By Sarah Rincon and Marleny Huerta-Apanco
Deciding to become sexually active is a personal choice that is made between you and another consenting partner. The act of engaging in sexual activities is known to be physical but it can be much more complex than that. There are other components to sexual engagement regarding emotions, spirituality and society. It’s important that when you make this decision you take into account how each of these play a role in your sex life, sexuality and sexual expression.
Sex and Society
Society plays a role in our sexual behaviors because it is a set of lenses we use to normalize or resist certain behaviors. When talking about sex and engaging in sex, it is common that our environment and the way sex is expressed around us is how we believe we should express ourselves. There may be acts of sex that are stigmatized through the media and can make you feel confused. It is important to realize what kind of messages you receive about sex socially because it plays a key role in your own sexuality and sexual expression. If the society you grow up in labels sex in negative terms or taboos, you might see sex as something forbidden, dirty or sinful. It may also be difficult for you to learn and understand the role of sex in your life. On the other hand, If you grew up in a sex positive society you may be more open to talk about sex as a normal part of your life. It is more likely you will take precautions to avoid unwanted consequences, such as STIs or pregnancy, and be more open to ask questions, because it’s been normalized for you.
Socially, there is a frequent double standard between how individuals who identify as male and female are portrayed through their sexual encounters. This double standard may create feelings of shame, guilt, or fear behind sex. Taking a minute to think about the role society plays in your sexual engagement gives you the chance to understand your thoughts and views on sex as a whole.
Sex and emotions
Sex can be an emotional act. It is also important to note that when you’re attracted to or engage in sexual experiences, your brain releases dopamine, your serotonin levels increase, and Oxytocin is produced. These chemicals are linked to feelings of euphoria, happiness and pleasure. This explains why “being in love” feels nice. However, it is important to know understand that other emotions can be also included in engaging in sexual activity, and those need to be further discussed with your partner (s). Some individuals find that an emotional connection is necessary for them to be sexually attracted to someone and engage sexually and some others don’t. Demisexuality is a sexual orientation that is used to identify people that need an emotional connection before becoming sexually attracted to someone. Discussing with your partner(s) the role emotions play for you and them when engaging sexually is important so you know what to expect before,during and after being sexually active.
Sex and Spirituality
Another aspect that can often impact our view of sex are spiritual experiences or upbringings of our family members with relation to sex. As you learn more about sex and begin to unravel the way physical and emotional feelings influence your view, you must consider the spiritual impacts. While some may not be spiritual, often many of you may have grown with parents or caregivers that grew up with spiritual or religious perspectives on sex. One example of this can be seen in the way Catholicism views sexuality. According to the Catholic Catechism, sex is meant to be a unitive and procreative act between a man and woman and there is guidance on how to approach situations around sex, what “good” sexual acts are, and how to use your sexuality to bring yourself closer to God. This is just one example of how spirituality can influence your ideals on sex. Many Latinx parents grew up as or are Catholic/Christian. That is why we wanted to highlight this particular denomination. However, there are various spiritual perspectives on sex, and we encourage you to keep those in mind because while you may or may not identify as Catholic, religious, or spiritual in general, it’s important to try to understand how your parents or care takers grew up viewing sex. Then, you can understand how they may have shaped your views. Some teens may grow up feeling like sex is a taboo topic, feel that they will be condemned to hell if they engage in sexual behaviors (premarital sex) or struggle with shame or confusion if their sexual experiences do not align with their spiritual understanding about sex (i.e homosexuality, birth control). These are normal feelings associated with growing up and becoming aware of where you agree and disagree with your caregivers. By learning how others may view this topic it can help you learn to build trust with each other and gain access to new information that will allow you to form your own opinion about sex and make the best decisions for you.