Sex is Risky (But Good!)

Sex is Risky (But Good!)

Being sex positive does not mean teaching that sex isn’t risky.

 

I got some confused and upset private responses* to last week’s blog post, specifically to the part where I said that partnered sex is a risky and complicated activity, and is an activity for adults. The folks who were concerned felt like calling sex ‘a risky activity’ and ‘for adults’ is using scare tactics, like abstinence-only sex education uses.

 

Using scare tactics to influence people not to have sex is specifically morality based. The people teaching abstinence-only education have moral objections to sex, moral objections to sexual pleasure, and want to exert control over young bodies, specifically young women’s bodies.

Teaching that sex is risky is giving responsibility and power to people who want to have sex.

 

Think about rock climbing. If someone who has never rock-climbed before wants to do some climbing, we feel it responsible to give them information. Climbing can be dangerous, if you don’t take safety precautions. Rock climbing is a skill – you listen to your body, and you practice, and you don’t immediately jump on those difficult upside-down bits. You can hurt your fingers and your toes and your joints. You could fall. You could hurt yourself because of an accident, or faulty equipment, or an unsafe belaying partner. There are so many ways you can get hurt from rock climbing. It’s a risky activity.

But rock climbing is *fun*! It’s a delightful sport, and it’s fun to feel physically accomplished, and to be up very high and look around. We don’t usually tell people “no, you might fall, so you’d better never rock climb.” We help outfit them with good gear, and we advise that they listen to an instructor, and read FAQs, and learn everything they need to be safe. We tell them to partner up with responsible climbers.

 

Sex is risky. It’s just the plain, honest truth. There are physical risks and psychological risks.

You can get unintentionally pregnant, or contract an STI. You can injure your genitals, especially if you have a vulva (labial tears are common and painful). If your partner is unsafe, their unsafe practices can affect you. If you contract an STI, you will need to spend some money curing it, or some more money using medication to keep it under control. If you get pregnant unintentionally, you will need to pay for and experience an abortion, or pay for and experience pregnancy.

Sex also carries the risk of emotional hurt or harm. We have tons and tons of cultural baggage tied up around sex, so every single time we have sex with another person (or even masturbate), we’re taking actions that go against our social programming, or fall in line with frequently-unsafe programming. There’s no way to have sex in a social vacuum, which adds emotional barriers to the idea of “safe” sex. We have to deal with social consequences of having sex in ways that are not approved by our peers or parents, or the emotions of our partners, or our own programmed responses to sex.

 

Things that are risky require careful thought and work to mitigate that risk, and young people are not always prepared to appropriately deal with that risk. Now, I know that doesn’t mean that young people won’t have sex, and I have ambivalent feelings about 18 as an arbitrary age of adulthood. We should absolutely continue to prepare young people to have safe and pleasurable sexual interactions. But studies also show that the younger someone is when they first have sex, the more likely they are to have an unintentional pregnancy, to contract an STI, or to say that they regretted how they began having sex. So sex educators need to walk the fine line of normalizing sexual desires and validating sexual experiences, while still trying to get young people to hold off having sex until they are a little older. And “older” is relative for each person, so that age of consent – while a helpful guideline – doesn’t fix the problem of risky sexual actors.

 

This isn’t a post with an answer or a solution – just an explanation. Sex is wonderful, and sex is risky. There’s a reason why sex educators *validate* sexual experiences, we don’t *encourage* them. We’re here to keep people safe, physically and emotionally. And sexual repression, or denying sexual desire, or ignoring sexual existence – that isn’t safe at all! People having sex that they want to have is a beautiful thing. But sex is risky, and it’s important to acknowledge that.

 

 

 

*I told them I’d respond in a blog post, so here we are.

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