This is a transcript of the 'Curious Conversations About Sex' podcast episode #76:
"This is the no-bullshit, all honesty, *useful* sex education that most teenagers never receive, myself included.
There's a lot of reasons why we don't get good sex education.
One reason is that for a lot of adults and educators, it's a really complicated and scary topic to bring up, and in the absence of knowing how to teach it, people just hope it goes away. And most of the people that should be teaching you about sex were never taught about it themselves, so they don't have a whole lot of role-models to copy from.
Another reason is that a lot of cultures and communities think you shouldn't be having much, or any, sex... and they hope that if they don't tell you about, you won't experiment with it.
You and I know better. You're going to check it out whether the world wants you to or not.
And that's where what I want to tell you about today comes in. This is the stuff that I think literally every person should be taught, even if you're not expecting to be having sex any time soon.
This is the stuff I absolutely wish someone had told me about when I was in my teens. It would have saved me a whole bunch of well-intentioned fuck-ups, and would have made life a lot easier.
So, here's 13 things that I think you need to know...
An interest in sex is normal. If you're interested in sex, you're not a freak.
Despite what people say, there's not a correct amount of sex for you to be having.
Some people like a lot of sex.
Some people don't like sex at all - we call that 'a-sexual', and that's normal too. In the same way that you're not a freak if you want to have lots of sex, you're not a freak if you want none at all. Start with the assumption that so long as it's not interfering with the rest of your life, whatever amount of sex you want to have is perfect, and go from there.
There shouldn't be any shame in wanting, or not wanting, sex.
When I say that any level of interest in sex is normal, I'm making the assumption that you're doing it reasonably safely, and that you're only having the sex you want to have.
Safety, when it comes to sex, is a pretty broad topic. Maybe someone's told you a little bit about safety as it relates to not getting pregnant, and not catching sexually transmitted infections. Those things are really important, and you should listen to them carefully, but that stuff is just one tiny little bit of what sex is about.
When you get beyond the very first things, like kissing, touching, oral sex, and whatever the word 'fucking' means to you, you do need to be mindful about not doing things that might damage your body. You might never want to try out the more adventurous things like spanking, sex involving your arsehole, or kinky stuff... But if you do, then do a little bit of research first on what's safe and what's not. Exploring sex can be a lot of fun, but it quickly becomes very un-fun when you break something.
You also need to think about how safe the people you're having sex with are, by which I mean their emotional safety. Do the two of you have mutual care and respect? ...You don't have to be in love with someone, that's totally your decision. But you need to have mutual care and respect.
It just doesn't matter who's having sex with who, by which I mean: dudes with dudes, or chicks with chicks, or any other combination you can think of.
It just doesn't matter - so long as people are treating each other well and being reasonably safe, then who cares? What does it matter?
While we're on the topic, have a think about who you might be attracted to, if you haven't already. The world is set up to assume heterosexuality. That works out well for a significant portion of the population, but If that's not you, then good for you - you're still perfect. How open you want to be about that will depend on what kind of community you're living in. If it doesn't feel safe or wise to disclose something about your sexuality, then don't push yourself to. It can be complicated, but you'll navigate it. You'll find partners that like you, and friends that like you as you are. It generally all works out fine, even though it can be pretty dramatic at times.
The idea of 'consent' is way, way more interesting that what's normally described.
Normally, consent is framed as something like, "Don't have sex with someone without their consent". This should be really obvious, and it is legitimately really important. It's another way of saying "Don't be a nasty person".
Normally it's pointed out that you're actually causing someone a huge amount of damage if you do things against their will. That's really true, and really important, but there's another reason, and that's that you have to live with yourself. If you take sex from someone against their will, or trick them into having sex, or anything like that... You're going to know what you've done for the rest of your life, and that's a really nasty thing to be carrying around. Knowing you've done bad things is NOT fun. And to say nothing about the mess you can cause for the other person, you'll really mess up your own sexuality in the process.
All of that's super important. But here's the bit that I think is missed...
Being good at consent is being really clear with each other that you both want to have sex, or whatever other sexual activity you're talking about. So that might sound like asking, "Would you like to have sex?". And that's great - good job. Gold stars for you both.
But go on and take it to the next level. Don't just ask if the two of you would like to have sex. Go a step further, and ask "What kind of sex would you like to have? What would make it perfect for you? Can I tell you exactly what I'd like, and then we see if that's possible?"
If you approach it this way, not only will you be doing things with full and proper consent, but you'll be having the best sex of your life and getting exactly what you want. That's the bit about the idea of good consent that's missed - it'll lead you to really great stuff.
Which leads us to the next point...
Sex is like any other skill - you don't automatically have it to begin with, but you can learn it and practice it and get really good at it if you want to.
Here's a paradox though: Even if you get good at knowing what one person likes, you pretty much go right back to the beginning when you get together with someone new. How hilarious is that??
So you need to create a culture between the two of you where you can ask questions about each other's bodies, try stuff out, and learn from each other. It's about learning, rather than performing.
