Recently I read a poem about advice for poets who are just starting out and it got me thinking about what we say to young adults who are just starting to have sex and how it affects them later on. Too often we teach teenagers and young adults very little that's helpful about the pleasures of sex; instead we focus squarely on risk and fear. But how do fear messages help young women and men grow into adults who know how to connect with each other, to love, lust, desire, want, please each other or orgasm with ease?
It got me thinking, too, about the many women and men who write to me for advice through my various sex advice columns or my work at The Kinsey Institute. These are the women and men I wrote Because It Feels Good for - people who want to have a more pleasurable, connecting sexual life and who are seeking information or skills that will help them get what they want.
I started to wonder if perhaps one way to invite pleasure back into our bedrooms might be to ask ourselves what we would tell a younger version of ourself about how to have sex. Thinking of it this way, we might be able to reach inside and tap our inner wisdom and learn from it to make our own sex lives better.
What would you say to a younger version of yourself? Taking a first try at this exercise myself, this is what I came up with - my advice for those starting sex or those looking for a fresh start on a perspective that no longer works for them.
Let go of worrying about how you look, how long you can last or with what speed you orgasm. Take off your clothes. On second thought, leave them on. Leave them on for far longer than you ever thought people should leave their clothes on if they are going to have sex.
Then, kiss. And kiss some more. Kiss in at least 10 different ways - long kiss and then a lip nibble; short little nibbles and the daintiest dribbles; passionate and hungry; gentle and longing; nostalgic, now. You get the idea. And make sure to kiss in at least 4 different places: the eyelids are a good and tender, unexpected, often underappreciated spot. So is the forehead. The neck is a good standby. Careful near the ear, though: some love it, others loathe it, and it may be worth a try (start off gentle on those ear lobes, though, just in case). Consider her breasts, his chest, your partner's thighs, a pillow if you're alone, your partner's tummy if you're not.
Leave your clothes on even longer. Trust me.
Touch your partner on top of their clothes. All along their body. When you're older and more experienced you might forget what it feels like to explore this way. You might even wish you could trade some of your wisdom or money or your leased car or city view terrace for a moment of what this feels like now. So touch and be touched. Breathe in and let yourself bask in What This Feels Like Right Now. Tuck it away so that when you're older and stuck in your routines you might get creative one night and suggest to your partner that you leave your clothes on and make out like you're young or new to each other once again.
Let go of tomorrow. Stop worrying if you can stand to be with this person for The Rest of Your Life. Pay attention to what it feels like right now, in this moment: his eyes, her freckles, his smile, her kiss, her scent. Forgive whatever you are holding against your partner if it's within the normal range of mistakes or transgressions. Focus instead on their lips, their skin, the fact that a living, breathing, wonderful body of humanity is inside of that lovely skin: that there's a soul in there who likes you at least enough to leave their clothes on with you. And yes, maybe to get naked with you too. For all that clothes are good for, being naked and pressing your skin together can be breathtakingly beautiful too.
Be safer than you think you need to - unless, of course, you're trying to create a blessing of a baby together or prone to being a hypochondriac, then let go a little. Use reliable birth control if you're not ready to be parents. Use condoms from start to finish if you'd like to reduce your risk of infection. Slather a little water-based lube on the outside of the condom (it'll feel good for you both). Get over your fear of talking to doctors or partners about sex. Let your partner know what you like. If you don't know yet what you like, then touch your body when you're alone. Play music while you pleasure yourself. Touch yourself slow, fast, with lube, without it, while enjoying romantic dreams or basking in dirty, hungry thoughts.
Learn about sex. Read at least 3 good quality books about sex that help you learn about your body, relationships and ways to bring pleasure into being. When you read the books, take pauses and think how what you just read matters and how it can make sex better, help you connect, give you the courage to talk to your partner about something difficult, or help you love sex, kissing, intimacy or making out in ways you haven't yet explored.
Above all, be gentle, be kind, open your heart. Know that the person who has left their clothes on or taken them off with you has put some level of trust in you: to keep them safe, to make them feel good, to help them escape, to make them feel loved, to inspire them to feel young or feisty or courageous again.
Take a chance. Don't hate yourself. Don't hate your partner. Let yourself feel good and good and more good. Stay in bed all day together or alone if you want. Bathe together with or without candles lit nearby. Let your dog or cat watch (or not). Stop over-worrying if you look good or sound right or smell decent: sex smells musky, feels quirky and tastes salty, sweet, yeasty or acidic in turns. Embrace it all and try to not frown when he or she asks you to do something that feels weird. Know that they've put themselves out on a limb by asking you and be gentle and graceful as you decline. Or consider if it's within the realm of ideas you might accept and try together.
And finally, find the love and the hope and the wonder in the ways your bodies - with or without clothes, with or without love - connect. Stay in bed longer. Get up early and kiss. Sneak away and make out. Hold hands walking down the street. Strip or dance for your partner and hold them longer than either of you expected to. But keep your clothes on longer than you planned. It's that good.
Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a Research Scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com. Follow her on Twitter @mysexprofessor