Sex and the Plus Size Gal

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

Photo credit Christi Nielsen

A world that sets narrow standards of “beauty” has a real impact on how we evaluate our bodies and value ourselves. It also directly impacts how we feel when dating or experiencing sexual pleasure; sharing an intimate bodily experience with another is a serious exercise in self image.  As Elle Chase (a.k.a. Lady Cheeky) states in this article, women of all shapes, sizes and abilities have internalized negative attitudes towards their bodies from childhood.

As someone who once struggled with body shame, Elle shares how she overcame the negative narrative in her mind and transformed it into loving acceptance. This led her down a path of renewed sensual discovery and enjoying her sexual body to the fullest.

Here are some key points of advice Elle offers for how to feel more confident sexually:

This is tailored for plus-size women in particular, but it can apply to all people who want to improve their perception of self.

  • Confidence begins with accepting positive messages about yourself. Feeling sexy will result in others finding you sexy.
  • Transform the negative self-talk. Begin with small gestures like telling yourself, “This is the way I look and that’s that.”
  • Find inspiration and support by reading body positive resources and listen to stories from others who have overcome their body shame and embraced their sexual being.
  • Indulge in body positive porn that features real and large women enjoying hot sex. Elle offers a list of recommendations below.
  • Remember: Personality, confidence and acceptance of one’s sexuality is what makes someone attractive. Body shame functions to hinder one’s ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. One gains no benefit from negative self-talk.

This article is posted on smutforsmarties.com

BY ELLE CHASE | ElleChase.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

Image from SmutForSmarties.com

I happen to live in Los Angeles where being over a size 8 is a felony. This can be depressing when I am searching for a cute bathing suit or a stylish pair of jeans in a city that considers the ‘norm’ a size 2. At those times I like to remind myself that the average dress size for women across America and the UK is a size 14 and that a size 2 is more an aberration than the norm. However, it’s disappointing to note that at size 14, those average women are also considered “plus size”, labeling them in a category that, in this media ridden age, might send a woman’s ego to the back of the proverbial bus. This size stereotyping (especially in metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and New York City) can compound the list of reasons why single “plus size” woman are intimidated by dating and sex.

I have found that a lot of my single friends complain they can’t find a nice guy or even a good lover. When I suggest online dating, taking a class or going to events to meet a guy, I almost universally hear “maybe when I lose some weight” as the first excuse not to engage. It seems that no matter what we look like, women are always first to dissuade themselves from dating by knocking their perceived physical shortcomings. This kind of dysmorphic thinking doesn’t discriminate it seems, women of all shapes and sizes do it. Though being a “plus sized” woman has its challenges, dating shouldn’t be one of them. In fact, as a plus sized woman myself, I had to get past my own mental lambasting and take a leap of faith, even though at the time I still hated my body. It’s not easy to do but it IS possible.

When I made the decision to start dating again after my divorce, I had to examine my history with my body image. My whole teen and adult life I was lead to believe, through society, other women and some really immature boys, that my body was “less than” because it had more lumps, bumps and curves than the women portrayed in television, film, advertising, fashion magazines (including Seventeen magazine which can be horribly destructive to a young woman’s ego) and the like. Add to that the unconscious conditioning I received from my well-meaning mother and I was set up to fail.

I thought about all the women this kind of conditioning affects, as most women do not have “perfect” bodies and have even less perfect body images. It was interesting to me that regardless of size, all the women I knew loathed portions, if not all of their bodies. Not only does this affect quality of life in general, it substantially affects a healthy sex life. So what can we, as women, do to begin to accept the parts of us that we have heretofore shamed ourselves into hating?

Rebecca Jane Weinstein, Lawyer, Social Worker and Author, was told by her grandmother at nine years old that no man would ever love her because she was fat. So started Ms. Weinstein on her journey of figuring out her womanhood on her own. She relates her pilgrimage to satisfying sex in her book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth. I asked Ms. Weinstein what her advice would be to plus-sized women who are trying to feel more confident sexually. Here is her answer:

“In interviewing the many large sized women I have about body image and sexuality, I have found a common thread. When a woman feels sexy, she projects sexy, and men (or other women) find her sexy. This seems almost simplistic, and it is, in a sense. Perception is everything, particularly self-perception. What is not simplistic is coming to that realization and then internalizing those feelings. Women seem to find that place in themselves two ways. First is personality. Some of us are just lucky to have an inner core of confidence that has no clear genesis. It just exists. But even women who aren’t so lucky to be somehow born with the “I feel sexy” gene, seem to be able to learn to feel sexy. The key is listening and believing when you are told you are attractive and that someone is attracted to you. So often we are told such a thing, and every available evidence supports it (like there is a person lying next to us in a bed), and yet we don’t believe it. We must overcome that disbelief. It is not easy when all the societal messages tell us fat is not sexy. But those messages come from disreputable sources – mostly people trying to sell us stuff. They want us to feel badly about ourselves so we will buy diets and cosmetics and clothing and medical procedures. Those people are liars. The ones telling us the truth are sharing our beds and our hearts. It is them we must believe. And the truth is, even if there is no one giving those positive messages, telling ourselves works too. When you feel sexy, you project sexy, and others find you sexy. It’s not so important how you get there, but that you get there.”

She’s right.

I had a lover once with whom I had some of the most erotic, connected, exciting and sensual sex of my life (some of our exploits are detailed on my erotica site www.smutforsmarties.com) and I was considered plus-sized at the time. Though I felt confident that he wanted me, I still didn’t feel comfortable in my body. Still, before our first tryst I panicked about how he would react to actually seeing me naked. Would he still want me when he saw my overflowing stomach and flabby thighs? I was terrified.

When we first got together I was so ashamed of my physique that I kept my nightie on thinking “maybe he won’t notice my fat.” Though, in contrast to what the little devil on my shoulder was whispering in my ear (“you’re disgusting,” “you should be ashamed to think he wants you”,) my lover couldn’t have been more effusive and complimentary about how seduced he was by my body. He continued to sincerely voice how attracted to me he was, yet I kept that nightie on for two months until I “believed” he was really yearning for me. What in the world did he have to do to get me to believe him? The answer is “nothing.” The issue was with me and my own narrative about my body. I used the shame and the humiliation I took on from others’ opinions about body size during my childhood and young womanhood to inform my ability to receive full pleasure in the moment. What a shame.

Later on in our relationship, figuring a bigger gal was his bag, I brought up the subject of a woman’s body type and asked him if he had always been attracted to plus-sized women. For me, his answer was revolutionary. My lover explained that body shape or size had nothing at all to do with his attraction to a woman. To him, a woman’s physical appeal (among other things like chemistry, personality, intelligence, etc.) was based on how sexual/sensual the woman was. He continued, that when a woman felt she was a sensual being and was confident about her sexuality, that it drove him wild. “I could be lying in bed with a supermodel but if she didn’t own her own sexuality I would be completely limp,” he said. Furthermore, the men he knew in his life felt the same way. He continued by saying that those same men were often frustrated with the fact that women in general don’t own their bodies and often let it get in the way of “letting go and enjoying the moment.” Again, revolutionary to me. I thought back to when I was praying he wouldn’t notice my fat and thought “Wow. If I were just able to let go and take in that he was having sex with me because he WANTED to and was ATTRACTED to me, I would have enjoyed myself so much more.” The change needed to start with me. I needed to give myself a break. If it was true that he found me physically attractive then it was equally true that other men would as well. It was clear, I needed to start accepting my body as is, otherwise I would be living a lonely existence waiting for the day I would be happy with my body … and that day will never come. This was evidenced by my smaller framed friends who had a litany of complaints about why men wouldn’t find them attractive. Again, the unrealistic body dysmorphia rears its ugly head no matter WHAT you look like.

Pamela Madsen, who wrote the book Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner says “If you work on embracing who you are – every single day just like a religious practice – things will change in your world.” I completely agree. No more negative self-talk … ever.

So here’s the deal … I’m not going to tell you to look in the mirror and say affirmations that you’re beautiful and sexy or tell yourself “I love you the way you are;” that’s too big a jump. What I AM telling you is that if you can’t muster up something nice to think about yourself, at least say something factual and neutral like, “this is the way I look and that’s that.” It’s accurate and at the same time makes you accept yourself the way you are. Once you have that under your belt move on up to “I look pretty good today” etc, but wait until you believe it. The point being, you are never to put yourself down. And if you can’t compliment yourself, then at least say something objective, something you can believe.

The next step would be to start to become more comfortable in your body sexually … as it is right now. Whether you’re plus-sized or not, I highly recommend you read the aforementioned book Fat Sex: The Naked Truth by Rebecca Jane Weinstein. She’s plus sized, smart and has the experiences to back up what she preaches. Her book will feed you stories of women (and men) who feel the same or worse about their bodies and will inspire you. Reading the stories of how others achieved their positive body image and started enjoying sex will help you get used to the notion that there are other people out there (perhaps even larger than you are) that have found their inner sex gods and goddesses.

