What is ethical sluttery, anyway?


About four years ago, when I first decided I wanted to live the polyamorous lifestyle, I finally read a fantastic book that had been recommended to me separately by several good friends. The title of that book was The Ethical Slut.

This book played a vital role in helping me overcome some old hangups in my head, and come to terms with the sort of slut I wanted to be. The writers, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, didn’t use the word “slut” pejoratively. They wanted a word to describe people who love sex with lots of different people, and chose “slut” as a useful descriptor, doing their bit to reclaim it from its pejorative meaning in the process.

When I mention that title to people, sometimes they laugh as though I’ve told a joke, or they look confused – a lot of people think that living as an ethical person and living as a slut are mutually exclusive. I disagree, just as the writers of my favourite book on polyamory did before me. Ethics means treating people well, and being a slut means sleeping with a lot of people. I believe it’s totally possible to do both – not always easy, but it’s definitely possible.

My goal in life is to live as ethically and happily as possible. For me, this means being an ethical slut. It means never sleeping with anyone if there’s any question about their enthusiastic consent. It means treating my partners well, and treating THEIR partners well. It means loving myself and learning every day to be a better person, making choices deliberately instead of being carried along by circumstances. And last, but by no means least, it means delighting in the pleasures of sex with the people I love, without shame or guilt.

I am an ethical slut, and I’d like to share a little slice of my life with you.


Ethical Sluts with Personal Demons

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted. In the meantime I’ve had a whirlwhind romance with a woman named Sophie; the beginnings of several new friendships, some of which have been sexual or romantic; several dates with two people that ended with a mutual, cheerful decision to move on; a major depressive episode; and a breakup with Sophie.

Today I want to talk about my depression.

DepressionLike many people, I’ve struggled with depression for years. In my case, medication does usually help, but eventually the side effects (anorgasmia, anyone? Ugh.) provide a compelling argument for weaning myself off them, and the truth is a lot of the time my depressive symptoms can be managed without medication.

A lot of the time. Not always, unfortunately.

Over the winter I eased into a deep depression so slowly that I was the last to notice. I legitimately thought everything was fine. And it was — when things were going fantastic. I was in love, and the woman I loved was happy to spend a lot of time with me. We went on fun adventures and stayed up all night talking and kissing. We carved out a week to just spend time together doing fun things, without work interfering. It was amazing, and she was amazing. When we were together, I felt good. Mostly.

My depression has historically presented itself as mental and emotional exhaustion, with that deep numbness those of you who’ve been depressed know all too well. This was different. Instead of only blankness, it was also sadness. Maybe that was why I didn’t recognise it right away.

Things were going really well with Sophie. But I couldn’t stop second-guessing everything. I became insecure. I became that which I hate most — clingy. If I felt we hadn’t seen each other in a slightly longer interval than was usual for us, I panicked and overanalysed why. The entire time, Rational!Leah was standing behind me with an arched eyebrow, saying, “Seriously?” But she couldn’t seem to stop EmotionallyUnbalanced!Leah from freaking out.

I tried to hide the worst of my freakout from Sophie, but she could tell something was wrong. I was ashamed. I didn’t want her to see that I’d begun to feel possessive of her time. I didn’t want her to realise that I was clinging to her as a lifeline out of all the sad feelings that had begun to grow in me so quietly and gradually that it didn’t even occur to me to question their source. “Maybe I’m monogamous after all,” I thought during one particularly wretched night when I had literally turned down the opportunity to spend the night with her so I could go home and cry about how I wanted all her time and couldn’t have it, and about my absolute certainty that my sadness would end our relationship.

My body had failed to produce a sufficient volume of serotonin, and it turned me into a crazy person.

It wore on Sophie. She’s a great person, a wonderful friend, and she was a fantastic partner to me, but there’s only so much you can do for an unmedicated, clinically depressed lover who refuses to admit anything is wrong even when she’s crying next to you in the dark. She just held me patiently, and worried.

My other friends had begun to notice, too. I was irritable, impatient, and not the most awesome person ever to be around. Somewhere along the way I’d lost my spark of fun. I needed to constantly be around people in order to ward off the creeping horror of loneliness, but I had no creativity or energy or even interest in doing the things that I normally did with the people that I loved.

In the midst of this came the breakup.

It was inevitable, really. Sophie had been working at a less-than-ideal job for a long time, and the entire time we’d known each other she had been searching for something more suited to her abilities and her degrees. One week she drove six hours to interview for her dream job, and six hours back to tell me that she’d gotten it. That night, we went to a nice restaurant and drank a little too much champagne and came home and loved each other thoroughly.

Afterward, in the soft glow of the streetlights shining through her bedroom curtains, a wave of sadness hit me so hard that it was physically painful. I had been depending very heavily on Sophie to hold a light up to the shadows of sadness that seemed to devour me when I was alone. We’d always said that if she got that dream job we’d find a way to make it work long-distance, but lying there stroking her hair, I didn’t believe it at all. And even if I could have believed it, the bottom would still have fallen out of my stomach, because even if we kept dating, she wouldn’t be here.  She wouldn’t be able to hold a lifeline for me anymore.

There were about three weeks between that night and the day she moved. I helped her pack, feigning cheerfulness and trying to muster the excitement I knew I’d normally feel for her as she set out for new opportunities. I tried to be emotionally supportive when she stressed out about the major changes she’d be experiencing, to reassure her when she wondered if she’d made the right choice.

I think I failed.

We grew more and more distant as the big day approached. Our physical relationship all but vanished. Overnights became rare. I told myself she needed space, that I’d been smothering her, and that she was going through a major life change and I needed to be respectful. Meanwhile, my depression grew. I cried a lot, and as someone who very rarely feels the need to weep, I found that very overwhelming. Twice I called a friend for some physical comfort and was unable to share sex because I was so sad. It was a bad time. I tried not to over-message Sophie. I failed.

A few days before the move, the breakup happened. Sophie clearly felt terrible about it, but the great physical distance would make many things impractical, and she felt that making the attempt to countinue our relationship despite the distance would be a mistake. We’d both raised concerns about the distance before, but had dismissed rather than addressed them. Now Sophie had taken a good, long look at her feelings and decided that dating someone so far away wasn’t something she was ready to do. I had to respect that. We both wanted to remain friends, but Sophie wanted time without contact to help her adjust to the transition from lover to friend. I had to respect that, too.

I had made Sophie my anchor to reality while my mind was flooded with distorted ideas. Now cut adrift, I began to drown in them. I was miserable, but not really because of the breakup. I hadn’t even begun to process that. No, in my wretched state I was selfishly obsessed with my own loneliness. I went underground in response and barely spoke to anyone for about a week. I binged an entire season of truly terrible television and slept as much as I could. My work suffered. I avoided leaving the flat as much as possible, even to the point of skipping meals so I wouldn’t have to go to the supermarket so soon. It was bad.

Somewhere in the midst of this, as I slowly regained contact with the outside world but felt no less miserable, I was on the phone with a friend. “I think I might be depressed,” I told her.

“No shit,” she said. “You have been for months.”

Everyone else I talked to told me the same thing. I had been blaming the symptoms of my depression on short-term things, everything from PMS and sleep deprivation to the imminent move, or, later, the breakup. But my friends all said my depression became noticeable back when things were going really well in my relationship with Sophie. When they pointed it out, I remembered how low I’d felt whenever we parted. She was so amazing that being around her had kept the demons at bay– but only at bay. They had been waiting for me whenever she left. If I was really honest, they had sometimes gotten in while she was there, too.

Finally, like the genius I am, I went to the doctor and got on some fucking meds.

Looking back, I regret that my last few months with Sophie were tainted by my brain failing me. She’s brilliant and unique and I will never again know anyone quite like her, and I wish I had done a better job of cherishing our time together.

Instead, in the midst of my depression I treated her as a mere comfort dispenser, my favourite escape from the crushing loneliness that enveloped me. I became utterly self-absorbed and failed to be supportive when she needed it. I became possessive, and tried to make her responsible for meeting my needs.

