Get Real! What Does Sex Feel Like?

Heather Corinna

In many ways, asking what sex feels like is asking what life feels like: these are just incredibly diverse and unique experiences.

Curious asks:

I have
never had sex before, and before I do I want to really know what it is
like from other people. I want to know what it feels like.

Heather replies:

We get asked this question a lot.

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A whole lot.

The trouble is, there’s just no way to give you and others the sort
of answer I suspect you are looking for. But I certainly can tell you
why I can’t do that.

Sex — of any kind, whether we’re talking about intercourse, oral
sex, manual sex, masturbation, or any other sex — not only doesn’t
feel the same way for all people, it often doesn’t even feel the same
way for one person from day to day, partner to partner, or activity to
activity.

Oral sex tends to feel different than vaginal or anal intercourse.
Masturbation can tend to feel different than partnered sex, even when a
partner is doing exactly what we do when we masturbate. Manual sex with
this partner can feel very different from manual sex with a different
partner. One kind of sex, with one given partner, can feel different
for us on Tuesday than it did on Friday, or different when we’re 18
than it does when we’re 45. The sex that I might have — even if you’re
doing the exact same thing as I am, even if you’re doing it with the
partner I did it with, no less — can feel really different for you
than it can for me, based on the differences in our personalities,
levels of arousal and attraction, how we feel about that partner, how
we feel about ourselves, the mood we’re in, what our health is like at
a given time, where we’re at in our fertility cycles, how relaxed our
bodies and muscles are, what our life experience has been in our
bodies, how our bodies differ uniquely when it comes to areas of both
physical, biochemical and emotional sensitivity, even in what physical
place we’re having sex, how much sleep we got the night before or what
different things we ate in a given day.

In some ways, what you’re asking me is akin to asking me to tell you
how a piece of cake tastes. I can say it tastes sweet, that I taste
vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom and perhaps a wee bit of carrot, that it has
a moist texture, feels a little crumbly on my tongue, whatever, but
when it all boils down to it, we all have different palates and are
different people. So, even with my saying all that, you may put the
same bite of cake in your mouth and have a totally different
experience, or find that that cake I thought was so delicious tastes
like total crap to you. You may have a bad memory of eating cake which
colors all your present experiences while I may not, and that changes
how we each experience the same thing. You or I may come to cake with
different expectations, which changes how we experience things, too.

We can absolutely say that there is something unique about sexual
experiences, period. Sex does tend to feel different — how different
varies — than other things we do with our hearts, bodies and minds.
However, it does have things in common with other experiences we have.

On a physical level, it can feel a like a really great workout (or
not), a long, hot bath (or not), eating everything in your fridge when
you just worked up the biggest appetite on the planet (or not), taking
a well-deserved nap (or not), a great massage (or not), sitting
seriously bored in class for too long (or not), scratching an itch (or
not), like a big, bear hug that goes all through your body (or not) or
like warming our hands on a fire (or not). Emotionally and
psychologically it can be like one of those intense all-night
conversations you can have with someone you really connect with (or
not), like being put in a blender (or not), like seeing a movie that
just grabs your guts and makes you laugh or cry so hard you worry you
won’t be able to stop (or not), like you’re just going through the
motions of something you thought you wanted to do, but then just didn’t
find all that interesting once you did it (or not), like being
connected to someone else to the degree you can’t figure out where you
end and they start (or not), like being with someone else during
something incredibly personal or important, like dying or birth (or
not), like finding a long-lost friend you never thought you’d see again
(or not) or like seeing yourself in a mirror (or not). Sex of any kind
might feel like all, any or none of those things.

Bear in mind, too, that because of what’s all going on in the whole
of our bodies and selves during sex, it can sometimes be difficult to
express what sex felt like — other than, say, "great" or "so-so" —
right after we’ve had a sexual experience or even when we’re smack-dab
in the middle of one. The experience of sex, when we’re seriously into
it, can tend to feel a bit like being in a state of trance, where when
we’re present in those moments, we’re just feeling how we feel without
really thinking much about it, so afterward, it can be tough to
describe or sum up with words. Like love, people have tried all through
history to express that feeling with words, music, paint, movement,
sculpture, theater, film and I think we can agree that despite
thousands of years of those attempts, some by people who are the most
accomplished artists of our time, we have yet to either find one
expression of what it feels like that just takes all or that we can all
agree on.

I like to talk to people about sex — be it alone or with a partner
— as primarily being about free personal expression in the moment,
just like the way we may tend to dance or experience dance is about
free personal expression in the moment. What we do, the way we do it,
how we feel about it, how it feels, what we like and dislike: all of
these things are going to tend to vary based on the unique person we
are at any given time, and how freely we are able to and do express
ourselves (and when a partner is involved, how free that person is in
their expression as well). In many ways, asking what sex feels like is
asking what life feels like: these are just incredibly diverse and
unique experiences.

