I was eight years old when with innocent curiosity I declared that I felt “warm and excited inside” while watching the music video for “Move This” by Technotronic. Laughing, my slightly older cousin explained that the feeling I described is called “horny.” I’m not even sure that I knew what sex was at that age. I mean, I guess I knew a little. About a year earlier I stumbled across my friends dad’s Playboys, which he inappropriately stored in the main floor half bathroom, prompting a very uncomfortable conversation with my mother in which I asked her what the word ‘humping’ meant. But I genuinely didn’t understand sex and I certainly had no concept of myself as a sexual being… that is until I encountered the suggestive lyrics and killer beat of a Congolese-Belgian hip-hop group.
Most of us have a story like that. Sweet, innocent, sometimes awkward moments, where driven by instinct we first became aware of sex. Those early moments represent the first phase of sexual awakening, of discovery and curiosity. While we will cyclically re-engage with this phase throughout our lifetimes, our first encounters start young and usually progresses in a pretty typical way.
As Freud pointed out, sexual discovery begins in infancy with the realization that it feels nice to touch our genitals. From there, it evolves into the uncomfortable moments of childhood and adolescence that include, in no particular order: realizing you can’t run around naked anymore, entering the world of crushes, practicing making out on the back of your hand, sneaking glimpses of nudie magazines, waking up in a gooey mess, learning how the ‘base’ system works (first base, etc.), figuring out what the clitoris is, continuously rewinding and re-watching the love scene from Cruel Intentions, realizing you still don’t understand the ‘base’ system, avoiding embarrassing conversations with parents, and the eventual triumphant loss of the ‘v-card.’
Once the initial hurdles of sexual initiation are surpassed, we enter the next phase of sexual awakening—exploration. Now that there are real, consenting human bodies involved, we revel in the opportunity to explore the fantasies that we’ve curated during our formative years. We hone our skills, try new things, play around with emotional intimacy, strengthen our muscles and stamina, develop an appreciation for rhythm, push boundaries, learn from new partners, expand our repertoire and discover our bodies hidden pleasures. It’s physical. Emotional. Carnal. Awkward. Fun. Liberating. And at times, it’s excessive.
Beyond the enjoyment of sexual exploration are the lessons we learn from it, which leads to the next phase—confusion. As we push our boundaries, we also learn our limits. For some, it’s questioning sexual orientation or rebelling against repressed beliefs. For others it’s facing unforeseen consequences, like unexpected pregnancy or an incurable STI. But as distressing as these moments can be, they are powerful opportunities for reflection that ultimately point us in the direction of a more satisfying sex life.
I liken this process to the phenomenon of teenage drinking, the purpose of which, if I recall correctly, is to get as drunk as possible, as fast as possible. As you get older, you realize that being sloppy drunk on whatever you’ve siphoned out of your parent’s liquor cabinet is gross, and you learn how to drink in moderation. You might also learn that you prefer wine to jaeger-bombs, or that there is immense pleasure in a well-aged peaty scotch. Either way, you become more discriminating about how and what you drink.
And so it is with sexual awakening. We must first travail through the exciting realizations of sexual discovery, the gluttony of sexual exploration, and the painful periods of reflection, in order to arrive at the final stage—ownership. And with this phase comes informed liberation, the freedom to enjoy sex without shame or guilt, comfort with our bodies and their functions, and the knowledge and ability to achieve intense erotic pleasure.
Our lives are punctuated with moments of sexual awakening. Some are sweet and romantic. Some are erotic and sensual. Others are funny and awkward. And some are purely primal. The stories that follow will, in no particular order, encompass parts of the journey I’ve just described. Enjoy.
Tami-lee Duncan is a Registered Psychologist in Edmonton, specializing in sexual health. Please note that the information and advice given above is not a substitute for therapeutic treatment with a licensed professional. For information or to submit a question, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @SexOlogyYEG.