There are also a plethora of body image and sex positive websites at your fingertips. One of my favorites is Betty Dodson and Carlin Ross’ website www.dodsonandross.com that has a wonderful DVD called Bodysex Workshop. This DVD teaches women not only how to feel good about their sexuality but shows REAL women with REAL bodies “taking care of business” (if you know what I mean.) Other validating websites to check out: I Feel Myself http://www.Ifeelmyself.com which feature women from all over the world masturbating to orgasm. It’s liberating watching women of all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds enjoying the sexual pleasure that is their right. Pamela Madsen’s blog offers Pamela’s words of wisdom on the spiritually based “sacred sexuality movement” and body image.

If you are feeling frisky, even the porn world has something to offer. The multitude of amateur porn online also affords us the opportunity to watch women who look like us engaging in hot sex. There are even porn sites dedicated to plus sized nude models like (my favorite) London Andrews and very popular plus sized porn star Kelly Shibari. There’s also “feminist porn” (also known as women’s porn or couples porn) brought to us by pioneers in the field like Candida Royalle, Erika Lust and Tristan Taormino. This type of porn is made by women for women (and men) who enjoy a more sensual story and a focus on the woman’s pleasure as well as the man’s. Checking out this kind of porn might make you feel more a part of “the club” than traditional porn where the focus is mainly on the man’s gratification while they screw thin women with fake boobs (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that).

Poor body image doesn’t have to be debilitating. Your sexuality is part of who you are as a woman and human being and the plus sized woman should take steps to start empowering herself as an erotic, sexual being … every woman should, really. If we can divorce our self-loathing (while we work on it, of course) from our sensual selves, then dating or sexual expression doesn’t have to be tied into body image and as a result, we can work on accepting ourselves while at the same time experiencing sexual pleasure.

Since I have accepted my body “as is,” not only have I had no problem finding men that find me and my body sexy, but I’ve been allowing myself to have some of the best sex of my life. I have come to understand and believe that sexual pleasure is not just meant for the “beautiful” and the “hard-bodied,” it’s a natural enjoyment that is your right as a human being. So take back that right. Ignore the messages from people, agencies and corporations trying to make you feel “less than” and take back control of what is inherently yours.

elle Sex educator, writer and coach, Elle Chase is best known for her award-winning and highly trafficked sites, LadyCheeky.com (NSFW) and SmutForSmarties.com, which have both garnered multiple awards, including LA Weekly’s Best Sex Blog 2013. Elle’s focus is on positive body image, reigniting sexual expression and better sex after 40. She speaks nationally at universities, conferences, and teaches workshops about all things “sex.” Currently, she is hard at work on a book based on her popular workshop “Big, Beautiful Sex”. Find Elle on facebook.com/TheElleChase and follow her @TheElleChase or @smutforsmarties.

Why, What, How to Talk to Your Sex Partner

Photographer Jaded One

Photo credit: Jaded One

No matter how much you study up on sex, without communication your relationship is sunk! Sexual communication isn’t easy and what we see in the media is rarely useful in terms of real-life scenarios. Scarleteen is here with comprehensive pointers on communication as a whole, and specifics on what to look for in productive sexual communication.

This article is meant to help you navigate the challenges of talking about sex with sex partners— from how to talk and to what to look for in the talking. Here are some main points to take away:

  • Clear sexual communication keeps both partners physically and emotionally safe.
  • Before engaging sexually with a new partner, look at how you communicate with them about other things.
  • Pick emotionally safe and neutral spaces to talk about sex.
  • There are several keys to productive dialogue- don’t miss the list below!
  • If you feel like you don’t feel comfortable communicating with someone, consider holding off on partnered sex with them until you do.
  • If you start with open communication and keep talking, it will get easier and more comfortable.

Read the original article at Scarleteen.

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

You can read everything from the Kama Sutra to The Joy of Sex, watch porn vids until your eyeballs fall out, have a ton of sexual experience or psychically channel Mata Hari or Casanova, but if you don’t know how to openly communicate with your partners, with your words, chances are neither you nor your partner are going to have really healthy, beneficial and satisfying sexual experiences, especially in the long-term.

Communicating clearly and well about sex and relationship issues, before and after you become sexually active with someone — the whole works, not just when whispering sweet or saucy nothings into a lover’s ear — not only puts you in a place where you can have satisfying sex and sexual relationships, short and long-term, and feel good about them, it helps keep everyone safe and sound both physically and emotionally.

If you have a car, you know that you’ve got to keep a pretty good eye on the oil in the engine: if you run out, no matter how great of shape your car is in, it’s not going to keep working, and may well explode in your face. Solid communication is the oil that keeps the engine of your sexual relationships running smoothly.

How to Talk About Sex

Talking with your partner about sex isn’t just about asking what one person has or hasn’t done before, wants to do, or about what gets everyone hot under the collar. Talking about sex with a partner also involves discussing what pace you’re comfortable with, your sexual health and your partner’s health, what you want or need to be comfortable engaging in a given sexual activity, how you masturbate, how you feel about your body, what feels good and what really doesn’t, safer sex and birth control, your sexual ethics and beliefs, relationship model negotiation, the works. Good sexual communication means you are creating and maintaining an environment in which you and your partner(s) can really talk openly about sex — in and out of bed — even when what you have to say isn’t very sexy or isn’t what the other might want to hear. It means being able to say no and having no be accepted and easily respected without pressure to say yes: it means being able to say yes knowing it doesn’t mean you or they have to say yes every time.

It’s no big shocker that talking about sex openly and intimately isn’t very easy. Most of the media around us doesn’t portray sexual discussion realistically or wholly: we’re shown either only the super-fantastic earthshaking stuff or Very Big Problems, not all of the shades in between that make up most of our sexual experiences. Most of the talking about sex we see in the movies only happens when people are having sex, and tends to consist of little but monosyllables or the standard “That was great,” after sex is done. And it isn’t just teens who have a tough time with sexual communication. Many adults in long-term sexual partnerships don’t have the hang of it, and plenty still prefer to avoid sexual discussions rather than practice them. A rare few of us grew up in households where sex was discussed healthily and openly. Good sexual communication generally requires more than a single word response. For a lot of people of all ages, honest and open sexual communication is brand new terrain.

Before you become sexually active with someone, take a look at how you communicate with them about other things. Are you able to talk openly and freely about your feelings for each other, about relationship models, time management, previous romantic/sexual relationships and peer and family relationships, and deal with crises? Are you friends: do you talk like friends? If not, it’s wise to take a pause and evaluate if that partner is a smart sex partner for you yet: after all, if you don’t feel comfortable talking about needing a little more time together (or a little more space) or what’s going on with your family, it’s going to be a serious challenge to talk about wanting to be touched more here or there, to need to change how the two of you are practicing safer sex or birth control, or about having a yeast infection. If daily communication, especially about things which are very close to your heart, doesn’t feel pretty easy just yet, work on that first, or consider that that person may not be an ideal partner for you.

Look at your own existing sexual communication in other parts of your life. Are you able to discuss sexual issues with your friends or your physician with a decent level of comfort and honesty (even if things sometimes feel a bit awkward)? Can you use language for sexuality – like the correct words for your sexual parts, or real terms for sexual activities – comfortably?

If you’re already at those points, then you’ve got a great foundation for sexual communication. You can lay it down from the onset – before you have any kind of sex at all — just by saying something like, “Before we have sex together, I want us to aim to always talk about sex honestly and freely, even when it seems weird. I feel like that’s important for both our physical and emotional safety as well as so that we can have really great sex.” Just making your intentions clear like that opens the door, allowing both you and your partner permission to talk about sex with maturity and be honest when you do.

Want to try on a few basic conversations one might have with a partner or potential partner that are pretty common, just to get an idea of how we can have them, and how hard it really ISN’T? CLICK HERE, and have a look at how some varied talks about sex with a partner can go.

Those sample conversations don’t have to be literal scripts for you, and my vernacular may not sound like the way you and your partners talk: I’m 37, and you’re probably not. “Gag me with a spoon,” and “Like, totally, that’s grody to the max,” were part of my teenage lingo: thank christ, they’re probably not part of yours. But the basics remain the basics: sound sexual communication is all about being honest (even when it feels awkward or embarrassing — but, if you’re going to be naked and/or sexual with someone things are going to be awkward and embarrassing sometimes, no matter what), being forthright and open (which anyone can do while still being kind to the other person), owning your own stuff (and the other person being able to do the same), and accepting that sometimes, because we need to communicate important things, sex might not seem so sexy for a bit, and we may even shelve sex we were going to have in exchange for talking about it. Even if that seems like a bummer at the time, I can guarantee you that it’ll mean the next times you DO have any kind of sex, it’s far more likely to be emotionally, interpersonally and physically better.

Where to have a talk? Pick emotionally safe, neutral spaces to talk about sex in. Often, it’s best to talk about sex in-depth when you’re not in the middle of having sex, when no one is naked (since most people feel more vulnerable that way), and when you’re not in an environment which can make it feel like having sex is more important than talking about it. Obviously, too, talking about sex between two people very personally isn’t a conversation for when you’re in a big group, hanging out with friends, or in the busy halls at school, where even the walls tend to have ears.

