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Is it normal for girls to experiment with sex together when they're not lesbian?

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Sam asks:

A couple of years ago I was over at my best friends house and we were in her living room ready to go to sleep and we were just talking and she asked me if I masturbate and I told her I did and then she started to rub her clitoris and then she started to rub mine. After that she asked me if I had ever kissed a girl and I said no then we started to make out and stuff. I know I'm not a lesbian but what we did was a lot of fun, is this normal for girls to do this sort of stuff together?

Heather Corinna replies:

Any kind of same-sex sex is as normal as opposite-sex sex as far as I am concerned.

In other words, it is normal -- and has always been relatively common -- for people of all genders and stripes to have sexual intimacy or to explore sexuality together. The particular situation you're describing has historically been prevalent for girls and guys alike, especially in youth, even if homophobia often tends to keep people from talking about it. Mutual masturbation among same-sex friends or groups of friends in youth is something that's been going on for a long,long time now. It's nothing new.

With young adults, it's developmentally common to be less selective about -- or to have a wider net of -- sexual partners. (And we might also even ask ourselves where people get the idea that sex within the context of romantic love is the best or only right place for it or the only place for it: looking at history and culture, it's usually pretty obvious that there's a pretty hardcore political and cultural agenda behind that notion.) Young people have a sexuality that is still forming and finding its own feet, and like any other aspect of identity development, part of figuring out what any one person likes or likes best tends to mean some experimentation and the desire to explore from a place of wide-open possibilities, as well as available opportunities.

Until I taste a tomato, I can only have a limited idea of if I really like tomatoes, and in addition, if I taste one and like it, it may only be because I got an amazing tomato. Had I picked one up in February, when they're all mealy and pale, I might have come to the conclusion that I hate tomatoes. See what I mean? Mind, none of us has to have sex with a person of this gender or that to start to sort out our sexual orientation, because that's about more than just sex: it's also about who we are physically and emotionally attracted to, who we love, and where we feel most at home when it comes to our intimate relationships. I can know I like the smell of tomatoes, the look of tomatoes, the things tomatoes tend to go with before I actually eat one. So, while sexual exploration isn't anything close to required for us to figure out sexual orientation and our whole sexuality, sexual exploration with partners is usually part of sussing out that puzzle in time.

We live in a really homophobic and heterosexist culture, where it's considered pretty normal that heterosexual people will have varied opposite-sex experiences before they find particular partners and sexual activities that they like best. Because we live in that culture, it's also often assumed that heterosexuality is a sort of default setting: that everyone really IS heterosexual, save a bunch of us who deviate from that norm. However, based on everything we know from the study of sexuality and sociology, that's a false assumption.

It's most common for people not to be 100% heterosexual or 100% homosexual in their attractions and sexual/romantic feelings: in fact, very few people in the world will really be at either end of that spectrum. Most folks will be somewhere in the middle, even if they have stronger attractions -- be they emotional or sexual -- to any one gender or biological sex, or even if they only choose to have opposite-sex partnerships.

Figuring out how any one of us feels in terms of orientation often is something that takes a good deal of time and life experience, and to boot, who we like to be with, who we enjoy sex with, usually is about way more than just which set of gonads a person has. If it was only about that, then heterosexual people, for instance, would be equally attracted to every single member of the opposite sex, and we all know that's just not the case. Who we want to be with, who we love, who we want to be sexual with is about a lot more factors than gender: it usually has to do with that person's personality, how they look, how they communicate, what about them is common with us and what is different, what they do, the dynamics we have between them and us, what we want at a given time, where we're at in our lives, the whole enchilada. Gender is only ONE facet of a person: it doesn't define us as whole people, nor does it define our whole relationships or our whole sexuality.

Too, even though what you're describing is very normal and common, I'd encourage you not to get too hung up on normalcy as something to concern yourself with overmuch, anyway. Even if it had not been normal, it'd still be okay if it was something that was a positive for both of you. When it comes to sexuality, because human sexuality is SO diverse and individual, what's important isn't that we are all "normal," but that our sexuality feels authentic and good for us, that we can express it with others in ways which are physically and emotionally healthy for everyone involved, and that whatever we do with others makes us all happy.

After all, if everyone's happy and healthy, would should it matter if it's normal? And if it wasn't (and when it's not) considered normal to be with who we enjoy being with, and to be sexually comfortable with who we're sexually comfortable with, then the problem isn't with us, but rather, with what people's ideas about normal are, and where they're really coming from.

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written 07 Mar 2008 . updated 21 Jan 2014

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