I think of sex as being like a whole series of experiments, where you try something out, and really carefully watch what happens. If you slow down and let yourself focus, you can read your partner, and you can tell how their body is responding to your touch. You can get really confident, just from watching carefully.
And hell, you can just use your words, and ask. Like, "What does this feel like for you? Would you like this harder, softer, slower, faster? How do you like to be touched, generally? How would you like to be touched right now?"
You've been totally lied to by most of the films and shows you've seen, btw. When sex is shown, it often looks like people just magically know what the other person wants, and it all unfolds all by itself. That does happen sometimes, when people have got a lot of confidence and skills and experience. But the other 99% of the time, no-one really has much of an idea of what they're doing. The solution is to ask questions, and help each other out. It might seem weird at first, but you'll really quickly discover that you're having much better sex, and you won't want to go back to closing your eyes and hoping for the best.
Porn can be great, but you need to know the ways it's lying to you.
Porn and erotic literature are hugely popular, and almost everyone enjoys one or both from time to time. But you've got to remember, you're not watching a documentary - rather, you're watching something that's been put together because maybe it looks good, or looks scary, or does something that will make you want to click on it.
This is really weird to say, but some of the people making porn don't know much about good sex. Or, if they do, they're choosing not to make videos about it. That's fine; what they're making is called entertainment, but when you don't have a lot of experience at sex yourself, it's almost impossible to pick the difference between good, educational, and informative porn, and porn that's just entertainment that you definitely don't want to try and copy. It can give you a really warped understanding of what most people are actually getting up to, and what they enjoy.
The kicker here is that I don't know of any way to help you pick the difference. So I'm just going to say sure, enjoy porn and erotic literature, but try and remember that you could be seeing as much misinformation as you're seeing actual information.
Bear in mind also, that if you just watch one type of porn, and the people in that porn are all of one particular body type, your brain is going to get a little bit wired to only find those sorts of people and that kind of sex to be sexy. You can accidentally wind up really narrowing your options and getting frustrated when the reality of your sex life doesn't match what you've been watching or reading about.
Which brings us to...
Everyone's got a right to explore their sexuality if they want to. And everyone can be as sexy as fuck - it's got nothing to do with how someone looks, what size body they've got, what gender they are, or how their body works.
Our culture constantly reinforces the idea that only some people are sexy - and those people are almost exclusively going to look like they're thin, young, rich, and fit. What's not spoken about so much is that how someone looks has got nothing to do with how good they are at touching you, or how they're going to respond to your touch. How someone looks also doesn't say anything about whether they're going to be a good person to be in relationship with.
Someone can look hot as fuck, and that might be attractive at first. But what you want to keep an eye out for is how they behave when things aren't going their way; whether they value you about us much as they value themselves; and how they conduct themselves in a conflict.
By extension, however you are, is perfect. If someone's not into your body, as it is, then move on and find someone that's more open-minded.
We often speak as if men and women are completely different species with almost nothing in common.
What a load of bullshit.
Men, women, and people who have different gender identities, have way, way more stuff in common than they do in difference.
By which I mean, some people like having sex, some people don't. Gender has got nothing to do with it.
All people like being treated well, and being treated with respect.
All people have better sex if there's foreplay and warm-up involved.
All people get shamed by our society for being interested in sex.
All people have bodies that sometimes do what they want, and sometimes not so much.
All people have parts of their lives that are easy, and parts that are hard. Our society definitely introduces some gendered patterns here. It's great to be aware of the ways our world makes your life easier because of your gender, and also the ways the world makes your life harder. No-one wins that particular war, but no-one's the outright loser, either.
Don't think of people as 'the opposite sex'. Think of them as people, just like you. You'll be amazed at how much easier it is to get along with people that way.
We're getting a bit more into some territory here that's maybe more like my opinion, but...
There's a question here of whether women and men are born differently, or whether they become differently because of the way they're socialised.
I think that there's not a lot of fundamental difference. But the differences in the ways we're socialised are huge.
By which I mean that for reasons that I can only describe as utterly pointless, our society often encourages you to be a particular way, and do certain things, because of whatever body you were born in. One of the ways that this comes up in sex, is that men sometimes make more advances and play a more active role in sex - they're often the ones doing the doing, if that makes sense. And they're often described as the ones that want sex. Women, on the other hand, are encouraged to sit back and wait for the offers to come in, and have the experience that sex is something that happens to them, rather than something they do to others.
Like all gender-based generalisations, if this is true, it's only going to be true some of the time - meaning that some people might have the opposite experience of what I've described. However, if you find your own experience aligning with what I've described, then just make your own decisions about whether this is the way you want your life to be or not. It doesn't have to be this way, and most people prefer having a mix of experiences; most people don't like the gender restrictions we're given.
In relationships, sex often takes care of itself for the first month, or maybe the first year if you're lucky. But then it starts to drop away. This is the most normal thing in the world, and it doesn't necessarily mean that the person you're with is wrong for you.
