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Sex

“Respect for Knowledge & Wisdom from Life Experiences.”

– Athabascan Cultural Value [17]

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Last updated April 2021

What is Sex?

Sex can have many definitions. For some people, ‘sex’ might mean a way to express gender identity, some might define ‘sex’ as a way to determine if a person was assigned male or female at birth, and others might define ‘sex’ only as a way to become pregnant. For this webpage, we will explore the term ‘sex’ as being sexually active with yourself or others by having penetrative, manual stimulation, or other forms of genital-to-genital contact.

Sex is a complex topic. Other items to consider include:

Healthy sexual relationships require a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sex. This means having consenting, pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free from discrimination, peer pressure and violence [2]. Good communication with your partner(s) and consent, no matter what type of sex is involved, is necessary. Without these requirements of communication and consent between all people involved, any sexual activities performed are not sex and may be considered to be illegal actions. Before we move on, let’s explore a few terms to help define what sex does NOT include:

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual attention. This can include unwelcome verbal, visual or physical attention. Sexual harassment isn’t always specific about sexual behavior, and it isn’t always directed at a specific person. Comments about a person or group of people regarding their gender, sexuality, sexual activity, unwanted physical contact or making someone feel sexualized without their consent are just some of the activities that fall under sexual harassment[15].

Sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior without consent from all people involved. Sexual assault covers a wide range of unwanted sexual contact or behavior that pressures or coerces someone to do something sexually that they don’t want to do. One example: ‘rape’ is a type of sexual assault that involves one or more people forcing at least one other person to perform sexual acts, without consent[15].

How to Get Help

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual abuse, there are resources available to help.

STAR (Standing Together Against Rape, Inc.) aims at preventing sexual trauma and to provide comprehensive, collaborative crisis intervention, advocacy, and support to victims/survivors, their families and communities. All of their services are free for survivors. STAR has a 24-hour, free, confidential crisis line. In Anchorage they can be reached at (907) 276-7273 or toll free at (800) 478-8999.

National Sexual Assault Hotline is a confidential 24/7 crisis support resource. They offer support, information, advice, and referrals by trained support specialists. They are available through an online chat hotline, a telephone hotline available at (800) 656-HOPE (4673), and through a mobile app available in the Apple App Store or on Google Play.

AWAIC (Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis) is a domestic violence safe shelter located in Anchorage, but may be able to help find victims a safe home or shelter based in their area. They provide emergency support services to women, men, and their children. Not only do they provide services to victims of violence, but they are also committed to prevention through education and outreach efforts. Call their 24-hour Crisis and Support Hotline at (907) 272-0100.

Are There Different Kinds of Sex?       

Sex involves a range of physical activities, some include penetration, others don’t. Some types of sex involve two or more people, and some only require one. It’s important to remember certain sexual activities may put you at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy [7]. It is important to get tested and use condoms correctly and consistently if you become sexually active. Types of sex include:

Abstinence is when a person chooses not to have sex. There is no risk of becoming pregnant or transmitting or getting an STI from being abstinent from sex[9].

Vaginal sex is when an outside object, like an erect penis, goes inside a vagina. It is possible to get pregnant and/or pass STIs from one person to another through unprotected vaginal sex. There are many birth control options available to help prevent pregnancy and using condoms correctly and every time you have sex can help prevent STIs[5].

Anal sex is when a penis goes inside an anus, also referred to as the ‘butt’. You can’t get pregnant from anal sex, but there is a larger chance of getting STIs, including HIV, from unprotected anal sex[13]. Use a condom correctly and consistently to reduce the risk.

Oral sex involves using the mouth, lips, or tongue on the genital areas, like the penis, vagina or anus. While you cannot get pregnant from oral sex, you can still transmit and contract STIs[5]. To protect yourself from STIs, use a condom to cover the penis, or a dental dam to cover the vulva or anus[3]. You may also be able to use a condom, cut length-wise, as a makeshift dental dam.

Hand-to-genital contact with one or more people includes stimulating the genital area with any part of the hand. This includes activities like ‘fingering’ or ‘hand jobs’. You cannot get pregnant from hand-to-genital contact. While it is uncommon for hand-to-genital contact to spread STIs, there are still risks of it occurring[12].

