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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sex Basics and Sexual Health » What is a healthy way to think about sex, sexual health & risk?

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Author Topic: What is a healthy way to think about sex, sexual health & risk?
Jacob at Scarleteen
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There are so many ways to react to the idea of interpersonal sexual intimacy and what it 'means'. Especially when thinking about doing it for the first time, or with someone new, or in a new way. I'm thinking especially in terms of risk, beit of STIs or pregnancy or whatever.

For some people it's a massively serious and dangerous affair, like brain surgery, with a load of super scary risks...

Whereas for others it's almost as if those risks don't exist, it's just a sidelined concern which gets in the way of the pleasure, while for others it might be part of the thrill.

I think there are potential problems with all of these, but also hints at different positive bits of thinking hidden within them.

And I guess I'd really appreciate hearing about what different people think counts as 'worrying too much', how much is 'not worrying enough', or if there's a completely different way of looking it it.

What does an ideal attitude to sex and sexual health look like to you?

Any examples of people or situations that really nail it for you?

Thanks!

[ 06-20-2012, 09:23 AM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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heero222
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As you have pointed out, peoples views on sex differ drastically. I would say there is no such thing as "worrying too much" or "not worrying enough".
The term I like to associate with it is "Tolerable Risk". So basically, it comes down to how serious do you consider each risk to be and how much are you willing to tolerate each risk?
The fact is that no matter how many precautions a person takes there will always be some level of risk involved in sex or any activity for that matter.
So let me give a couple of examples.
If you are with someone and they say that they have kept their STD testing up to date and that they don't have any STD's. Do you trust that person enough to not use the recommended protections? Is that a risk you are willing to tolerate or is the possibility of getting an STD so terrifying that you won't tolerate anything less then the recommended precations no matter who you are with? There have been some girls that I would absolutley trust while with others there isn't any way I would be with them without the appropriate precations. So my level of tolerable risk for that particular concern various based on the person I'm with.
The other risk mentioned was pregnancy. Again, the level of tolerable risk can vary depending on the person you are with and what options you are willing to accept. For some people they wouldn't mind having a kid so it doesn't matter to them while for others having a kid would be the end of the world. Some people are willing to consider abortion an option so even if pregnancy occurs they consider the risk minimal for that particular concern while for others abortion is not an option so pregnancy is a major risk and they may or may not be willing to tolerate it. This also varies with the person you are with since some people you wouldn't mind having a child with while with others you can't imagine raising a kid with them.
Another risk that wasn't mentioned is the emotional risk involved. How much risk are you willing to tolerate in regards to the person wanting to or not wanting to have or continue a relationship? You may be wanting a lifetime commitment while they are planning to never see you again after they leave the next morning or vice versa.

So basically, my advice is to determine your level of tolerable risk for each concern for each person you are with and then stick to whatever decisions you make regarding each of those risks.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Do you think the "tolerable risk" way of managing it, feels positive to you?

One difference for me is that I think judging people based on their trustworthiness is just something I don't want to be doing, if I already like them enough to be sleeping with them. So for me having a general attitude towards contraception, especially barriers, means I can have sex without protection symbolising some judgement (negative or positive) on the person I'm having sex with.

I think yeah, for me condoms etc are a great thing that allow me to have sex which is better and more carefree... things that let me have a good thing with someone. Rather than things that just prevent a bad-thing.

I'd much rather think of precautions as a beneficial addition to sex, than a bothersome necessity.

Not to mention that part of me things of condoms and is like "Yay! Condoms, that means sex! Woohoo!"

Technically speaking "tolerable risk" probably is a big part of how I think of it... maybe I just don't call it that, not sure what I would call it though.

Reading these to help me think about this... (I recommend them to anyone else pondering this)

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/boyfriend/sorting_maybe_from_cantbe_reality_checking_partnered_sex_wants_ideals
http://www.scarleteen.com/what_is_healthy_sexual_development

I also think a lot of it is thinking about who undergoes risk... If I drop some piece of food on the floor... I might scoop it up, tell myself the 5 second rule (which isn't even true) and eat it up. At that moment I can happily dismiss that risk as something I don't care about, it's my choice... who's to tell me off... But if it's a part of a meal I'm going to share, I just wouldn't be happy doing that at all. I'll serve people the clean part, or be like "Guys I dropped some of this, we can eat something else, or risk it." And this becomes a bigger issue if I have a friend who's way more susceptible to sickness than me.

I think partnered sex is like that, sharing cake. I'm going to be way more careful about washing my hands etc when it's shared.