Ultimately, it’s just one of those things where you are going to
have some vague idea of what to expect walking in, and often may find
yourself surprised, and not just the first time, either. I’ve been with
my current partner for over three years now, and to some degree, while
we have had many kinds of sex many times at this point, I could not
honestly say that I can predict what sex is going to feel like for me
the next time we have a sexual experience together.

It’s impossible to be perfectly prepared for what sex — any kind of
sex, at any time, with any given person — is going to feel like for
you, and that element of surprise or discovery tends to be one of the
things that makes sex so compelling to so many people. I know that it
can feel really precarious to consider going into something not really
knowing what’s in store in some ways, and that’s one of the reasons we
provide material here like our Sex Readiness Checklist
to help prepare people in terms of the kinds of things many people find
they need to have sex be both physically, emotionally and
interpersonally safest for them as well as enjoyable.

If you are interested in seriously considering or having sex, I’d
encourage you to take a look at that checklist. You can also take a
look through the index for this area or at our message boards to get a
sense of some people’s personal experiences with sex. You’ll see a
whole lot of diversity, but you’ll also see some common threads. I’d
also suggest taking a look at our piece on the human sexual response cycle to get a good idea about what the process of people becoming sexually aroused and then having sex can tend to feel like.

By all means, your own masturbation can also tell you a whole lot about what sex feels like. That is
sex, in and of itself, and even though a sexual partner certainly adds
some things to the mix — physically and absolutely emotionally and
socially — which make partnered sex different, you can get a pretty
good idea about what sex essentially feels like all by yourself with
your own two hands. I encourage young people to experiment with their
own masturbation first before taking sex with partners for
a host of reasons, and this is one of them. I’d also say that some
other experiences can give you a pretty good idea about what sex can
feel like: a professional massage or other kinds of deep bodywork can
illuminate some of this, as well. Sleeping (the kind where you’re not
awake) with someone else can give you some ideas about what to expect,
and even just things that don’t seem like sex to some, like a long
kissing session, tell you a lot about what sex can be like.

If you’ve masturbated and enjoy those feelings and activities, and
are considering sex with a partner, then you have some other things to
consider which are also mentioned in the checklist I linked you to. Do
you want to explore feeling that way with someone else? Do they with
you? Do you want to be very intimate, vulnerable and close with that
person? Do you feel able, with that person, to talk pretty openly
together about sex and everything around it, and to feel comfortable in
your own skin? Are you okay with experimenting with that person,
knowing that there will be surprises and discoveries, some great, some
ho-hum, some maybe even not-so-great at all? Can you deal with not
knowing 100% what to expect? Looking at that checklist, did you feel
like you had most of what was on it?

I’d say that so long as you’re prepared with the practical and other
basic issues you and someone else need to deal with to manage the risks
sex presents, you don’t need to know exactly what sex feels like to
know if it’s something you want to do or try, and that even when you do
have an idea about what it can feel like, that, in and of itself, is
not going to be something you wholly base your sexual decisions on. I
have a pretty good idea at my age and level of sexual experience about
what all kinds of sex feel like, but that still doesn’t tell me all I
need to know about whether or not I want to have sex with someone else.
I have to ask myself things like if I want to deal with the risks and
have what I need in order to do that, how I feel about the person I’m
considering for a partner, how they’re feeling, how I feel about myself
at the time, if I even have time for sex, or if that’s really the thing
I even want at the time (maybe I just want a snuggle, maybe I really
want to talk, maybe I just need some sleep, maybe I would prefer to
masturbate).

But I have to tell you that personally, I really have always loved
and embraced that element of surprise that tends to come with any kind
of sex. For sure, in order to feel okay about that and enjoy it, I have
to have other things taken care of first — like a desire to have sex
in the first place, the privacy and time to enjoy it, trust in my
partner and myself, comfort with my body, to have needed birth control
and safer sex taken care of and negotiated — but when all my basic
ducks are in a row with my general preparedness for sex, that surprise
tends to be an adventure, an often unexpected discovery, much like
taking a vacation somewhere familiar, but discovering a new street or
hidden beach I never noticed or found before.

So, while I can assure you that I am absolutely not, right now,
withholding any information from you because sex really just is that
unique and that surprising, I’ve got to tell you that even if I somehow
could tell you exactly what sex would feel like for you, I’d be pretty
reluctant to do so. Taking those discoveries and those surprises away
from someone would, in my mind, rob them of some of what can make sex
so wonderful, enjoyable and compelling, and that’s never something I’d
want to cheat anyone of.

And that’s about all I can tell you about what sex feels like. But I
can also leave you with some additional links I think you might find
useful:


News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.