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Excerpts from Changing Bodies, Changing Lives

Chapter 3: Changing Sexuality

Many people think you aren't sexual until you actually start having sexual activity with another person. Watch any naked baby and you'll see this isn't true. Babies explore their bodies all the time; they love to be held and stroked; and they often play with their genitals, when they can find them. From the beginning, we are all sexual.

Being sexual can mean having sexy thoughts or feelings, loving to be touched and hugged, enjoying the way other people's bodies look, touching your own body in places that feel particularly good, making up romantic or sexy stories in your head, feeling very attracted to another person, kissing and caressing someone you like. All these things are part of your sexuality.

Sexual Feelings

The physical changes of puberty often bring strong sexual feelings. You may find yourself thinking more about sex, getting sexually aroused more easily, and even, at times, feeling totally preoccupied with sex. Some teens say they feel as if their whole body is on fire with sexual energy and excitement. Thirteen-year-old Dominic said:

Every time I catch sight of my neighbor, I get a hard-on. She is completely gorgeous. I am totally in love with her.

Of course many teens get busy or excited about sports or school or music or a job or something else and their lives and don't think about sex very much. Sex may just not be on your mind right now . That doesn't mean you aren't sexual. It just means that right now you are putting your energy into other things.

Because how we feel about is so individual, this section makes no assumptions. You may have been taught that sex before marriage is wrong. You may have been taught that sex before marriage is natural. You may be amazed that some fourteen-year-olds are having intercourse, or amazed that some eighteen-year-olds aren't interested. You may be attracted to people of the opposite sex or people of your same sex or both. You may have friends who say you're immature if you don't have sex, and you may have friends who say people who "do it" are taking too much of a risk. You may be excited about reading this chapter on sex, or you may feel a little shocked and even worried that it will make you feel that you "ought" to be doing something that you don't feel ready to do.

The teenagers who contributed to this book all had different feelings about sex too. Some things they say will feel familiar to you; some things may feel unfamiliar . It's all okay. What's important is to go at your own pace and not let anyone pressure you into doing what you don't want to or feel ready to do.

We hope you will be very careful about sex. Sexually transmitted disease (STD) has become epidemic among teenagers, and some STDs -- like HIV/AIDS, venereal warts, and herpes -- currently have no cure. More and more teenagers are saying no to sex for that reason. Many have told us that they don't think it's worth risking their health or their future plans by having sex too soon or too casually. We hope that whenever and however you choose to act on your sexuality, you will treat yourself and your partner with thoughtfulness and respect, and that you will always try to protect yourself from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (see Chapters 11 and 9).

A group of high school students in Boston wanted us to be careful that this book didn't pressure teens to act on their sexuality. Here's what they said:   

In your book you should say something about not having sex early. Say it's okay to have sexual feelings, to get horny or excited, and not to go out and do it...If you don't have sex with somebody, you don't have to worry about getting pregnant!... You don't have to worry about what you're supposed to do, or if you're doing the right thing to please your partner... If you have a partner and you build into it instead of rushing into it, what you do eels a lot nicer. If you rush into it, you feel like a piece of shit afterwards ... If you waited, you wouldn't have to worry, Did I do this right? Did I do that right? Was I being used? Should it have happened?... If you're worried about it at all, then it isn't time to do... The slower the better.

Aaron, a seventeen-year-old senior, put it this way: "If youíre in doubt, wait!" The problem is that sexual feelings can be so intense and confusing, itís often difficult to be perfectly "sure" and "decided" about what you want to do. It could happen that only after trying something do you realize that you wish you hadnít. If this happens, you can stop and not do it again until you are ready. Just because youíve done something once doesnít mean youíre going to want to or have to do it again. People make mistakes in sex. Some mistakes are just part of growing up. In fact, a lot of what we learn about sex comes from making mistakes.

Some mistakes in sex are irreversible, as fifteen-year-old Johanna discovered when she found out she was pregnant:

I told Noah I wasnít using birth control, But he said, "Oh, donít worry, I know what to do." How could I have let him talk me into doing it? I was so stupid, but he kept saying, "Donít you love me?"

Lots of voices live inside our heads telling us "Do this" or "Donít do this." Your parents, friends, school, government, and religious leaders all have something to say about sex, and their views shape how you think. But when the moment comes, you are the one who has to decide what to do and what not to do; if you are in a relationship, ideally, you will decide together. We hope this chapter will provide the information you need to make decisions that are right for you.

At any point in the following section, we may be talking about something you don't believe is right or something you haven't done or experienced. Maybe you will someday. Maybe you won't. Don't feel you have to experience everything now. The beauty of sex and lovemaking is that we are always learning more about it, even as adults, so there's plenty of time. Allison, a Seventeen-year-old girlfriend the West Coast, emphasized that point. She said:

I have at least fifty, maybe even sixty more years of being sexual, and I'm sure I don't have to worry about doing everything this minute.

Whatever you decide, we encourage you to be respectful of yourself and others. This means

  • Not letting yourself be rushed into anything.
  • Not rushing anyone else into anything.
  • Not feeling you have to prove how cool or mature you are by the amount of sexual experience you have.
  • Never having sex with a and you don't know very well.
  • Learning from your mistakes.
  • Not letting drugs or alcohol make your decisions about sex for you.
  • Taking responsibility for your actions, which means using protection to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

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