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EXCERPTS FROM
ALL MANNER OF THINGS: perspectives for young people on Sex, Relationship, Self & Life

CHAPTER TWO:

MOST SEX HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MAKING BABIES

For a long time, conversations about sex have mostly been in the context of reproduction, but based on what we've just been talking about it's pretty clear the majority of us aren’t being sexual together to get pregnant. So why is sex going on?

There are lots of reasons we’re sexual and most of the time we don’t give them much attention.  If we do start to think about them, we can take a look at why we do what we do and whether it affects us.

Feeling Chemistry & Attraction
A lot of us know about and use the phrase being turned on in reference to sex—“they turn me on”, “I was so turned on”. It refers to our bodies being sexually aroused.

Sexual arousal is one way we experience sexual energy. The energy is like a current of electricity and when it's turned on it can be like a switch has flipped. As well as igniting sexual arousal, it can also feel exciting, tingling, obsessive, warm, hot, like we’re on top of the world, like we have a crush on someone, like all we can think about is sex, a zing, a rush. Sometimes we feel it a little, and sometimes a lot.

•Is there an impact?
Sexual energy is powerful. When it’s turned on and we’re playing with it, it can affect how we feel, think and act, which means it can be challenging to navigate. Unless we know ourselves really well, sometimes it’s like it can short circuit us and lead to situations that don’t always feel good.

For instance, if we feel aroused by someone, it’s easy to rush into being sexual, or imagine something’s going on between us and whoever the energy seems to be linked to, or we think there should be something going on, even if we’re already in a relationship we love. Or if the energy makes us feel like we have a crush on someone, we can get obsessive. We’re thinking about them all the time so the rest of our lives takes second place, and the dynamic with whoever we’re thinking about gets muddled. We’re also more likely to ignore red flags.

When she was eleven, a teenage girl had a crush on someone for what seemed like forever. Thinking back on it now she realizes there was a lot of sexual energy between them. Finally they spent a day hanging out. They hardly had anything to talk about and weren’t interested in what each other had to say. After that, she didn’t have a crush on him anymore.

The sexual energy made her feel a certain way. It was only after they spent time that she realized she didn’t actually “like” him. If she’d been older and feeling that kind of energy with someone older as well, she can almost guarantee she’d have thought she liked and wanted to be sexual with them. More than likely, she wouldn’t have realized they had nothing in common until after having sex, which, for her, wouldn’t have felt good.


Because Sex Is Cool & Gets Us Status
When it comes to sex, a lot of what we do and what we see in the world—on social media, in shows, movies, songs, music videos—comes from the idea that sex gives us status. Lots of us are sexual because our friends are, or say they are, or they or the people around us expect us to be, and loads of us dress or act sexy to signify our power, or flaunt our bravado around sex to get clout or respect. There can be tons of pressure to have sex and “become a man” if we’re male, or seem cool and “older” if we’re female.

•Is there an impact?
When sex has this kind of identity that’s linked to status, it can warp our understanding of who we are and what we want. It’s easy to become competitive in the sexual arena, and judgmental, and loads of us pretend to know more about sexual stuff than we actually do and say we’ve done more than we have. As a result it’s easy to get into deep water sexually speaking, when we’re actually only learning how to swim. We’ll also agree to things we’re not ready for or comfortable with because we don’t want to be thought of as uncool or uptight.

Because Sex Is No Big Deal
The media and pop culture often give the impression sex isn’t a big deal. A lot of the time it’s treated as casually as eating food or going to the mall.

Turning on the radio, there are loads of songs talking about sex in explicit ways. Also loads of us act pretty casual about the whole thing; we hook up without giving it much thought, use dating apps for hook ups, post sexy stuff on social media, release personal sex tapes, use pornography and post on or subscribe to sites like OnlyFans.

•Is there an impact?
When we think sex isn’t a big deal, some of us will act that way because we think others prefer it, or because that’s how our friends are or seem to be, or because it feels powerful or rebellious. For some of us, casual sex is fine. We’re able to experience sex as a physical act and it doesn’t matter if the person it’s happening with feels anything emotional for us or if we feel anything for them. For others, casual sex leads to us feel used or empty.  

A fifteen year old talked about how guys think she’s hot but most don’t want to have conversations or get to know her. They just want to hook up. She said, “People don’t really care.”

Then there are those of us who might think we’re fine with casual sex, but realize we want more with whoever we’re hooking up with. Or maybe we think we’re fine and only later—whether hours, days, or years—realize it makes us unhappy. If we get used to connecting in ways that are just physical, it can be challenging to involve our emotions even when we want to.

The British show "Skins" is about a group of teenagers growing up in England. In the second season, the character Cook is presented as a guy who has lots of casual sex. In one episode he takes some pills. One thing they do is make him speak the truth. While he’s high, Cook gets upset and says how he has nothing, and how the people he’s sexual with don’t love him, and that he needs and wants love too. Until that episode he seemed fine with and proud of hooking up.

Thinking Sex Means Someone Really Likes Us
If someone is attracted to, or wants to be sexual with us, lots of us think it means they really like us.

 

•Is there an impact?

We’re sexual because we think it will lead to something more. If it doesn't, it's likely we'll feel embarrassed, ashamed or self-hating.

There was a cool group of boys at the same school as a fourteen year old girl. They were a couple of years older and, one day, one of them asked if she wanted to go for a walk with him. She was surprised because they didn’t know each other and had never spoken, but because he was part of the cool group she was flattered and excited.

They walked off and when they were somewhere private he started being sexual. Things moved quickly. Nothing felt good to the girl and the things he did hurt. She didn’t say anything or stop him, partly because she was too shocked, and partly because she didn’t know she could or should. Mostly though, she was sure him being sexual meant he liked her, and she didn’t want to mess it up.

The next day she had swollen lips and bruises on her body, but she was was happy because she was still sure what happened meant they’d have something together. Days passed and he didn’t speak to her. She was embarrassed and thought it was her fault. That she wasn’t pretty enough or had done something wrong. She hadn’t felt good about herself beforehand and she felt even worse after.


We’re Not Ourselves
Here we're using “not ourselves” to refer to being under the influence of something like alcohol, or marijuana, or some other drug. When we’re drunk or high, how we think, feel and behave can change in any number of ways. We might get more brazen or daring, or more paranoid or depressed. We get blurry and don’t always know what we’re doing, we’re more easily influenced by others and we can blackout.

•Is there an impact?
Whether we’re the ones wanting to be sexual with someone, or whether there’s someone who wants to be sexual with us, if we’re too blurry to know what’s really going on, things can get compromising or risky and we do or allow things we never normally would.

When he was around fifteen, a boy was at a party. He was pretty drunk. There was a boy there he really liked and, at some point, someone started kissing him and he thought it was him. After a minute he realized the person kissing him was actually someone he had no interest in at all, He’d just been too drunk to notice. The whole thing embarrassed and repulsed him.

Obligation (Feeling Like We Owe Someone)
A lot of us are sexual with people because we think we owe them.  It can happen in all sorts of ways—with people we barely know, or know really well—and is often part of a dynamic with someone who, for whatever reason, seems like they’re more, or less powerful or successful than us. It’s easy to think we have to do what they want, or they have to do what we want.

For instance, if we’ve been flirting with someone and they want to be sexual but we don’t, it’s easy to go along with it because we think it’s our fault they’re sexually aroused, or we don’t want to be thought of as a tease (someone who seems like they want to be sexual then changes their mind). Or, if there’s a situation where one person pays for or does someone else a favor, they might think the other person should be sexual with them to pay them back. In the same way, the person who has been paid for or favored might think they need to be sexual in return.

•Is there an impact?
Feeling obligated, or thinking someone else is obliged to us, influences our choices. We’ll do things we don’t want to do, or expect someone to do things because we want them to.

Talking about her long-term relationship, a young woman said she and her boyfriend have an active, pleasurable sex life but there are times when he wants to be sexual and she doesn’t. She said she goes along with it because he told her his previous girlfriends would, and if she doesn’t he gets upset and acts like she doesn’t love him. When they’re sexual because she thinks she has to be, she said it feels disconnected and “soulless”.

Sex As A Commodity
There are times when being sexual with someone is a transaction. We get something, or hope we’ll get something in exchange for sex—like money, a favor, a job. Sometimes the connection between the sex and whatever we want is obvious. There’s a direct exchange.

For a while a boy was selling weed at his school. A girl messaged him wanting to buy some. Instead of giving him money he said she could give him oral sex—what most of us call a blow job.

Other times no promise is made and the transaction is more of an understanding. For instance, we hope someone will let us borrow their car, or get us invited to a party, but there’s no actual guarantee the sexual favor will be repaid.

The phrase the “casting couch” refers to someone being sexual with someone else who might be able to help them, usually with their career. The term comes from the entertainment industry. Some people with power would expect sex from actors in exchange for considering them for jobs, and the actor had to chose whether to either go along with it or risk not getting the work. There was nothing official about the arrangement and there were no guarantees.

•Is there an impact?
The conversations around using sex as a commodity, in other words something exchanged for something else, are pretty big. The scope includes sex work—like porn, prostitution, and sites like OnlyFans—as well as exploitation, mental and physical health, freedom, rights, and there are lots of opinions.