I put her in an unhappy position, and I’ll always regret that.

Depression in any relationship is a hard thing to deal with. Depressed people aren’t great friends or lovers or what have you. When your brain is out of whack, it’s hard to be loving and thoughtful and reasonable. And loving someone who’s numb or sad all the time can be draining and unrewarding. It’s hard sometimes to draw the line – being supportive of the ones you love is important, but so is protecting yourself from relationships that have become unhealthy.

If the depression lasts a long time, it’s hard to know when or if to cut your losses. It’s frustrating to remember how someone was when you fell in love with them and to wonder whether they’ll find that person again before the darkness inside them poisons your relationship.

I don’t know whether or not my behaviour while I was depressed influenced Sophie’s decision to change our relationship from lovers to friends. If it did, though, that influence was justified. We all want to be there for the people we care about through the good times and the bad, but it’s important to set limits on the negative influence that someone else’s mental health problems can have on your life. It was never Sophie’s responsibility to ward off the symptoms of my depression. It wouldn’t have been even if we were monogamous, even if we’d made a permanent commitment to each other.

My friends and family, Sophie included, are integral parts of my support system. They have all made my world a brighter place to live in, and helped me when I’ve needed it. But there is a limit to the help they can provide. My doctor can prescribe medication – but only if I make the appointment. My therapist can talk me through some negative thought processes – but only if I make the appointment, and am honest with her. My lovers can hold me – but only when I ask, and only when I am not actively hurting them. My friends can keep me company – but only if they actually want to. Sophie, and others, helped to ward away the darkness in my head, but in the process I treated them poorly, and that was not okay.

What strikes me now, as Medicated!Leah and PostBreakup!Leah, is that all of the drama and worry that I put my loved ones through as Depressed!Leah was really not necessary. If I had paid closer attention to my sinking mood, my lack of energy, etc., I might have gotten treatment much sooner and averted a month or more of unhappy silences, snappish afternoons with friends, and sleepless nights where I kept Sophie awake as well with my overwhelming sadness. None of that was remotely useful, and none of it had to happen.

Those of us with mental illnesses – at least those of us who are able to do so – are responsible for getting our own needs met just as anyone else is. We’re responsible for seeking diagnosis and treatment, and for being aware of and minimising as much as possible the negative effects our illness has on others. We’re responsible for recognising in ourselves the warning signs that something isn’t right, and finding ways to address it in a healthy way.

Those of us who are in relationships of any kind with people with mental illnesses are also responsible for getting our own needs met. We’re responsible for prioritising our own emotional stability and recognising which demands on us are reasonable and which are unreasonable.

Being in a relationship means being supportive when someone in the relationship is having a rough time. Occasionally that requires sacrifices, but it’s important for each individual involved to recognise what sacrifices are or aren’t healthy for us to make.

When someone I loved developed an alcohol problem, I gently expressed my concern, cleaned out my freezer when she visited, offered to attend therapy or support groups with her as moral support, and helped her find rides home when she was drunk. I spent hours upon hour comforting her and trying to help her sort out various alcohol-fuelled disasters. I sat with her in the hospital after she wrapped her car around a tree driving at twice the legal blood alcohol limit. I hoped desperately that the accident would help her recognise how out of control things had gotten, but when she used alcohol to cope with her accident, too, I reached a point where I realised she was not ready to get better.

I realised that my relationship with her was costing me more, emotionally, than I could afford, and I distanced myself from her. It was very painful to go from very close to rarely speaking to one another, but when I wasn’t overtaxed with taking care of her, I was able to resume some of my own responsibilities that I had been neglecting.

Mental illness sucks for everyone affected by it – not just the person who’s sick, but everyone in their lives. It’s not a get-out-of-responsibility card for the person who has it. In the case of my alcoholic friend, I didn’t really blame her for her addiction or its effects, and I’m sure Sophie didn’t blame me for being sad all the time. But both my alcoholic friend and I are the only ones who can battle our own personal demons, and it’s our responsibility to do so. No one else can, and trying would just suck you dry.

