If your sex education was typical, you probably grew up hearing about "the birds and the bees" or the stork that brought you. Although if you were really lucky, perhaps you had parents who held their breath and sputtered something about penises and vaginas, and sperm and eggs in a five minute sex education fiasco that pretty much guaranteed none of you would ever broach the topic again!
Maybe you got a clinical sex education film or slideshow in eight grade science class—or, if you grew up in the 90s or later, even some well-meaning health educator who showed you how to put a condom on a cucumber. But none of these things constitutes the kind of sex education we need—the kind that helps us know how to have the rich, deep, healthy sex lives we all long for!
Starting at around age 15, I got my sex education from lurking in bookstores after school. I learned from one book how to masturbate with a dripping bathtub faucet (what a revelation!) and pored through other books to try to figure out how to please my partners (yes, I was an early bloomer.)
It didn't take me too long to learn about all the different tabs that could get inserted into all the different slots, or about the pregnancies or STDs that could result. But frankly, all of this sex education was missing the biggest piece I needed: The piece that could help me come to understand and accept myself as a sexual person and then embark on the adventure of figuring out what I most wanted and needed from the wide world of sex.
In a way, women have it easy. There are always men around who are willing to further our sex education—for their own ends, of course! But even having sex with many people, both men and women, didn't give me the kind of sex education I most longed for—the kind I've had to cobble together for myself over the decades.
The truth is, the kind of sex education each woman needs can never really be given to us by any outside person or source because what we really need is to take ownership of our own experience and desires! Still, outside sources might have pointed me in the right direction but they didn't. So, what's the sex education I wish I had had? Here are the top 10 things I wish someone had told me when I was 15:
- Inserting tabs into slots is only the tip of the iceberg! Sex is a wonderful, challenging mystery. It can and will feel totally different with different people—and with the same person at different times—even if the mechanics involved are exactly the same.
- Sexual chemistry isn't love; it's a whole 'nother animal. That's why you can have great sex with someone you don't love, and lousy sex with someone you do love. It's worthwhile to see if you can love the person with whom you have great sex—or improve the sex you have with the person you love—but it's important not to confuse the two.
- Your body is not a machine. When you have sex within a relationship, your sexual pleasure will be deeply impacted by the level of trust, safety and connection you feel. If sex starts fading in a relationship, don't just try some new tricks; instead, look more deeply into what may be getting in the way.
- "Great sex" is not just one thing. "Great" can mean tear-each-other's-clothes-off hot, or it can mean sweet, slow, gentle, deeply connected lovemaking. It can mean a 5-minute quickie, or several hours spent luxuriously exploring each other's bodies without ever even touching the genitals.
- "Great" sex—or bad sex—can happen with anyone. It can happen with men and it can happen with women. It can happen with people you love, and with people you don't. If you have "bad" sex with someone with whom the sex has previously been good, don't panic! Instead, get curious. What's changed, inside you, inside them, in the relationship?
- Sex can be an incredible vehicle for learning about yourself. Noticing what you do automatically—and what you don't let yourself do, even when you really want to—can open doorways into major growth and healing, if you let it.
- Sexual fantasies can also be doorways into self-knowledge. Sometimes we fantasize about what we really want and then sometimes our fantasies are a way to try to process old trauma, or help us bear something difficult by eroticizing it. Don't assume you want to act out your fantasies (and don't assume you don't.) Instead, let your fantasies be question marks for you, and potential teachers.
- Don't worry so much about pleasing your partners. If you can stay in your own body and you're your own experience, it'll make sex hotter and deeper for you and your partners.
- If you're in the middle of sex and you're not enjoying it, STOP! Don't fake it. Faking it is like a way of raping yourself! Instead, take the risk to tell your partner gently that you need to take a break—even if you're not sure why. This may sound like a radical step, but it can open up much deeper possibilities for intimacy.
- Sex changes over time—both within a relationship, and within you as you age. That's because it's alive, and everything living changes over time. Let it! Every day, cultivate an attitude of exploration, interested curiosity and discovery about what sex is for you today.
True sex education can only happen when you become willing to educate yourself about the amazing, quirky, unique, desire-filled, fearful, adventurous, shy sexual-being you really are. May it be a magnificent process of self-exploration, self-acceptance and self-love!
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