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Sexual Health (young people)

What sex feels like in your body and your head

Sex and sexuality could be described as a 'learning curve'. So what is considered important at 15 or 16 may not be seen as important to people in their twenties. People we interviewed in their late teens and twenties usually felt that their behaviour, views and attitudes about sex and relationships had changed a lot during the last few years.

Many of those we talked to said that one-night stands or casual sex are 'just sex', or 'raw sex', even a selfish act. They thought that knowing the other person and what each other likes makes sex in a long-term relationship different to a 'one night stand'

Some of those we interviewed thought that men find casual sex easier and more satisfying, but not all the men we spoke to agreed

 

Thinks that a one night stand is a selfish act that people do to compensate lack of affection. ...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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When it's just for one night you're doing always the same, and you don't share anything, so in fact you, you are a bit selfish. You don't really care of what you are doing, it's 'yeah, you don't get anything after, you don't learn anything. That's it, but with a long-term relation you want to give pleasure to your partner and it means that you've got another behaviour, and you will listen what he will like to have and, I mean, you expect the same from him, he will listen what, what will make you happy, and it makes such, much more and it makes that after it's much better as well, because it's not the same. 

Yeah, it's not the same at all. I found that for one night, yeah, you are a bit selfish and in fact you don't really have pleasure as much as you can have with a long-term relation. That's my opinion.

Yeah, that's it, I mean you compensate the lack of affection by sex. I mean I think sex and affection are together but in that case, it's not really, not affection, it's only sex. You can't, you can't get confused with this, it's only sex, it's not affection. I mean, okay,  you've got a nice partner, it's not like it's something violent or something, no, it's alright, but what I mean is after the feeling I'm not there, so it's not really affection, it's not really love. It's nothing special, it's just sex, but sex, like really the raw way of sex, like, I don't know, it's my'.
 

Compares sex within a relationship to sex in one night stands or casual sex.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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It's not even the same. When you have a one-night stand it's just a quick fumble and it's all over and it's just, basically just sex. And then you go and have a shower, put your clothes on, thank you very much and a kind of quick kiss and I'll call you next week and then you go home.  

But with a relationship it's completely different, there's a lot more time involved, it's very loving, it's very emotional. You don't look at it like 'yes, I'm going to have sex now' it's kind just pleasing each other, it's nice, it's comfortable. You're together, you fall asleep together, it's much nicer and it's completely different.  

It doesn't even seem like the same thing. Sex in a relationship and sex on a one-night stand; it isn't the same at all, it's completely different.

And physically, there is a difference between the two?

Oh yes. A one-night stand you don't know each other. You don't know what each other likes and after a few drinks you don't care. But in a long-term relationship it's very different. You get to know each other a bit more intimately and you're a lot more open with each other and what you like and what you don't like. And you're just there to sort of please the other person so it's very different. It's much more satisfying in a relationship than it is on a one-night stand.
 

Thinks that for men casual sex is easier.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I think, to men it's easy. Men always get off and enjoy it, no matter what, because, at the end of the day, it's not hard for men to have orgasms. Whereas women, if you have ' you know, you need to ' you know, a bloke needs to practice and learn how to do it for you. 

So if you only sleep with him once, he's not going to do it for you, so ' obviously, if you're going to have sex in a long-term relationship, then it gets better over time, and ' because he gets to know what he's doing more, and you get to know each other and because... actually, it was one of the things my boyfriend said, was ' I was like, you know, 'Are your all orgasms the same?'  And he was like, 'No, of course they're not'.  

You know, 'being with a woman who learns how to ' how to touch you, and how to hold you, they get better'.  So, obviously, if you're in a long-time relationship, they're going to get better up to a point, and then, obviously, as it tails off, the relationship tails off anyway, so '
 

Finds that it is not easy to have sex with someone who does not know anything about you.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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It's not easier to do it with someone that you don't know 'cos they wouldn't know what you're all about. You want someone to kind of know a little about you, and if you go to a nightclub and you meet someone there, you're not going to talk to them about touchy feely stuff, you're going to, you know, talk about, you know, the fast cars that you drive and, you know, the work that you do and, you know, the people that you hang about with. Nothing too major, just minor stuff that, you know, just doesn't really, you know, the next person can know about you from someone else.  

Some of the people we spoke to said that one night stands or casual sex are without emotional involvement. Sex might be more passionate than in a longstanding relationship, but the passion tends to wear off rather quickly

 

A gay man compares the emotional and physical differences of casual sex and sex in a relationship.