How has mental illness in you or a loved one affected your relationships? Do you feel able to express concerns about the behaviours of loved ones who are struggling with a mental illness? Do you feel able to end or distance yourself from a relationship out of self-preservation when you don’t blame the other person for the strain they are putting on you?

First Contact: Sophie Meets Josh

Sophie and I had another date Friday night, our fourth.

I love being with her. It’s strange how natural it is with her, how easy. It’s refreshing to have such a new relationship be so… comfortable. Not complacent, just… not-stressful. I have all of the excitement and virtually none of the insecurity, with her. She is an amazing person, and we complement each other well. Being around her is a joyful experience.

On our first date we spoke a bit about me sharing sex with other partners. She has been more comfortable with this idea than the concept of multiple romantic entanglements.

She’s still coming from a paradigm in which a partner’s love for someone else means less love is available for her. One of her past long-term partners gradually distanced herself from Sophie when the partner began a secret relationship with someone else. In that situation, Sophie’s partner’s interest could only be focussed on one person at a time, and she chose a different person. It’s a painful story, and one that’s easy to relate to. After something like that, the idea of a lover openly displaying romantic affection toward someone else is understandably a bit daunting.

So, we started by talking about the sex stuff. The sex stuff was easier to deal with. Sophie’s had threesomes in the past, and already worked through a lot of sex-jealousy.

Unfortunately, she worked through it largely by making pacts separating sex and love. That’s sort of the opposite of my M.O., so we’re having to have a lot of dialogue about this.

Sophie is willing to try the there’s-enough-love approach, but she’s hesitant. I feel sometimes like I’m pressuring her into something she isn’t really excited about, and it makes me very uncomfortable. Every time I ask her if this is really what she wants, though, she tells me it is.

The third or fourth time I asked Friday night, she looked me square in the face and told me, “When I was afraid of dogs I sat on my grandparents’ floor and made my brother bring puppy after puppy from the breeders next door and set them on my lap until I was covered in the things, until they were climbing all over me and licking and playing with each other on my lap, and then I told him to bring in the adult dogs. I sat there for a fucking hour, watching them, daring to touch these terrifying, unpredictable animals, until I realised I was okay.

“When I was afraid of diving I went to the tallest diving board at the water park, closed my eyes, and dove in. I felt like I was going to splatter on the bottom of the pool, but I fucking did it.

“And right now I am terrified that if I date someone who loves other people, she won’t be able to love me. But here I am, so shut up and fucking prove my fear wrong.”

There was absolutely nothing I could do at that moment but kiss her. She is so brilliantly courageous. She inspires me.

During that first date Sophie explained that the easiest way for her to handle my other relationships was to know as much as possible about the other people I share love and sex with, and then to meet them. She told me that at least for now, she would feel more secure about things if I always tell her when I have a date or share sex with someone else. I feel uncomfortable about this. I would never hide these things from a partner, and they do come up in conversation, but having to report in is… different. I understand her need to feel safe in this relationship, though, so I agreed – temporarily.

Friday night we watched a film together snuggled on her sofa and then a dear friend of mine came round to introduce himself. Josh and I have known each other for about four years now — he was one of the first people I met in this city — and are very close. We tried dating and decided it didn’t work for us, but we’re very good friends with a loving relationship that sometimes includes sex. Josh and I shared sex last week, with Sophie’s foreknowledge and agreement, and had a wonderful time.

After we finished the film, there was about half an hour before Josh was due to come by, and Sophie became visibly nervous. She started tidying things that didn’t need tidying and began to reorganise her DVDs. She touched up her hair and makeup several times. I stopped her on her way to straighten a lamp for the third time and trapped her in my arms. “Hey.”

“Hey.” She looked up at me, biting her bottom lip the way she always does. (Oh, my god, this woman is beautiful.) Her eyes were anxious.

“Why are you so frenetic?” I asked her, brushing a kiss against her forehead.

