The internet has changed sex and relationships forever. So if your education in the subject stopped at 16, here’s a refresher for the modern world
What was your sex education like? Did you get any at all past the age of 16? Given that only a quarter to a third of young people have sex before they are 16, but most will have had sex at least once by the age of 19, it seems remiss not to provide high-quality sex education for the 16-25 age range (especially since that is the age group most at risk of contracting STIs such as chlamydia).
Unfortunately, sex education hasn’t moved on much from puberty, plumbing and prevention, and is often reported as being too little, too late and too biological. In the new internet world order where porn and internet hook-ups prevail, and the use of dating apps by perpetrators of sexual violence was reported last week to have increased sharply, it is time we provided sex and relationships education fit for the 21st century, to help us to enjoy our bodies safely.
So if you missed out on quality sex education, or could do with a top-up, here are five things relating to sex and relationships you might want to think about:
1. Sexuality – We live in a heteronormative world, where gender binary and heterosexual norms prevail. Fixed ideas about sexual identity and sexuality can be limiting. We all need to understand sex as something more than a penis in a vagina and recognise that sex with all sorts of different body parts (or objects) in all sorts of wonderful configurations can be had. That’s not to say you have to experience kinds of sex outside your own comfort levels and boundaries. Be aware of how media, cultural background, gender and power dynamics influence sexuality. Monogamous heterosexuality does not have to be your path.
2) Consent – what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. Enthusiastic consent should be a baseline expectation, not an aspiration. Without enthusiastic consent then sex is no fun (and quite feasibly rape). If consent is in any doubt at all, you need to stop and check in with your partner. You might even want to think about introducing safe words into your sexual interactions and ensuring you and your partner are confident using them.
3) Pleasure – sex can be one of the most awesomely fun things you do with your body. All sorts of things can affect your ability to give and receive pleasure, including your upbringing, self-confidence, physical and mental health, and communication skills. If sex isn’t pleasurable and fun for you, what needs to change? It is worth noting that male pleasure is generally prioritised over female pleasure. Consider, for example, when you would consider a penis-in-vagina sexual interaction to be finished – at male orgasm or female orgasm?
Taking time to challenge and explore ideas around pleasure as well as deepening your understanding of your own body (in other words, masturbation) will help with your sex education. Always remember, you don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to.
4) Health and wellbeing – Love your body and know what is normal for you. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. There are all sorts of pressures on us to make our bodies look a certain way, but take some time to appreciate the non-photoshopped, non-pornified variation in our bodies. Your shape and size (of penis, or breasts) do not matter – sex can be the best jigsaw puzzle, and genuine confidence in your body can help you figure out how to use it as an instrument for pleasure.
Knowing what is normal for you is also really important. There are women who continually get treated for thrush bacterial vaginosis and cystitis because they do not understand vaginal flora and the natural discharge variation in their monthly cycle. Nobody told them that having a wee shortly after sex is a good idea.
5) Safety – We are often taught to override our gut feelings. This sometimes stems from childhood, when adults have ignored our bodily autonomy. However it is vital we remember to tune into our gut instincts, especially given the rise in internet dating and internet dating-related crime. Being aware of your own personal safety and sexual boundaries when internet dating is essential.
Remember that no matter how you have been socialised, you do not need to be polite to someone who is making you feel uncomfortable. No is a complete sentence. If someone does not respect your right to bodily autonomy and violates your consent, it is never your fault; the blame lies entirely with them. Always trust your “spidey” sense – if it is tingling, it is trying to tell you something isn’t right, be that a relationship with unhealthy elements, or plans to meet up for a blind date. If a situation doesn’t feel right, think about what needs to change.
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