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I’ll come right out and say it: sex is weird.

Sex can be awkward. Sex can be scary. In fact, up until I was thirteen, I refused to even utter those three letters, half-expecting some sort of Voldemort-esque figure to appear if I did.

At this point, you may be wondering, “Didn’t you take sex ed or watch Game of Thrones?” Yes, and yes. But did either of those experiences help me embrace my sexuality or even see sex as a potentially enjoyable activity? Hell to the no.

Image by giphy  

Five years after hearing my 8th-grade bio teacher explain ovulation as my friends and I convulsed in embarrassment and not-so-mild mortification,I entered into my first relationship the way a chicken wanders into a slaughterhouse–overwhelmingly unprepared.

Even though I was lucky enough to have an understanding partner, my own lack of experience and knowledge ended in some pretty uncomfortable conversations and a whole lotta guilt. So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

This quarter I enrolled in SOC 152A: Sociology of Human Sexuality, taught by Janice and John Baldwin, and these past few weeks have been filled with sex-piphany after sex-piphany.  Please, please, please if you have a couple of units to spare, I highly advise you to take this class before you graduate.

But if the fact that an old married couple has been co-teaching this course for several years (and becoming informed on a common biological phenomenon) isn’t reason enough for you to sign up for it ASAP, hopefully, some of the sexy realizations I had while taking this class will convince you.

Masturbation Isn’t Just For Dudes

Before you roll your eyes and scroll away from this situation, please at least consider some of these fast facts courtesy of the Baldwins:

Women receive more punishment for masturbation than men receive, hence learn more inhibitions about masturbation.

Only 30% of moms and 60% of dads approve of their daughters masturbating, while 40% of moms and 70% of dads approve of their sons masturbating. This shows that on the whole, more men than women accept and even encourage masturbation because it’s considered ‘normal’ for them.

Moms are 3 times more likely to discuss the morality of masturbation with their daughters than with their sons.

But the kicker? Kids start learning how to masturbate from as early as two years old! Infants explore their own bodies through touch, which includes their respective genitalia.

While I completely understand that different cultures, upbringings, and religions result in different outlooks on masturbation, I personally felt a little miffed when I realized that a natural biological tendency is “shameful” or “immoral” for girls but almost expected from guys. As a result, girls can go into sex not really knowing what feels good, much less how to communicate that to their partner.

Safe Sex is Constant

As stated above, sex can be awkward and at least a little bit terrifying. But it can also be fun and enjoyable when done right.

One important key to getting there is keeping tabs on your sexual health. For example, choosing your method of birth control is a huge part of your sexual health. This diagram of all the birth control methods is super helpful in finding one that works best with you. But, I’ll be talking more about the spread of STIs and STDs mainly because I just had that lecture this week.

Disclaimer: I am by no means a professional on sexual health. Please consult with a doctor or healthcare professional for better diagnoses or recommendations. My goal here is to just give y’all some basic info.

First and foremost, please remember the difference between STIs (sexually transmitted infections) and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). You can have an infection without showing any disease symptoms. So, for example, HIV is an STI (sexually transmitted infection) whereas AIDS is the STD (sexually transmitted disease) that arises from that infection. This is just a basic overview of the difference between HIV and AIDS (there’s more to it than that).

Just like there’s a difference between STIs and STDs, there different STIs and STDs out there, each with their own unique symptoms and treatments. The main STIs and STDs that we went over in class include chlamydia, genital warts, and genital herpes. Both chlamydia and HPV–the infection that can cause genital warts–can be asymptomatic, meaning they may not show any symptoms at all. If left untreated, however, chlamydia can cause things like sterility for both genders (though more often in females) and HPV has been linked to the rise in anal cancer.

I know this can all sound pretty bad (because the spread of sexually transmitted infections and diseases definitely isn’t that great) but there are ways of treating and/or preventing these complications; safe sex is constant.

That means getting tested for STDs regularly (ideally monthly, but definitely every time you change sexual partners), using condoms, and practicing other methods for safe sex.  
In other words, it’s not just about not getting pregnant or even just about using a condom–safe sex is an ongoing process. It’s also important to keep in mind that like sex, sexual health is often a two-way street.

For example, when someone is diagnosed with chlamydia, both that individual and that individual’s partner are given the medication even if one of them shows no symptoms; more often than not, your sexual health directly impacts that of your partner’s.

So, for your safety and for the safety of your partner(s), get tested!

Sex is Super Subjective

One concept that the Baldwins referenced quite a bit in our lecture on sexual behavior is that of Pavlovian conditioning: the pairing of biological tendency or desire with an initially neutral trigger or stimulus.

In other words, what someone associates with sexual sensations–through porn, magazines, etc.–helps determine what they find “sexy.” There is no quintessential “sexy” thing or appearance, contrary to the messages perpetuated by the multi-million dollar advertising industry.

Here’s the tea: you’re sexy just the way you are. Masturbation and safe sex practices are just there to make sure you’re as safe and prepared as possible as you spread your sexiness everywhere.

You do you, fam (but with condoms and consistent STD testing please).

Isabell Liu is a first-year majoring in Communications at UC Santa Barbara, who is also planning to minor in Asian American Studies. If she's not chugging down her nth matcha latte or working on articles for HerCampus and the Daily Nexus, she can be found scouring the interwebs for up-and-coming skincare products. After UCSB she hopes to make a career for herself traveling around the world as an investigative journalist.
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