Erica Smith is a sexuality educator with an M.Ed. from Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies and almost 20 years of experience. For most of her career, she has worked with young women and queer and trans youth in the juvenile justice system. Her current focus is helping parents understand their LGBTQ+ children and helping folks unlearn the harmful lessons of purity culture. She offers sex education, commentary, private sessions, and support through Instagram. Erica believes that access to compassionate, evidence-based, comprehensive sexuality education is a key component to social justice.
Why Do People Have Sex?
If you ask people why they have sex, you’ll hear a lot of different answers. For instance, a few reasons people give include:
- to feel closer
- to feel connected to a partner
- because it’s expected of me
- to feel good
All of these reasons are important to examine, but that last one is what we’re going to talk about here. To feel good. Specifically, to feel physically good.
Yes, humans have sex for a lot of different reasons, but high up there for many of us is that we want to experience sexual pleasure. Sex should feel good. Sometimes when people learn about sex, they’re only given information on the distressing things that could happen: a sexually transmitted infection, an unwanted pregnancy, or emotional regret. Consequently, most of the time, pleasure gets left out of the conversation when pleasure is actually an incredibly important part of talking about sex.
The pursuit of pleasure is a big part of our lives- for example, we like to laugh, relax, and eat delicious food. We also like sex and our bodies are engineered to feel sexual pleasure.
Usually, when we think of body parts that give us the feelings of sexual pleasure, we think mostly about the genitals. And that makes sense because they are very important and full of sensitive nerve endings. But we probably also think about them first because we’re thinking about sexual reproduction (our ability to create pregnancies and have babies).
If we expand our minds to think about the feelings of sexual pleasure and not only reproduction, suddenly so many other body parts come to life. Our genitals are only just part of the story- we have so many different parts of our bodies that contribute to sexual pleasure. The most important one is actually our brains! This guide to your body from Scarleteen is a really great breakdown of all of the parts and systems of our bodies that work together to allow us to experience sexual pleasure.
Your Pleasure is YOUnique!
Our first experiences with sexual pleasure is usually something we experience alone and maybe even accidentally. As children, we might discover that touching our own genitals feels good, and as teenagers, we may begin purposely masturbating so that we experience an orgasm. It’s healthy and normal to touch ourselves to feel sexual pleasure and it’s one of the best ways to get to know what kind of sexual touch we like and don’t like.
It’s important to know that what feels good to us might be very different from what feels good to another person- even if we have the same body parts. For example, you may enjoy having someone lightly kiss your neck or ears, while to another person that feels too tickly, unpleasant, or not like much of anything at all. Some people (regardless of gender) might enjoy having their breasts or nipples touched, while for others it isn’t very enjoyable.
How do we discover the ways that our partners like to be touched and the way that it feels good for them to touch us? Simply put, we have to talk about it! The key things to remember here are communication and consent.
Consent and Communication are Key to Pleasure!
Sex with a partner is often portrayed in movies, tv, and video as something that happens “perfectly” without either person really talking. People begin kissing passionately and it looks like both partners know exactly what to do to make each other feel good. This is not how it works in real life.
In actuality, sexual encounters, including kissing and making out, are going to be the best when we communicate our likes and dislikes. These are questions we might ask someone we’re being sexually intimate with:
- Can I kiss you?
- Do you like to be kissed harder or softer?
- Is this okay with you?
- Does this feel good to you?
- Do you like this?
- Can I [insert sexual thing here]?
- Do you want to [insert sexual thing here]?
The statements are examples of how we can communicate what feels good to our partners, in addition to getting consent from a partner. There are so many other things you could say, though, so I encourage you to make your own list.
Furthermore, it’s really important that we have clear consent (an enthusiastic yes!) from a partner before we do anything sexual, or progress a sexual encounter any further. Consent means that both people clearly agree to what is being done. (Remember: A person cannot give consent if they are drunk or high or being pressured. A person can take consent away at any time even if they’ve already started making out or having sex.)
Consent and clear communication are important parts of experiencing sexual pleasure with another person. Even if it feels weird to ask a partner what they like or to tell a partner what you do or don’t like, it’s an important part of the experience! Practicing will make it easier. “Movie sex” without talking is not the goal- a mutually enjoyable experience is.
Here’s to More Pleasure!
There is no shame in experiencing sexual desire and pleasure. Both are normal, healthy feelings that are a huge part of why people have sex in the first place! It’s up to you to make sure that you express your desires and pursue your pleasure in ways that are respectful to yourself AND your partners- and the keys to doing so are communication and consent.
If this article has inspired you to have more conversations or brought questions to the surface, I encourage you to reach out! People you might connect with include:
- a sex educator (ME)
- a coach or therapist
- another trusted adult
- sex-positive websites for teens (ScarleTeen, Sex Etc, and Planned Parenthood.
If you need help navigating your sexuality or your teen’s sexuality, I offer one on one coaching and advice sessions for parents. (Parents can also book a session for their teens.) Send all inquiries to here!