Unless we’re really clear about our worth and have a strong sense of who we are sexually and as a person, when we use sex in exchange for something we want it’s usually precarious. It can feel degrading, we might get into risky situations, emotions of care or respect aren’t usually involved which can be challenging, what we do and how we’re treated can have a ripple effect on our self esteem making it easier to do things that further compromise our sense of worth, and our actions can affect our whole lives. For instance, we may experience physical or emotional trauma, and anything that gets on the internet—photos, videos, etc.—is pretty much impossible to get off again.

In interviews, many  sex workers talk about how there are essential skills they have to have in order to do what they do, from being able to disconnect from what they care about and who they really are, to being able not to throw up.

There’s Someone We Care About & They Care About Us
Loads of us chose to be sexual with someone we care about and who cares about us. Often there’s a friendship between us, and trust and attraction.

•Is there an impact?
Our experiences vary a lot.

In general, when there’s an emotional connection we’re more comfortable. We’re more likely to talk about what’s going on with us and communicate what each of us likes or doesn’t like, as well as say when something feels good or not. It can feel like the experience is one that’s shared, honest and fun.

A college student said his experience of being sexual with someone he didn’t know and wouldn’t see again was completely different from his experience with someone he cared about. He said they didn’t compare.

When we care about each other, being sexual can also deepen our connection.

Another college student talked about someone she liked when she was a teenager. They would sometimes be sexual together and act like it was no big deal. Then there was this time they were together and told each other how they felt. They shared a love for each other. She said it was the first time their sexual intimacy felt connected.

Also, for loads of reasons, caring about someone doesn’t necessarily mean the sex will feel good. Being comfortable with and knowing our bodies isn’t all that common, and being able to communicate and listen with compassion aren’t skills we’re normally taught. Especially around sex. Furthermore, actually knowing what we do or don’t want is challenging, and it’s even more challenging to talk about, or ask about or explore, even with someone we know. We think we make mistakes, or the other person does, and most of us don’t know how to deal with that. If the sex between us isn’t what we want—it’s not pleasurable, connecting, or fun—we don’t say anything because we think that’s just how sex is, or think it will be better the next time, or we don’t want to make things complicated.

 

As well as all this, being in an intimate relationship is often really tricky. There’s stuff like jealousy, expectations and habits to deal with, plus there’s still all the other things like feeling we owe someone, or wanting them to like us that can come into the mix as well.

Another thing that’s impacting how a lot of us are sexual together—whether with people we care about or not—is pornography. Generally it promotes sex that’s unemotional, portrays bodies that loads of us think we can’t measure up to, and shows ways of being sexual loads of us don’t actually enjoy. Even if we share a lot of love with our partner, if our sex is shaped by pornography it’s usually disconnecting.

As well as the reasons we just talked about, here are a few others as well:

Because We’re Old Enough: leading up to and during puberty, often we start looking at our friendships differently, or people around us do.  We think that, because we’re old enough, sex has to be part of the picture. It can be challenging to know when we like someone as a friend, and when we like them as a person we want to be sexual with.

Because Someone Likes Us: when someone has a crush on us, or thinks we’re cool or attractive, sometimes it's confusing. If they want to get together, we might agree even though we don’t necessarily like them that way in return. Maybe it makes us feel special, or we think we owe them for liking us, or think there won’t be someone else.

Because We Happen To Be Together: there’s a pretty big idea that when two people are together and they’re roughly the same age, or they fit each other’s sexual preference, it will lead to something. Getting together with them might have nothing to do with what we want, and only happens because it’s convenient or expected.

Measuring How Much Someone Likes Us Based On Whether Or Not We’re Sexual: some of us think if someone isn’t being sexual with us it means they don’t really like us, and if they are it means they do. If we have a connection with someone, it’s easy to get really focused on whether they’re being sexual with us or not, rather than enjoying what’s actually going on with them instead.

Thinking Someone Will Have The Magic Touch: lots of us aren’t familiar with our bodies and we think someone else will figure out what makes us feel good. We’ll be sexual with different people in the hope we find someone who makes us feel great. If someone does make us feel good, it’s likely we’ll think they’re special or we should be with them. In some cases this is fine. In others it can be confusing or misleading because we’re feeling lots of sexual energy with someone who we don’t really get on with or like.

Because We Feel A Rush: some of us can feel a rush of confidence from being sexual. It’s easy to let it inflate us, use it to manipulate people, or to crave more of it like it’s a drug.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





 

If I’m sexual with other people, how clear am I about the reasons why? Have I given them much thought?

 

Thinking about them now, are any of the reasons mentioned here relevant to me? Have I been sexual because I feel peer pressure? Or a ton of attraction? Or I think it’s cool or no big deal? Or felt obliged? Have I thought it means someone likes me? Or because there’s someone I care about and who cares about me?Or I’m old enough? Or not myself? Or hope someone will make me feel pleasure?

 

If I have, what have my experiences been like? Have they affected me? If so, how?

 

Whether or not I’ve been aware of the reasons I’m sexual, is thinking about why I have been, or might be, helpful? For instance, if I’m thinking about being sexual with someone and I realize it’s because they’re cool but I don’t particularly like them, does that inform my decision or experience? If it does, why?

 

If I’m not sexual with other people, what’s it like to be aware of reasons I might be? Does it inform my possible choices? If not, why? If so, how and why?

WHY I’M SEXUAL WITH SOMEONE ELSE

As we said, there are a bunch of reasons we’re sexual. We can also see how a lot of them might lead to experiences that don’t feel good:

If we’re feeling lots of sexual energy it can be A LOT of fun. We can also behave in ways we regret.

If we’re sexual because it seems cool and we think it will make us cool too, or we think we owe someone, or want be popular or liked, we’re likely to get into tricky situations. Sex isn’t a real indication of who we actually are, so the feelings of belonging it brings are superficial. When we’re liked for what we do rather than who we are, there’s the feeling that we need to keep doing whatever it is we’re expected to do, and that the ‘“being liked” can go away at any moment, which is exhausting.

Also, lots of the time, we’ll let other people be in control and we’ll do things we don’t want or aren’t ready for. Physically, our bodies can get hurt or we might hurt someone else. Emotionally we end up feeling confused, self-hating, betrayed, used, or isolated. In some situations, we’ll have an inflated sense of power—our friends have egged us on and consider sex a sort of victory. We feel invincible and superior so we’re less likely to be considerate or to think things through.

•Lots of the reasons we’re sexual lead to situations that don’t feel good. Do we mostly think of them as normal anyway?
Yes.
And no.

Yes because most of us are sexual for whatever reason without thinking about it. We don’t really question why some situations leave us feeling bad, or try to understand and change them.

And no because lots of sex ed programs, books and experts say how important it is for us to know what we want, and know when being sexual is a “yes” or a “no” and to express it. This implies being clear is important, and suggests most of us probably aren’t.

•If we know clarity is important, does it automatically mean we have it?
For almost all of us, puberty and the couple of years leading up to it is a time when there’s a lot going on. Most days we aren’t sure about what to wear, what to eat, who our friends are or what to do.  A lot of the time it can feel like we’re alone, or no one likes us, or need to figure out how to fit in, and that we don’t really know who we are. Then, when it comes to sex, with so many reasons we’re sexual and messages about it and different ideas, it can be challenging to know what’s actually right for us.  

We can be told giving a clear yes or no is important, and that sex should feel uplifting and connecting and great, but the actual knowing of how to go about it is confusing. We’re not taught how to filter through whatever might be going on with us so we can know what’s right: maybe we think we want something and, only afterwards feel bad or regretful, or we do things to just go along with them and think we’ll be fine, or, for lots of us, we’re sure we want one thing one minute, and the next we have no idea what we’re doing or why. Any kind of clarity can seem miles away. Because our footing is questionable, our experiences are often rife with hurt and misunderstandings.

Even if we know what does or doesn’t feel right, it’s super challenging to be true to that. Whatever our age or background, clear knowing and communication around sexual situations is far from the norm.

•How do we go about making a change?
Just knowing things aren’t always clear or easy is a pretty big first step. It gives us reason to pause and means we can start to look at why.

Just as we talked about “not being ourselves” because of drugs or alcohol and how it means the choices we make are murky, in a way, with most of the other reasons we talked about—peer pressure, obligation, wanting to be liked, because we happen to be together, attraction, etc.—we’re not ourselves either. We’re not choosing to be sexual because we’re feeling steady in who we are, and comfortable and great. It’s because we don’t feel that sure, and for various reasons the being sexual seems like it will make us feel better:

- we think sex is cool, or that other people think it is, and it will make us cool too.
- we think being sexual with someone popular will make us popular too.
- we feel pressure from others and want to fit in.
- we think being sexual with someone means they like us, and we want to be liked.
- we don’t want to say no in case it upsets whoever we’re with or we don’t seem fun.
- we don’t know ourselves very well and let sexual energy run the show.

If a lot of the reasons we’re sexual are because we don’t feel great about ourselves and we want to feel better, it’s a good indication that things aren’t feeling so great with us in the first place.

In order to get clear, we kind of need to put the sex conversation aside for a minute, take a few steps back, and see what’s going on with us and why. We need to get to know us. That way we can give ourselves the best chance to make choices that feel good and right—not just in sex—but in most anything.

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