Suffice it to say, there will be times that it either feels just fine to talk about sex while in bed, and times when it’s also unavoidable. For instance, if you’re setting a limit on what you want to do in the midst of your partner starting to do that activity without asking, you need to set that limit right there and then. Or, if you two are laying around after sex and strike up a conversation about your sex life and it feels safe and comfortable for you to have it then, then no problem.

Check out some general themes we usually see in productive and communicative sexual conversations:

  • “I” statements. In other words, “I feel that…” rather than “You make me feel like…” Or, “When you do X, I experience Y,” instead of “You do Y to me.” “I feel ready for sex,” not “My friend Joe is having sex with HIS girlfriend.” When you’re speaking for yourself and about yourself, frame it that way. Even if you are calling out a partner on their behavior or actions, people tend to stop listening when an expression sounds more like an accusation.
  • Acknowledge the awkwardness. In so many ways, anything sexual between people IS awkward, and talking about it often is, too, especially when those conversations are being had for the first time. You can let a lot of the air out of the balloon just by saying that you feel awkward, and by being okay with that: it helps make it okay for your partner to feel awkward, too.
  • Same goes double for accepting that sex talk can be loaded. As a longtime sexuality educator – completely outside of my personal life – I’m acutely aware that people can fly off the handle pretty easily when talking about their sex lives, and that most people are pretty hypersensitive about sex. That’s unsurprising: sexuality is very personal, it makes us feel very vulnerable and exposed, and there’s an awful lot of pressure in the world to be sexually perfect, no matter how unrealistic that is. Prime the pump (as it were) and make sure your partner is in the right headspace to have a discussion about sex at a given time, just by asking if they are, and if they’re not, just make clear you need to soon, and would like them to let you know when it is a better time for them. Reinforce care for them by letting them know that you love and care for them and that you like being with them: you just want things to be as good between you as possible. Be aware of their personal sensitivities and insecurities and speak with kindness. “I think maybe your penis is too small,” for instance, is not a sensitive thing to say (and probably not even the real issue). “I’m feeling like this would feel even better with something fuller, maybe your hands?” is a serious improvement. “I’m having a hard time working out the difference between our reality and what I see in porn,” is far more accurate, sensitive and productive than “Why can’t you do what everyone in porn does?”
  • Watch your language.Part of communicating well (whether you’re talking about sex or something else) involves using terms which both people know the meaning of and are comfortable with. You may hit roadblocks to productive sexual communication if, say, you’re talking about “tea bagging” or “fingering” and your partner has no idea what you’re referring to (hint: when you say tea-bagging and they ask if you prefer herbal or black tea, they don’t understand you), or if your partner calls your genitals a “pussy” or a “prick” and those terms seriously turn you off or are gross to you. Be sure that when you are talking about sex, that you do so without making too many assumptions, and with care to what language you are using to express yourself; be open to making changes or clarifying in order to better that communication. Ask about what words work for your partner; tell them what words and language feel best to you. Everyone also has different levels of comfort when it comes to pillow talk — talking about sex during sex. Some people may like a partner to “talk dirty” during sex who either isn’t comfortable with that in general, or who is comfortable with that, but not yet. Plenty of people have a hard time — or just don’t like — talking about sex during sex, for the effect of heightening arousal, in general. Again, these tend to be matters of compatibility, and by discussing them — even in advance of sexual activity — even partners with some divergence of opinion can often find middle ground that works for both of them.
  • Make sexual communication an ongoing process. In other words, don’t expect one talk about one thing to be the only talk you’ll have or to net instant results. Most people tend to need time on their own to mull talks about sex over, since partnered sex can be so complex and sometimes tough to sort through, and a lot of the time you won’t have “The” talk, you’ll have a series of evolving talks about any given issue. As well, folks may not want to have a six hour gab-a-thon about a sensitive or emotionally loaded issue. It might be better to talk a bit about something one day, then suggest you go do something mellow and unloaded and talk about it more in a few days.
  • Expect the Best. If you walk into a sexual conversation anticipating that it will go poorly, it’s much more likely to. You’ll probably be more timid than you would otherwise, won’t do the best job of really stating your case, and may be less likely to be honest. If, instead, you walk in with the expectation that what you have to say is productive and important, and your partner can absolutely handle talking about sex (and if they’re having sex, they’d better be able to talk about it, too!) and listening to you, you’re more likely to communicate well and most honestly, and your partner is going to hear your confidence and trust in them in your voice.
  • By all means, accentuate the positive. Unless you’re talking with someone who is being abusive or is not minding your boundaries, when you have an otherwise positive sex life with someone, you can make them feel at ease and secure by being sure that even in areas you may be being critical, you’re also acknowledging the good stuff. For example, let’s say that you really enjoy sex with your partner, but their utter lack of communication makes you feel clueless as to what to do to be sure they’re enjoying it too. To keep positives in there, you might say something like, “I love being with you, and I love how you give me clues about what you like with your body. I think things could be even better, though, if you could also tell me, with words sometimes, what you like or want.”
  • Don’t ditch your sense of humor. Obviously, there are some conversations in which humor just isn’t appropriate – like when a partner is seriously stomping over your boundaries, or a partner needs to talk about previous sexual abuse with you. But in a lot of conversations about sex, it’s fine to have moments of lightness, and it’s helpful to inject a little laughter to help everyone feel more comfortable.

There are some people who strongly feel that any kind of talking during or about sex kills their buzz. Trouble is, we just HAVE to talk about sex at least sometimes, and if we’re really fully present with sex, then talking about it shouldn’t be a huge bummer. Someone who feels that way may also not be in the healthiest headspace: maybe talking kills things for them because they’re trying to pretend something is fine when it really isn’t. Maybe they’re trying really hard to avoid being vulnerable or close (in which case it’s mighty silly for them to be having sex, which is all about that), or want the sex they’re having to be more about a fantasy than the reality. Maybe they don’t want you to talk because they don’t want to leave you real room to say no or have a say. Maybe they’re really just not ready for sex with someone else, because being able to communicate is a big part of being ready.

If it feels to you that sexual issues cannot be discussed by you or your partner — either because you don’t feel ready, or because you think talking about them will spur on anger, upset, jealousy or massive insecurity — then you might want to wait for partnered sex with that person until you both do feel able to talk more comfortably, and have more practice doing it outside of bed, where any conversation tends to be a lot more loaded. Suffice it to say, if it feels patently unsafe to ever talk to your partner honestly about anything to do with sexuality, that’s just not a safe person to be with sexually at all.

Often, it also takes a few tries — and sometimes more than that — before we meet someone whose needs and wants are compatible with ours, or can work with a partner to find middle ground that works for both people. Because of that, it can be tempting to try and let things go unsaid we really need to be talking about, like limits and boundaries that aren’t being respected or communicated, wants or needs that aren’t being met, relationship models we know we can’t deal with, or sexual velocity that is just going too fast. Resist that temptation if it happens: you don’t want to set patterns or precedents for things that aren’t okay with you or aren’t working for you, because that makes it even harder to work them out in the long run. Put your limits and boundaries onto the table as soon as they come up. Even if it’s difficult, awkward, or feels risky to do, it’ll be a lot easier to set limits earlier rather than later, and taking risks to better understand each other is always a healthy risk to take with a good chance of delivering something positive and healthy.

Once you have some basic solid communication practices and dynamics down, it’s just a matter of basic care and feeding: if and when you do start having partnered sex, you’ll keep talking to one another, all the time, and it should become second-nature to always be communicating, sharing ideas, feelings and experiences without trying too hard. It’s not unusual, when you first start having partnered sex to go without heavy verbal communication for a while, because it’s new (and that newness can make things so exciting that even sex that isn’t physically so great is made better by the rush of something new), because you’re both caught up in all the things that feel good, and because things that aren’t yet as you like them, will just take more time. But over time, not only are you likely to need to talk more, you’ll both probably want to talk more, too.

Partnered sex is one of those things that tends to get better the longer you do it with someone, but part of why is communication that increases over that time. So, communication is important, but the sex you’re having also doesn’t need to feel like a lecture series to be healthy. You’ll probably find – as most people do — that when you start from a place of open communication, and keep communicating regularly and as needed – just opening that door not only makes communication become easier and easier over time – and when you get good at it with one partner, it tends to get easier with other partners over time — those regular habits will allow you to have more times when body language and monosyllables do you both just fine, and all the better than they would have if you didn’t have great verbal communication, too.

(Adapted and expanded from S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-to-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College)

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.
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Study Finds Men Who Use Condoms Can Still Enjoy Sex

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Studies in the past have falsely argued that male sexual health and condom use are incompatible.

Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion noticed that these studies simply compared “pleasure” reported by test subjects with and without condoms with no consideration for the other circumstances of their sexual encounters.  They proposed a different kind of study. The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health takes a look at their results.

