Sex is exquisite. Soul-connecting. Possibly dangerous.
My mom was always open about sex, sometimes embarrassingly so. She would bring me books to read about body changes and masturbation—always with the comment, “Let me know if you have any questions or anything to discuss.” I rarely did, but I did get good information.
My grandmother, one of my favorite people, talked to me about sex one night, after one too many glasses of Chablis. She stated unequivocally that in her day, they waited to have sex until they were married.
She waited just long enough for my mental eye-roll before laughing loudly, and then told me she got married at 14. It was not a long wait. She said she was lucky that she and my grandfather were in love, and sexually compatible, and that I should not “leave that sh*t to chance.”
Because of all the openness around sex in my childhood, I always let my daughters know that I would talk to them about anything they questioned, as long as it was not unnecessarily personal. This license led to many uncomfortable and shocking conversations.
When they were in high school it became apparent, because of the internet, that their peer group knew much more about sex, at least the mechanics and wide ranges of expression, than I did. Unfortunately, what they knew was what I think of as the porn version of sexual expression: Positions. Fetishes. Sex as entertainment.
When I worked as Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Program Coordinator at my local crisis center, I discovered that teens were already pushing limits with everything from threesomes to auto-asphyxiation.
When I was in high school, living dangerously was having sex in your parents’ bed, or on the couch when they were home.
But, while our youth have more access to information about sexuality, they seem to know only the physical expression, and not the emotional and spiritual benefits and repercussions.
I have been forthcoming with my daughters about sexuality—mainly in response to their questions. But, I feel like I have left a gap that I want to fill about what they should know about sex.
I can already feel the heat in my cheeks as I think about sharing these things with them, and anyone else who reads this, but here it goes:
1. We are often physically ready to have sex before we are emotionally ready.
I told my kids this as soon as I started to hear stories about physical intimacy among their classmates, as early as middle school. For years I thought this was a virginity issue, but it occurs to me that this may be true for adults as well.
Sexuality is a part of human nature but, for most of us, there is emotional attachment and risk as well. There may be times when we physically want to be touched, but the emotional cost may be too high. We can have awareness of the cost and determine if our body is getting ahead of us.
2. We can get out of the habit of re-writing our story after sex to make the encounter acceptable in our heads and hearts.
This may be more true for women, as we are somehow conditioned to believe that we need to be in love to have sex, or that they are one and the same. I hope my girls will understand that sex is not something they should have to rationalize, although I have to admit trust and love certainly add to the experience.
3. Great fulfilling sex is about an energy exchange—not power.
Girls figure out much too early that their bodies give them power. They can manipulate boys for the gifts they want, or the behavior they require. Sex is used as something to reward and punish, instead of a shared experience of connection to another human being. Physical intimacy does not have to be about the giving up of power. I know that I have felt taken advantage of when I have used my body to buy myself peace, forgiveness, or love.
4. We always have the right to say “no” to sexual advances or intimate touch of any kind.
This applicable in relationships and marriages too. Even when my girls were young, I resisted making them hug everyone that wanted a hug from them. They needed to know that it was their decision who touched them. I am not thinking in terms of sexual assault, which is more obvious, but more in terms of others’ expectations of intimacy.
Many of us have been intimate when we were not really interested. In the past, I have compared sex to a workout, thinking, “It will be ok once I get started, and all will be better when it is over.” I feel a little sick about those thoughts now, like sex is a chore, or as mentioned before, a currency.
Also, our partner has the freedom to turn us down. There is a misconception that men always want to have sex. Although they are often less in their heads about sex than women, they have days or situations where they are not interested in intimacy. We can choose not to take this personally and stop making up stories about our bodies and souls not being good enough.
5. We can communicate what we want and when we want it.
If we are mature enough to be having sex, then we can convey with our words what we desire. This is such a simple concept, yet difficult to achieve. My only advice here is that it gets easier—and the payoff is worth it.
6. Some things are better as fantasy than reality.
The images we are exposed to make everything seem like fair game and just another experience to have, including sexual encounters. In a comical sense, I remember the blindfold food scene from the movie 9 1/2 Weeks. In a steamy scene in the kitchen, Kim Basinger is blindfolded as Mickey Rourke feeds her all kinds of seductive food from the fridge.
Cool scene. But, ice cream toppings and whipped cream are better on ice cream than body parts—preferably in a bowl, with silverware. And while the fantasy of a passionate affair with a college professor is compelling, it is a terrible scholastic strategy. When we do want to live out a fantasy, it needs to be from a position of trust and acceptance that the reality may be disappointing or have high emotional cost.
7. Being naked with someone else can be humorous, so we can refrain from taking ourselves too seriously sexually.
Sex does not have to be a performance piece where things are constantly at perfect angles and ultimate intensity. Sometimes hair gets caught, bodies get twisted, or someone says something funny in an attempt to be sexy. As long as it is not an attempt to shame the other person, laughter is good. Sex should be fun. Laughter is fun.
Sex can bring life, or steal our spirit. It can be a beautiful exchange of energy with another human being, or an act that fosters fear, resentment, or a lack of worth.
My wish for my daughters, who are now almost 20 and 18, is that sex for them is not about buying power or peace, but instead, an enterprise of connection and pleasure.
Author: Lisa Foreman
Image: Carolynn Primeau/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson