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I'm 14: Is it normal to want sex?

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emm asks:

Most of the time at school I will see a cute guy and want to sleep with him. Is it normal to be horny at my age (14) and do boys want to have sex with me too?

Heather Corinna replies:

Our sexual development is a lifelong process, one we actually start before we're even born. Our sexuality and sexual development isn't the same at every stage, mind: infant or early childhood sexuality is a very different thing than adult sexuality. But it's still almost always present in some respect at every stage of life.

In our infancy and early childhood, our sexuality is usually very self-directed, mostly about self-comfort and self-exploration with our bodies, typically including masturbation, even if we don't remember masturbating as children later on in life. As we continue in childhood, our sexuality will tend to include sexual curiosity, where, for instance, children are curious about what the genitals of other children's bodies, or the bodies of our parents, look like. Children will also often talk about body parts or body functions, as anyone who has heard one too many poop jokes from a small child knows, and may touch other children's bodies, too. As we get near or into puberty, our sexuality tends to become both more private -- as in, we start to want more privacy around our bodies and sexuality -- as well as more social and usually begins to include the desire to be sexual with others. You may also be talking about sex more with friends than you did as a child.

Once we're in puberty, which you probably are at your age, feeling desires to be sexual with other people is common for those of all genders. It's also always been common for many people in puberty to begin exploring various kinds of physical affection or sex with others, though it's less common for someone your age to go right into every kind of sex with partners straightaway. While sexuality in childhood tends to progress more slowly, in the teen years, our development can happen pretty fast. So, the difference in where we're at with our sexuality, as well as with our pace with sex with partners, can be huge between just one or two years and the next. In other words, while at 14 you may not really be "at" sex with partners, you might at 16, which is only two years away.

So, yes: it's typical and okay to have sexual feelings at your age, as well as to have sexual desires for partners. Additionally, some of the boys you have those feelings about may also have them about you or other people. Whether or not their feelings are about your specifically will be a matter of personal preference (and orientation: after all, not everyone is heterosexual), just like which boys you have those feelings about is a matter of preference for you.

The thing to know, though, is that just having those feelings, and someone else having them, is rarely all we're going to base our sexual decisions on. Whether or not we choose to act on sexual feelings is much more complex than just having them or sharing them with someone else.

If and when we have sexual feelings and desires for someone else who shares them, some of the things we'll ask ourselves before we choose to act on them can be things like:

  • Do I like that person, as a person, beyond finding them sexually attractive? Is this someone I really want to get closer to?
  • Can I trust this person with my personal safety and privacy? Can they trust me with those things?
  • How much do I know about my own sexuality at this point? Do I feel like I know enough myself, and am comfortable enough in it, to share it with someone else? At the very least, am I comfortable talking honestly about sex, including about things that really aren't sexy, with this other person? Do they seem like they'd be ready to talk that same way with me?
  • Do I feel emotionally able to handle being very vulnerable with someone else?
  • Am I assertive? Do I feel able to be assertive even at times when the stakes are high and it may feel scary to speak up for myself?
  • How capable do I feel of handling the responsibility involved in sex with someone else, with things like safer sex and sexual healthcare, birth control and care for someone else's feelings? How capable do I think this other person is of handling those things?
  • Is it appropriate to be sexual with this person? Are they otherwise taken, do they seem to have some maturity (and do I?), is it legal, is it something I feel good about emotionally and intellectually? Does sex with this person right now fit with my values?
  • Do I feel ready to handle the possibly bad stuff as well as the possibly good stuff? Am I prepared for dealing with things like hurt feelings, an accidental pregnancy, that person talking trash about me or either one of us being disappointed by sex or each other?
  • How much would a sexual relationship fit with the rest of my life right now? Who do I have besides a potential sexual partner to support me in it?
  • Does being sexual with this person in this way, at this time, and in this particular situation fit with my personal values?
  • How has my relationship with this person been so far? Have I enjoyed being with them? How about how the physical part of our relationship has been so far? Have I enjoyed things like hugging and kissing them, touching them and being touched by them? Do I feel good about myself after those things? Have those things felt good so far to me physically and emotionally?

Those are just some starting points. You can take a look at some other things to consider here: Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist. If those starting points alone really spin your head, it's safe to say it's probably best to acknowledge and honor the feelings you have right now, knowing they are fine to have, but to figure you're a ways away from being able to put them into action with someone else in a way that's likely to make you happy or feel okay.

One big thing to bear in mind is that even when sex is casual, when it's outside the context of a larger relationship or is a primarily or solely sexual relationship, there are at least two whole people involved who are about more than sex and sexual desires. So, if a lot of what you're asking really isn't about a specific person, but just about you (or someone else) feeling horny in general -- which is what is most common for people your age -- what's probably most appropriate is masturbation, not partnered sex.

Masturbation doesn't have to be about someone else: it's only about you. While your own emotions are involved in masturbation, too, it also is a far less risky proposition when it comes to anyone's feelings getting hurt, and it doesn't pose health risks like sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. You don't need to worry about legalities with masturbation, about what another person might say to people at school, about working through situations where a sexual partner wants one thing and you want something else. And when it comes to your physical urges and desires, masturbation tends to satisfy those for a majority of people exceptionally well. Sure, you can't do absolutely everything in masturbation you could potentially do with a partner, but you can get pretty close. Additionally, masturbation teaches all of us a lot about our own sexuality and sexual response so that if and when we do choose to have sexual partners, we can walk in having a good basic idea of what works for us and doesn't, what we like and don't like, and how comfortable we are with our sexuality. Masturbation also helps give us some tools we need for fulfilling sex with partners: after all, if we know where our own body parts are, and some kinds of touch we want or need, we can more easily communicate with partners both in negotiating sex together and during sex.