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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Can you differentiate at the physical level how different are or what is different between sex within a casual relationship as opposed to a long term or a more serious relationship?

At the physical level for me, you might, I think you're under a lot more pressure in a one night stand in the sense that you don't know the other person, you don't know what they want necessarily, you're trying obviously to satisfy that person and they're trying to satisfy you.

In your opinion, what are the good things you associate with relationships and sexual activity?

Good things with relationships, that one is an easy one for me. I think companionship, being able to have a good time, enjoy yourself, have some common interests but not all of them. Be able to enjoy each other's company on a number of different levels but certainly physically as well as you know, the comforts, knowing that there's somebody there, someone to talk to, somebody to share things with, the good times and the bad times, to be a shoulder for them to cry on and the other way round too.
 

Thinks that in casual sex there is no emotional involvement and that she is more prepared to do...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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The emotional level, I think when you have a one night stand, there's no emotions there whatsoever, it's just sex and that's it. I don't think, you don't let your emotions, or I don't think you do, that's what I think, anyway. You wouldn't let your emotions get involved because it's just sex. You don't know this person. You probably ain't even gonna get their number after you've had sex. Whereas in a long-term relationship, you love the person so much, that you want to please them. So I think you do certain things that you wouldn't necessarily do, maybe oral sex or whatever.
 

Thinks that casual sex has no emotional level.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I think casual sex has no emotional level. It's just animalistic humping. Whereas in a long-term relationship, sex is better because there is an emotional level, because you've got the emotional input, and you stare into each other's eyes and think, 'I'm having sex with him because I'm enjoying it, and because I want to, and because he knows how to do it for me, and we're in love', and you can feel the connection by looking in each other's eyes.

Whereas having sex with a bloke you hardly know, on a one-night stand, you're not likely to have eye contact, because there's no emotional level to it, and then you wake up in the morning just feeling ' eeeeer.
 

Thinks that casual sex is more passionate and that a long term relationship is a very emotional...

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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In my experience casual sex tends to be a lot more passionate, a lot more clumsy, but it can be quite good fun because it is so passionate and it, the actual, that passion burns out very quickly.

If you are in a casual relationship that goes on for you know for however long, it does tend to burn out very very quickly whereas if you're in a more serious relationship it will be a lot softer, a lot more slow, you'll get to know their body and what they like and it doesn't burn out so quickly.

Now the same question but differences at the emotional level.

Differences at the emotional level... Long term relationships for me have been very emotional, I get emotionally attached very easily, I think that's probably why I like the casual relationships because I don't get emotional at all. It's about the physical side of things and nothing else. Whereas the long term relationships they're more emotional, you think about them more and you want it to work and you want it to feel right, but yeah, casual relationships for me are just a lot easier because I get so emotionally attached and I don't have to deal with that side of things if I am in a casual relationship.

Many of those we talked to preferred sex in a stable relationship, believing they have more emotional and physical satisfaction. And people had strong views on being faithful (i.e. not having sex with other people). Open relationships may suit some people, but many felt 'cheating' was a waste of time and could make them feel guilty

 

Thinks that sex in a long term relationship is more enjoyable.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Well alright one night stands, nah because I mean when you're in a stable relationship you have, you know what I mean, you enjoy it because of your partner, these people it's just done there's no feelings involved or nothing like that, it's just, it's almost like a hobby or a job you know we don't, it's nothing.  

So I mean when you're in a relationship and you feel for this person you enjoy it, that's the point you know. So I mean you're satisfied with your partner, you're satisfied with your partner you ain't going to look elsewhere you know. If you're not satisfied with your partner then obviously you're going to look elsewhere you know it's all about being upfront and honest you know I'm cool with my partner, there's no problem.  

But I mean the difference in a stable relationship you enjoy it, you now what I mean you're comfortable, you feel nice but with these one night stands there's just nothing involved in it. So that's why it's a one night stand and you can just do whatever, you have sex and then tomorrow you don't want to call back the person or they might do it to you, vice versa, you never know because there's just nothing involved in it. 

So practically, realistically you don't really like them and they don't really like you so you know.

It's a physical thing then?

It's physical, so I mean, that's it.

 
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Explains that he does not want 'quick unproblematic sex' but a proper relationship.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Here in England I went to a support group, actually not for any kind of support but to meet people because I was frustrated with the gay scene. After my first relationships I thought that I might not be able to, well I thought that it was full of people who were there for quick and unproblematic sex only. 

And what I want is not, well, surely also sex but I think I would like to have a proper relationship and I thought that the way to get that would be to go to a community where there were other gay youngsters to whom I could talk and discuss my life.

What do you mean by a proper relationship?  Can you tell me more about it?

Well, I suppose my idea of a proper relationship is that it is serious and that you genuinely take care of the other person, not only take care but pay attention to the other person in all respects, and not only for the sex. And that you, for example I want to see my current boyfriend quite often and I want to know how he is. And I suppose it might be my conservative roots striking back, and something like a straight relationship where people might or might not live together but they definitely see a lot of each other and talk and communicate.

Okay, and they do things together?

Yes, and perhaps the caring and the understanding - yes, I find the caring and the understanding the most important part. And when you're in a club the music is so loud that you shout, you have to shout to get heard and you can only dance for a while and look at the other boys, then that's not a very good breeding ground for understanding and for communication other than by looking, touching, feeling, kissing.

 
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Believes that sexual relationships are easier if you are friends as well.

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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We're just really good friends; we do loads of things together. I'm with my second sexual partner now and it's a lot easier for me because we're much better friends than I was with the other boyfriend and he's very understanding.  

We just sort of worked through the problems of sex. There's good and bad things about that as well because, obviously, there is different levels of desire and what the other partner wants to do and things like that.  

But if you've got a good relationship, if you're good friends, then you can usually sort that out and talk things through and compromise. The best thing for me about being in a relationship is having like a best friend. My current boyfriend, I can tell him anything and I would hope that he would do the same. 
 

Recognises that sex in a relationship implies a sense of vulnerability. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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Okay how important do you see sex to a relationship?

I think it's really important. As I said before you know it's a way of being intimate and showing that you know and care for that person. You know you're getting so vulnerable to let, you're in that state and you know you want to pleasure them, they want to pleasure you, it's a nice feeling. 

I think a lot of that tends to be missed when you come to one night stands, there's not, there's not that feeling about, it's just the urgency to get what you want and then leave.
 

Says that he was unfaithful to his girlfriend but admits that he has learned from his experience.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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How important is faithfulness?

Very. I kind of cheated on my ex twice and she found out about one of them which did make life very, very difficult. I think, what I thought the first time would, would make me realise, you know, it'd be a learning thing but the second time just happened when I went away on a, on a residential with, with a group of friends. 

But it does make you, you know, after all of it, it does make you value what you have and it does make you realise that, you know, you want to be in the relationship. And you wouldn't want it, you wouldn't like it if the person you were seeing did the same to you.  So I suppose faithfulness is quite important.


People we spoke to thought it was important to be faithful, even those we talked to who admitted that they were 'not very good' at it! Some people we spoke to thought honesty was more important so that if a partner was sleeping with someone else they could at least protect themselves from STIs
 

Thinks that honesty between partners is more important than faithfulness per se.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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In the context of a serious or long-term relationship, how important is faithfulness?

That depends on the relationship. What I said to my husband when I met him, I said, 'If you were ever in a position where you need to go out and, or you feel you, you feel you want to be unfaithful and, you know, the sex isn't great between us or, you know, something happens, tell me'.  

I said, 'don't do it behind my back. If you do it behind my back that will hurt me very, very much'.  'If that's the case, tell me and we can decide, OK we're going to take a break. And, you know, you go off, you, you be with other people and then we can see where we're, we're going'. But I said, 'Don't do it behind my back'.  So I think, yeah, honesty is a big thing, not necessarily faithfulness.

Sexual satisfaction is clearly important to most young people but not everyone we interviewed thought it the most important thing in a stable relationshipThey said that a combination of good communication, affection, honesty and trust is what makes a relationship, and sex, special.

 

Thinks that communication and understanding are important elements for a good relationship.

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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In the context of a serious relationship how important is faithfulness? 

It is because I mean it don't make sense, you're going to be in a relationship and you're not faithful, because you're going to waste your time, you're wasting your energy, you're wasting yourself. I mean if you really like a person and you're going to be, you have to be faithful because it's going to cost you time and money and etc etc.  

No point you kidding yourself and blaming yourself, you're playing with their feelings and you're playing with yourself. I can't really see how am I going to be with my girl. I'm spending money taking her to the cinema or etc, or she's spending money vice versa,  it's gong to be a waste of time and a waste of money when rather I can hold my money and go to hotels and see how many women or whatever.  

