Sex is great

2011-05-14 00:00

SEX is beautiful. I know that’s a controversial thing to say when for so many in our country it has proved a death sentence.

It’s no easy message for the estimated two million children who have been orphaned nationally due to Aids. Or close to 40% of KwaZulu-Natal’s pregnant women (aged 15 to 49) who are HIV-positive. Or the 25% of South African women and 10% of men who have been raped.

But the beauty of sex is an important message to give our youngsters, partly because the 15 to 24 age group is disproportionately affected by HIV.

This message counters the current one of doom — that sex is dangerous and can kill. Which, obviously, it can and it certainly does. But despite high-profile campaigns pleading for abstinence, condom use and faithfulness, new research shows the message doesn’t seem to be getting through. The 15 to 24 age group has a high awareness of HIV/Aids yet high-risk sex continues unabated. The age of first sexual encounters is low, having multiple sexual partners is common, and inconsistent use of condoms is widespread among our youth. What this indicates is a lack of self-esteem. Youngsters who value themselves are less likely to knowingly put their lives — and others’ — at risk.

We need to accept that people — and the youth in particular — are choosing not to abstain. And frankly, that’s not surprising. For a youth generation that remains largely mired in poverty and economic impotence, sex provides a beacon of pleasure and potential love. It offers hope for a better future. And then there’s the feel-good factor: sex boosts our sense of wellbeing as it has a myriad of health benefits, such as increased immunity, raising self-esteem and lowering stress levels.

It’s time we faced reality instead of beating our heads against the abstinence brick wall. Granted, the best way not to become infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is simply to avoid having sex (or not to have sex forced upon you — a non-option for many as 28% of men from KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape admitted to rape, as have one in three Gauteng men).

Using condoms promotes safer (but not completely safe) sex, and being faithful to your partner helps keep your partnership HIV-free. But in this line of defence against Aids, a major tactic is being overlooked — one that promotes people’s sexual self-esteem and empowers them to enjoy a life of pleasurable sex free from guilt, inadequacy and ignorance.

To every negative there is a corresponding positive. People are naturally optimistic and hopeful for the future — their future. Sex is a natural part of this grand plan. But there’s a deafening silence when it comes to a positive approach to building our sexual self-esteem.

This is because, apart from fear being instilled about HIV and other STDs (and rightly so), our sexual self-esteem is battered on so many fronts — with few positive messages eking through the fog. The media bombards us with images of 20-something models’ bodies that have been airbrushed to remove any sign of potentially sales-detracting imperfections. The proliferation of pornography, which hones in on super-

endowed men and women with designer vaginas that have been surgically prettied up, adds to the average Joe and Thandi’s feelings of genital inadequacy.

And given that Hollywood and

Bollywood only rarely feature sex scenes showing actresses over the age of 30, we’d be forgiven to think that sex is only for the young, beautiful and impossibly perfect. It’s a skewed depiction of who is acceptable as a bed-mate — and by an absence, implying that the majority of us aren’t.

The funny thing is, “normal” people are still having sex — warts, wobbly bits, stretch marks, beer boeps and all. There is vast evidence that people, who by all accounts are physically and aesthetically challenged, as well as a great many sprightly wrinklies — are having a marvellous time in bed, thank you.

With all the negative messages that abound — for instance, premarital sex being a sin, unprotected sex being a sure-fire route to disease and death, and labels of promiscuity or the opposite, of being “undersexed” — it’s a wonder that we still indulge. But, of course, sexual intimacy is a wonderful way to deepen our connection with our partner and to express our love for him or her. And we are all entitled as individuals to enjoy sexual pleasure and to seek sexual fulfilment.

So how is it possible to keep one’s sexual self-esteem intact, when so much negativity prevails? In The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, Cathy Winks and Anne Semans suggest some confidence boosters.

• An identity as a sexual person who is entitled to a life of rich, glorious and satisfying sexual encounters is important for your sexual self-

im­ag­e. This means articulating your sexual desires and being active and selfish about them.

• Don’t be embarrassed about your sexual ignorance in your quest to become informed. Few of us received sex information in an open and straightforward way as teens or young adults, but there’s no excuse to maintain this status quo. There are excellent resources available, such as informative sex books, websites and DVDs to draw on.

• Gain sexual experience as the more you practise, the more confident you will be in pleasing your lover or yourself. Older people find that with age, their experience and perspective allows them to enjoy their sexuality more.

• Be vocal with your lover — give him or her compliments on his or her technique, appearance and attitude, and watch his or her self-esteem grow in leaps and bounds. You’ll cultivate a more eager lover in the process.

• Be sexually adventurous. Take risks to get out of a rut and explore new facets of your sexuality, which will ultimately boost your self-


• Practise self-acceptance. Don’t measure yourself against others in the sex stakes as this will only generate performance anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. Building curiosity about your unique sexuality can lead you down the path to pleasure.

• Accept physical changes in your life. Dealing with them can bring opportunities to broaden your sexual experience or definition of sex.

• This last point is my addition. People with sexual self-esteem are sexually informed and motivated to be responsible and to practise safer sex. It is our right to enjoy sex and to express ourselves fully in pursuit of sexual pleasure — but with that comes the responsibility of not causing harm to ourselves or others in the process.

Taking the attitude that sexuality is a natural expression of love encourages a healthy sexual self-esteem. This is sorely needed in our country, and access to sexual information and knowledge is key. Perhaps if we embrace sexual agency instead of passively accepting all that is foisted upon us in the name of sex, we might make serious inroads in the HIV-infection rate.

Stevie Jean is the Weekend Witness’s sex columnist, and she also writes for OhZone, the online adult store. For tips and techniques, contact her at or visit

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