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Heather Corinna replies:
My boyfriend and I are both virgins. We have talked about sex and decided we are ready for it. Can sex be a way of saying "I love you"? How? What makes it such?
I tend to think the best way of saying I love you is...well, saying "I love you."
But if you're asking if sex can express love? Sure it can. It doesn't always, but it absolutely always has that potential.
People being mutually invested in each other's comfort and pleasure, each other's sexual growth and experience -- full-stop, not just during sex, or not just during certain kinds of sex -- and people wanting to expand the intimacy they already may share otherwise through physical intimacy are all acts of love and care. People who have sex with partners in a way in which they respect their partner's limits and boundaries, even when it means not getting exactly what they want at a given time are expressing love and care. People who make a point of having sex responsibly, stepping up to the plate when it comes to safer sex and birth control, as well as respecting one another's wants and needs when it comes to what each is and is not willing to risk are being loving. People who regard and treat sex as a gift, always, not a duty or an obligation, nor just a means of masturbation, are acting with love. As well, often enough, sex isn't an earth-shattering experience for one or both people involved, and partners who are always understanding with one another about that generally can be because of a real love and care for each other. Same goes when sex brings up difficult feelings -- as it can -- which aren't "sexy," or aren't just about physical pleasure, and people manage those together and extend empathy and care to each other.
Sex with someone else is also a matter of trust, a big part of love. We are very vulnerable, physically and emotionally, during sex with someone else, especially if we're really opening up and exploring our sexuality, rather than putting on some kind of sexual performance. People who dare to communicate very deeply and openly with partners about something as often delicate and deep as sexual feelings and desires are extending love, as are those who are trustworthy enough to listen and never use that information as any sort of weapon, but rather, as a means to get closer. Someone who extends that sort of trust is enacting love, as is someone who really values and honors that trust, and acts accordingly, as a very huge gesture.
Too, suffice it to say, you can say "I love you," very directly during sex, right with your words.
Just understand that all and any partnered sex is not always about love, not always an expression of love, and can't replace love that doesn't already exist with any two people in other contexts. For instance, there are actually plenty of domestic abusers who terrorize their partners in every other part of their time together, but who those partners will say are good lovers who they enjoy being with in bed. In other words, for those people, sex is the only place they don't experience abuse, but even if they feel loved during sex when they don't during anything else, that doesn't make that sex loving nor does it mean their partner loves them. Too, sex is never a way to "earn" love or an "I love you." In other words, if someone isn't saying it or enacting it otherwise, or yet, sex can't make that happen all by itself. The sex that we have with a partner is often an expression of what is already there between us: it can't magically create love that doesn't exist otherwise.
Here are a few extra links that bring up some of these issues, and which can also help you be sure now's the right time for you and yours to start a sexual relationship: