Deciding what sex means to you; what feeling does intercourse symbolize for you?

 It might be helpful to think of making your sexual life style decisions by considering four alternatives. Each of the following alternatives reflects a way of viewing sexual intercourse, in terms of the meaning it has for you. Others can try to influence you, but in your own heart only you can decide what meaning your sex acts will have to you. Each alternative is an acceptable way to live; each has a number of pros and cons, i.e. psychological reasons for and against each way of thinking about sexual intercourse:

 In the first alternative, sex is fun and has no special meaning beyond that. Sexual intercourse is for adventure, physical gratification, and enriching the interaction between two people. When sex is accepted merely as pleasurable passion, sex need not be taken to mean anything more, i.e. not a sign of commitment, not a show of love, and not an indication of any continuing emotional involvement with the partner. This is typical of a "free spirit" who favors short relationships or "one night stands." It would also include people who realize they are primarily meeting each other's physical, erotic needs, such as the "pick up" at a bar, cruising homosexuals, married "swingers," persons seeking prostitutes, and continuing but sexually oriented relationships. This is the mutual enjoyment of physical sex.

 In the second alternative, intercourse is fun and means "I like you " as a person and enjoy being with you but having intercourse does not mean I am making any commitment to you in the future. This is casual sex. Casual sex doesn't mean being totally without care and concern for the other person, but the promise of involvement in the future is not there. When you suggest having sex, in this case, it simply means you find the other person attractive and interesting, someone you think you would enjoy being with and having sex. In order to avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings, it is necessary to be totally honest about your limited interests, emotions, and future intentions. Of course, this honesty will turn off many people who want love and the intent to remain involved before having sex. Having your offer of a good time sexually turned down is the "cost" of being a decent, honest person (no decent person would lie about his/her commitment). There is, of course, a possibility of a serious friendship developing and even for love to develop, but there are no such promises asked for or made, and such possibilities should be seen as slim.

 In this alternative, which has become the American standard, having intercourse means "I love you" and want to have an exclusive relationship with you for a while but I'm not sure for how long--forever is a long time. This is "going steady" or being engaged or living together in a "temporary arrangement." It isn't just love that makes sex socially acceptable; the more emotional involvement and commitment involved, the more socially acceptable sex is (if you are 18 or older). For instance, having sex with someone you love and are strongly attracted to is not fully approved socially if one person is unwilling to commit to the other.

 Fourthly, sexual intercourse is considered almost a sacred act symbolizing total commitment forever, regardless of the difficulties that arise. In this case, sex might reasonably occur at the same time the couple are legally and spiritually united in marriage. This is the traditional Christian and Jewish view. People who endorse this attitude tend to be older and more religious.

Sex can be given many meanings

 Sex may, for some people, have different meanings at different times; at first, intercourse may just be fun, then later is may mean "I like you," later "I love you," and finally eternal commitment. However, the meaning of sex, for others, may not be defined in the heart, but explained differently as it becomes convenient to do so (i.e. people lie: "I love you, now let's do it"). Likewise, intercourse doesn't, for some people, necessarily have the same meaning with different partners. With one person sex may honestly mean "I love you," with another person it may mean "I find you attractive and fun." Furthermore, while you are usually clear about what meaning having intercourse with a particular person has for you, the sex partner may have a different notion or be uncertain about your meaning. One of the more inconsiderate, immoral, despicable human acts is to whisper "I love you" to someone and really mean "I want sex but I don't care about you as a person." The immoral aspect is not the sex but the lying, i.e. the person is not going to carry through the next day, week, or month with the actions implied by "I love you."

 If you can decide what you want sexual intercourse to mean to you and if you can clearly and honestly convey this meaning and its implications to your partner, you are well on your way to establishing a considerate, non-hurtful relationship.

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