“It’s not exactly an experience I have every day,” she told me. “I want to make a good impression.”

“You’re amazing. How could you not?” I asked her, and leaned in for a kiss. Unfortunately, Josh chose that moment to arrive. Sophie checked her hair one more time before answering the door, smiling nervously.

Josh came in, all smiles. He had brought Sophie some cherry blossoms, her favourite flower. She accepted them gratefully, and happy for something to do, found a vase for them. I hugged Josh and stole a light kiss. I don’t know whether Sophie saw. If I had been thinking, I would have been a little less affectionate, just to let her get used to it, but I was on automatic.

Josh removed his shoes and sat on the sofa, and then Sophie came in with the flowers in a vase and set them on her desk. “So,” she said brightly. “Here we are.”

I felt so nervous. I desperately wanted Sophie and Josh to like each other — Josh is one of my very best friends and I’m already crazy about Sophie. But I could see the tension in Sophie’s frame, and I couldn’t think of anything to say.

Josh swooped in and saved the day, making a crack about Sophie’s tiny stature compared to my hulking height and then complimenting her on a metal knickknack I’d never thought to ask about before. Apparently both Sophie and Josh really loved the book series/movie The Hunger Games, and what I’d thought was just a cool-looking design had something to do with the series.

Out of my depth, I sat on the sofa and just watched them talk. Sophie stood over by the desk at first and then came to sit across my lap facing Josh. They finished their Hunger Games discussion and I was able to rejoin the conversation again. When they started swapping embarrassing anecdotes about me and discussing my mannerisms and quirks, I knew they’d get on just fine. There was a bit of an awkward moment when Josh began, “Hey, have you ever noticed how after Leah cums, she–”

I had to hit him with a sofa pillow. “Spoilers!” I noticed Sophie blushing, and I laughed. “We haven’t gotten there yet.” I planted a kiss on her cheek. “We’re taking things slowly.”

“That’s cool,” Josh said. There was an awkward silence. Then he started up again. “Sophie, when you do fuck her, don’t let her–”

This time Sophie hit him with the pillow.

It was a good evening. We talked and laughed late into the night and ordered Chinese food around 2am. I don’t think we left until probably five or six in the morning. I think they like each other, and I am ridiculously, deliriously happy.

An Open Letter to Thirteen Year Old Me

Please note that this letter is to a younger version of myself. At 13, I knew nothing of polyamory, kink, or a host of other things, and the person I was then definitely wasn’t ready for that knowledge. If this is a little simplistic, that’s why. Also, because there was so much I didn’t understand back then, I had a hard time narrowing down the things I wish I’d known, so this is a longer post.

Dear Leah in 2002,

Look, I’m you from the future, and I’m going to give you some information that I dearly wish I’d had when I was your age. I can prove I’m you: I know about the drawings, the stories, and the black and silver handle. (Clean that thing with antibacterial washing-up liquid, dry it, and keep it in a sealed plastic bag between uses, by the way. I can’t believe you don’t do that already. Also, under the bed is a terrible hiding spot. Try a drawer.)

First: wanting sex, thinking about sex, or even having sex before you’re married doesn’t make you a bad person. God will love you regardless, and not with the caveat “even though she really likes sex.” Sex, even premarital sex, is not a sin. Sex is good, and loving your body is good, and masturbating is a positive, happy, 100% normal experience that you have absolutely no good reason to be ashamed of. Yes, it’s private, but that doesn’t make it shameful. Your body is beautiful and exploring it is your right. It’s your body. Learn its secrets. Cherish the time you have for yourself. You will always live in this body, and it will always belong to you. If you get married someday, your body will still be yours, to share with your spouse in love when you want to.  It is never anyone else’s job to tell you what you can and cannot, or must and must not, do sexually with your own body.

