Scarleteen, sex ed for the real world

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Anonymous asks:

Why do I have hormones, and why do they make me give into temptation?

CJ replies:

Without hormones, our bodies would not be able to function! Hormones are essentially chemical messengers that deliver the memo to cells that they are supposed to change up what they're doing. Not all hormones are sex hormones; there are lots of kinds! Many hormones are produced by our endocrine system, which includes our pituitary gland, pineal gland, thyroid, adrenal glands, and our gonads (testes and ovaries, depending on what you've got). But there are also hormone-secreting cells in our digestive tract, kidneys, and pancreas.

You might have heard of insulin, which is an important hormone that helps regulate our blood sugar. That's just one of the many hormone functions that play an important part in our day to day lives, stuff that we don't necessarily even realize is happening but without which we'd not be alive. Hormones are what cause us to grow, what makes our immune systems function or not function, affect our moods, regulate our metabolism, influence our reproductive cycles, and respond to information and recognize if we need to fight or flee. Basically hormones allow our bodies to function, and we all have them in various combinations.

But I suspect that you might really be asking about sex hormones. There are two types of sex hormones: androgens (which includes testosterone) and estrogens. Men and women each have androgens and estrogens in their bodies (yep, you read that right: guys produce estrogen in their bodies, and girls produce testosterone) but, largely, androgens are a lot more prominent in men and estrogens are a lot more prominent in women.

Testosterone impacts a lot of stuff in guys' bodies. It helps with male puberty, contributing to our voices lowering/deepening, increased muscle mass, and the development of facial and body hair. Testosterone also helps regulate the sex drive (in girls, too). A huge drop in testosterone level will likely cause a decreased interest in sex, but, here's the thing, there's so much more to sex drive and desire than a simple issue of hormones. Yep, many guys will report an increase in horniness when they hit puberty, but no hormone in and of itself will cause you to give in to anything or make you do anything. Some researchers believe that external stuff like sights, sounds, smells, etc., have more to do with directly influencing your sex drive than your testosterone does, assuming your testosterone is within normal ranges. In other words, unless there is something medically wrong with your hormones (levels are either way too high, or way too low), chances are that your horniness has a lot to do with social and other external influences.

There's a lot of rhetoric out there about "temptation" and "giving in", along with "purity" and "chastity" and those sorts of words. Sometimes when I hear folks talking about temptation or giving in or being made to act in a certain way because of circumstances beyond their control, I envision a zombie take-over of our bodies. Really, though, it's not quite like that. I feel that we need to give ourselves a little more credit as rational human beings, and also hold ourselves responsible for our actions. Along with that responsibility, though, comes the intense need for education to learn how to manage our desires, have good communication skills, and learn about our bodies!

Some educators who will only promote abstinence-only-until-marriage do so because they argue that teens are just raging balls of hormones who cannot be trusted. Teens, in their eyes, "just can't help it" and simply cannot control themselves. Slaves to your hormones, you can't think straight or make a good or safe decision. I don't happen to believe that.

Chances are at some point as you go through puberty you're going to experience an increase in sexual desire. You might notice that you get turned on more often or more easily. You make wake up more often with erections or you might experience wet dreams (when you ejaculate during the night in your sleep). You might find yourself wanting to engage in any number of sexual activities with a range of partners. You might want to touch yourself and masturbate. And all of that is to be expected, and it's ok. A lot of that is influenced by hormones. Influenced, but not zombie-takeover-controlled. Get the difference?

I think that part of the game here is recognizing that these changes in feelings are to be expected and are not something dirty, wrong, or somehow shameful.

You did not mention what kind of temptation you feel that your hormones have been making you give into. Depending on what sorts of messages we've gotten about sex and sexuality growing up, and what our personal, religious, and family values are, any number of things could be seen as temptations. Some people may feel uncomfortable with even thinking about sex or pleasure. Others may feel that masturbation is dirty and wrong. Others may feel that any kind of sex--intercourse, oral sex, manual sex, anal sex--is a temptation to avoid. Still others may struggle with same-sex desire conflicting with their value sets.

It's up to each of us to formulate our own set of values and beliefs around sex and sexuality, and to operate within our own ideas about what is good, right, and healthy for us. For some people that may mean that they do not have sex or masturbate because that is not something they think is right for them at this point in their lives. Others may choose to engage in a particular sexual activity, with themselves or another person, because that matches up with their sexual values. I can't tell you what sexual values you should use for yourself, but this site is full of some great information that can hopefully inform you and help you consider options as you decide for yourself what will feel comfortable or right for you. Getting accurate information about sex and sexuality is absolutely crucial, and helps us to make informed decisions about our bodies and our sexuality.

Choice and decision are key words here. I believe that as humans we have the gift of a rational brain. Sure, sometimes we might make decisions that turn out to be not-so-fabulous, but we have the capacity to reason and think things through. In a way I guess that makes things more complicated and confusing because we can't simply give the excuse that "[fill-in-the-blank] made me do it." Nope, we have more agency and control than that. We have the ability--and responsibility--to learn about our bodies and figure out how we are going to manage sexual feelings and desire.

If you do not have a partner and you are faced with sexual urges or desires, one solution may be to allow yourself that release via masturbation. Self-love is safe love, and has the added bonus of helping you to learn about your body and what feels good for it. That information is useful to have so that if and when you do have a partner, you'll have some knowledge of your body to share with that person.

If you do have a partner and you're feeling as if you'd like to pursue some kind of sexual activity, then you need to discuss that with your partner. So not only will your own sexual value set matter, but that of your partner will also be important to consider. The important thing is that before you do anything sexual with your partner, both of you need to be on the same page about it. Hormones simply can't be used as an excuse here; if either you or your partner does not want to do something, then you should not be doing it...even if you personally would like to. Listening to your partner, openly communicating, and learning how to manage it if you are rejected when making a sexual advance are skills that we need to develop and embrace.

It sounds to me like you might want to explore your own sexual values and consider where you've received messages about your body and about sex. Before making any decisions about your readiness for any kind of sexual activity, you'll want to know your boundaries and limits, as well as your own beliefs about sexuality. These beliefs and values will help guide you as you manage your way through puberty and into adulthood (where we still have hormones, and still need to manage sexual feelings).

For now, here are some other articles to read that might offer you some more information and help you consider and form your own values:

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.

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