culture could ditch a lot of the taboo and shameful attitudes it has about sex, the whole lot of us would be a much healthier people, physically and emotionally.

So, if you’re engaged in sex in any way that makes you feel bad, stop and look at that. Sometimes, sex can be disappointing, either alone or with partners, that happens the same way any aspect of life can be disappointing or just plain lame. But if that’s the case continually, it’s time for a change, be that by splitting from a partner, pulling back on something you’re doing or asking for things you want but aren’t getting, taking better care of your sexual health or spending more time getting to know your own body, reevaluating your sexual identity or taking a break from sex altogether for a while. If you can’t feel or experience the joy of sex, then it’s just not worth doing. And when you can? Let yourself enjoy it. That’s what it’s there for.

To sum up?

1. Be your own your first partner, before anyone else.
2. Learn to talk openly about sex.
3. Be honest. For real.
4. Ditch the drama. Save it for the movies.
5. Use and trust your own best judgment.
6. Respect your body and yourself.
7. Honor your feelings, even when it’s a bummer.
8. Be your whole self, not just your sexual self.
9. Further your sexual education.
10. Enjoy yourself and your sexuality.

heatherHEATHER CORINNA is an activist, artist, author and the director of Scarleteen, the inclusive online resource for teen and young adult sex education and information. She is also the author of S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College and was a contributor to the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. She’s received the The Champions of Sexual Literacy Award for Grassroots Activism (2007), The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Region’s, Public Service Award (2009), the Our Bodies, Ourselves’ Women’s Health Heroes Award (2009), The Joan Helmich Educator of the Year Award (2012), and The Woodhull Foundation’s Vicki Award(2013).

scarleteenSCARLETEEN is an independent, grassroots sexuality education and support organization and website. Founded in 1998, Scarleteen.com is visited by around three-quarters of a million diverse people each month worldwide, most between the ages of 15 and 25. It is the highest-ranked website for sex education and sexuality advice online and has held that rank through the majority of its tenure.
Find Scarleteen on twitter @Scarleteen