And in case you heard that girls don't masturbate, please know that that just isn't true. While statistically, less women report masturbating than men do, we know that that's usually only because women have gotten messages that it's okay for men to do, but not women, messages based on the false idea that women don't really have our own sexuality, or that it's only okay for women to feel or be sexual when it's about men or what men want. I also think it's safe to say that if women ever feel like it isn't okay to touch our own bodies, it's pretty strange to figure it's okay for someone else to touch them.

People often assume everyone means the same thing when they say "sex," when in fact, it's very hard for people to agree on what sex is. When we say "sex" here at Scarleteen, we mean any number of different things people do to tangibly express or enact their sexuality and their sexual feelings (for more, click here). So, I can't know if when you're asking about sex you're asking about the big picture of what sex is and can be, or you're just asking about intercourse.

When we hear from users your age asking a question like this, most often they are talking about intercourse, and making some assumptions about it that are, more times than not, unrealistic.

For instance, I've found it's common for younger readers to assume that sex = intercourse, and also that intercourse, all by itself, will most likely be very satisfying for everyone involved. But that's often not true. Not only do a majority of women NOT reach orgasm through intercourse alone or feel fully satisfied with intercourse by itself, intercourse also doesn't offer any kind of instant intimacy or feelings of emotional fulfillment just by having it. Whether it does or doesn't has less to do with intercourse as an act and more to do with the relationship it happens within and the dynamics of that relationship and how the people having it feel about each other and themselves. Whether or not people feel satisfied with any sex they have also tends to have a lot to do with how able they feel to ask for what they really want in bed. That's something that can be really hard to do with people who you haven't developed any good communication skills or trust with before you're sexual together, or over time as a sexual relationship gradually develops, rather than goes for the end run right at the start.

That said, one of the most important things I think any of us always need to ask ourselves when we're considering sex with someone else is what it is we're looking for in it. Obviously, that's a lot easier to evaluate when you've had any experiences with sex, and a lot harder to do when it's all a big question mark. But you can at least look to information from others who have had those experiences and do have some sound ideas of what sex with someone else can or cannot offer, and when certain sexual situations are or are not likely to meet your needs.

For instance, if it's about feeling sexually satisfied, with a brand-new partner and/or when you're very young, if you just leap into sex full-stop, it's pretty unlikely you'll get that need met well. Not only does it more often take people time to get to know each other sexually, there tends to be some kind of gradual process involved most of the time, where people build up to sex together via baby steps.

If you just want to get your rocks off and quell those feelings of desire, and it's not really about the other person so much as it's about you, masturbation is really the ticket, both because it's more likely to net those results, but also because it's more likely not to leave you or other people feeling used just to fill someone's personal, rather than interpersonal, needs.

If it's about curiosity, you can explore your sexual curiosity in ways that pose a lot less risk than leaping into sex. You can talk with people about sex, for instance, you can read books about sexuality, you can masturbate, you can see how less risky things like kissing or snuggling with someone or other activities we call "outercourse," generally meaning that no one's naked genital bits are being put into anyone else's body parts, feel to you.

If it's about wanting to feel close to someone, sex can certainly be part of that, but if we don't feel close to someone already, sex all by itself often won't make that happen. It can sometimes make us even feel more distant or alone.

Whatever it is you figure out you are wanting when it comes to sex, it's just like making any other decision. We figure out what we want, then, to the best of our knowledge and with help from talks with others, we figure out if a given thing is or isn't likely to give us what we want and if it is or isn't right for us and others to look for what we want in that place or situation.

If it seems likely that our needs won't get met a given way, or like it just isn't right for us or others at a time to try and meet our needs that way, we nix it. If it does seem likely to you that whatever kind of sex you're thinking about with a particular person will meet those needs, I'd suggest that you look at that checklist, talk with whomever you're considering as a partner about this in some depth, and also, given your age, talk to an adult you trust in-person about this, as well.

If I leapt worlds ahead of where you were going with this, my apologies. One of the troubles with very short questions is that we have to guess about the larger picture of what someone is looking for, and we're not always right in our guesses. But what I didn't want to risk was missing an opportunity to fill you in on some real-deal stuff about sex, because I'm very invested in everyone having a sexual life that's great for them, rather than one that's substandard or disappointing, or where they wind up feeling like they went into sexual partnerships too soon for their own well-being or the well-being of others. If sex with other people didn't pose all the risks of potentially negative things it could, this would be a different conversation, but since it can pose risks of a lot of things we either don't want, or which can change our lives or the lives of others in ways that make life harder, it makes a lot of sense to make sexual choices carefully and with care.

I'm also always concerned when someone asks something like this here that you may feel you don't have other people you can talk to about sex and your sexual development. Just so you know, chances are that there is someone in-person you can talk to with questions like this. One or both of your parents or guardians are certainly an option. If you don't feel they are an option, or just aren't comfortable talking with them, other options can be an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, your doctor or school nurse, a teacher you trust or a coach or mentor. I'd encourage you to find someone in your life who is a trusted adult to start to have these conversations with because it can be really rough to go through puberty without at least one person, in person, to talk to about sex.

I'm going to leave you with some extra links to look at that I think may help fill in some more blanks:

written 10 Mar 2010 . updated 10 Mar 2010

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