Fortunately, if you want to keep your sex life alive, you can, but you're probably going to have to put some effort into it, and do it intentionally. By which I mean, you're going to have to talk about it, perhaps get more of an education and try some new things out. It actually all works out great though, since sex is a pretty fun thing to learn about and experiment with. And once you've put in the work, the sex you wind up having once you've worked on it in long-term relationships is better than the sex you were having at the beginning.
I'm repeating myself a bit here, but sex is like any other skill. You can't decide to build a house and then do it, just like that; you've got to first learn a few things about building, and then get good at it. Same goes for sex.
There is absolutely a connection between your relationship with a person, and the quality of the sex you have.
If your relationship is not great - if there's aspects of the other person you strongly don't like, or if you talk disrespectfully to each other, or if you've got unresolved conflicts - then you're not going to be having great sex together, or possibly any sex at all.
This might seem like a bummer, but it's actually great - your desire for sex can be the motivation you need to bring your best game to the relationship, and to invest the time to get stuff sorted out.
Perhaps you've heard about 'make-up sex'? It's the sex you have when you resolve an argument, and there's a reason why it's a thing.
An interest in kinky things.
There is so, so much stuff out there to do and explore, if you want.
It's not even that useful to try and think in terms of what's normal sex, and what's kinky sex, because it changes a lot over time, and what's kinky for one person is the most normal thing in the world for someone else.
If you're not into something that a partner wants to try, then just say so, and don't do it.
If you're not into something that a friend is into, then don't shame them for being into it. So long as they're doing things reasonably safely, then good for them.
If there's something that you're wanting to try out, throw a little bit of research at the subject first. Not only will you learn some really important safety tips, you'll learn heaps more about how to do it well.
Most of the time, being a good lover is just a question of having good knowledge. Information is sexy. This is especially the case if you're exploring kinky things.
Different relationship styles for different people.
We're generally given the impression that we should all be aspiring to have one partner. You'll move in together, buy a house eventually, get a couple of kids from somewhere, one person will go out and work while the other stays home and does family.
That's great for some people, but some of us are unique little creatures, with unique needs and interests.
The type of relationship, or relationships, that you want to have, might not look anything like this standard model of what a relationship is meant to look like.
In fact, you can sort of think about it like a game, where the aim is to try and work out what relationship style you want to have with a given person. You win if you can work out the style of relationship that works for you both.
Do you want to live together? ...You don't have to do that.
Do you want to share finances? ...You don't have to do that.
Do you want kids? ...You don't have to do that.
Is sex important to you? ...You don't have to do that.
Do you want to be monogamous? ...You don't have to do that, either.
...All of these things are up for grabs. If the truth is that you don't want to go with everything in the standard model, then life's going to be so much easier if you don't try and force yourself to do it in a way that's not right for you.
If there's one thing I want to tell you, it's this: Use safewords for everything. Especially sex.
The safewords system that most people use is 'green', 'orange', and 'red'.
If you say 'green', it means that everythings good and safe, and you're wanting to encourage your partner to keep doing whatever they're doing.
If you say 'orange', it means that something is approaching a limit, and will need to change soon. You might be getting tired, or something's getting painful, or maybe it's just that your interests have shifted and you want to try something else.
If you say 'red', it means that everything stops, right now, and that's all there is to it. You'll probably want to then have a chat about what's happened, but that'll depend on circumtances.
You can say 'orange' or 'red' any time you want, for any reason. It's your human right. You don't need to be able to explain, or even understand, why something is orange or red for you. And obviously, anyone that wants to ignore your orange or red is behaving incredibly badly, and you're going to want to get out of that situation urgently.
You'll quickly discover that these words bring you a level of trust and safety that you wouldn't have thought was possible. When a couple can use these safewords, they've got it made; they're going to be able to navigate difficulties, and also much more quickly be able to find the really good things about sex.
I just can't emphasise this enough. I know it's going to seem weird at first, because you've probably been taught to never speak up, and never interrupt, and that good sex should just unfold naturally, by itself. That's all bullshit. You'll quickly learn that green, orange, and red are the things that lead you more deeply into your pleasure, and it will quickly seem wrong to not use them.
There's more going on with these safewords than we've got time for here, but I just want to say again: If there's one thing I wish I'd been taught, and one thing that I think the world should know about, it's these sweet little safewords.
Also, once you've got the hang of them in sex, you'll find yourself using them elsewhere...
"Green to you getting me a drink right now".
"I think I'm orange on listening to this track again, but you can put your headphones on if you want".
"What's that? You want me to go to your parents for Christmas? ...Red"."
Rog is the driving force behind Curious Creatures, and the main author of this sexuality blog in Melbourne. They were brought up white, middle-class, mostly heterosexual, and male. They now identify as kinky, tantric, polyamorous, queer, and very, very curious. Are you curious? Read more about Rog and Curious Creatures.