As the years march on, one question becomes more and more baffling: “How did I know that little when I was younger?” This is especially true for sex and relationships, despite the “best efforts” (LOL) of sex education in the school system. Let’s face it: no matter how thoroughly you gleaned the Internet, there were some lessons you had to learn the hard and/or embarrassing way, whether it was “How to masturbate” or “A huge age gap is actually a big deal” or “You know what, anal sex is actually pretty great—just don’t be drunk.” Here are the things we wish we could go back and tell our younger selves, if they would listen.
Don’t be ashamed
When all the girls in high school/college are saying they don’t masturbate, they are either lying or missing out. Everyone will do it eventually, and understanding your own body will help you later.
Masturbating is normal and important
They say, don’t get into a relationship until you’re comfortable doing your own thing, and you’ve heard that a hundred times, right? Same goes for sex! You deserve that O, too, dammit, and it probably won’t happen (often) unless you know how to make it happen.
Learn how to work it — AKA do your Kegels
No, they’re not just for old ladies and pregnant women. Yes, you’ll feel the difference if you’re consistent enough—and it will be amazing. It only takes a few minutes a day, but I promise it goes a long way: Start now, and enjoy later!
You are not damaged goods
For some reason, virginity has become incredibly weighed down with assumptions about what it means if you are or aren’t one. And honestly, that’s stupid. You’re not unlovable or undesirable or a prude if you’re a virgin and you’re not a slut if you aren’t one. You’re just you, and your sex life is your sex life, how you feel about it is up to you, not anyone else. But for those of you that maybe were taught that your virginity is precious, yet maybe you’re not a virgin any longer, please don’t feel guilty about that, please. You’re beautiful and awesome and I know people will tell you that your virginity is the greatest thing you can give to your future husband, but if you’ve lost that, it’s still OK, I promise.
Take your time if you feel overwhelmed
There’s probably a lot happening. You’re probably feeling a lot of things (it’s awesome, I know). But sometimes when you’re feeling a lot of things, you might want to pause and take a breather. Do it. Press that pause button. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed, so don’t bury it. If your anxiety kicks in, say something. Lay there for a minute and breathe together.
You are not straight
You’re not confused or experimenting either—you’re actually bisexual, and it’s just fine. Don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t, or that it’s just a phase, or any other BS they want to lay on you. Be prepared to explain, patiently and repeatedly, but also allow yourself to kindly tell people to fuck off if they should earn it (Spoiler alert: Some will). After all, if Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one should live in a closet.
It’s OK to say no
For a long time, for some reason you think that you are “obligated” to do things for guys and that giving someone blue balls is the worst thing in the world. It is not. He can deal. And if he makes comments about it, he’s an asshole.
It’s not always pretty
Thanks to the barrage of romcoms, we see this image of a beautiful girl and guy making out, walking towards the bed, laying down, and then BAM, they’ve had sex. That isn’t how it actually works, and that’s OK. Sometimes it’s complicated, and it’s okay if it takes more than one try to actually get it in. Just remember that there’s a learning curve, and taking your time to figure out what works for you is so important.
True love = body function acceptance
Your vagina does not gross people out—if someone is seeing you naked, they should be worshipping it. Sex involves noises and fluids. Everyone has them and when you’re with the right person, you can laugh about them together. Also, GO PEE AFTER SEX. EVERY TIME.
It’s OK to fight about sex in a relationship
Sex is a touchy subject (no pun intended), and you might end up bickering with your boo about it if you’re not always on the same page—and you probably won’t be. But quibbling over what you want and when (or where, or how) you want it doesn’t have to mean you don’t love and respect each other—it just means there’s something you need to talk through and open up about (but if after opening up you still don’t feel respected, that’s another story). Honesty about what you each need as well as what you each are and aren’t comfortable with is the most important thing.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want & need.
Again the rom-coms of the world have tainted your teen mind’s ideas of what courting, dating, a relationship and sex really is. In sex as well as your relationship, don’t wait on the guy to *magically* know what you want. Sure, the leading man in the movies always somehow just KNOWS what to do. He surprises, surpasses expectations and fulfills all innermost desires without the woman even having to ask. And somehow this is considered what we’re supposed to do in real life? Not so much. If you try to emulate that, you’ll spend a LOT of time waiting around, wishing he would just know all the things, and maybe even convince yourself a great guy is wrong for you because he’s not a mind reader. Communication is such an intensely important part of a relationship. Start now on getting used to verbalizing your expectation and asking for what you want. The wrong guy may run away at this kind of forward communication, but the right one will appreciate it and ultimately work with you to give you what you need. It can be really freeing to have great sex because you were able to say, “I would love it if you did this…” Trust me.
Toys are your friends
They’re neither scary nor shameful—least of all they’re competition: Beware of partners who feel threatened by a battery operated device! Toys are designed to enhance your experience (and your partner’s as well), and they will do so brilliantly. You have infinite options! Explore them, share them if you like, and have fun with them.
Use protection. Every time.
He will tell you he doesn’t have enough money for condoms. He will tell you he doesn’t have a way to buy them. He will tell you they are uncomfortable. Don’t listen. Don’t just ask him to always use a condom – demand it. You will save yourself from so much fear and uncertainty – as well as pregnancy and STI scares – if you just ask him to use a damn condom. There are condoms in all kinds of sizes and all varieties – try them all! Some of them will make you feel wonderful. There are places where you can get them for free, too; do some research and find them if cost is a problem (it isn’t). In the same token: TAKE YOUR BIRTH CONTROL PILL. EVERY DAY. STOP FORGETTING. If you can’t remember (and you won’t), find a different contraceptive option that will ensure you are protected from unintended pregnancy (Speaking as Older Self, you will love Implanon. Go get it).
Getting tested for STDs is not embarrassing
It’s actually a really good thing, and important, especially if you are going to have multiple partners and aren’t in a committed relationship. Part of safe and responsible sex (in addition to consent) is making sure you’re healthy. If you are having sex, even if you’re using protection, you have a responsibility to the people you’re sleeping with (and to yourself!) to make sure that you’ve been tested. And even though it’s awkward, it’s really important to have those conversations with a partner, to make sure that they have been tested, too. Shit happens. If you do get an STD, it’s also not the end of the world. But being proactive and getting tested, especially if you feel like something may be wrong, is really important.
Don’t freak out if you get diagnosed with HPV.
OK, it’s not ideal, but it is extremely common and relatively easy to recover from. It is not, I repeat, NOT a reason to think any less of yourself. Nor is it a reason to stop having sex, or to try to track down whoever “gave it” to you and hold a grudge against them. It is a reason to start or continue practicing safe sex, to go to your doctor regularly, and to take B vitamins. That’s all. And to call up your girlfriends, if you need to talk about it—there’s a good chance some of them can relate.
You don’t have to wait until marriage
Waiting til marriage isn’t for everyone. Just like not waiting til marriage isn’t for everyone. This is your body, your relationship, your choice. Don’t let the gnawing Catholic Guilt decide for you. If you want to explore your desires, turn ons, and body—power to you, homegirl.
Make your own decisions
Stop making all of your sex-related decisions based on what others will think. Your friends will advise you based on their own insecurities and fears, not what is truly right for you—only you can know that. It’s OK to wait to have sex in a relationship if that’s what you need emotionally. You’re not a slut if you just want to have sex with no strings attached. So long as you’re being responsible, you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone. Explore what sex and sexuality means to you and try not to think so much of how it makes you appear to others.