Content warning: This post includes discussions of sexual assault.
Your 20s is a great time to have fun, experience new things and also have a lot of good sex, if you want to. Sex in your 20s (and always) should be fun, pleasurable, and enjoyable. Understanding your body and what you like is crucial to having satisfying sex. However, it is also crucial to incorporate sexual wellness into conversations about well-being and overall health. Sexual wellness is vital to the overall physical health and well-being of individuals, couples, and families. Everyone deserves to have pleasurable and safe sexual interactions without shame, guilt, harassment, or violence.
Laura Doyle, a relationship coach and New York Times bestselling author, tells Her Campus, “Making your sexual wellness an essential part of your life will improve your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Connecting to pleasure and understanding your own needs will also reduce tension in your overall life. With less stress, there's fewer fights and fewer scenarios where there is a winner and a loser.”
Medgadget defines sexual wellness as a mix of physical state, mental state, and social well-being, which correlates with one’s sexuality. One person’s definition of sexual wellness may be completely different from someone else’s. Sexual wellness can involve things like being confident in one’s sexuality, self-determination and sexual self-esteem, and being at ease with past sexual encounters, even if they were negative.
Sexual wellness incorporates sexual health, sexual pleasure, and sexual justice. If you have no idea how to distinguish between these terms or what they look like in practice in your 20s, don’t worry — we’re breaking each of them down.
The American Sexual Health Association defines “sexual health” as the ability for an individual to incorporate and find pleasure in their sexuality throughout their life and as a vital aspect of one’s physical and emotional health. Sexual health is more than avoiding disease or unwanted pregnancy. Additionally, having a sexually transmitted infection or unplanned pregnancy does not mean that someone is not sexually healthy.
Tori Ford, a sexual health expert and founder of nonprofit Medical Herstory, says, “Often conversations about sex are seen as taboo, and we have to overcome this to understand that sexual health is a vital aspect of overall well-being that deserves to be talked about openly without shame or stigma. In doing so, we are able to learn about our bodies and understand how to take care of ourselves. When you empower and educate people about sexual health, they are able to better advocate for themselves and inspire others to do the same. Further, the more you talk about what good sexual health and pleasure look like, it is much easier to identify and ask for help when things are going wrong.”
If you choose to be sexually active in your 20s, whether with one partner or multiple partners, it is vital to protect your sexual health. This may include discussing your previous sexual relationships with your partner, using contraception like condoms, being aware of how alcohol and drugs may affect you, and getting tested for STIs regularly.
Sex can help you cultivate a deeper relationship with a partner, but sexual pleasure has a lot of physical health benefits, whether you’re experiencing pleasure with a partner or not, including better overall health, sleep, self-esteem and fitness as well as reduced levels of stress and tension and a longer life. Orgasms provide your body with a natural high. During an orgasm, your body releases endorphins, the hormones that block pain and provide pleasure.
Anya Laeta, a somatic sexologist and intimacy coach, tells Her Campus, “Good sex can be a happiness booster and a source of connection, joy, excitement, pleasure, and play, whether you are doing it solo or with a partner. Feeling connected to your sexual anatomy and energy and understanding your sexual needs will make it much easier to feel fulfilled sexually, as well as communicate your needs and boundaries to your partners. On a purely physiological level, having a good sex life can lower your blood pressure, decrease stress, improve immunity and heart health, and release feel-good hormones such as endorphins and oxytocin.”
Furthermore, it’s vital to understand your own sexual needs to have more pleasurable and enjoyable sex. “The ability to be aware of your own sexual desires is directly linked to the ability to make your own life choices,” says sex expert Madelaine Ross. “It requires a certain level of mental freedom to first make a choice and then be able to explore that choice and express it openly. Understanding your sexual needs can help you gain self-confidence and self-awareness, find emotional balance, and say goodbye to worries about imperfection or not meeting certain expectations.”
Understanding your own sexual needs may include evaluating your past experiences, exploring your own sexuality through masturbation, being willing to experiment, and focusing on your own experiences in the moment. The Mayo Clinic suggests to share your thoughts and expectations pertaining to your sexual desires, as this can help you to achieve greater sexual enjoyment. To start this discussion, admit to yourself that you feel uncomfortable, then start talking to your partner. Setting a time limit to avoid a long conversation may help as well as discussing your sexual needs regularly. Additionally, as silly as it may seem, using a book or movie as a reference during the conversation may help your partner to better understand.
Sexual justice has been a hot topic of debate recently with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and it is currently being threatened with abortion bans and restrictions in multiple states. According to NYC Health, sexual justice is when everyone has the ability and tools to make the healthy choices for their bodies, sexuality, and reproduction. Sexual justice means that people should be able to choose when and under what conditions they have children, care for their children with adequate social support in a safe and healthy environment, and control their body and self-expression without either sexual or reproductive oppression.
Relationship expert Dr. Brenda Wade tells Her Campus, “One of the advantages of sexual well-being is being able to openly express your sexuality while being in secure, non-coercive relationships and without worrying about your future sex life and freedom from abuse and violence. Moreover, sexual well-being is important as it can help in having a positive sexual body image, feeling in control of your sexual wants and ideas and being able to relate sexually to oneself and, if desired, a partner. Lastly, you will be able to talk openly about your sexual identity, preferences, wants, wishes, and desires when having sex and feel at ease, focused, and shame-free while doing so.”
Sexual violence is a serious and prevelant problem that can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on survivors and their friends, family, and other loved ones. The CDC has developed a resource, STOP SV: A Technical Package to Prevent Sexual Violence, that has strategies to help people remember prevention strategies to ultimately reduce the number of sexual violence cases. Furthermore, if you are able to, donate to abortion funds like The Lilith Fund and the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) to ensure that people can always obtain safe abortions.
Ultimately, everyone should be able to have enjoyable and safe sex at their own will. Remember that you’re allowed to stop at any time and for any reason, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation either.
Remember — if you choose to be sexually active in your 20s, you deserve to have consensual, fun, and pleasurable sexual experiences, whether alone, with a partner, or with multiple people.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.