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Navigating Sexuality in Young Adulthood

Warning: This post contains some adult material, focusing on sex and sexuality. Intended for 15+.

If you look at religious childrearing manuals and suggestions, you’ll probably see a lot of information about sex, dating, and sexuality. Most of it is likely about how to keep your child from doing anything impure, and keeping them as unsexual as possible for as long as possible. This is obviously a generalization, but overall religions don’t tend to promote sexuality. What I don’t see very often is the secular version of this: suggestions, tips, ideas about how to understand or explore your sexuality as a young secular individual. And because I respect the intelligence of teenagers and don’t feel the need to tell your parents how to control your sexuality, I will be aiming this at teens themselves.


So. You’re going into high school. You’re interested in dating. You’re starting to wonder about your orientation, about sex, about dating. You’re a raging ball of hormones. How do you go about sorting through all of this new stuff when no one will tell you exactly what’s happening or what you’ll like, and when sex and dating is so laden with value and judgment?


Well first and foremost it will probably be confusing and often frustrating and you will make some mistakes and do some things you wish you hadn’t, and you might get embarrassed and all of that is ok. No one can tell you what will make you happy, no one can tell you what to do to make it all turn out ok. So you’re going to have to do some experimentation or yourself. That’s where I’d start. If you’re starting to get interested in sex and dating, spend some time with yourself first. Masturbate. Yup. Especially you girls out there. Try watching some porn. Try some different kinds of porn. See if you can get your hands on feminist porn. If you have the ability, you might try going to a feminist friendly sex shop and talking to them about getting a sex toy for some exploration.


All of this might sound embarrassing or shameful or weird. What if you get caught? What if it’s uncomfortable? How do you start? Why would I masturbate when I could be dating? In my experience, the best way to start feeling more comfortable with your body and to have some confidence around other people is to have confidence with yourself, and to know what you want. If you go into a sexual experience with no idea of what it takes to make you orgasm, no idea of what you prefer in sex, and no idea how your body works and looks and ticks, it will be a lot more difficult to enjoy yourself and feel comfortable.


In addition, become comfortable talking about sex. I’m not talking about making “that’s what she said” jokes. I’m talking actually discussing what you like and dislike, talking about boundaries, and talking about consent. If you don’t have a partner, this is going to be about reading and educating yourself, and maybe just repeating the words penis and vagina over and over while no one is home until it’s no longer embarrassing for you to say them. If you do have a partner, then practice having conversations about consent and about preferences. This is hard. Really, really, really, really hard. I still struggle with it. When you’re worried about rejection and not sure how to hold yourself in a relationship, then coming straight out and saying “I want to go down on you, would you like that?” can be absolutely terrifying. But I promise it will help, and it will get easier.


In conjunction with this, it’s important to learn to be honest and open with your feelings, expectations, and desires. I mean this in regards to all things, not just sex. If you’re interested in someone else and you want to know if they’re interested in you…ask. Again, this may be difficult. It may be scary. But it’s really the only way to find out, and it’s absolutely the fastest way to find out. If you’ve gone on a couple of dates with someone and you’re not sure where it’s going but you really like the person…then say that. If you’re dating someone and it feels like something’s going wrong, start a conversation about it. Again, these are all INCREDIBLY difficult things to do. It involves making yourself vulnerable, and many adults are still bad at it. But it will improve your ability to function in a relationship, to make improvements to relationships, and to get what you want and need from other people. Ask others to do the same for you. Practice together. When you’re being open about your feelings, it’s good to remember that it’s not an excuse to just spew whatever you’re feeling or say nasty things you were thinking. It’s a time to try to express what you want and need, and how they can help. It’s also important to validate their feelings.


Finally, and I don’t think this gets addressed nearly often enough in secular circles: when are you ready to lose your virginity? Well, virginity is a slippery concept in the first place, but I tend to think that a good rule of thumb is that if you can’t explicitly ask your partner for something, you’re probably not comfortable enough to be doing it. Sex is not a bad thing, but it is something that puts you in a fairly vulnerable position. It’s important to make sure that you know how to keep yourself safe, emotionally and physically, before you engage in it.


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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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