No one will think anything’s weird about you not having a hymen the first time you have sex if you break it beforehand. Lots of girls either don’t have a hymen or break it one way or another before sex. The hymen is a tiny inconvenience, not a special seal your husband has to break open to prove that you love him enough. Everything people have told you about the importance staying a virgin is stupid, wrong, and dangerous. Your worth does not decrease the more sex you have. Your desirableness does not decrease the more sex you have. Anyone who can’t handle you having had sex with someone else before him has problems on so many levels I can’t really explain it to 13-year-old you. Just understand that anyone who demands your virginity isn’t making a genuinely caring connection with you. When you really, truly believe that you are ready to have sex, don’t be held back by the fear that it will damage you in some way.

Right now you’re struggling with the idea of homosexuality. You don’t understand why it’s considered wrong when it doesn’t hurt anyone, but you also want to be good with God and you have always been told that he’s not cool with it. I remember your struggle. Your curiosity about other girls’ bodies is making it harder, isn’t it? Well, this may be a spoiler, but I wish I had known when I was you that being with someone of the same sex is not a sin. It’s not wrong. It doesn’t damage the soul. It doesn’t hurt you psychologically if your partner has the same sort of privates. The people who say these things are very, very wrong.

There are many good, happy, wonderful people leading meaningful lives that include sex or romance with someone of the same sex or gender as themselves. And it’s really, truly, okay. It doesn’t make them sinful or bad. The problem is, there are way, way more straight people than people who openly share love or sex with someone of the same gender, to lots of people things that are different are scary and dangerous and bad. That’s why people are so against it. Fortunately, by the time 2013 rolls around, almost everyone you know, even the people you know from the church you go to back in your time, has realised that there’s nothing wrong with not being straight. Even your mum eventually comes around! Don’t feel bad about your interest in other girls. It’s normal to be curious, and wherever that curiosity takes you will be okay.

Sex isn’t something a someone else does to you. It’s a collaboration. You and your partners will learn each others’ bodies, each other’s desires, and you will love learning how to move and different fun things you can do for your enjoyment and the enjoyment of your partners. It is better for you and for your partners when you are a proactive participant in sex. Don’t be so afraid to do it wrong that you wait for the other person to decide what will happen. If you don’t know what you want, you can still be assertive about needing some exploration.

Ask lots of questions while you’re doing it about what your partner likes – it’s a playful, fun way to learn about them, and that way you don’t have to be afraid you’re doing anything badly. If things are moving too fast, you do have the ability to slow things down, and a good sex partner will listen to you. If your partner doesn’t listen to your needs, stop what’s happening. You will have many other opportunities to have better sex, and it’s not worth your time if the sex isn’t going to be a good collaboration between both of you.

Sex is a skill that you will learn. Each experience will give you knowledge to make the next time even better. By the time you’re 24, you will have had so many great sexual experiences that even your awesome first time won’t even rank in the top 10.

I know you want to wait until you are in love and hopefully at least engaged or maybe married before you have sex. That’s a valid choice, and you should expect respect for it. But remember that it is a choice. It’s not the only option, not even for good girls. If you find out in a few years that you don’t want to wait, it will not change your essential goodness. Sex itself can never tarnish you.

Here’s what could hurt you, though: not sex without marriage or even sex without commitment, but sex without caring, communication, or compatibility. I want you never to have sex unless it’s with someone you are just happy to be around, whom you know is really happy to be around you. Choose people who care about you and whom you care about, with whom you have things in common. You should talk to someone for at least five hours of real conversation, not including the time you talk about how much you like each other, before you have sex with them. That’s a guideline – sometimes the connection takes longer or shorter. But you should care about them, and they should care about you, if you want the experience to be good. Your needs and feelings should be really important to your partners, and you should give their needs and feelings the same priority. If you’re considering sex with someone you don’t really care about or who doesn’t really care about you, wait. It won’t be the experience that you deserve.

Don’t be too timid to talk about what you want or need. Never tell someone the lie that you think they want to hear when it comes to sex, because while it might patch over an awkward moment, in the long run it will screw things up.

As embarrassing as it might feel, when you want to have sex with someone for the first time, talk about it with them ahead of time. It can actually be a lot of fun to talk about things you want to do and how you want your experience with them to go.

