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August 21-27, 2008
• Back to Student Guide ’08 A-Z
The sex talk
Communication: the key to getting it on
by Erica Grossman
It’s a three-letter word that gets hushes and giggles, but sex is a really important part of adult life — and nothing to keep quiet about. For one, it’s important to talk about it in order to understand its physical implications and risks. Every single sexual activity carries with it risks, even masturbation. No, you won’t go blind, but you can transmit an infection from one body part to another. And since studies indicate that one in every four Americans is affected by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it’s important to understand the risks of intimate contact. With the right knowledge and consistent testing, you can help keep yourself safe and prevent unwanted consequences from occurring. And maybe even have a good time.
Whether your intimate plans involve abstinence, oral or sexual intercourse, it’s important to take the time out to better understand your goals and boundaries. We might think we know it all, but the reality is that everyone’s sexual background and knowledge is based on personal experience and education — all things that vary drastically from individual to individual.
“Some people have had health class and some information and some students are coming in with no knowledge whatsoever,” says Melissa M. Rizzuto, a coordinator for CU’s Community Health. “And then some people are coming in with abstinence-only education, and abstinence means different things to different people.”
In other words, we might not know everything that we thought we did about sex — or even ourselves.
So how do we get informed? Like the lovely ladies of Salt ’N’ Pepa once suggested, let’s talk about sex, baby.
“It’s a lot easier to have sex than it is to talk about it,” notes Rizzuto, “and that creates a lot of problems. If we’re not talking about it, we might not know what we want to do, and then we start to assume a lot of things.”
For all the technical sexual health education that people may think they understand, one thing that is rarely taught is sexual communication. For students, learning the skills around communication, negotiation and consent is critical to ascertaining a satisfying and healthy sex life. This can include defining sexual boundaries, verbal partner negotiations for sexual activity and learning to read non-verbal signs. The latter is especially important in terms of understanding consent.
“We would never ever assume that silence means ‘yes’ in another situation,” says Rizutto. “For example, if someone asks, ‘Would you like to go to the movies?’ and no one says anything, you would never infer that they would, in fact, like to go. But silence in sexual activity often translates, ‘Oh, you’re consenting because you’re not telling me ‘no.’”
It’s a complicated misconception that is important to understand. And learning and talking about it beforehand is one of the best ways to begin understanding a partner’s wants and needs. But that’s not always the easiest thing, either.
“We don’t really have a lot of good words for things involved with sex,” says Paul Joannides, author of The Guide to Getting It On (Goofy Foot Press, $23.95). “We tend to have slang that is kind of putt-offish or, on the other hand, proper scientific terms. It can be hard to even establish an easygoing vocabulary that you are comfortable with, but that’s something to be aware of and try and work on.”
He continues, “The problem is when you don’t even make the effort.”
And, health risks aside, open communication can help young adults figure out what they enjoy. While staying safe is one of the sexiest things you can do for yourself, it’s also important to focus on personal happiness.
“A lot of health experts, when you talk about sex, they always talk about health and safety,” says Joannides. “I don’t think they talk about pleasure too much, and that’s really a problem because the two go hand in hand.”
In Joannides’ expert opinion, a lot of young adults might have a lot of technical knowledge, but can make a lot of assumptions when it comes to bedroom practices. He finds that oftentimes, college males think they are supposed to know it all when it comes to sex. Likewise, he believes that many women are taught not to explore their own bodies. These two things combined can make for sex that is not optimum.
“When it comes to sex and exploration, one of the worst things for people is feeling that they need to know it all or know what their partner wants or likes,” he says. “The thing is that none of us know — you have to ask, and you have to learn.”
Likewise, Joannides suggests, don’t expect your previous experiences, likes and dislikes to reflect upon a new partner. Each person will approach sexuality differently, and this creates an opportunity to explore new and pleasurable territory.
Oh, and one other important tip from Joannides for incoming freshman?
For the courtesy of your dorm mate’s own personal time, try not to burst in on them unexpectedly. Hey, we all need a little privacy to take care of business on our own once in a while, right. If you must head back when you’re not expected, make sure to rattle your keys at the door for an extra lengthy period of time. It’s the sensitive thing to do.
Community Health: Offers peer-to-peer and one-on-one information on a wide variety of sexual topics, including intimate communication, consent, STI and pregnancy information, risk-reduction counseling and contraception counseling. They also offer free condoms (including free non-latex condoms to those who have latex allergies), free lubrication and free internal condoms. Located in University Memorial Center, Room 411, 303-492-4024.
The Guide to Getting It On: The most comprehensive and informative book on the subject of sex, complete with graphic illustrations and reader suggestions. Any and all topics are discussed from virginity to varieties of intercourse to toys to gender-bending. Written by Paul Joannides and illustrated by Dærick Gröss Sr. Available at www.goofyfootpress.com.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains: A health center open to all men and women, regardless of health-insurance or student status, Planned Parenthood offers a wide-range of contraceptives, STI testing and abortion consultation and services (including medication abortions). Same-day appointments are available. Located 2434 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder, 303-447-1040.
Wardenburg Health Center: The University of Colorado campus health center is able to provide a variety of contraceptives and STI testing. Same-day appointments can be made. Located on campus, 303-492-5432.
Women’s Health Center: Provides a wide-range of contraceptives and STI testing to individuals, and operates on a sliding-scale based system of payment. Surgical and non-surgical abortion options are also available at this clinic. Located 2855 Valmont Rd., Boulder, 303-442-5160.
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