The Five C’s

Occasionally I’m invited to speak to high school kids about sex and sexuality. I love it. Usually the kids have a fairly good understanding of the basics of reproduction – men have seed which they deposit in women, conception occurs when seed fertilizes egg, etc. What they lack is good solid information about sex, sexual desires, sexuality. And, while they usually know what a condom is and how it’s used, their ideas about “responsible” or “safer” sex are woefully inadequate for the sexual situations they find themselves in. I do my best to fill in the gaps.

One question that frequently comes up is “How do I know when I’m ready for sex?” Interestingly enough, while not usually asked in quite these words, this is a question that most adults also wrestle with at some time in their lives. Listening to thousands of adults and hundreds of kids I’ve come up with my stock answer to this question. I call it “The Five C’s





☆  Commitment

Caring: Feeling and exhibiting signs of genuine concern and empathy. Does this person care about me? Do I care about them? Are they empathetic? Do I “feel” listened to? Has this person exhibited (shown me) actual evidence of their care and concern?

Communication: Do we talk? Is this all lust and infatuation with no other common bonds? Does s/he interrupt, talk over, yell, verbally bully? Does it feel like we could complete each other’s sentences or am I frequently shocked/confused/embarrassed by what s/he says?

Consent: The voluntary acceptance of the wish of another. Voluntary acceptance: without undue pressure. It is not consent if you tell me you’ll break up with me if I don’t. It is not consent if you threaten me. It is not consent if I think I have to do this to get into the gang/clique/crowd. It is not consent if you tell me that my “no” means I’m frigid/homosexual/fucked up. It is not consent if you tell me “You got me this way, now you owe it to me to do something about it.”

Contraception: The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world. Thirty-four percent of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20 — about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these teen pregnancies are unintended and 79 percent are to unmarried teens. (Statistics from

Commitment: It is my observation that having sex with someone has many consequences that are often not thought about until it’s too late. Feelings come up – regret, shame, fear. Sometimes there are physical consequences – STDs, pregnancy, unexpected pain. Often sexuality generates even deeper feelings of love and attachment. When I write about commitment I mean the willingness to stick around and emotionally support each other through those consequences.

Planned Parenthood has a great pamphlet titled “How do you know when you’re ready for sex” that has even more on this subject including a terrific section for teens.

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