Finally, we get to the sex bit. In this lesson we’re going to be critical of what ‘sex’ is and why it’s important for us to do that. We’re going to learn about how we might enjoy sex and why agency and consent are important in this. Lastly we’re going to cover safer sex.
1. Sex Should Stories
In the last lesson we covered ‘should stories’ – a common sense idea that we should do certain things in a certain way. For example, a handshake ‘should’ be up and down, two or three seconds, medium firm grip, done.
What is the should story for sex do you think? If I said that further down the page there was a sex scene (there isn’t) what do you imagine that scene might contain?
You are probably all thinking the same thing and if you could reduce it to emojis it would be these 👉 👌. Go back to thinking about your own sex education (lesson no. 1), what did you get taught that sex was?
As we covered in the last lesson: can it really be consensual if we are only given one option? If sex is only one thing 👉 👌 then our only choice is, do we want to do this or not?
Culture tells us that sex is penis in vagina sex: obviously this leaves out couples who don’t have a penis and a vagina between them. It also leaves out people who only have sex by themselves. Disabled people are often also left out of this.
Read more about the history of this kind of sex and then read this about why that kind of sex is often not very enjoyable. Then think back about the rules about masculinity and femininity in this lesson. Can you see why we might need to think about ‘what is sex’ differently?
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2. What is sex then?
Good question, and it’s one for you to work out. This activity involves you thinking about sexual activities that people might do. It might also be helpful for you to write these down so that you can look at them all. If you don’t feel safe enough to write them down where you are, just feel free to only think about this.
So write down all of the sexual activities that people might be able to do:
- By themselves
- With someone else but not in the same room together
- In the same room with someone but with all clothes on
- Same room with someone but with just underwear
- In the same room with someone but with no clothes on
If you can write those down do that now. Maybe do a spider diagram. Or split a piece of paper into five.
In chalk on the pavement outside – actually no don’t do that.
So you should have in front of you (or in your mind) lots of different kinds of sexual activities. Now you might not be interested in doing any of these yourself. Or you might be old enough to do some of them. Perhaps you’re interested in a lot of them. Everyone is different when it comes to sex.
But let’s just agree that there are many different kinds of sex that people might enjoy doing with another person. Why can’t we just say that all of these are equally valid forms of sex? Who tells us that some of these things don’t ‘count’ as sex? How might there being lots of choice and no assumptions about what we ‘should’ do make sex more consensual?
3. Back to choices and freedoms
You’ll remember from the last lesson on consent that we also talked about how to choose when there is lots of choice. Just like choosing a bar of chocolate or a TV show to watch, there is a pretty large choice of sexual activities people can do together right?
Again thinking about the last lesson, what makes choosing hard? How do you manage to choose something with someone when you have competing desires? Now think about all of this but for sex and bring together everything we’ve talked about so far.
Think about your sex education so far, what your gender ‘should story’ is about sex. What makes us as individuals feel confident or not confident about asking for things? Who is ‘allowed’ in society to have sex. What messages we receive about relationships and what we are supposed to do in them.
Pretty tricky right? How realistic is it for most people to be confident in saying ‘I’m interested in having this kind of sex, are you’? Even the people most able to say that don’t feel confident to say that, especially young people.
What are your thoughts about this so far? Why might people stick with the ‘should story’ version of sex? What can we do to try to maximise our choices?
There are some answers on this website to help you, in the form of my really great advice. But again, this is sex education and not advice. This is more about you thinking about this and talking to people about it. The more you do that the more confident you’ll be at talking about it.
If you do want to cheat right now you can check out these links:
Find out more about kink and how it can be done consensually and safely
You can also try my myth busting quiz about first time sex.
4. Enjoying sex
Okay next activity for you to do is to think about enjoyment and how you enjoy something. Think of one, non-sexual, thing that you’ve done where on one time you really enjoyed it and on another time you really didn’t. Something where the thing you did was exactly the same: something like eating a Curly Wurly, or going for a run, or watching your favourite film.
Note down the differences. What you were thinking beforehand. The mood you were in. What was going on in your body. Why you were doing it. What was the experience like? How much of it can you remember? Do you remember how you were responding all the way through? What about after you finished, what did you feel like? Did your body respond in a particular way?*
If you’ve had any kind of sex (see above) you could also do this activity about sex if you wanted. Again if it feels to difficult to write down then don’t. It could solo sex, or a kiss with someone else, or another kind of sex. The crucial point is that the thing you were doing was the same, but remember a time when it was great and a time when it wasn’t so great. If you’ve experienced sexual assault that might be too difficult to think about, so instead think about a time that was consensual but it was meh, or rubbish.
Okay, now think about the differences between the good and the not so good experience. What are they? If you can write them down. What do you notice about the differences? The next paragraph has some possible answers, but I want you to think about your own experiences first.
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When I’ve asked adults to do this activity they come up with things like. I wasn’t in the mood. It felt rushed. I felt really relaxed and in my body. Something was distracting me. It felt like I had all the time in the world and was giving myself a present. I chose the wrong thing. We were really in tune with each other and felt a real connection. I was comparing myself to someone else. There was a bit of pressure on me to do it. It felt like something I should do rather than something I felt like doing. We both felt like we were really trying to make it as nice for each other as possible.
*this activity is from the book I wrote with my mate Meg-John Barker A Practical Guide to Sex (which is for over 18s really)
Again, think about what we’ve covered in the course so far. Can you see how enjoyment connects to so many of the other things we’ve thought about? Enjoying sex is not about being good at ‘doing a particular technique’ it’s more about connection, trust, intimacy, communication and safety. It’s about creating the right conditions so that you can relax, be in your body, not feel pressure, or shame, and be in the moment. That’s how we really enjoy things.
This is not to say that all sex has to be in a loving relationship (or that all loving relationships have to have sex). Even with casual sex with someone, you can have all of these things.
You’re also more likely to enjoy doing something if you are both able to feel like you can choose something you might both like.
5. Safer sex
Just as there’s a whole section on here about sex, there’s also a whole section on here about safer sex (you know how to use the menu button yes). So I’m not going to go into that in much detail here because a lot of that is information.
In school the thing that they will tell you is that sex is really risky. Again think back to your sex ed so far. Why do they do that?
I’ve got a couple of interesting quizzes below, before you click the links answer these two questions. 1) What is the likelihood of pregnancy after having (penis in vagina) sex once. 2) What percentage of people your age are estimated to have an STI (sex infection).
But for this lesson, think about all the different kinds of sex that I asked you to come up with earlier. For each one can you think about a) how you can make them safer, and b) how you can make them more consensual. Don’t just think about the pregnancy or STI risks, but also consider things like: privacy, legal risks, injury, and emotional harm.
Here’s the next lesson, which is about the sex we see.
© Justin Hancock, 2021.
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If you’re over 18 and really into sex ed I have a podcast you might like called Culture Sex Relationships.
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. Find out more about Justin here