If you have teenagers I want you to tell them something. Now brace yourself because the thing I want you to tell them might come as a bit of a shock and some of you might hit me with some hard side-eye at first. But if you stick with me to the end, I promise there’s an explanation.
I want you to tell your teens…about pleasure. Sexual pleasure to be precise.
I’m a sex educator. When it comes to adolescent sexuality, folks assume I’m here to teach youth about sexually transmitted infections, avoiding pregnancy and how to roll on a condom. I am about all those things, but my job is also to help them figure out how to navigate sexuality and sex in positive, life-affirming ways. The truth is most of the time when people have sex, they do it because they want to feel good. Me? I’m here for that. But whether teens are thinking about becoming sexually active sooner, or later, they often lack reliable resources and information about sexual pleasure. When youth turn to porn and other sexualized media, they may be intrigued and excited but they’re almost certainly not getting accurate ideas about how to make sex great in real life.
Another issue with the sex in pornography, as well as other forms of media – it’s almost entirely focused on the physical aspect of pleasure. The focus is on body parts, the moaning and the groaning, the hardness and the wetness, the bumping and the grinding. As I’m about to explain, that is not the sum total of sexual pleasure. And if no one else is going to tell our kids that, we’ve gotta step up.
So let’s break this down. What is sexual pleasure and why is it important for our teens to understand it?
Emotional Sexual Pleasure
There’s more to good sex than hot bodies and orgasms. What we’ve got going on in our minds and our metaphorical hearts is a huge part of what makes great sex so lovely. During high school workshops I ask students “how do you think good sex should make you feel?” These are some of the answers I hear consistently:
- “Good about myself”
- “Like I can really trust the other person”
When I ask teens how they don’t want to feel during sex, the answers I often get are:
- “Like there’s pressure or they won’t like me if I don’t”
- “Not important”
- “Bad about myself or my body”
- “Like I have to be perfect at it”
So often we as adults tell teens, “Don’t rush sex. Wait until you’re ready.” But how will they know when they’re ready? Opening up the conversation, and helping our teens think specifically about the feelings they hope to experience during sex, can help them better figure out if a potential sexual situation or partner is right for them.
We often talk about our mind and body as two entirely separate things, but they really are connected. It can be tough for our bodies to get into a sexy groove if we literally aren’t feelin’ it. It’s important to let teens know that when folks get hype about sex, a key component is the emotional pleasure!
When sex is truly good it’s good for everybody. Media and culture often validates sexual pleasure for boys and men. What sucks is that the same media often ignores the fact that folks of other genders want and deserve those sexy feelings as well.
I tell teens that masturbation is a magnificent type of sex for many reasons, not the least of which is that they get to make it all about them!
Once other people are involved, their pleasure is just as important. Awesome sex isn’t just about getting what feels good for you and it isn’t only about doing what feels good for your partner. Sexual partners need to connect and communicate, in order to make sure that everyone has a really good time. Ask your teens “If you were having sex with someone, how would you find out what they like?”, “How would you let them know if you did or didn’t like something they were doing to you?”
Mutual pleasure is also related to consent. Consent isn’t just about getting someone to say “yes” and then charging ahead because technically they gave you the go ahead. Teens need to understand that real consenting sexual partners agree to have sex because they truly want to. If teens get a “yes,” because someone is tired of being asked repeatedly, or because they’re drunk and not fully aware, or because they’re worried they’ll lose a relationship, that’s not a happy, I-really-want-to-get-with-you “yes” It’s a shitty type of
“yes”, which usually leads to a shitty type of sex where there’s a good chance that at least one person will wind up feeling resentful, or far worse, violated. When teens start having sex with other folks, it’s important that they make sure that everyone’s excited for the ride and that once it get’s going, that everyone feels the magic!
So this is what many of us think about when we hear the term sexual pleasure. This the heart racing, erection-inducing, vagina-throbbing stuff, that you probably really, really, really don’t want to discuss with your teens.
You don’t need to talk about the details of positions and techniques and all of that (although you could give them some educational books on those subjects). But in the same way that we can encourage our teens to pay attention to their emotional feelings, we can also mention that how our bodies feel during sex is important. When sex is uncomfortable, and definitely if it’s painful, it’s a usually a sign that they need to pause and switch things up, or stop altogether. Good sex shouldn’t hurt. Nope…not even anal sex.
Again, we can remind youth, that sex is supposed to feel good. When it doesn’t it’s often a sign that something needs adjusting. That something might be changing positions, the type or intensity of the touch, moving to another part of the body, more stimulation, less stimulation, adding lube … and sometimes it might mean backing off sex and leaving it for another time.
It can also be helpful to tell our teens that it takes most people a while to get the hang of sex. Talking to their partners and letting them know what’s working and what isn’t is part of the sexual learning curve. But the more they’re able to talk about it, and the more they’re able to be open to feedback from their sexual partner, the better sex will become.
That’s my case for talking to teens about sexual pleasure! I’d love to know what you think, if you’ve tackled any of these conversations with your teens or if you plan to bring it up in the future.
Until next time!
Nadine Thorton is your friendly sexuality educator from Toronto, Canada. Click here to get her guide on teaching your kids about sexuality.