Here are the important findings from the Indiana University study:

  • Earlier studies ignored other behaviors involved when using condoms— what sex acts men engage in, how they feel about the sex they have, their demographic characteristics, etc.
  • A number of factors in the span of a sexual event shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable.
  • Lower levels of sexual pleasure were associated with erection difficulty, perception of partner discomfort during sex and perception of penis width and hardness.
  • One limitation of the study is that it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms.

This original article is published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Researchers from the Section of Adolescent Medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University noticed that there was a void in the current sexual health literature on condom usage with regards to sexual pleasure. In general, studies tend to just compare the pleasure reported by men who either do or do not use condoms, and often wind up with results claiming that condom usage is not compatible with male sexual enjoyment. However, these studies ignore the other components of sexual pleasure or the various other characteristics and behaviors of men who use condoms, such as what sex acts they engage in, how they feel about the sex that they have, or their demographic characteristics. To combat this deficiency in data, the investigators of this study proposed this research to examine the association between condom use and sexual pleasure when all participants use condoms consistently, correctly, and completely, allowing for an understanding of the range of factors that affect sexual pleasure and enjoyment.

Participants were enrolled as a subsample of heterosexual-identified men from a larger US-based study of event-level condom behavior (a phrase used to indicate condom usage for one act of intercourse), with representatives from all fifty states. Of the 1,599 participants, 83% were white; about half had received some college or technical education; about a quarter were married, with 30% partnered and 41% single; and the average age was 26 years old. Diary reports of sexual behaviors and condom use were requested of participants, and then “complete condom events,” where the condom was applied prior to intercourse, used for the duration of intercourse, and removed only after intercourse had ended, were analyzed according to measures of subjective rating of sexual pleasure and a number of predictor variables. Some of the important considered variables included: partner type (casual/main); sexual-situational factors like intercourse duration, intensity, and lubricant use; physiological factors including perceived penis width, length, and hardness; ejaculation; and perception of condom comfort.

A number of factors were found to be correlated with higher reports of sexual pleasure during complete condom use. Ejaculation had the strongest association, with a four-fold increase in reported sexual pleasure. Other strong correlations with sexual pleasure included higher intercourse intensity (41%), longer intercourse duration (40%), performing oral sex on a partner (34%), receiving oral sex from a partner (21%), and receiving genital stimulation (13%), as well as a modest increased association with older age (4%). Additionally, lower levels of sexual pleasure were strongly associated with erection difficulty (75% reduction) and perception of partner discomfort during sex (72% reduction), while perception of lower penis width and hardness were also linked to lower sexual pleasure.

The results of this study indicate that sexual pleasure is not simply something that cannot coexist with condom usage; instead, it is a fact that can still be very much a part of these men’s sexual encounters. As the authors of the study address in their discussion, what this data shows is that there are a number of factors in the span of a sexual event—how a man feels about his genitals, how his partner reacts, what acts other than vaginal penetration occur—that shape whether or not the experience itself is pleasurable. It is important not to permit or perpetuate the stereotype that just removing the condoms would make intercourse better. Rather, the authors of this study believe there are better solutions to decrease the negative factors linked with lower sexual pleasure, such as visiting a doctor to take care of erectile difficulties or ensuring that one’s partner is equally comfortable and pleased with the sex.

Unfortunately, this study was somewhat limited, in that by only focusing on condom use, it does not allow for any comparison between the beliefs, behaviors, or reported pleasure levels between men who do and do not use condoms. Additionally, heterosexual men are not the only individuals who could benefit from research into the pleasurable associations of safer sex. However, work like this is so important because it not only advances the importance of pleasure and safer sex, but it also shows how the two can work together. Safer sex devices like condoms are so clearly important in limiting potentially negative consequences like pregnancy and STIs, and knowing how to make such things sexy and fun—really, one of the majors draws of any sex play—is key in making sure people are willing to do what they need to do in order to keep themselves safe and healthy.

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.

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

He Said, She Said: 10 Things We Wish Sex Ed Had Taught Us

17- he said she saidOur attitudes about sex and sexuality are formed at a young age. For many of us, primary school is a hub of attitude shaping as parents, peers and adults all contribute to how we perceive ourselves and others. Comprehensive sex education is key in helping children develop healthy attitudes about their bodies, relationships, sex and sexuality. But what should that include?

Melissa White, CEO of Lucky Bloke, asks 10 renowned writers and sex educators what they wish sex education had taught them. The answers may surprise you!

This article is intended to help you understand what information may be missing from your child’s (or your own) sexual education.

Reclaim your sexual health know-how! Here are some main points to take away:

  • Only 22 states in the U.S. require sex education, and of those, only 12 require that it be medically accurate.
  • It’s confirmed that teens who were taught comprehensive sexual education develop healthy sexual attitudes and safer sex practices.
  • The gaps in our current education system are plentiful- check out the list to see what folks wish they had learned!

The original article was published on the Huffington Post.

BY MELISSA WHITE

In a recent Huffington Post article, “So, You Think You’re Cool Because You Hate Condoms?,” I cavalierly stated, “No matter how high the stakes, most adult attitudes surrounding safer sex are formed (and stuck) back in high school.” Which is true.

However, more often than not, what is learned “back in high school” arrives via friends or porn. For most of us, official sex education was mediocre or simply non-existent.

Fast forward 20 (or so) years and the situation hasn’t really improved.

It may surprise you to learn that only 22 states in the U.S. mandate sex education, and of those, a mere 12 mandate sex ed that is medically accurate!

And if your position happens to be that you don’t want teens having sex at all, rest assured: many teens aren’t taking your position into account — and are doing what comes naturally, instead.

As many teens go on to become sexually misinformed adults, they’re likely to experience sex ranging from less than satisfactory to hazardous to their health, often simply for lack of awareness about how to make better choices in their sex life.

On the other hand, teens with comprehensive sex education develop healthy sexual attitudes and practices — and as adults, enjoy healthy sexual attitudes and relationships. As confirmed here and here.

By opening up a public conversation about just what kind of sex-positive information is essential for shaping healthier attitudes around sex, we will educate each other while empowering teens to more satisfyingly and safely navigate the increasingly sexualized world they face.

To help get this discussion started, I began by speaking to friends and sex educators in my circle about the sex ed curriculum they wish they’d been given.

Here is our first take: Sex Ed 101: Safety & Pleasure for the Real World — (and yes, my quote is #3):

1. Build Upon a Foundation of Consent and Positive Sexuality
“I want to see holistic sex education that teaches us creative, sexy ways to respect our bodies while encouraging us to practice safer sex. We need to teach that active, enthusiastic consent must be central to every sexual relationship. I wasn’t taught consent can be fun, consent can be sexy. When young people are getting terrible messages about what sexual relationships are or should look like from the media or our peers, we have to create a more transformative, more sex positive ethic in sex education.” – Jamie Utt

2. The Difference Between Gender & Sex
“The difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, and that both are spectrums, not binaries. [Education] about sexual practices, at least a few of the more common ones, and some uncommon ones, too, all taught with the same lack of judgment. That if you’re being safe, sane and consensual, you are doing it right.” – Justin Cascio

3. Condoms Should Be About Pleasure First. 
“If your condom feels good, you’ll use it. First, make sure you or your partner is wearing the right size condom. (Here is how you figure out your condom size.) Next, don’t rely on free or cheap condoms. By spending $1 on a premium condom you can have a greatly improved experience. And if you don’t know where to start, beginning with a condom sampler is a great, affordable option.” – Melissa White

4. Use lube. 
“Don’t listen to the myths that say that vaginal lubrication = arousal. There are lots of reasons why that’s not true, including hormonal changes, medical issues, medications and drugs or simply because that’s how someone is. Plus, lube is great for hand jobs and you definitely need it for anal play. Use lube. Use a lot of lube.” – Charlie Glickman, PhD

5. Orgasms. What Are They? And Did I Just Have One?
“Left to rely on what I heard, I expected to feel something akin to a sonic boom followed by that sparkly thing twilight “vampires” do. When that didn’t happen, it took me forever to even identify my orgasms. I was convinced there was something wrong with me and I was broken. And many people parroting the line “If you you’re not sure you’ve had an orgasm, you haven’t,” didn’t exactly help. (So really, don’t say that. It’s condescending, wrong and obnoxious.) In her “Girlgasms” class, Ducky Doolittle says “If you are aren’t sure but you’ve felt involuntary muscle contractions during masturbation, you’ve probably had an orgasm.” Hearing that earlier would have been a game-changer for me.” – JoEllen Notte

6a. An Overiew of Genital Health
“I wish I’d learned more about genital health. Not just STIs but also bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, typical discharge, cervical mucous and things like that. An owner’s manual, if you will.” – Ashley Manta

6b. “What a “normal,” healthy-looking penis and vulva look like. A wide range — sizes, colors, states of arousal, age, circumcised/not circumcised — in real pictures. Our young selves have no frame of reference, except for Playboy and porn. Even as adults, our reference points are often limited. This could help young adults with body image, as well as, not be shocked/surprised with future partners.”  Marrie Lobel

7. Sex Is Fun
“I wish they taught me that sex didn’t have to be so serious like it is in the movies. It took me many years to realize that the best kind of sex for me is messy, loud and often not very conventionally pretty. We can still be hot as hell with one false eyelash stuck to our cheek, socks still on and laughing our ass off because we just fell off the bed having an orgasm. I wish they taught me that sex was supposed to be fun.” – Sunny Megatron

8a. Masturbation Is OK
“Don’t be embarrassed about masturbating, and for god’s sake, use lube!” – Cooper S. Beckett 

8b. Sex Toys Exist. (And pleasuring yourself isn’t weird or wrong.)