Dry humping is also known as ‘genital rubbing’. It is ‘humping’, but without penetration. While you cannot get pregnant from dry humping, there is still a risk of STIs because of the possibility of fluid exchange or skin-to-skin contact. Using a condom or dental dam is recommended to help prevent STI transmission from person-to-person. Wearing underwear during dry humping can be a safe alternative, but it may not prevent some STIs that can live in areas not covered by underwear[14].

Masturbation is when you touch parts of your own body to become aroused. Masturbation allows you to explore yourself and to discover your body and sexual feelings. There is no risk of becoming pregnant or getting an STI from masturbating on your own[11].

The different types or ways to have sex is also defined differently from person-to-person. Some might see ‘sex’ as something that only involves vaginal penetration, but not dry humping. Others might see dry humping as ‘sex’, but not vaginal penetration. It’s important to reflect on what your personal preferences are, and to define sex in a way that suits your lifestyle, values and choices.

Are There Side Effects or Risks to Sex?

Whether you are sexually active or not, it is important to know about safe sex and how it affects your health. Before deciding if you are ready to have sex, consider the risks:

Pregnancy

The most effective way to prevent an unplanned pregnancy is abstinence, the decision to not have sex[16]. However, if a person does decide to have sex, using safer sex supplies, like condoms and birth control, are recommended[9].

STIs/STDs

Everyone who is sexually active is at risk of being exposed to an STI or sexually transmitted diease (STD). Vaginal or anal penetration by a partner, who is infected with an STI and does not wear a condom, significantly increases the risk of getting an STI. Having multiple partners, a history of STIs or substance misuse can also increase the risk of STIs. The most effective way to avoid STIs is to abstain from sex. If you choose to have sex, you can protect yourself by using condoms correctly and consistently, limiting the number of partners, communicate with your partner, get tested for STIs regularly and get vaccinated for human papillomavirus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B[8].

Cancer

There is a higher risk of certain cancers in people who did not receive the HPV vaccine as a preteen[1]. While there is a screening for cervical cancer that can help detect it early, there is not screening tests for other cancers caused by HPV infection. This includes cancers of the back of the throat, anus, penis, vagina and vulva[4].

How Can I Protect Myself Against the Risks of Sex?

The only way to completely protect yourself is not to have sex. If you do choose to have sexual contact, protect yourself from an unplanned pregnancy or STIs and other health concerns with these methods [6]:

  • Use condoms regularly.
    Condoms are the best protection against STIs. The female condom and dental dams can also help reduce the risk of STIs.
  • Use an effective method of birth control.
    Work with your health care provider to find a method of birth control that works best for you to help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Some forms of birth control also help reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting STIs.
  • Reduce the number of sexual partners.
    Agree to only have sex with one person who agrees to only have sex with you.
  • Get tested.
    Many STIs don’t have symptoms, but can still cause health problems. Testing is the only way to know for sure that you do not have an STI. Be sure to ask your health care provider which STIs they test for – not all tests are comprehensive.

Why Would Someone Want to Have Sex?

Love, affection and intimacy all play a role in healthy relationships throughout every stage of life. Physical, mental and spiritual health are important aspects of overall health, as well as feeling confident about your sexuality. There are several reason people decide to have sex:

There are several physical reasons people decide to have sex including: being attracted to a person, pleasure, stress relief and sexual curiosity[10].

People may decide to have sex for practical reasons such as wanting to conceive a baby[10].

Many people engage in sexual relationships because they have emotional ties to their partner, including love, commitment and expression[10].

Sometimes people engage in sex because they are feeling insecure and want to boost their self-esteem or they may even engage in a sexual relationship because they feel pressured to do so[10].

How Do I Know if I Am Ready for Sex?