During these conversations, talk about how you are going to protect yourselves and each other. There are lots of different types of condoms and other barriers that actually make the experience better – there are flavoured condoms and flavoured latex sheets (called a dental dam) to go over your pussy when someone wants to lick it, and there are condoms with bumps or ridges or extra goo on to make insertion feel better. If you can’t find a dental dam, you can take scissors to a flavoured condom and that will work. They WILL sell you condoms at the shop you’ve seen them at. No one will look at you funny or ask for ID. No one will laugh. To mature grownups, it’s just another product everybody buys, like razors or cold medicine.

Ask a lot of questions about sex. It will be easier the more questions you ask. Look things up – there are search engines in your time, right? That’s best when you’re looking for definitions, though. If you want to learn other stuff, it’s better to ask real people, because the information on the Internet is dodgy and honestly, I remember you not being very good at telling what’s legit and what’s not on there. (That’s another skill you’ll learn and use a LOT as an adult.)

Every person has different likes and dislikes, too, by the way. You’ve got this assumption that guys come in two or three different varieties with sets of interests that are pretty much the same. It’s not true. Every person you meet is going to have their own weird assortment of likes and dislikes, and with practice you’ll learn how to ask about them and even have fun learning about all the different things there are to enjoy.

Make sure that both you and your partner want the same thing. Right now you think unrequited love is terribly tragic and romantic, and I guess there’s not much you can do to rush through that phase, but do try, because let me tell you, the other side is a million times better. You don’t have to be in love with someone to care about them or want to have sex with them. You don’t have to want to spend the rest of your life with someone to care about them or want to have sex with them. What really matters is that you care about each other and are clear on what each of you wants from the relationship. Sometimes really good friends truly can have sex as part of their really good friendship, and when they can, it’s better than okay.

Don’t be so worried about missing out that you take bad chances as well as good ones. If you and the person you want to be with have totally different ideas of what you want to have happen, you can wait. You will have many, many other chances, I promise you.

When you have good sex, it will feel really good… really, really good. And as you’re lying there feeling really good, your brain is going to automatically flood itself with chemicals to make you feel even better. Even if the person you’re lying next to is a good friend you don’t have romantic feelings for, whom you enjoy sharing sex with but know you wouldn’t want to marry or even date, you are going to feel a surge of something a lot like being in love. It’s okay. Ride that feeling out, and cherish the experience. But recognise it for what it is: a lovely sexual afterglow. If it’s real love, you’ll know about it when you’re not in that afterglow. In that moment, don’t blurt anything out. Tell the person how amazing they are, kiss them, hold them, smile at them, but wait until the feeling is less new to talk about it and what the two of you want to do about it.

Your body is beautiful, and it is yours. Learn to love it, take care of it, and be happy in it, even when it doesn’t look the way you wish it would. Never think that looking like the girls in the magazines is the only way to be beautiful or desirable, because darling, someday you will meet people who think your body type is the most beautiful they’ve ever seen. You never have to be ashamed of looking different to some of the girls you think are beautiful. Seriously, it is not just your grandmother who thinks you’re pretty. Your energy and the way you talk to people and interact with them count for a lot, and on top of that there are many, many people who really like the way you look and even prefer your appearance over the ones you so wish to have. And if you meet someone with different preferences, that’s okay. It’s their preferences, and that’s about them, not you. You are still beautiful and wonderful, even if some other person happens to prefer a different flavour of beautiful and wonderful.

There’s so much more I wish I could tell you, but you’re going to figure out most of it just fine on your own. There will be some bumps and bruises as you learn, just like rollerblading, but you’ll end up happy, loving, loved, and sexually fulfilled, with the agency to make your own choices and stick to them. I can’t think of anything better to ask for, sexually speaking.

Leah from 2013

P.S.: A few years from now a very pretty person with a nice bum and long straight hair will recommend a book about something you’re unsure about. Do not lose the copy this person gives you, or you’ll have to buy a new one when you are ready to read it. And yes, you will really want to read it someday.