Talking about sex during your formative years can be incredibly awkward -- even squirm-inducing. But whether you experience formal sex ed, awkward "birds and the bees" talks, candid conversations with friends or all or none of the above, it's all theoretical until you're actually doing it -- which can make for some surprises along the way.
On a Nov. 7 Reddit thread, commenters answered the question "what is something about sex that you wish someone had told you?" The thoughtful responses touched on everything from the way pornography has influenced our sex lives ( "changing positions every 30 seconds not actually required despite what porn clips had taught me") and calling out the unrealistic portrayal of sex in Hollywood ("Sex on a beach is not half as good as the movies make it out to be"), to safe-sex information ("Antibiotics impact the effectiveness of birth control pills") and general wisdom ("Sooner or later, one of you will do something utterly embarrassing. It will be absolutely mortifying. A good partner will not care.")
We decided to ask our readers what they wish someone had told them about sex before they started having it. Here are 18 things they shared with us:
1. There is no dignified way of "cleaning up" -- and you WILL need to clean up afterwards.
2. A male partner won't always have a higher sex drive than you.
3. You can have as much sex as you want, with as many people as you like.
4. Sex is truly awesome when you really love the person you're having it with.
5. Women are allowed to enjoy sex as much as men.
6. Sex doesn't look like it does in the movies -- or in porn.
7. You are not more valuable as a person if someone wants to have sex with you, and you are not less valuable as a person if you choose not to.
8. Learn what turns you on and don't be afraid to ask for it, because your partner isn't a mind-reader.
9. It's fine to say "no" -- it doesn't make you less sexual.
10. The best sex is about mutual giving.
11. Plenty of women can't orgasm from intercourse alone. An estimated 50 to 75 percent of women require clitoral stimulation.
12. It's easy to get caught up in the moment, so know how you plan to protect yourself from pregnancy and STDs beforehand.
13. Great sex does not equal great love.
14. Anxieties and fears about sex are totally normal -- and it's (more than) fine to talk about them.
15. Just like with anything else, to get good you need practice. Sex is not something you're born knowing how to do well.
16. It can be really, really awkward.
17. Your "sexual peak" won't necessarily be in your twenties.
18. Experiment! (And have fun doing so.)
What's something about sex that you wish you had known, or that someone had told you? Comment below, or tweet @HuffPostWomen!
Also on HuffPost:
1. Don't Talk Yourself Out Of What You Need
It's too easy for us women to convince ourselves to settle for less. We're so helpful and accommodating, so eager to please and afraid of rejection that we're quick to give up the things we need, including when it comes to sex. What we need to see is that doing this will leave us chronically frustrated. While it's true that every relationship requires a certain amount of compromise, going without the things that we really need just doesn't work. We'll end up unhappy in the relationship or resentful toward our partner. The bottom line is, we need to know what we can't live without, sexually, and what we just can't live with. We ignore these non-negotiables at the expense of a fulfilling sex life.
2. Share Your Needs And Feelings With Your Partner
If you can't ask them for what you want in bed, you shouldn't be sleeping with them. Good sex happens when we feel safe and at ease. If we're afraid to ask for something or to tell our partner that we don't like something, sex will never be more than mediocre. This second tip follows from the first one, in that once we identify what we want and don't want, we have to express these things clearly. It's unfair to expect our partner to be a mind-reader and "prove" that they care by somehow knowing what we want without our having to tell them. Healthy sex comes out of healthy communication.
3. Accept Your Body As It Is Now
We need to be in touch with our bodies; with what feels good, what feels not so good and what feels wrong. We also really need to stop judging ourselves in terms of our weight and our shape. Only a superficial dope would give us a hard time over our imperfections. If someone makes us feel bad about our physical selves, this is more a reflection of his inadequacies than of our own. Our negative self-talk has to stop. The running commentary on how fat we are, how much cellulite or how many wrinkles we have is guaranteed to kill the mood, often before it even starts. Feeling good about our bodies is crucial if we're going to let go and enjoy ourselves. Being physically self-conscious will keep us from experiencing the joyful abandon of great sex.
4. Never Refuse Sex As A Punishment Or Use It As A Reward
In the bad old days, some women were led to believe that the way to get a man to toe the line is to offer sex for good behavior or withhold it when the man has displeased them. Most of us today recognize this as hateful behaviour and a recipe for disaster. Men don't want to be controlled or punished, especially around sex. They don't want to be made to feel like little boys. When we're hurt or angry at our partner, we need to share our feelings with him in an adult way. We can even say that we're too upset for sex, right now. What we mustn't ever do is make him feel like we're deciding when he gets to have sex, based on whether he's been "good" or "bad." On the other hand, using sex as a reward turns us into sex objects and makes sex into a commodity for our partner to "earn." It's no longer two people being intimate or enjoying each other. Commodifying sex makes it into a business transaction and our bodies then become objects for trade.
5. No Pets In The Room
We might love Fluffy or Rover, but they don't belong in the bedroom when we're being intimate. Our pets are very territorial and could get jealous or want to play, too. Dogs might bark or even growl. Cats might jump onto the bed and start walking around. We can avoid these disasters by remembering to shut the door and leave our four-legged friends outside.
6. Have A Sense Of Humor
Sex is about connection and intimacy, but also it's about having fun. It can be mind-blowingly great or occasionally, things can go wrong. Having a good sense of humor about sex will keep things in perspective. Being able to laugh at ourselves and at the comical aspects of sex will take the pressure off the whole experience. We might love and adore our partner, but we don't have to be so serious about making love to them. Humour relieves pressure and is a great way to connect.
7. Enjoy The Give And Take
The best sex is the kind in which each person is trying to please the other one. The sharing in sex is one of the things that make it great. It can be technically amazing, but when one person gets the impression that the other person really isn't there with them, it can ruin the whole experience. What makes someone a fantastic lover is not their technical ability or their repertoire of moves but their attentiveness and their efforts to make their partner happy. When both people show that they really care about meeting their partner's needs, sex becomes something wonderful.