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RESPECT co-author, Courtney Macavinta, blogs for girls and women about how to build your self-respect and spread respect for all! At The Respect Institute she teaches people of all ages how to integrate The Respect Basics into their lives, work and advocacy. More about About Courtney

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Sex: The 7 Questions

Before you jump into the hook-up pool, ask yourself The 7 Questions (and know your answers by heart!):

1. What are your beliefs and values?
Your values are your code in life. Every person's code is different. Your code relates to your goals, upbringing, standards for you how you want to be treated, and what kind of person you want to be. So thinking about what sex means to you and how you want it to be a part of your life—or not—will help you decide your boundaries.

Like, what kind of relationship do you want to be in before you get intimate? Do you want to be at a certain point in your life before you have sex? What are your familial, cultural or spiritual values about sex and relationships? See pages 123 and 131 in RESPECT for more questions you can explore to get in touch with your beliefs and values about sex.

2. What are your boundaries?
You need to know your boundaries before you hook up with anyone in any way. Why? Because boundaries are not just about keeping people out, they're about letting people in. In relationships we use boundaries to let people know how we feel and how we want to be treated and what's OK with us (and what's so not OK!).

The other thing is: You need a foundation before you can safely test the limits of any activity. Like you wouldn’t be able to climb Mount Everest just because you went on your first hike last week, right? So before you get casual about sex—like many girls tell me they're doing these days and so did I before I made the respect connection—take it seriously first. You’re too valuable to treat yourself casually. You also need to know how you feel about the other forms of physical intimacy, such as kissing and touching. Even with more experience, you still might decide that casual sex (not being in a relationship with partners or one-night stands or group sex) is not right for you because it doesn’t build your self-respect but tears it down.

In the heat of the moment it can be hard to decide your boundaries or you can be swayed by pressure to do stuff you hadn't planned on doing. So think about what is appropriate for you when it comes to getting intimate *before* that day ever comes. What is safe, comfortable and doesn't go against your values?

Letting your boundaries be known can also help you avoid being pressured. If you let your BF/GF/crushes know your beliefs and values about sex, they'll know your boundaries from the get-go (and if they pressure you to do otherwise that's totally disrespectful). When you don't know your boundaries, you also might make choices that don't pass your gut checks, and that leave you feeling regretful or hurt. Knowing your boundaries also helps keep you safe. You'll always know where your line is and go at a pace that's right for you.

3. What do you know about your body?
Your body is where you live. Before you let someone into your space, get to know it yourself. Sex Ed. comes in all shapes and sizes. But having self-respect is all about educating yourself so you can make good choices. So get information from multiple, reliable sources about how your body works and what can happen if you become sexually active and what's the deal with all those feelings you might be having for the first time.

Here are some hints: Get involved with your health care. Read books and ask your parents (they do know this stuff!), big sister or doctor about your reproductive system (the stuff on the inside), genitalia (the stuff on the outside) and the sexual response cycle (those feelings and tingles all over). Check out Help! for more resources.

4. Do you know the risks?
Being sexually active comes with physical risks (e.g. you can get sexually transmitted diseases or you can get pregnant) and emotional ones (e.g. your self-worth or feelings can get hurt, you can feel vulnerable, you can have questions about your sexual identity and so on...). When it comes to the nuts-and-bolts, you need to know the facts, like:

• What are STDS and how can you prevent them? For instance, teens represent more than half of new HIV cases worldwide. And kids getting ghonorrea—in their throats—is on the rise due to unprotected oral sex (yikes!).

• What's your partner's status? Have you both been tested for all STDs? Have you both been treated if you were infected in the past? And do you know what to do to prevent contracting or spreading STDs that stay with you like HIV, HPV and herpes? (Don't know what those terms mean? Look 'em up...)

• How can you get pregnant and what's the deal with contraception? Did you know you can get pregnant on your period or if a guy pulls out or even if you use a condom or if you skip a birth control pill? You can also get free contraceptive advice and birth control from many clinics nationwide. Before you get physical, you need to know your options. And you need to have a talk with any partner about your mutual responsibilities and what you'll do if you get pregnant (this is a good time to check back in with your values and beliefs). Check out Help! to find more info about the risks.