But then if someone is inviting me to do something that has a higher level of risk than what I'm used to but I want to do it anyway... I think it's important to be able to manage that emotionally, and be like "yep, we're both making this decision, so if by chance it turns out someone gets pregnant, or one of us ends up with an STI we didn't realise the other one had, I don't have to feel guilty, just take responsibility for it and deal with it if it happens.

I'm not really wanting to have babies at this stage in my life, but if someone gets pregnant who I've had sex with I can accept than I had better step up if that happens... and I actually think negativity against young parents sucks MASSIVELY. And the judgement people are expected to defend themselves against can stick it where the sun doesn't shine as far as I'm concerned.

I think for that to work, all we need is to know what the risks are and to feel equipped to discuss it with a partner and feel the permission to decide for ourselves what what risks are acceptable/tolerable for us.

[ 06-21-2012, 09:48 AM: Message edited by: Jacob at Scarleteen ]

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heero222
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quote:
Originally posted by Jacob at Scarleteen:
Do you think the "tolerable risk" way of managing it, feels positive to you?
No, it doesn't feel positive or negative for that matter it just feels practical and the responsible thing to do. We all do it, though for the most part it is at a subconcious level. If you are with a lady and she says "I'm on the pill so you don't need to use a condom. I would prefer it if you didn't use one." On some level whether concious or subconcious you are weighing the risks and making a judment on whether you find the risk tolerable to take with her.

One difference for me is that I think judging people based on their trustworthiness is just something I don't want to be doing, if I already like them enough to be sleeping with them.
You may only have sex with people you like but I was trying to cover as many people as possible and there are plenty of people who do it for pleasure and not because they want to spend the rest of their life with the person. Plus, at some level you are making multiple judgements of the person. Is this person someone I want to have a kid with? Is this person someone I would want to spend the rest of my life with? Is this person someone that I should politely ask to get an STD test before we do it? There was a girl that I was seriously in love with and wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She was really amazing but from what I knew about her past encounters would have caused me to politely recommend that she join me when I went to get an STD test. It never got that far but had it she would have joined me in getting tested or we would never have moved on to sex.
So for me having a general attitude towards contraception, especially barriers, means I can have sex without protection symbolising some judgement (negative or positive) on the person I'm having sex with.
What about children? At some point you are going to judge that you want a child with a person so you'll want to stop using condoms. In order for that to occur you would have to be judging all those you are with and have judged all the others not to be someone you want a child with.

I think yeah, for me condoms etc are a great thing that allow me to have sex which is better and more carefree... things that let me have a good thing with someone. Rather than things that just prevent a bad-thing.
That is certainly a good way to look at things. They are called "prevention" for a reason though. While they aren't necassarily preventing "bad-things" they are preventing things that are unwanted at that particular moment. While you may later want a kid at that moment you are using the pill because a kid is not a wanted result at that moment.

I'd much rather think of precautions as a beneficial addition to sex, than a bothersome necessity.
Well, they certainly are not necassary but if you want to reduce the likelyhood of pregnancy or STD's then they definitley are helpful.

Technically speaking "tolerable risk" probably is a big part of how I think of it... maybe I just don't call it that, not sure what I would call it though.
If you come up with a better term then let me know.

I think for that to work, all we need is to know what the risks are and to feel equipped to discuss it with a partner and feel the permission to decide for ourselves what what risks are acceptable/tolerable for us.
That was pretty much the point I was trying to make.


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Heather
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quote:
What about children? At some point you are going to judge that you want a child with a person so you'll want to stop using condoms. In order for that to occur you would have to be judging all those you are with and have judged all the others not to be someone you want a child with.
(Just a reminder? Not all people want to or choose to create pregnancies or children -- and some who do don't choose to do so via another person they have sex with -- and not all sexual partnerships could have that potential in the first place. [Smile] )

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heero222
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quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
quote:
What about children? At some point you are going to judge that you want a child with a person so you'll want to stop using condoms. In order for that to occur you would have to be judging all those you are with and have judged all the others not to be someone you want a child with.
(Just a reminder? Not all people want to or choose to create pregnancies or children -- and some who do don't choose to do so via another person they have sex with -- and not all sexual partnerships could have that potential in the first place. [Smile] )
You ignored the quote I was responding to. I was speaking to a very specific scenario. I am well aware that not all people want or choose to create children and that there are those who use other methods then sex and that not all sexual relationships have that potential.
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copper86
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I feel like I may know of healthy ways to approach and think about risks when it comes to sexual activity; but I definitely do not always act on that knowledge, since I am almost by default a stressed-out and anxious person (4.5 years of university seems to have had interesting effects on me!). I think that, when having any kind of sex, one should realize that there is a chance of contracting an STD or a pregnancy; so appropriate precautions can be taken in order to reduce those possibilities.

