This is a guest post by Dan Dana, PhD, retired president, Mediation Training Institute International, regarding advice for soon-to-be sexually active young women from a secular humanist perspective. See also sex advice for young men.
This page supplements the short, free ebook The Reason Revolution, available here. Please read it as you consider the following advice.
The sex-positive advice offered here may seem brazen, even shockingly explicit, to many who have grown up in religiously repressed, sex-negative American culture (as well as most other religion-infused cultures worldwide). But, recognize that young people are, or soon will be, familiar with every topic mentioned here via peer relationships, the Internet, social media, and other means (although they may be grossly misinformed by those information sources). Further, non-religious readers will recognize that nothing advised here is unhealthy or unsafe so long as the precautions listed at the bottom of the page are observed. So, presenting this advice explicitly simply gives accurate, judgment-free information about natural human sexuality, bringing it out of the shadows of misinformation, irrational shame, and needless embarrassment.
Being a public document, this article may be read by young women themselves as well as by parents who want to communicate openly with their soon-to-be sexually active daughters. Both uses are encouraged.
TO: Our teenage daughter
FROM: Mom and Dad
SUBJECT: Sex advice as you begin your life as a sexual adult
We love you, and we want you to have a satisfying, safe, and socially responsible sex life. We don’t want you to rely on religion-derived cultural myths about sex, which often incorrectly portray many sexual behaviors as bad or immoral. We offer the following advice from our science-informed, secular humanist perspective.
1. Masturbate as much as you want. Knowing how your body works and how to fulfill your sexual needs will help you communicate your desires to your partner(s). Some women find that using a vibrator enhances pleasure. These devices may be purchased online, so you don’t have to share your activities with us — we respect your privacy.
2. While you may use erotic photos, videos, or stories that appeal to you for stimulation and arousal, remember that most pornography depicts human sexuality in an unrealistic manner and is generally intended for a male audience. Sex is not something that you “do to” another; rather you “do with” or even “do for” another.
3. Feel free to engage in mutual masturbation and intimate fondling with a partner with whom intercourse is not mutually desired or safe (see precautions below). You may suggest this alternative until you are ready to have intercourse.
4. Explore and learn with others what feels good to you, and to your partner. There are no inherently “bad” sexual activities between consenting adults. Include your vibrator or other sex toys in your play. Indulge your curiosity. Experiment. Communicate.
5. Although sexual partners need to be reasonably attractive to each other, don’t be drawn to a man solely by his physique or overt sexiness. You will find that other qualities (such as a happy disposition, sense of humor, shared interests, emotional awareness, and intelligence) are more important factors in meaningful relationships, especially in the long term.
6. Get comfortable with rejection. A man you find attractive may not reciprocate your feeling, or may have other reasons not to share your interest in connecting. His rejection is not a universal judgment of you, and is not a reason to be angry or resentful toward him. Accept it with understanding and grace. Thank him for his honesty, which may have saved both of you future disappointment and wasted time.
7. Feel free to explore any same-sex attraction you may experience toward another young woman of similar age. However, be careful about being seduced, aggressively persuaded, or coerced, especially by someone older. If you discover that you are lesbian (of course, you may have made this discovery earlier in your life), celebrate your discovery, be proud of your identity, and explore the unique opportunities available to you that your heterosexual friends will not experience. Understand that one’s sexual orientation along the straight-bi-gay continuum is biologically determined, not an unfettered choice. Find your own comfort zone on that spectrum.
8. Feel free to explore your “kinks” (sexual interests beyond vaginal intercourse). Kinks may include oral sex (fellatio and cunnilingus), anal sex, dominant/submissive roles, bondage, fetishes, fascination with particular body parts or physical positions, simultaneous multi-person (group) sex, and other interests that may be regarded as abnormal or “wrong” by people whose sexuality has been distorted by religious notions about “morality” that permeate our culture. Exercise caution in putting yourself at risk of physical harm by a partner whom you do not fully trust. Also, feel free to decline to participate in any sexual activity that does not appeal to you.
9. Avoid becoming sexually or romantically involved with a man who is mentally unstable or emotionally vulnerable. Signs of trouble include jealousy, possessiveness, groundless distrust, fault-finding, irrational fearfulness, inappropriate anger, wide mood swings, being easily offended, and male-chauvinism that insists that you regularly defer to his preferences. (Be aware that your exhibiting similar behaviors may signal to an emotionally healthy man that you yourself may be a “troublesome” partner.) If you find that a relationship contains more conflict than you are comfortable with, you may choose to respectfully terminate it. A useful phrase for a graceful exit may be, “Sorry, this isn’t working for me. I’m not feeling the right chemistry.”
