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September 27, 2010
The problem with the traditional concept of virginity is that it doesn’t allow for the spectrum of sexual pleasure that exists without intercourse. Because the emphasis is so strongly focused on the act of penetration, many don’t consider ‘outercourse’ to be ‘real sex’. That is the ‘If it’s not in, then it’s not on!’ attitude. Yet it can be a valid and satisfying option, given the language to talk about it and the skills and confidence to negotiate what’s okay for both partners. The important thing is to describe the activities and exactly what risks they might involve in specific terms, leaving no room for misunderstanding.
Saying no to intercourse can mean all sorts of things. It can mean ‘I’m not emotionally ready for intercourse yet’ or ‘I like you as a friend but I don’t ever want a sexual relationship with you’ or ‘I want to show you that I’m physically attracted to you but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.’
The ‘safe’ options will involve masturbating each other, body to body rubbing, tickling, massage, kissing, hugging, imagination and fantasy and using sex toys (like a vibrator), while avoiding any genital to genital contact.
It helps for each person to work out in advance ‘What’s okay for me … What’s okay for you … What do we both feel comfortable with?’ In the heat of the moment is a difficult time to have a rational discussion. It is extraordinary that most people find it more intimate and confronting to talk about sex than to do it. The old attitude ‘I close my eyes and it just happens’ is a recipe for disaster. Closed eyes and closed minds increase the casualties of the war of ignorance.
Knowing about the options is the first big step. Convincing a partner about what you want can be another thing. The key to this is caring enough about yourself to put your needs first, but that is not always easy. Society rewards selflessness and generosity. Charity workers are applauded. Military medals are presented to servicemen and -women who put the lives of others ahead of their own. You will never see a medal presentation for self-interest or self-preservation. Yet these are the very qualities that are vital to sexual health.
Sex education is evolving all the time. We have moved away from the ‘sperm meets egg’ saga and there is more emphasis on the interactions of real people. However, over the years there has been an emphasis in sex education on saying no’ to sex, particularly where young people are concerned. Far short of addressing anything remotely resembling reality, this approach to sex education denies permission for young people to express the powerful sexual and emotional feelings they are experiencing. These feelings can be confusing at any age but simply telling someone to ignore them or to distract themselves or ‘Wait until you’re older’ is totally ineffective.
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