An Overview of Sex and Sexuality

What is Sex/Intercourse?

Sex is a very broad and expansive subject that influences and affects nearly every aspect of human social life.  Essentially, it is a consensual, intimate act involving one or two people or more. Sex with oneself is called masturbation, and involves touching one's own genitalia for pleasure, usually with the intention of reaching orgasm. Sexual attraction and intercourse often occurs between two people, and can occur between one male and one female, two males, or two females.  Group sex also exists, and involves the sexual interactions between three or more people at the same time. Sex typically involves kissing, touching, and stimulation of erogenous zones. 

Sex can be performed for a variety of reasons.  Usually, it is an expression of love, an attempt at physical pleasure, or a way for two people to become closer and take their relationship to a new level.  When a male and female have sex, the female can become pregnant after the encounter if careful contraceptive precautions, such as barrier or hormonal birth control use, are not taken.  Therefore, heterosexual couples also have sex in order to reproduce and start families.

Is sex just physical or is it mental too?

It is also important to recognize that a large part of sex is mental. Puberty, specifically, is a time when hormones rage, bodies change, and thoughts go from general to sexual. Sexual urges, whether they are fantasies, thoughts, or physical actions (such as masturbating) are completely normal occurrences. The social taboos surrounding much of what happens during adolescent growth must be counteracted with the biological fact that these urges are natural. Boys notice their sexual changes more easily than girls do, since the male’s penis is larger than the female’s clitoris, and an erection of the penis is more obvious than an erection of the clitoris. Girls may begin rubbing up against objects or tighten their thighs to stimulate themselves just as males do. However, female sexuality is just not as accepted or talked about in our society as is male sexuality. Yet both sexes experience very similar changes during puberty. They may begin to have strong emotions that they have never felt before, such as increased sensitivity, stronger anger impulses, and elevated anxiousness. They may also experience new feelings about sex, ranging from confusion to pleasurable sexual arousal that was not present before. To understand more about changes in males and females during puberty, check out our Time to Change link. Masturbation is also important to many pubescent males and females, because it is a time of much exploration and change. It is important to understand that all of this is normal; it is the way your body adjusts to the massive changes of puberty. Your body is getting restructured to be more mature, to be an adult. Even as an adult, you will experience all sorts of changes as you meet new people and discover new elements of your sexuality. The important thing is to embrace these changes and never feel ashamed or afraid of them. Instead, try to understand why you enjoy something and share that with another. People tend to enjoy a variety of different things and may find that what you like and what your partner likes might not be so different after all. We recommend you look at sex as an ongoing growing experience that involves not just your body but also your mind.

What is sex like?

Sex can be a complicated and controversial subject and cannot be fully understood until experienced.  That being said, sex is often one of the most wonderful and satisfying experiences two people can share, especially when they communicate and share a passionate closeness. Each sexual experience will be unique in its own way and personal to the individuals involved.  However, with this wonderful experience also comes incredible responsibility. For this reason, sex should be seen as a privilege and one should be fully prepared to handle any of its complications or consequences before engaging in the act. There is absolutely no rush to have sex or learn everything about it.  You will naturally learn more as you get older and are exposed to the different ways in which sex affects life.

How will I know I’m ready?

Like most other sexual decisions, deciding when to have sex is unique to each individual. Only you will be able to know when you are ready to have sex. It is important, however, to make sure that you are prepared to handle any of the complications or consequences of sex before engaging in it. Having knowledge about sex will help you feel comfortable when you think that you are ready to have sex.

What should I know when I have sex?

The most important thing to check every time you have sex is whether or not there is consent. Consent is necessary in EVERY situation in which any form of sexual activity is occurring. In certain regions of the world, lack of consent can be punishable by law. For this reason, it is important to always receive a clear and exuberant “YES” from any and all partners. Similarly, it is important to recognize that consent can be withdrawn at any time during sexual intercourse. That is, if there comes a point when a person becomes uncomfortable and wishes to stop, you/they are welcome to withdraw consent from continuing. There are many ways of touching another person's body that feel good, but there may be ways that you do not want to be touched and ways that you may not want to touch someone else. For this reason, it is essential that you and your partner have good communication. Good communication will not only ensure you are both on the same page, it will always make intercourse much more enjoyable and unified for you both. Sex can be hard to talk about, but open communication about sexuality will prevent potential misunderstandings and future problems. Being open with your partner about what you do and do not like will help develop your relationship into one that is full of trust, understanding, and pleasure. Finally, alongside communication, it is important to always practice safe sex. There are various methods which you and your partner can utilize including condoms, dental dams, hormonal birth control, etc. It will be up to you and your partner to decide but it is very important that you utilize at least one form of protection. The most common combination includes a barrier method (e.g., the male or female condom) in conjunction with a hormonal method (e.g., the birth control pill, intrauterine device [IUD], or Depo-Provera ["the shot"]). Never use more than one female condom or male condom at one time, as the friction between the latex may cause perforations. For more information on these methods and their efficacy rates, please see our contraception article. Not taking any of these precautions, may leave yourself (and your partner) open to various diseases and/or pregnancy. Though protection may seem like a mood-kill within the moment, a baby will be a much larger one down the way.

So is it better to have casual or committed sex?

