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I love him: is that enough?

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nerdlove asks:

The truth is: I am scared. But also anxious, excited, curious. My boyfriend and I have an attraction unlike any I've ever known. He always tells me to let him know if I want to stop, and then he will stop. I want to be intimate with him, and I've definitely thought about it, but it could always be too much too soon. I feel we may engage in sex soon. I don't really know how to do anything, though. I think I'm ready for it, but we're both still young, in high school. I'm afraid for what will happen, for what I am or am not capable of. I want to make him happy, but not always at the cost of myself. I cannot get pregnant; this is my forefront concern. Sex has always been displayed as something funny by my friends, and dangerous by my elders. To me, it's more a... beautiful thing? I'm not sure. With my less than adequate experience, I honestly don't know. I know that I love him; is that enough?

Heather Corinna replies:

When someone asks me a sex readiness question, one of the big things I look for is that the onset of sex in a relationship is about more than one person mostly or solely initiating.

In other words, I hear you telling me that he says you can stop if you want to, and that tells me he's probably the one mostly driving this car. What I do NOT hear is YOU also being active, you initiating, and you also being the one -- just as much as him -- to say that YOU will stop if and when HE wants to stop. It's so important for healthy and satisfying sexual relationships that everyone is fully active; that one partner isn't passively going along or just following the other's lead.

I hear you saying you want to make him happy, but not always at the cost of yourself, and that, too, sounds an awful lot like sex right now is more about his wants and needs than it is about yours. Someone else's sexual pleasure or desires should never be indulged in a way where you feel like you're doing something you don't want, or comes at a cost to you.

I hear you saying you've thought about sexual intimacy, but from the sounds of things, you're already engaging it in some way before you're really feeling any resolution with those thoughts about what you want and if it's right for you right now.

ALL kinds of sex are sex. Oral sex is sex, manual sex is sex, a kissing session is sex: when we do those things, we are seeking out and exploring sexual feelings with someone, we are enjoying sexual satisfaction and pleasure -- that's what makes those things sex. For sure, intercourse carries the extra risk of pregnancy, but for the most part, other sexual activities carry the same emotional risks, the same interpersonal risks and, sparing the risk of pregnancy, the same physical risks.

Ideally, yes: sex between people should be something beautiful, and it's also often a lot of things with that beauty: comical, awkward, physical, scary, exciting, disappointing, illuminating, relaxing, sleepy, energizing, manic, peaceful, conflicted, even boring....you name it, it can be part of sex at any given time since what sex between people is is an expression of ourselves and our relationship. People are complex, multi-faceted and ever-changing, so sex tends to be the same way: with sex, as with anything else, your mileage may vary.

Love and care for absolutely go a long way when it comes to a healthy sex life together, but there are some parts of sex that love and care just don't take care of. They don't provide us with the resources to get and pay for sexual healthcare, safer sex tools and birth control methods, for instance. They don't, all by themselves, mean that we're going to be able to really communicate with a partner well about sex to honestly discuss both our desires and wants as well as our limits and boundaries. Love are care alone don't make us familiar with our own bodies and sexual response, nor do they make us and a partner want the same things. While love and care most certainly help us work through tough spots, they don't fend off pregnancy we don't want, or social consequences we might have to face. Heck, loving someone doesn't even guarantee that sex together will be satisfying for everyone involved, on a given day, or altogether.

One other thing I look at when someone is asking me if they're ready or not is simply that they are asking me.

In other words, I think that often the question answers itself: if you felt very ready, you probably would not be asking. And when you're worried it's too much too fast, then that's usually because it is.

The cool thing is that there is no reason you can't enter into a sexual relationship at a pace that works for you, starting with only those things that you do feel ready for, which do not feel like too much, too soon, and which don't carry the risk of pregnancy you're not ready to deal with. Taking all the time you need to get to know one another sexually very gradually has an awful lot of benefits, and they're not all just about keeping the bad stuff from happening: they're also about cultivating the really good stuff. When two people new to sex and each other take their time, for instance, you get to know what each of you really likes and really doesn't, you learn how to communicate about sex in ways that work for you both, you build trust and deeper intimacy. You also get to take baby steps that let you know with more certainty if you want to keep pushing things forward or not. You find out about possible conflicts and have time to resolve them before you're taking bigger risks. And since all kinds of sex are satisfying for people -- and for most women, most kinds of sex which are NOT intercourse are MORE satisfying -- it's not like you're somehow missing out in the meantime: you still can explore that incredible chemistry and the big desire you're both feeling.

And hey: if what feels most okay for you right now is NO sexual intimacy at all, that's totally okay. Any one of us can manage our own sexual desires with our own two hands when sex together isn't the right thing for a partner. We can also deepen and sustain intimacy in many ways besides through sex. Ultimately, if and when one or both partners are doing things they just don't want to do, or aren't sure they want, that's more of a barrier TO a deeper relationship than it is an entrance, so if you're worried you can't get closer or keep him happy without moving forward when you're not ready yet, toss that idea in the rubbish bin, because it is rubbish. Slowing our pace also hardly dampens desire: in fact, when we stretch out our anticipation of something, it often tends to make it even more intense when it finally happens.

What I'd suggest to you is that you just initiate some talks about this with him, filling him in on everything you have written here. You sound very self-aware to me, and like you do a good job of articulating what you're feeling: add that to you two loving each other and I have a hard time imagining that you won't be able to communicate about this fantastically. If he cares for you just as much back, and also wants your sex life to be beautiful, he's going to be very invested in being sure that not only is he stopping when you want him to, and also STARTING only when that's what you want, but that you're driving this car just as much as he is. He's going to want to be sure that whatever you're doing together is about making both of you happy, not just him, and that the pacing is right for you both. You can be anxious and curious and excited -- and it's great that you are! -- and still go at a pace that feels right to you; one that fits best with where you're at right now.

I'm going to leave you with a few links for yourself, and you may also want to share them with him. They should give you a pretty good idea of what readiness can look like, how we can communicate about all of this, and why going at a pace which is best for both partners -- not just one -- is so beneficial, both to do what you can to reduce the risk of negative consequences, but also to help make it more likely that you experience the positives.

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