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How do we know if our sexual habits are harming others?

When it comes to sex, it’s easy to think only about ourselves.

What do we need to feel fulfilled? And when?

And it’s especially easy to think only of ourselves if we’re not in a serious relationship.

Yet, to fulfill those needs there’s almost always another participant and/or partner involved. We need to take into consideration these participants (partners) to ensure that they are being treated fairly and appropriately.

The Harvey Institute provides us with the Six Principles of Sexual Health. And while it wasn’t created to answer the question of ‘are we harming others?’, it does serve as a useful framework to think through this question from different angles.

Consent – There’s good reason to put ‘consent’ at the top of our list. Consent means ‘voluntary cooperation’. Whatever sex looks like between you and your partners, consent is mandatory. It’s mandatory from a legal standpoint and from a moral standpoint. And let’s not forget about the age of consent. Consent by a minor is not sufficient. Partners need to be of legal age of consent when it comes to sexual matters.

Exploitation – When it comes to sex, exploitation typically falls into two categories. The first refers to using a position of power to coerce others to have sex. Indirectly encouraging someone to have sex so that they don’t ‘lose’ something is a major ‘Don’t do it!’. And it doesn’t really matter what that something is … their job, their friends, a possible promotion, access to their home, access to love … it can be anything at all.

The second common type of exploitive sex is when a partner breaks a couple’s sexual agreement; one steps outside of a monogamous relationship or breaks the agreed upon rules of the relationship. Where’s the exploitation? It’s an exploitation of trust and it’s very real. We need to ensure our sexual activities are free from exploitation of all forms.

Honesty – A healthy sex life requires honesty with yourself, with your partner, and with any other participants. You can decide upon your own principles and habits, but we must be honest with everyone they touch. And we’re not just talking about being honest in the ‘heat of the moment’. Honest discussion about sexual matters can help bring about the types of relationships that will best serve you longer term. Being dishonest with a sexual partner

Shared Values – For our purposes, let’s think of Shared Values as Expectations. What does your sexual partner expect from you? The answer doesn’t matter. Knowing what the answer is and being honest about your intentions certainly does. Since taking and not giving can emotionally harm our sexual partners, it’s much better to understand what both sides are expecting from time spent together.

Protection – This one should be a no brainer, but we all need a good reminder … again and again. We absolutely need to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our participants from disease and unwanted pregnancy. Talk, get tested, protect yourself. Period.

Pleasure – For most, pleasure is a primary motivator for sexual activity. Our actual sexual desires don’t always line up with expected sexual desires. The things that might excite you the most – and that may change with the situation - may not be what another would guess. Find out what your sexual partner is hoping for … what they will find pleasurable … and be committed to making any encounter mutually satisfying.

Satisfying ourselves at the cost of others is never an acceptable approach to sexual pleasure. And, as we just read, there are various ways in which a sexual partner could be harmed.

So, let’s take a full look at ourselves. See how we measure up. Sex should be a positive experience for all. Let me know if you’re struggling. I’m here to listen, to advise, and to help you build the habits that will make you feel good about your sexual health.

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