When you get down to the basics, sex doesn't have to be complicated or terrifying. (Image via Chicago Tribune)
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Like most things in life, sex is trial and error.

Sex: the one-syllable word that transforms your stomach into a butterfly garden, electrifies your blood or tightens your jawbone in embarrassment.

Since your parents covered your prepubescent eyes during sex scenes, and you struggled to keep up with notes about the scrotum and fallopian tubes in sixth grade, sex has always held the distant allure of an entirely different world. A decade later, when most young adults discover that being a grownup is overrated, they also learn that sex can be fun but multifaceted landscape.

Everyone explores their sexuality at their own pace. Whether you’re in a committed relationship or down for casual hookups, sex in your 20s teaches valuable lessons about intimacy, reciprocity, communication and the human body.

1. You Have a Choice

When you begin your sexual journey, you have a choice. Are you searching for pleasure or something more?

Your answer is the first step toward a healthy sex life and relationships. Some people prefer to have sex without intimacy and strings attached. While viewing sex as a purely physical act is possible, this perspective is not for the weak or faint of heart. You have to compartmentalize your emotions and lower your expectations. Your sex partners are not yours to claim and vice versa. They owe you nothing.

Friends with benefits is spicy and dangerous territory!

2. Intimacy = Vulnerability

If you seek the emotional connection of intimacy, you must yield to a certain level of  vulnerability.

Let’s be honest. Trying to remain open and relaxed while virtually playing naked Twister isn’t an easy feat. However, intimacy can often lead to better sex because both people are comfortable and present within the moment.  Maintaining eye contact, focusing your energy and thoughts on your partner and not having anxiety about your appearance or performance all create a deeper level of attachment.

In other words, don’t be afraid to catch feelings.

3. You Get What You Give

“If you’re such good friends that you gave him a blow job, did he eat your pussy?”

The line from Gabrielle Union’s New York Times bestseller, “We’re Going to Need More Wine,” left me floored as I read the words with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon in my hand. Union posed the question to a young woman in a teen empowerment seminar, later encouraging her to try anilingus as well.

Initially, the comments may seem crass, but Union was trying to prove that in order to “own your sexuality” maturely, you have to be willing to experience and give pleasure — it’s a two-way street. Reciprocity is at the foundation of a healthy sex life because it prevents selfishness and ensures that both you and your partner’s gratification is a priority.

4. Sex Is Power in Disguise

In order to fully practice reciprocity, you have to be comfortable with shifting power dynamics.

In most sexual relationships, there is a dominant and submissive role. If you’re a “Fifty Shades of Grey” fan, calm down — I’m trying to make this relatively PG. People who prefer to play the dominant role usually have more control. They initiate sex, suggest different positions and guide the foreplay. In contrast, people who assume the submissive role avoid taking the lead. Instead, they follow and respond to their partner’s movements.

Nonetheless, experimenting with both roles isn’t a bad idea. Alternating the responsibilities in the bedroom establishes balance, decreases pressure and helps you try new things. Don’t put yourself in a box!

5. Communication Is Key

Public service announcement: It’s okay to talk about sex with your partner!

If you can send an eggplant and tongue emoji to initiate sex, discussing the act shouldn’t be a problem. Communication presents the opportunity to place your wants, needs and boundaries on the table, therefore decreasing the chances of a mishap between the sheets.

Ask your partner: Are you against oral sex? What are your favorite positions? Which types of foreplay arouse you the most? Furthermore, even if something sounds a bit weird, go for it! If you like a little aggression or your toes sucked, don’t be afraid to say so. The conversation may be uncomfortable, but honesty maximizes the experience for both parties.

6. Be Clear About Your Expectations

No one likes being misled.

If you’re having sex outside of a monogamous relationship, make sure you and your partner are on the same page. It’s easy to land in a gray area when emotions and sex are involved, but communication also prevents hurt feelings.

Determine whether you and your partner simply shared a one-night stand or are allowing consistent hookups to be a possibility. If so, will both of you continue to have sex with other people? Are you dating or exploring a romantic relationship beyond sex? Clarification is a guaranteed safeguard against the dreaded “so what are we?” text for the sender and recipient.

7. You’re Not Immune to STDs

Not to be preachy, but sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are nothing to play around with. Whether you’re straight or gay, married or single, engaging in oral, anal or vaginal intercourse, you and your partner are susceptible to STDs.

However, don’t wait until your partner is unwrapping a condom to discuss sexual history and ask him or her to get tested. Many STDs have no signs or symptoms, but the infection can still be transmitted to your sex partners. Some of the major ones include chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, genital herpes and HIV. Look out for common symptoms, such as painful urination and sex, abnormal discharge and itching around the genitalia area.

So, if it isn’t already drilled into your head by years of PSAs and sex-ed classes, use protection and visit your doctor regularly for STI screenings.

8. Sex Comes in Different Shapes and Sizes

One of the biggest revelations is that finding the right sex position could be contingent on penis shape. Just a heads up, you might need your compass because technicalities are involved.

For example, if a man’s penis curves downward, rear-entry positions such as doggy-style are a better option. Sideways positions complement left and right curvatures, and missionary is ideal for an upward curved penis. If a man is on the larger side, it’s beneficial for the woman to be on top, so she can control the pace and comfortability.

Everyone’s different, and no two partners are the same, so you have to remain flexible — literally and figuratively.

9. Everyone Needs to Understand Consent

Understanding sexual consent is more important than ever in a society that continues to normalize and trivialize sexual assault or abuse. Whether the agreement is verbal or nonverbal, any form of consent ensures that both people are willing to engage in sexual activity.

Providing consent for one activity doesn’t permit increased sexual contact, and either party can change their mind at any time. Positive consent includes affirmative statements and physical cues that indicate increasing sexual contact is acceptable.

Refusing to acknowledge no, using fear or intimidation tactics and having sex with someone incapacitated or under the legal age of consent doesn’t constitute consent. Most importantly, you cannot assume that certain clothes, flirting or kissing invites sex.

10. Good News, Sex Has Tons of Benefits

Although society has come a long way, sex hasn’t fully shed its taboo label. Some people are unable to openly discuss the subject without blushing, expressing condemnation or erupting in nervous laughter. However, the reality is sex has various health benefits.

First and foremost, sex exercises the cardiovascular system, leading to lower blood pressure, better heart health, stronger muscles and a decreased risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension. Maybe you don’t have to give up McDonalds after all!

Secondly, when you have an orgasm, your body releases a combination of oxytocin and endorphins, which induce sedation. Better sleep can never fail you and contributes to a stronger immune system, a longer lifespan and increased energy. If there was ever any doubt, it’s evident that sex has a purpose beyond procreation.

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