Different people hold a variety of traditions and beliefs when it comes to sex.  Some believe it is a monumental experience that should only be practiced between two married individuals.  Others have a much more casual view of sex and focus more on the physical pleasure it brings them than the spiritual or cultural significance of the act. Likewise, these opinions are fluid and open to change. For example, intercourse is highly dependent on the situation. Sometimes fun, casual sex can be just as wonderful and intimate as sex with a committed long-term partner. Thus, even if someone is less likely to engage in a casual hookup, the time or person might call for it. Overall, the “type” (casual or committed) of sex you are having should not matter (as long as it is protected). Instead, it is crucial that both and/or all partners enjoy and are comfortable with the intercourse that is happening. After all, sex is a very personal experience and the only opinions that should truly matter are yours and those of your partner(s).

How is sexuality different from sex?

Sexuality involves much more than just having sex or engaging in sexual activities. A person’s sexuality affects the shape of their body, the way they see themself in the mirror, and the way their body feels. Sexuality is about the person you feel you are as a man or a woman; it is also about your sexual orientation and identity. It is about your body and the way you dress, move, and speak, as well as how you act towards or feel about other people. In essence, your sexuality is part of who you are. Because of this, it is important to always be proud of your sexuality and never allow anyone else to defile or demean it. Everyone is different and this makes the world a much more interesting and exciting place. Sharing our differences helps people to expand their worldviews and understand new perspectives and people. Differing sexualities bring diversity to the world and should be shared (if desired) and respected openly among people.

Let’s Talk About Sex

Being able to communicate sexual thoughts and feelings to your partner, parents, friends, etc., is a very important part of your sexuality. The ability to communicate without fear of ridicule, plays a crucial role in becoming comfortable with yourself sexually. Sexual discussions can sometimes feel uncomfortable, they are important to have. Though there are many things to realize when talking about sex, knowing about them can help ease the tension when discussing it. Check out our tips below.

How to speak to someone in a discussion about sex:

  • Understand yourself. Be familiar with your own values, body and feelings and stand firmly behind them. Do not feel like you need to change to meet society’s, a partner’s, the media’s or anyone’s sexual definition of you. Find out who you are sexually and love yourself. Be open about this with whoever you are speaking with and try to help them understand if that definition is unfamiliar to them.

  • Take responsibility for yourself. At the end of the day, your body is your body and no one else’s. What you decide to do with it is completely up to you. Understand this and communicate your desires clearly with whoever you are speaking with so there will be little to no misunderstandings. Good communication with a partner this can help prevent mass miscommunication conflicts and result in a lot more comfortable exploration in the bedroom.

  • Be clear about your beliefs and goals. Do not let anyone else persuade you to do something you don’t believe it. Your sex life is your own and it is driven by your belief system and goals. Don’t let anyone change that. Sex, like anything else, does involve compromise and change but you should never feel the need to change what you believe in for the sake of others’ desires. A partner or friend or whoever it may be who wants you sacrifice your values is not the type of person you want supporting you sexually. Being clear and standing firm about these beliefs and goals will help you make the choices that are right for you.

  • If you are nervous, practice! Practice what you want to say with friends or in front of a mirror. This will help build your self-confidence and make it easier to say exactly what you want. If possible, see if you friends can give you advice on ways to improve your speech or make it clearer.

How to listen to someone in a discussion about sex:

  • Listen actively. Listen to the other person and try to understand their view of things. Try to solve problems effectively, with positive feedback and suggestions. Make sure that communication is reciprocal and is a conversation and not a speech.

  • Be open: Be open to others having an opinion different from your own. You do not have to agree but you should hear them out and try your best to understand and respond to how they feel in a positive way (ie., “I understand what you are saying” or “I see where you could have gotten that from what I said…”, etc.).

  • Give it time and listen passively.  Sometimes sexual discussions lead to big life changes. Take time to listen and understand what another has said to you by “taking a break” if you need one. Kindly ask to take some time to digest everything you have just heard. Go for a walk and let your mind focus solely on what they said. This will give you time to clear your head and approach the discussion with a deeper analysis of what they wanted you to hear. Likewise, sometimes you need to just listen to someone else’s point of view in order to gain a sense of the entire problem.

Be Comfortable with Yourself

Just like it is important for you to discuss and be comfortable talking about your sexuality with another person, it is essential for you to also be comfortable with yourself. You should never be ashamed of who you are and what you want sexually. Be open and forth-coming with yourself about what those desires are. No matter how different or “strange” you may think you are, embrace your individuality and reach out to others. We guarantee that you will be surprised to learn how many people feel the exact same way. Similarly, do not feel like you need to rush into practicing and learning everything about sex. It is a life-long growing experience that only gets better as time passes. You have plenty of time to enjoy all of its wonders. The important thing is that you leave yourself open to growing, learning, and experiencing everything sex has to offer.


If you would like to learn more about the many aspects of human sexuality, explore our topics page here.

You may want to pay particular attention to these sections:

·         Adolescent Sexuality (Under Sex Across the Life Cycle)

·         The Male Reproductive System (Under Body)

·         The Female Reproductive System (Under Body)

·         Penetrative Sex (Under Sexual Activity)

·         Oral Sex (Under Sexual Activity)

·         Masturbation (Under Sexual Activity)

·         Sex with Others (Under Sexual Activity)

·         Birth Control

For More Information...

For more info on sexuality and sexual questions, check out these websites:

Last Updated: 21 April 2015.