So realistically, faithfulness is really the key to a relationship but it's more communication and understanding is really the key in a relationship, then everything will all come in a relationship, love, trust etc etc. Understanding and communication, if you don't communicate with your partner then they're going to start thinking is he or is she cheating or you know, if you're not understanding them you know you're not going to really... if they've got some problems they want to talk to you or they don't like certain things what's going on in the relationship like your friends come round too much, they keep interfering in the relationship.  

So you've got to have understanding, they'll say "Oh quiet, you're talking rubbish" and then it's going to cause more arguments and friction. So I mean realistically communicating and understanding will make everything come within the relationship faithfulness, love, happiness etc.
 

Talks about why he considers his present relationship as important. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
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I think to start with as a teenager, it's very much sort of, 'Oh she's nice, she's a bit of all right', that sort of thing it's very much based around that sort of physical lines. I don't think that goes away as you get into early adulthood. Because I think you know, everyone likes people who are good looking. But I think that you do have the sort of ability and desire to have a relationship on more levels than that.  

So I think things like spending time with someone, or having sort of common interests become a bit more important so' You've always got your friends but I think as you grow up into adulthood, you can combine sort of friend with girlfriend a bit better.

Well first of all I'd say that I'm, I'm in a relationship at the moment which is really good with my girlfriend and we're very happy and we support each other. I mean, I'm not saying that my life as a student is particularly stressful'but there are sort of difficult times both in my life and my girlfriends life and I think we are able to help each other in those sort of emotionally, and also just practically in terms of'  It's always useful to be able to share a problem.  

So there's that and then I think also there's the, the physical side to the relationship which is obviously good fun and is something which we enjoy and is important in the relationship, and then there's the companionship side, it's nice to have someone who you can talk to about anything and sort of spend time with, without really ever getting annoyed with them.  

And again I know you've got your friends but at times it can get just a bit much just with friends. Whereby, I guess its nice just to have someone who you can be with, without really having to make that effort to socialise, I think that's sort of what I'm trying to say.
 
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Says that it is important for him to find a companion rather than just someone to have sex with.

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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I think part of my character is to be really, really choosy I think and things, and I don't really see, I'm very conscious of quite how many compromises you kind of really have to make to be part of those relationships and I think, for me I would only be happy really making those compromises if I thought it was going to be worth while, and I haven't really met anyone who sort of blows me away enough really.

 

I'm kind of happy enough on my own and yeah, unless something really sensational was to come along I don't really feel an urge to go out and grab that.

 

Not really, I think everyone's aware just because I don't really, yeah because I haven't really kissed anyone I think in the last five years really, just haven't really. So yeah, I do discuss it every now and then and every now and then it gets a little bit lonely because it would be nice to have a partner in crime more than anything so we could go off and do things really, but I think that's what I feel I'm missing more than the sex side of it really.

 

It's the companionship?

 

Yeah I think it's just the companionship really yeah, I'm not really too fussed, I think I just haven't had too much sex maybe.

 

How important do you think is sex to a relationship?

 

Well, to me, I can really say, not very but I think I might be a little wrong in that - discussing it certainly with friends they rate it incredibly highly but I really think more than anything that I just want someone who I share interest and share time with and I want to go and do things, but I don't know, it's a funny one because inevitably the only thing I suppose that makes a friendship into a relationship is the sex bit so I suppose that bit of it has got to be important.

Some people we talked to didn't believe in sex before marriage, and felt that sex is something special to be shared between two people who are committed to one another

 

Explains her reasons for not agreeing with sex before marriage. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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Yeah, because obviously the Christian text is the bible, in the bible it typically states that you know sex before marriage is a no no, there are very good reasons for that. A lot of people do say to me, 'this is the 21st century, what's wrong with having sex', my response to that is god made or created sex not just for enjoyment but he taught that it's sacred, it's special and it's something two people who are committed to each other can enjoy. 

I think that commitment can only come in the bounds of marriage, in the bible' I mean if sex happens outside marriage then lots of problems can come up, you know I'm not saying just because some people do have sex before marriage things will go wrong, I mean a lot of people have very good relationships and things like that, with sex before marriage. 

You know, for instance what if they have a child out of wedlock, I mean it's a very old fashioned way of thinking but affection and sex means a lot to me in a relationship and well I'm just really quite wary of things like that.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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