“In popular culture, guys masturbating is considered “ha ha funny” (think the movieAmerican Pie) whereas when it comes to women pleasuring themselves, it’s still looked upon as something slightly shameful. When I finally worked up the nerve to go buy a vibrator in university it was like this big, secretive deal. Now that I own a whole drawer full of them I realize it’s not a big deal at all. Toys are actually really empowering. I wish more girls knew this.” – Simone K.

9. Women Have Sex Drives. Women Like Sex. (Enjoy That.)
“In this day and age, the trope that women don’t enjoy sex as much as men still exists. What a fallacy. Our bodies are built to enjoy this natural part of being human… the difference is we’ve been taught it’s “slutty” to fully demonstrate and embrace our sexuality. If I hadn’t believed women who pursued sex were desperate and easy, I’m certain I would have chosen my partners more wisely and discovered the pleasure in sex that is the right of each and every one of us.” – Elle Chase

10. Teaching Healthy Boundaries & Consent Starts Way Before Puberty
“Children need to learn to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and to know how to accept the answer when someone says “no” to them without negotiating, nagging, or persisting. Children also need to learn the importance of “Do No Harm” as it relates to someone or something else. Teach them if it doesn’t feel good then they have the right to have the activity stop. Think about this in terms of when kids are roughhousing or tickling — if someone is tickling and it’s too much, sometimes, adults forget and persist until the child is disturbed or upset. Kids need to know when to stop and when to speak up as well. Learning about consent is a skill they’ll use throughout their lives.” – Lanae St. John

So now, we’d love to know… what do you wish you’d been taught in Sex Ed?

Love the Glove: 10 Reasons to Love Condoms

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The rate of STI infection among Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 is exceptionally high and this can be owed primarily to young people either not using condoms or other barriers, or failing to use them properly. Scarleteen, the internet’s source for comprehensive, inclusive sex ed and support for young people, is here with 10 reasons to  love condoms- reasons many of us never considered before.

This article is meant to help you understand the effects of inconsistent and unassertive condom use, and provide you with ten insightful reasons to use protection correctly, every time.

Here are the main points:

  • Correct and consistent use of condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85%.
  • Proper condom use decreases transmission risk of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.
  • Issues like maturity, pleasure and communication all have an impact on one’s level of confidence using condoms.

View the original article here

BY HEATHER CORINNA | Scarleteen

lovegloveAt the present time, the United States now rules when it comes to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). And not in a Whoohoo, go USA! kind of way. You’ve probably also heard that the rate of sexually transmitted infections in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.

Figuring out why isn’t tricky for those who work in sexual health. Some people will say this is because teens are having more sex than ever (not true: you’re having less sex than teens a generation or two before you did), or because people are having sex outside marriage (a fine fairy tale for those who don’t see lab results for STIs among some married people or who don’t know about the history of STIs). But those of us who work in direct care know why STI rates are so high and why they’re so disproportionate in young people right now.

It’s primarily because so many young people — and namely those in the 18-24 group, as younger teens are often better with condom use than people of any other age group — are not using latex or polyurethane condoms and other barriers to protect themselves and their partners, or are not using them correctly and consistently. As someone who talks with people every day about their sexual behavior, and who also tracks young people’s sexual behavior and health over time, I know this all too well. We observe users who come to Scarleteen and see that those who have not used latex barriers at all or consistently are overwhelmingly the same users who eventually come to report an STI. Sure, every now and then we do hear from a user who always used condoms properly and who still got an STI. But that happens about as often as I find a $5 bill on the sidewalk.

There are other reasons the STI rate is so high in younger people. Cervical cell development of younger women isn’t complete, making the cervix more prone to infection. People in your age group often tend to have more sexual partners and shorter relationships than older people. The overall rate of STIs is higher than it used to be, making it easier to land one. But we know that the main reason is that overwhelmingly, many people in your age group are either not using latex barriers at all, or are not using them all the time, every time, correctly. While many older adults aren’t much better with condom use, it does matter more what you do because two thirds of all individuals who acquire STIs are younger than 25 years old.

It’s not complicated: most people who acquire a sexually transmitted infection are simply not using condoms or are not using them every time and properly.

A report from Child Trends DataBank in October of 2008 (based on data from the CDC) found “53 percent of teen boys say they don’t always use a condom. Among girls, about two-thirds say a condom isn’t always used. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and unintended pregnancy are major health consequences associated with unprotected sexual activity. Although a similar percentage of teens are sexually active in the United States as in western European countries, the U.S. has much higher teen pregnancy and STI rates than does Western Europe. This is due to lower consistency and effectiveness of contraceptive use in the U.S.” They add that “Condom use is higher among younger students than it is among older students. In 2007, 69 percent of sexually active ninth grade students, compared with 62 percent of eleventh graders and 54 percent of twelfth graders, used condoms. Part of this drop is due to higher levels of use of other forms of birth control among older students, although it is still a cause for concern since condoms are the only form of effective control against STIs for those who are sexually active.”

Condoms work very well at reducing STI transmission: According to a 2000 report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%. The 2000 NIH review concluded that condom use significantly reduces the risk of gonorrhea for men. A 2006 study reports that proper condom use decreases the risk of transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) to women by approximately 70%.

You can read more about STIs all over Scarleteen, like here and here and here and… you get the picture. But you probably already know why you should use condoms. Our users generally report higher use of condoms than the overall demographic, so maybe you don’t even need to read what I’m about to say. But you’ve probably also heard or thought some things about condoms that might be keeping you or others from using them or from using them consistently, and I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard everything I’m about to say. Even if you’re already using condoms and using them every single time properly, I bet you know someone — a sibling, a friend, maybe even a sexual partner — who could stand to hear some of this. So, why use condoms and other barriers?

In a nutshell:

1. Because it can help you to get closer
2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think.
3. Because chances are good that eventually, you’re going to either have to use condoms or knowingly be putting partners or yourself at a high risk of infection.
4. Because it pays it forward.
5. Because it feels good.
6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.
7. Because it can keep you from proving people right who say you don’t have the maturity or the ability to have sex responsibly.
8. Because if you’re male, you can help to show men are better than the lowest common denominator.
9. Because being unassertive really isn’t sexy.
10. Because I love you.
For more details on all of these points, keep reading.

1. Because it helps you get closer

I know: I’ve heard some people say that condoms and other barriers keep people from getting close, too. But the folks I hear say that rarely seem to be the folks whose relationships are all that close or intimate. The people I hear from who DON’T say that about condoms, and who practice safer sex in their relationships seem to be the ones getting closer and feeling closer to each other.

Avoiding potentially sticky or difficult conversations doesn’t bring us closer: it keeps us apart. Asking someone to care for you in any way is not a barrier to intimacy: it’s not asking that keeps space between you and yours. Having to discuss sexual anatomy, 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. Talking about these things together, working through any misunderstandings or emotional issues around them and having something that adds extra communication to any sex you’re having are all the kinds of things that nurture closeness and real intimacy. Silence doesn’t bring people closer: communication does.

A lot of what we hear young people say about not using condoms has to do with one or both partners finding it hard to assert themselves, or being worried about a negative reaction: that’s not about closeness. Even more troubling is a conversation about condoms that starts with “I don’t want to use them because I want to be close,” and often leads to a bigger discussion in which what comes out is, “I’m scared to ask him to wear a condom.”

Being outright afraid to ask someone to do something to help safeguard the health of you both shows a serious LACK of getting close (or a desire to avoid getting close enough to find out if someone is or isn’t the person you currently think they are or hope them to be). We can’t say we and someone else are very close and at the same time say we feel scared of, with or around them. When we’re earnestly close to someone, we feel able to say or ask things when we don’t know if we’re going to get a positive response. If we want a close relationship, we have to not only say or bring up the things we know they’ll like hearing, or have a positive reaction to, but the things when we’re not so sure they’ll like or which we know are loaded, but that we need to say and talk about for our well-being and health and the quality of our relationship.

2. Because barebacking isn’t as cool as you think

I’ve been having a sense of déjà vu lately when hearing some hetero girls say they’re “not into condoms” with a wink and a grin, or that they, unlike those other girls who use condoms and who they tend to frame as killjoys, are willing to go without condoms, in this way that rings of trying to aim for a certain social status by being the one willing to risk health and life for… well, a whole lotta nothing much.

Why I’m having déjà vu is because I’m old enough to remember when some gay guys were all about that. I remember seeing how many of them died and were part of others dying because of it, as well as how many of the men who barebacked only because they didn’t know what we and you know now about how to protect ourselves died from barebacking. That trend in the gay community was not only lethal, it also resulted in those who were the least responsible defining a whole group of people culturally in a very negative way that is still strongly harming the GLBT community. It hurt all of us, not just the people it hurt directly.