There is not an exact time when everyone is ready to have sex. Each person is unique and will be ready for sex at different points in their lives. As your body matures, it may seem like it is giving you signals to make you feel like you are ready to have sex. In addition to listening to your body, your beliefs, values and emotions are also important to consider [7]. In this situation, it’s best to wait to figure out what exactly what your priorities are and what you want to do before engaging in the action. To narrow down what you want to consent to, try asking your head, heart and body a few questions:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • Is the other person in a position of authority over me? Do I feel pressured to do this?
  • Does this fit with my personal values?
  • Am I clear-headed? Am I under the influence of substances?
  • How is this activity affecting me spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally now? How will it impact me in the future, like tomorrow?
  • Does this feel right to me?
  • Do I like this person? Can I trust them?
  • Do I like what’s happening?
  • Am I old enough to consent to this activity?
  • What does my body want to do? Is my body in a trauma response?
  • What is my ‘gut feeling’ telling me about this?
  • Are my physical boundaries being respected by the other person?
  • Have I discussed the use of birth control or safer sex practices with this person?

If your head, heart, and body aren’t in agreement with what you want, it’s likely not a good time to engage in the activity. It is always ok to say ‘no’ and set firm boundaries.

In addition to asking yourself these questions, reaching out to a trusted adult or your health care provider for advice may also be beneficial. Having an open line of communication with your partner can also help ensure your feelings and thoughts about when and how to have sex are respected within your relationship.

Where Can I Go for More Information on Sex?

You can find a local health care provider in Alaska for more information and to discuss the best options for safe sex.

WeRNative is a comprehensive health resource for Native youth, by Native youth. They promote holistic health and positive growth of their local and national communities. Text 4 Sex Ed can deliver sex and relationship information privately to your phone. They also provide resources on topics related to sex.

Healthy Native Youth (HNY) provides resources for tribal health educators, teachers and parents. They offer free curricula and lesson plans about sex and related topics that can be adapted to your community. HNY also offers the Talking is Power text line that provides culturally appropriate tips and resources for caring adults discussing sensitive topics with teens.

[1]American Academy of Family Physicians. (2019). Kids and Teens. Sex: Making the right decision. Reference: https://familydoctor.org/sex-making-the-right-decision/

[2]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]. (2019). Home. Sexual health. Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/sexualhealth/default.html#who

[3]CDC. (2020a). Fact Sheet. STD risk and oral sex – CDC fact sheet. Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/std/healthcomm/stdfact-stdriskandoralsex.htm

[4]CDC. (2020b). Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination & cancer prevention. Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/index.html

[5]CDC. (2021a). Basic Fact Sheet. STDs and HIV – CDC fact sheet. Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/std/hiv/stdfact-std-hiv.htm

[6]CDC. (2021b). Prevention. The lowdown on how to prevent STDs. Reference: https://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/lowdown/index.html

[7]Healthline. (2019). Healthy Sex. What does it mean to be sexually active? Reference: https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/sexually-active

[8]Mayo Clinic. (2019). Diseases & Conditions. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Reference: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/symptoms-causes/syc-20351240

[9]Medline Plus. (2016). Health Topics. Teen sexual health. Reference: https://medlineplus.gov/teensexualhealth.html

[10]Meston, C. M., & Buss, D. M. (2007). Why humans have sex. Archives of sexual behavior36(4), 477–507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-007-9175-2

[11]NHS. (2018a). Sexual Health. Is masturbation normal? Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/sexual-health/is-masturbation-normal/

[12]NHS. (2018b). Sexual Health. Sex activities and risk. Reference: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sexual-health/sex-activities-and-risk/

[13]Planned Parenthood. (2021a). Sex. All about sex. Reference: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/teens/sex/all-about-sex

[14]Planned Parenthood. (2021b). Abstinence and Outercourse. How effective are abstinence and outercourse? Reference: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/abstinence-and-outercourse/how-effective-are-abstinence-and-outercourse

[15]RAINN. (2021). Articles. Sexual harassment. Reference: https://www.rainn.org/articles/sexual-harassment

[16]TeensHealth. (2016). Birth Control Methods: How Well Do They Work? Some methods work better than others. Reference: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/bc-chart.html

[17]UAF. (2021). Alaska Native Values for Curriculum. Alaska Native cultures. Reference:http://ankn.uaf.edu/ancr/Values/index.html

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