10. Just as you would disapprove of men shaming women about their bodies, you should avoid displaying similar attitudes and behaviors about men. Be respectful of others in your conversations with friends. As secular humanists, we protect the personal dignity and well-being, both physical and emotional, of all people.
11. There is no need to become entrapped in a sexually exclusive relationship with a man unless you are content, at least temporarily, in a monogamous pairing. Exclusivity (having regular sex with only one person) is a negotiable issue. Polyamory (having concurrent sexual relationships with more than one person) is an option you may explore. Develop the skills to communicate about having multiple concurrent partners. Responsible polyamory is an honest, non-possessive, equal-rights, mutually desired form of relationship — it is NOT “cheating,” deception, or lying to hide your other relationship(s) from a partner who assumes your relationship is sexually exclusive (monogamous).
12. Don’t allow sexual or romantic relationships to divert you from your academic and career goals. The special person who happens to be the object of your infatuation today will not be your only opportunity to have meaningful and exciting relationships in the future. “Sex for fun” is OK; you need not feel obliged to be, nor pretend to be, on “partner track.” One can “fall in love” more than once in life. As you mature and the early sexual exploratory phase of your life evolves, you may want to choose a partner with whom to establish a family with children. There is no rush to do so; wait until your readiness feels clear. When that time comes, ensure that genuine friendship (mutual respect, admiration, joy in companionship), not solely sexual attraction, is the primary basis of your partner-bond. Also, don’t let desire for financial security distort your judgement of a suitable life-partner — wives of rich husbands whom they do not love are not to be envied. Friendship grows for a lifetime; sexual infatuation inevitably fades. Remember that polyamory can happily coexist with marriage and parenting as long as your friendship remains intact and honesty prevails over secretiveness in your primary relationship. Women are having children later in life than ever before. Just because some of your friends are walking down the aisle, don’t settle for man who doesn’t feel right for you just to join that parade. Be wary of such emotion-driven choices; divorce and grief await the impatient.
Some important precautions:
1. Never have sex unless you are fully willing to do so. You and your partner should talk in advance (before passion overtakes rational thought) about what consent means. Be sure he understands that no means no. Powerful seduction is a red flag. Be wary of drugs or alcohol, as inebriation impairs judgment and can compromise “consent.” Responsible use of non-addictive recreational drugs and alcohol, which is ubiquitous in American culture, should be reserved for non-first-time sex. (We trust you to become informed of the facts, and the myths, about drugs and alcohol, and to protect your health.)
2. Sex between an adult (18 or over) and underage girls or boys (under 18) is illegal and must be avoided. Don’t consent to have sex with a man 18 and over if you are under 18, nor consent to sex with an underage person if you are 18 or over. In some states, sex between both underage partners is illegal and punished as statutory rape. Age of consent varies by state statute.
3. Always use birth control and condoms to prevent pregnancy and infection by a sexually transmitted disease (STD) unless that protection is otherwise ensured. Practicing putting a condom on your partner can be a fun way for both of you to learn, and to reduce the risk of condom failure. Use of a small amount of water-based personal lubricant is often helpful inside the condom. Be sure the lubricant is near the tip of his penis, not at the base of the condom, where it can cause slippage and leakage of his semen. You both might enjoy the educational sex-play of masturbating him to orgasm after placing a condom to test your technique. Check for leaks. As his penis becomes flaccid, tug on the condom to test how easily it slips off. Most condom failures result from this slippage and leakage. Don’t assume that your partner knows how to properly use a condom. Learn together. We will help you make an appointment at a clinic when you decide you are ready for birth control pills or devices.
4. Don’t do sexting of selfies, and don’t allow photographs or video recordings of yourself in sexual situations. Once images are created and shared, they are permanently beyond your control.
As your parents, we want you to enjoy your sexuality, an essential ingredient of a happy life! We hope that by reading and following these ideas, you will achieve it.
P. S. Dan and I collaborated on this post after I saw his article on secular sexual advice for young men. I may not agree on all the advice he gives, but it is certainly a great deal more sane than the total lack of sexual advice I received as a Lutheran, growing up in the 1960’s in North Dakota. Thank you Dan!
Karen L. Garst
December 11, 2015