5. Can you speak up and be honest?
Kissing can feel so nice. Being touched by a BF/GF can feel exciting. But intimacy and sex aren’t just about chemistry and turn-ons—they are forms of communication. That said, you also need to use words, too!

You have to be honest with yourself about what you expect. And you have to be honest with your partner. If you can't be honest about your boundaries, what you want, and what you need, then hold off. And if your relationship isn't loaded with trust, respect and admiration, put on the brakes. Because you and your partner need to be able to talk about EVERYTHING, like: your feelings, beliefs, values, boundaries, needs, health, STD status, and how you will share responsibility when it comes to risk factors (for starters!). Like you need to be able to:
• say "no" and be heard.
• say "stop" and be heard.
• be honest about your feelings (and what you're feeling on the physical front).
• set boundaries without feeling like you need to apologize for what you want or make it seem like it’s only a suggestion.
• communicate your feelings or ask for what you need without having to giggle, smile or avoid eye contact when you're talking.

(Hmmm…these basics apply to any relationship, actually!)

So you can see, when it comes to sex, you just can't let your body do all the talking. And if you have to lie—to yourself, people you really care about (like your parents) or to your partner—about your sexual activity or what feels right (or wrong) then it's time for a gut check about your choices. Remember, it's never to late to slow down until you think about it more.

6. Are you being pressured?
I mean is everybody really doing it? And if they are, what's that got to do with Ms. You and your fabulously self-respecting boundaries? Nothing. If you are pressured to do anything you don't want to do—and you've made that clear—the people who are pushing are not being good friends to you. Period. Same goes for sex.

When you have doubts, listen to your gut and speak up. Because healthy relationships are based on mutual admiration, trust, honest communication and respect. If you’ve been honest about your feelings, then no one should hound you for sex or set deadlines for you.

Don’t feel like you have to promise to be ready by some date on a calendar, like the prom or a school holiday. You don't have to follow the examples you see in the media either (like people cementing their relationships by doing it). And when you say no to sexual intercourse, don't feel like you have to give a "consolation prize" by getting physical in some other way. (See RESPECT for tons of sample boundaries you can use!).

Someone who deserves your trust, respect, and love won't want to have sex with you if it's not what you want. Always put your self-respect first: you are your partner for life.

7. Are you emotionally ready?
Just because your body feels ready to go, are your heart and head ready too? Many girls and young women say that their first sexual experiences sucked real bad and led to a lot of heartache later on. (And I can second that emotion.) If you’re not ready—or have sex for the wrong reasons such as being pressured—you can get caught in disrespect loop that leads to repeat unsatisfying hook-ups and low self-respect.

To know if you're emotionally ready, check back in with those Respect Basics. How much do you respect yourself? Are your relationships—with friends, family, BF/GFs—booming with respect? Do you totally value and trust yourself? Where are you getting your ideas about sex? Hopefully not from movies or TV in which life on the screen is not like the real thing.

Being emotionally ready for something as big as sex, will take some time. Everyone learns and matures and different rates, and sex definately doesn't speed up the process.

And what if it doesn't feel right? The basics come in here too. Sometimes girls have sex and afterwards feel a mix of negative emotions. Like let's say you had am empty-feeling sexual experience and now you label yourself something mean, like "I'm a slut." This is a sign you need some support, to set new boundaries, and to invest in your self-respect before you get back out there.

Think about questions like: Are you getting physical to find love? Do you want to be accepted? Are you starving for attention? Has something happened in the past that is leading to this disrespectful behavior now? How did you feel before you had sex? Or what feeling were you maybe trying to cover up/relieve?

Even if your self-respect and relationship are going strong, some girls want to wait to venture into sexual territory because they have amazing goals they don't want sidetracked by getting pregnant, for example. Others just want to have fun with their friends and build their self-respect without dealing with answering *all* these questions right now.

You might be inexperienced but you're smart beyond imagination. So when in doubt, always do what you know is right for you (when it comes to everything!).

More Info >
Chapter 9 in RESPECT is really juicy and covers everything about the sex-respect connection. It's 20 pages because this is a HUGE topic. I hope you'll read it from cover-to-cover because anything in the sex-o-sphere (from intercourse to oral sex to touching to making out to major snuggling) *without* respect is always risky.


Adapted from Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed by Courtney Macavinta and Andrea Vander Pluym © 2005. Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 1-866-703-7322; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.


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