On top of risking your life and health, any social status you might get from being the girl who’ll take big risks other girls don’t is likely to be temporary, and will also change very radically when you go from “That hottie who doesn’t make guys use condoms,” to “That [insert derogatory term for women of your choice here] who gave everyone Chlamydia.”

Not a pretty thing to say, I know. But it is what tends to wind up happening in the real world. The tide turns very quickly on girls who are sexually active PERIOD in our culture, even responsibly, but all the more so for those who aren’t responsible in their sexual behavior. I don’t like that or the misogyny it’s based in, as guys are rarely treated or talked about like that, but it’s out there. It’s tenuous enough to be a sexually active young woman, but when things go amiss and you do wind up with and spread an STI, it’s usually going to be framed as being YOUR doing, not the doing of everyone or anyone else who had sex with you and made their choice not to use condoms, too. Those are strongly sexist double standards, but they are out there and they can really hurt when directed at you, especially if you have to suffer in silence alone, knowing part of that result had to do with your own choices and actions.

From my point of view, what I see in these cases is a young woman having some big esteem issues and who seems to feel it’s worth it to risk her life and health for a temporarily increased sexual appeal. While our sexuality and our sexual relationships can support our self-esteem, they tend to be poor places to try and get self-esteem, especially if our sex lives involve a habit or precedent of not caring for ourselves and inviting or allowing others `to treat us without real care. Lack of self-care and solid self-esteem can’t coexist. If we have good self-esteem, we see ourselves as valuable and worthy of care. If your esteem isn’t so great, and you want it to be better, then insisting others treat us you care is one way to improve it: accepting or advertising yourself as open to being treated like a throwaway is a way to make sure your esteem gets even lower.

3. Because you are likely to end up with an STI if you do not use condoms and other barriers consistently and correctly

If you have sex with others without using condoms or other barriers correctly and consistently, you are likely to wind up with an infection at some point. And if you and your partner(s) don’t also get tested regularly, you — like most people with an STI — won’t even know you have one that you’re spreading around.

When we have users who interact with us at the boards talking about how they’re not using condoms, it’s a bit like being able to see into the future. Because inevitably, someone like that who sticks to that habit of going without will eventually post about an STI they wound up with within a few years, if not sooner.

A lot of people have a false sense of security based on not having gotten an STI yet. Mind, some of those people haven’t been tested to know their status, but some have. If you go without condoms or other latex barriers for a few months or a few years and didn’t get an STI, it can be easy to believe that not using condoms is going to work out fine for you. But because we don’t wind up with an infection in a month or a year or two of not using barriers doesn’t mean we won’t in time. The studies and statistics on STIs also tend to reflect that very clearly. The highest STI rates in young adults usually aren’t in the youngest sexually active teens: the group with the highest rates is usually those 18 and over who have often been sexually active for a year or two already.

And of course, if and when your luck runs out and you get an STI, especially if it’s one you can’t get treated and which is then out of your system via that treatment, you will then either need to use condoms or be purposefully putting others at risk (and yourself at risk of infections you didn’t get yet).

It’s a lot easier to establish your sex life in the habit of using safer sex practices than it is to add them later. If you start using condoms (and getting tested) early in your sex life, continuing to do so is a no-brainer. You get to be an ace at using barriers sooner, get to learn how to have conversations about safer sex as you’re learning to have all kinds of conversations about sex, and the more you do it and the sooner you start, the tougher it gets to space out safer sex, and the less and less it seems like any big deal. When it’s a solid habit, you just reach for that condom instinctively. And when you reach for it like that? Partners tend to react just as instinctively and just put it on with no fuss.

Most people will need to use condoms at some point to avoid infections. If you’re going to need to eventually anyway, why put it off, especially during the time in your life when you’re at the highest risk of infections and most likely to get one?

4. Because it pays to go forward

Younger people are particularly prone to monkey-see/monkey-do. In other words, if you and yours don’t use condoms, your friends are also less likely to. And then so are their friends. And theirs. And all young people.

Using condoms not only protects your health, it protects and can improve our global health. If you don’t get and spread an STI, you’re part of the solution to the problem: you, all by yourself, literally can help improve the public health just by not getting sick. Sexually transmitted infections impact our public health deeply. While many are easy to treat (once you get tested to know you have one, that is), and many won’t impact the individual health of most who get them, we’re not all at the same level of health nor do we all have the same level of access to healthcare and treatment. Some STIs that are no-big to most of us can be life-threatening to others because of preexisting conditions or suppressed immune systems. You might be able to get something treated easily because you have health insurance, but someone who winds up with an STI from your now-ex you gave one to might not have those same resources.

One thing I’ve always liked about using condoms is that I not only get to know I’m caring for my health and that of my partners, but that I am caring for your health, her health, his health and everyone’s health. Using condoms is one way I can to care for the whole planet while at the same time caring for myself. And that’s pretty awesome to be able to do with just a little piece of latex and an orgasm.

5. Because it feels good

Say what? You thought condoms made things feel less good, right? Actually some studies (Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use, Mary E. Randolph, Steven D. Pinkerton, Laura M. Bogart, Heather Cecil, and Paul R. Abramson) find that those who report that are often those who do not use condoms, haven’t in a while or who don’t use them often. They have also found that men believe this is so (even without any actual experience) more than women do, and that belief influences men’s experiences with condoms and whether or not men will use condoms. While yes, many people do report that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex, overall, people who use condoms and are used to using them tend to report experiencing greater pleasure with protected sex than those who often go without protection. In other words, people who use condoms often — most likely because they have better attitudes walking in the door, and because they learn what condoms they like and how to use them well — don’t really express that using condoms decreases their overall pleasure or satisfaction. The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s the people who don’t use them at all who tend to complain about them the most.

Even for males who report a difference in pleasure between condom and no condom, though, the differential is pretty minor between them and those who don’t report a difference. And in studies on women, there’s most often no real difference in sensation reported at all. Physically — when we’re talking only about physical sensation — for most men, condoms slightly decrease sensation. For women, that’s rare, which isn’t a shocker since unlike the clitoris, the vagina has few sensory nerve endings. The vagina tends to feel pressure, but not fine sensations, like the diff between a condom and bare skin. Mind, for some men, that decrease can be a bonus: for those who are looking to keep an erection around for longer, a decrease in sensation and the pressure a condom puts at the base of the penis can extend erection time for some men.

People who say they “can’t feel anything” with a condom on are either a) being dishonest or b) not using condoms properly. While a lot of people are dishonest, a lot of people also don’t know how to use condoms properly and what can help with pleasure. For instance, thinner condoms are just as safe as thicker ones. There are more condom types than what your average drugstore carries, and some kinds of condoms have all kinds of neat stuff going on to help increase pleasure, like extra headroom, textured dots on the inside, the works. Putting a few drops of lube inside the condom before it goes on as well as some lube outside the condom makes a big difference with sensation and can make sex feel better, full-stop. Having a partner put on a condom for you as part of the sex you’re having — rather than as an interruption — is something a lot of people find enjoyable and sexy.

How something makes us feel with sex is also bigger than physics. A Kinsey Institute study in 2008 (Relationships between condoms, hormonal methods, and sexual pleasure and satisfaction: an exploratory analysis from the Women’s Well-Being and Sexuality Study, Jenny A. Higgins, Susie Hoffman, Cynthia A. Graham and Stephanie A. Sanders, Sexual Health, Volume 5, Number 4) found that women who use both hormonal contraception (for those with male partners who need it) and condoms report higher overall sexual satisfaction than women who go without condoms or only use a hormonal method of birth control. In that study, women who used hormonal methods alone were least likely to report decreased pleasure, but they also had the lowest overall scores of sexual satisfaction compared with condom users. What does that mean? That pleasure as a whole is more than just mechanics or vaginal/penile sensation.

Sex is about our whole bodies, as well as other parts of our genitals than a condom touches and it’s also about how we feel emotionally and intellectually and how sex is part of our whole relationships and our whole lives. It feels good to know you’re taking care of yourself and others, and to have a partner give a hoot about your health and peace of mind. It feels good to have the self-esteem and the confidence to stand up for ourselves and what we need to stay healthy, and to only be in relationships where caring for ourselves is in alignment with what a partner wants: if that’s at odds with what they want, we can’t possibly expect to have a healthy, happy relationship with that person.

It feels good to approach partnered sex smartly and soundly. Knowing we’ll be protected well before sex even starts is going to incline us to be more interested in having sex in the first place. When we know our risks of infections are highly reduced, it’s much easier to relax before, during and after sex, and being able to relax more means our sexual response systems work better so we can get more sexually aroused and enjoy sex more. Worry and anxiety inhibits sexual response and limits pleasure.