I think on a rational level, those activities can be done in a logical and orderly framework. One may buy condoms, one may get a prescription for the patch or birth control pill, or one might get some spermicide and then use those things during the activities. But, I think on a subjective level (where our thoughts aren't always rational), people can worry and sometimes perpetuate anxiety during, before, or after sexual activities; whether they use protection or not.

I do not think it is healthy to approach anything (as one poster stated above) - an exam, a test, sex, driving, taking a walk - without identifying and evaluating the risks; so we can take care of ourselves if and/or when those risks happen to us (not that I am being overly pessimistic - I think I am just stating that we need to be aware). I try to identify and accept that those risks exist; but I'd say I'm closer to the side of the spectrum where someone is anxious around having sex due to the risks involved. But I think that humans are wired for things like self-preservation (looking out for #1 in a survival-type sense; not always in a selfish or uncaring way); so perhaps being scared of those risks is also an attempt to "survive," in my own opinion (as in, an attempt to stay healthy and to negate unwanted outcomes).

These are all just my opinions, so I definitely did not mean to offend anyone if my opinions are differing from others'! [Smile]

[ 06-21-2012, 03:01 PM: Message edited by: copper86 ]

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Hey nighteyes...

My post wasn't intended as a direct counter-comment to your contribution. Sorry if it read as something you needed to defend your opinions against. You've corrected me as to what you really meant in places where I was just describing my own attitude. No need to defend when you're not being attacked!

But I think Heather's interjection IS useful, I might want babies at some point, but that doesn't mean I ever will. I don't mind that assumption right now, but for the benefit of making sure no-one reading this ends up feeling like a weirdo because they don't want to be having kids, it's an important thing to at the very least clarify, or reiterate, even if you felt it was implied before.

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Jacob at Scarleteen
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Thanks for that copper!

I think some of the people I look up to can often people who just enjoy sex and actually think very little about sti prevention or pregnancy... I'll remind them that it's really important, of course. But I think it's much easier for them to learn good habits from that position than for the rest of us to un-think anxieties, it's such a tough challenge! (For me it's probably a few minor anxieties around stuff other than STIs/pregnancy etc, but hey.)

I'm not sure about the part about it being hard-wired though... self preservation surely is kinda hard wired, but more in terms of immediate threat... when it comes to perceived threat or the kind of threat like STI's, it is kind of abstract and more cultural. Toothache is pretty crazy-painful, and much worse than some minor STIs... but brushing my teeth definitely isn't as much of a dramatic situation as sex with someone... and is definitely no site for anxiety. I just get on with it, because who wants tooth ache?

I think that sort of pragmatic and less directly emotional self-care makes a lot more sense to me than trying to regulate it emotionally. Worrying isn't the best sti prevention... I think we could (in theory) do without it completely! But it's a part of a lot of our sexualities... so we have to factor it into things, just like not being sexually attracted to everyone! Or having other explicable inexplicable major turn-offs.

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copper86
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I actually agree with you very much on looking up to people who just enjoy sex and think very little about the risks involved. I would love to be like that! I mean, to know that there are risks; but to just sit back and have fun; and perhaps be conscious of them on some level, but it doesn't muddle the activity for them. I agree that it is extremely difficult to condition ourselves to not so be anxious around the risks posed with sex. But of course, as you mentioned, anxieties can be about other risks or things around sex that aren't related to pregnancy or STI's; so I agree with you there, too.

I see where you're coming from about self-preservation regarding immediate and non-abstract threat. But, for me, if I were to have possibilities of contracting an STI or pregnancy risk, I take those scenarios as threats and I immediately conjure up counterracting strategies (what to do if that happens). But, it's not like a car is coming at me and I am faced with the automatic "fight or flee" biological response; or the tooth ache scenario, as you suggested, so I definitely do see your point there. The risks involved with sexual activities are definitely laced culturally: in our society, I feel that people are so negative about sexual risks; and I hate it when people who receive the "consequences" of those risks are looked down upon. I'd love to just tell them that life is not perfect and that we are all different people and no one has the right to judge anyone else... But I digress!

I agree with you about worrying. I worry about everything; so I would love to do without it. But, being prone to worrying makes me cautious in some respects; but I would definitely love to learn how to relax more. But I agree with you that things like worry and emotional self-care are quite involved in our sexualities (is that what you meant? I'm sorry if I misunderstood you!); and that we must deal with them in constructive ways.

By the way, I get those awful wisdom-teeth-coming-through-your-gums pain a couple of times a year; so that is a perfect example of pain! For many reasons, going to the dentist is scary!

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"I do the best that I can. I'm just what I am." - Rush (Best I Can)

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