What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Sex
I'm not sure there's any "conventional" wisdom about turning 30 anymore. I'm barely out of school and only starting to build a career. I've been in a long-term relationship for the past six years, but I'm still unsure about where it's headed.
They say 30 is the new 20, but to be honest I don't feel the same as I did 10 years ago, either physically or mentally. My body has changed, and so has my knowledge, my opinions and my beliefs ... especially about sex. I am, I think, a little bit wiser and a little bit smarter when it comes to intimate relationships, even though I don't think I know - or will ever know - everything. But I've lost a lot of the illusions that I held as a younger woman entering the world of dating and sex.
If I were to visit myself 10 or 12 years ago, I'd start by telling myself that complicity changes a lot.
Sex with random strangers might be OK from time to time, but I've realized that complicity and chemistry with a partner - romantic or casual - makes for much better sex ... and less awkwardness in the morning. There's nothing wrong with having sex without a romantic commitment, but I think it's worth actually liking the guy, at least a little bit. My most memorable encounters have been with people with whom I shared some complicity, even if only for a single night. (Read another perspective on casual sex in The Ethics of the Modern Day Booty Call
I would also tell myself that there's no shame in liking what you like in bed. Society, family, culture might want to make you feel "abnormal" for enjoying sex in different ways, but there is absolutely no reason to feel ashamed. As long as everything is safe and consensual, what's to stop you from experimenting with your desires? If a partner isn't up for it, then you two just aren't that compatible. But when you find the right partner, don't be afraid to dive right in to those thoughts and fantasies you've had for years. You might learn a thing or two about yourself in the process. (Read more about this in Why Get Kinky?)
This one will seem a little obvious, but I've learned that your sexual satisfaction is in your own hands. This is more than simply knowing how to get off on your own (although that's pretty important, especially during dry spells!) Nobody but yourself is responsible for being sexually satisfied. No, not even your long-term, committed partner. It's important to assert yourself in bed, say what you like and dislike, and ask for what you want. If you don't speak up, nobody will do it for you. If you're not ashamed of who you are and what you enjoy in bed, you shouldn't have any trouble telling your partners what you want. (Get some tips on how to do this in Talk Dirty to Me: The Why and How of Hot Aural Sex.)
When you're 20, you think that you're invincible and that rules and advice don't apply to you. But don't be stupid with your health: use protection. Forget about "just this once!" and "it won't happen to me!" It could. And it could affect your health and sex life forever after. A quickie in a bar bathroom isn't worth all of that. Use a condom.
But I think the most important lesson I've learned is that sex isn't love.
After a difficult time in high school, I took male attention - mostly sexual attention - as a sign of worth. I didn't fall in love with every partner I had, but I often confused love and lust. As I said earlier, there's nothing wrong with having sex with random partners, but don't mistake sexual attention for emotional commitment. I've too often tried to fill my need for love and companionship with fleeting sexual relationships, only to leave myself emptier and lonelier than before - and even more vulnerable to be used this way again. Only love is love. Sexuality can be an expression of love and intimacy, but it doesn't (and shouldn't) replace love itself. Save yourself a lot of heartache and learn the difference.
Even though I'm turning 30 soon, I don't think I'm done learning things about sex. After all, I'm only 10 years into my education! I could have saved myself some heartache had I known these things before... but then, perhaps living through your 20s is how you're supposed to learn them. (For a great read about late-in-life sex lessons, check out Jane Juska's "A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance.")
What have you learned about sex so far? Send us an email!