6. Because it helps you learn to be truthful in and with your sexuality and about sexuality in general.

Let’s tell the truth right now. You don’t want to risk getting an infection. You don’t want to feel like you can’t ask to be cared for and treated with care with anyone you’re sexually intimate with. You don’t want to argue about condoms when you want to be sexual. You don’t want to be with someone even casually who cares more about getting themselves off than if they make you really sick in the process of doing it. You don’t want to have a sex life where it’s not okay to press pause for a sec for any reason, whether that’s about a condom being put on or adjusting to find a position that feels best. You don’t want to have to risk your health to prove your love to someone else.

There are some fictions that avoiding safety behaviors like condom use holds up, like the lie that sex should be all about either what pleases men, first and foremost, or about men calling all the shots, just because they can. Again, we’re dropping denial here: many guys who say they can’t get off with condoms are not telling the truth. Some haven’t even used condoms, and are just saying what they think they’re supposed to or because they’re embarrassed to admit they’re newbies with condoms, but some are outright lying. They have used condoms before and gotten off just fine, and they haven’t refused to use them with other partners who they know won’t have sex with them without a condom. And some, when they say they can’t get off with condoms mean something else: that what they get off on is seeing if you’ll sacrifice your health and life just to get them off. Not only does anyone want to avoid having sex without a condom with a partner like that, you don’t want to sleep with someone like that, period. Heck, you probably are safest just staying off their block.

Many people still believe the propaganda that there are microscopic holes in condoms that pathogens can get through easily: but that isn’t true, and we have always had every evidence that wasn’t so. Some people have the idea that people only use condoms with partners they feel or think are “dirty,” with sex workers, or for extramarital affairs. But in fact, even many married couples use condoms: according to a Population Reference Bureau survey in 2008, in developed countries condoms are the most popular method of birth control: around 28% of married people use condoms.

Another whopper? Only “promiscuous” people get STIs. I put that in quotes because we don’t ever know what that term means. To one person, that means 300 partners, to another, 20, to another, anything more than one. Many people get an STI from just a first or second partner, and some people who have had 50 or even 100 partners have never had an STI. Plenty of unmarried people have never had an STI, while plenty of married people have: one of the first big waves of sexually transmitted infections here in the states after WWI was among marrieds. ALL kinds of people get STIs. The idea that no one can or is likely to get an STI through first-time sex, or sex with a first partner reminds me of the idea my mother’s generation had that no one could get pregnant with first-time intercourse. It’s understandable given how much cultural messaging cultivates this idea, but it’s also just not true. People of all stripes get STIs every day: good people and not-so-good people. People of all colors and genders and orientations. People who grew up on this side of the tracks and people who grew up on that one. People who have had five or twenty partners and people who have had but one.

Then there’s the fiction that it’s not young people, or people who with their first or second partnership have to worry about STIs, but older people. You already saw the stats about who has the highest rate of STIs, so we’ve hopefully shredded that myth already. How about the one that says only gay men need to worry about STIs? Nope: the highest rates of STIs are in young, heterosexual women. Even HIV, once ignorantly called “the gay plague,” is more likely to be transmitted via heterosexual partnerships than homosexual ones, and worldwide, heterosexual women account for around half of all cases of HIV: 98% of which are in developed nations like the U.S.

Let’s not forget the one about how as long as people love and trust each other, or as long as people are lucky, no one is going to get sick; that STI transmission is all about luck or love or trust and not about something much more tangible and less arbitrary.

We can love someone all we want, but there are some things we can’t control — like how many of us are exposed to STIs via rape before we ever chose to have consensual sex, like how often partners — even in otherwise loving relationships — are dishonest or unfaithful, like how many people have already had sexual partners before they met a person they want to spend a life with. It’s important that we don’t base our ideas about STIs on a minority group or an unrealistic or unattainable ideal.

Viruses and bacteria don’t care who loves who or who trusts who. If we’re exposed to the genitals or fluids of others, we’re potentially exposed to STIs. If we reduce that exposure either by not having genital sex or by using latex barriers when we do, we’re much less exposed. If we go without, we’re wide open to this stuff, just like we are when someone coughs in our face. If your partner has a cold, we may get it whether they love us or not. If our partner has Chlamydia, we may get it whether they love us or not.

If we can’t be truthful in our sexual lives about our sexual health and about how we want support from partners in staying healthy, we’re unlikely to be able to tell the much harder truths that are part of a great sex life: like to talk about what we like, what we fantasize about, what we’re afraid of, what we’re feeling emotionally, what we don’t like. If we can’t say no to sex without condoms, we also are unlikely to be able to say no to sex we don’t want, full-stop. Asking someone to put on a condom is one of the easier things to ask for in our sex lives. If we can do that, asking for the other stuff also gets easier. The more truthful we can be about all aspects of our sexuality, including things like STIs and condoms, the better our sex lives are, both when it comes to our health and also when it comes to our sexual satisfaction.

7. Because it can keep you from providing people right who say you don’t have the maturity or ability to have sex responsibly.

Abstinence-only initiatives, for instance, get away with what they do in part because some of the things they say are true. Some young people really don’t — they say can’t, and in certain numbers, it sure starts to look like a can’t — make smart choices with sex, even when they know better. If you read any newspapers or listen to any news, you know that the standard way teen and young adult sex gets presented is as a giant public health problem and a big, scary panic. When you face discrimination about your age and sexuality, that has a lot to do with that presentation.

Some of why it’s presented and interpreted that way is because it is that way: not because young people are having sex, but because so many are without using safer sex and contraception. Right now, and over the last ten years, as a generation your sex life really is becoming a serious public health problem, primarily because you have not been using condoms, or using condoms consistently and correctly.

Do you really want to prove those folks right? Really? Do you want to be the person or group of people who they can use as evidence to show that people in their teens and twenties should be treated like children? I sure wouldn’t want to help anyone disrespecting me to be able to keep on doing it, and doing it with evidence I’m handing right over to them wrapped in a bow. As a youth advocate, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to argue that despite the way some youth behave, I know in my guts that you are all capable of handling your sexuality with care and maturity. It’s so frustrating, because I really do know that you are that capable: I see plenty of young people doing a better job with their sexuality than plenty of older adults are, but what I see and know is continually overshadowed by those who don’t have sex with care and caution and the reality of the level of STIs in your age group. Yep: I admit, I am asking you to use condoms to help make my job of advocating for you easier on me.

Perhaps your competitive spirit might also get riled by knowing my generation did a better job than yours with condom use. From that same AAP report I linked to earlier: “Among sexually active adolescent males 17 to 19 years old living in metropolitan areas, reported condom use at last intercourse increased from 21% in 1979 to 58% in 1988. Reported condom use at first intercourse among adolescent women 15 to 19 years old increased from 23% in 1982 to 47% in 1988. Data from the 1988 and 1995 National Surveys of Adolescent Males indicate that these increases continued, with reported condom use at last intercourse among 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from 57% in 1988 to 67% in 1995. The CDC data indicate increases in reported condom use at last intercourse from 38% to 51% among females and from 56% to 63% among males for those in grades 9 through 12 between 1991 and 1997.”

What about after the mid-to-late nineties? By 2003 (when we were still around that 73%), those increases in condom use started to come to a standstill then backpedal. Current data shows that “only 45% of adolescent males report condom use for every act of intercourse and that condom use actually decreases with age when comparing males 15 to 17 years old with males 18 to 19 years old. Also, females report less frequent use of condoms during intercourse than males, presumably because many adolescent females are sexually active with older partners. Rates of pregnancies and STDs in females are unlikely to decrease beyond current levels unless condom use by adolescents and young adults continues to increase significantly in the years ahead. Condom use by one half to two thirds of adolescents is not sufficient to significantly decrease rates of unintended pregnancy and acquisition of STDs.”

8. Because if you’re male, you can help show men are better than the lowest common denominator.

In a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 U.S. men interviewed about condoms, the most frequently cited negative reactions were: reduces sensation, requires being careful to avoid breakage, requires withdrawing quickly, embarrassing to buy, difficult to put on, often comes off during sex, embarrassing to discard, shows you think partner has AIDS, and makes partner think you have AIDS.

Let’s briefly deconstruct these:

  • Gander, meet goose. If we’re going to talk about condoms changing how sex feels, we need to remember that something like the pill does too, and, unlike condoms, it changes how a woman feels all the time, both during and outside of sex. And as someone who has had a barrier over a much more sensitive part than a penis (the clitoris) and has also used hormonal medication can tell you (and that’s on top of knowing the data I do as a sex educator) a latex barrier, when used properly doesn’t change sensations more than most methods do for women. Other methods of contraception can cause pain and cramping, unpredictable bleeding, urinary tract infections, depression and a whole host of unpleasant side effects. Condoms are the LEAST intrusive and demanding of all methods of contraception, even though some guys talk about them — without considering this perspective — like they’re the most. If guys could feel what life can be like on the pill, use a cervical barrier or get a Depo shot, they’d easily see condoms for the cakewalk they are.
  • You have to be no more careful to avoid condom breakage than you have to be careful with someone’s body during sex. If you’re engaged with someone’s genitals and treating them the way they need to be treated to avoid pain or injury, you’re already being just as careful as you need to be with condoms. And if you’re not treating someone else’s body with care overall, you need to step it up and start doing that anyway.
  • You also always have the option of putting a new condom on and going back inside the vagina if that’s what the both of you want.
  • Condoms are no more embarrassing to buy than tampons: at least someone thinks you’re about to get lucky. For that matter, they’re not more embarrassing to buy than the magazines some of you read. And as you grow older, your “embarrassing purchases” list will increase, anyway: from Rogaine to hemorrhoid cream, denture cleaner to adult diapers, condoms are hardly the only thing you’ll need to purchase in public sometimes you really wish you could buy privately. Welcome to adult life, folks. That said, you always have the option of buying condoms online if you want.
  • They’re only difficult to put on if you don’t learn how. Practice makes perfect.
  • They don’t come off often during sex unless you’re not putting them on properly, not adding lube when you need to (and when your partner would then likely need you to as well for them to still have sex feel good) and when you’re using a condom that isn’t too big or too small for you.
  • Again, if tossing a condom in the trash is embarrassing, how about tampons, the medication you’re taking for Gonorrhea or a dirty diaper?
  • Condom use does not say you think someone has AIDS. What it says to a smart partner is that you have a head on your shoulders, you care about them, and that you have the maturity to recognize that they shouldn’t carry the responsibilities of sex all by themselves.

While some of these attitudes come from guys who are simply uninformed or misinformed, for those who know better or should, some of this stuff is just plain foolish. And THAT’s embarrassing, no? Male attitudes about condoms have more influence on whether or not condoms get used than female attitudes do. That’s because a) women’s attitudes tend to be better, b) men as a class still have more power than women (and men influence other men more than women do), and c) you’re most often the ones wearing them or the ones who make a fuss about wearing them.

9. And if you’re all hung up on what’s sexy…

Being open about all parts of sex, not just about what you might do to someone to get them off, is sexy in most people’s books. Being all ooh-ahh about giving a blow job or going down on someone, but then recoiling like a kid with mushy peas on their dinner plate about condoms doesn’t tend to be a turn on for a lot of people. For some — including the person with that response themselves — it can be a pretty serious turn OFF. I’m older than our readers, but speaking for myself, when someone reacts that way when I pull out a condom (and they rarely do), I’m just done. It feels seriously uncomfortable, like I was about to be sexual with someone who isn’t really ready for all of sex; like I was about to be with someone who is emotionally and intellectually many steps behind me. That’s not sexy to me at all: it sends a very clear message to my brain — the organ that drives most of our sexuality — that turns all of my turn-on signals into turn-off signals in two seconds flat.

Assertiveness is sexy: look at who you and the world as a whole tends to find sexy and that’s obvious. Being confident about caring for yourself and the firm belief and insistence anyone else you are sexual with must treat you with that same respect and care is sexy. Caring about yourself and your health, and caring about the health of others is sexy. Having limits and boundaries you don’t let anyone else trample on is sexy. Coming to, addressing and responding to the things that keep everyone as safe as possible during sex is sexy. Being confident in yourself and someone else that they’ve got some real maturity and smarts when it comes to sex is sexy. And there is absolutely, positively, nothing UNsexy about handing someone a condom or a dental dam that you’re giving them as a way of cementing a great, big, wholehearted “yes” to you two being sexual together. What could be unsexy about that?

Sexy is as sexy does. There is no one way to be sexy, no matter what anyone says. Being sexy is about how you feel sexy and sexual, and how you project those feelings to others when you’re feeling them. So, for sure, if when it comes to safer sex you are a shrinking violet, that’s probably not very sexy. But if you pull out or put on a condom with confidence and a smile, and if you get it in your head firmly that this is sexy, then it’s likely to be perceived as sexy. If you feel sexy in it, and it’s sexy to you, it’s going to be to someone else. To everyone else? Probably not, especially since there is absolutely nothing in the world that is sexy to absolutely everyone. But.

People who claim their own sexuality in a real way and feel confident in it, which includes taking care of themselves and insisting on the same from others, tend to be the people who both express feeling the most sexy and who others perceive as sexy.

10. Because I love you.

I’d hope that at this stage of my career as an educator, it’s obvious that the primary reason I do what I do is simply out of love for all of you. The benefits are nonexistent, the pay blows chunks and sometimes I have to take a whole lot of crap from people who think I’m Satan incarnate for helping you out with sexuality: if I didn’t love you and think that a good way for me to express that was by doing what I could to help you take care of yourself and have a healthy, happy sexuality, I wouldn’t do this job at all.

Getting an STI is rarely the end of the world. While a couple are literally deadly serious, most are treatable and most will not have that great an impact on your life if you find out you have one early and get treated. But I don’t want you to be sick if you can avoid it. If it can be avoided, I don’t want you to have to deal with the negative feelings around an STI that are tough to avoid in a world that really stigmatizes STIs and the people who have them. I don’t want you to have to get extra pap smears, to have to endlessly experiment with new drugs for HIV or to have to tell a potential partner you have a genital herpes outbreak. I’ll support you if you do, and know that I don’t think anything different about you than I think about someone who has the flu or leukemia, but whatever I can do to help prevent it in the first place is something I want to do.

I know that if you just don’t have sex that you are even less likely to get an STI than if you use condoms. But I don’t just tell you not to have sex because a) I know that most people, once they are into or past puberty, will have and want a sexual life with partners, b) I think that sexuality is part of who we are and can be a great part of our lives and c) I know that you can reduce your risks of unwanted consequences very well and still be sexual when that’s what you want. I also know that a truly great sex life includes protecting yourself and others as best you can from negative or unwanted consequences of sex.

I know from my work and my own sexual life how much more enjoyable and less stressful sex is when you’re safe and smart about it. Not having to worry about the complications of an infection, about giving an infection to someone else, or about taking huge risks with infection is nice: it’s much less stressful than the alternative. It’s often amazing to me, as someone who has had more sexual partners than most of you ever will given generational differences, to talk with many of you who are terrified about the risks you’ve taken after the fact within sexual lifestyles and scenarios that are comparatively more conservative than mine have been, but far less safe as far as protecting your sexual health goes. I don’t panic after sex, and that’s not because I have some secret or don’t care about the bad stuff that can happen: I don’t panic because I know I can keep myself very safe and still have the sex I want to, and I have more than two decades of doing so to look back on and see how well that’s worked. I can see the same with the people I work with as users or clients in my sexual health work.

When it comes to sexuality, here’s what I want for the people I love: I want it to be great for them and anyone they are sexual with. I want them to feel good about their sexual lives, not scared, freaked out, panicked or upset. I want them to stay healthy. I want them to feel empowered by their sexual choices, whatever they are. And I’m not sure how all of that can happen if and when anyone is taking unnecessary risks or avoiding asking for, and insisting on, sexual partners treating them with care, which certainly includes not exposing them to illness when that can be avoided. Because I love you, if and when you want a sex life with others, I want you to have one that is wonderful and enjoyable, but also as safe as it can be so that it can keep ON being wonderful and enjoyable.

I love you, so I want you to use condoms and other barriers if you’re going to be sexually active, and to chillax with the genital sex that presents possible STI risks if you can’t. It’s just that simple sometimes.

Safer Sex Wrap Up

Safer sex is a group of practices of which condom/latex barrier use is one part. The standard guidelines for safer sex suggested by public health agencies are that any two (or more) people who are new partners use condoms or other latex barriers for all vaginal, anal and/or oral sex for at least six months, and then only ditch them (if you want to) AFTER each has had a new round of testing for all STIs with negative results AND those two people have been sexually exclusive for six months.

If you and/or a partner didn’t have previous sexual partners for ANY genital sex of any kind or it’s been longer than those six months since either or both of you did, then if you get tested straightaway w/negative results if you had no partners or tested when it’s been more than six months since a previous partner, then your risks are already very low. That doesn’t mean after all that you’ll have NO risks: rather, it means that so long as you both stay sexually exclusive afterward, at that point, your risks are likely very minimal.

To completely eliminate our risks of STIs, we need to not have sex. With anyone. Ever. We’d need to avoid the nonsexual behaviors that can transmit some infections, like IV drug use. We’d also need to avoid sharing towels and linens, kissing our aunt Mabel who has the cold sores sometimes, and a whole bunch of other things very few of us who live outside a hermetically-sealed bubble will be able to avoid.

If you want to see the safer sex guidelines other sound sexual health organizations advise, here are a few for you to peek at:

Very few people will not have sex with anyone in a lifetime: most young adults will also have at least one sexual partner before their 20’s. If we’re going to be sexual with partners, to reduce our risks and make oral, vaginal and/or anal sex safer we need to use latex barriers, get tested (and treated if we have any infections) and limit our number of sexual partners. Doing just one of any of those things can help some, but it’s all three of those together that public health agencies make clear have been shown to be most effective.

We have much bigger piece on safer sex here. You can also find out about how to use condoms properly here, and find out what all your options are with condoms here. Have questions? Come on over to our message boards and we’re glad to talk things over with you.

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.

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