For the 50th edition of E&M and, therefore, the 50th edition of SEX, we wanted to see how sex itself and our thinking about it and our bodies has changed (or maybe it hasn’t!?) over the past years and decades, and how – or if – this has impacted our relationships.
Europeans across all age groups have given us their answers. What we gather: sex is very important, and we all enjoy that talking about it is becoming increasingly normalised, because it is such a big part of our lives. What else do Europeans across generations have in common? Parents don’t like to talk about “it”.
We hope you enjoy the read as much as we loved receiving the answers. May they make you laugh, relate, pause, feel normal, and strive for pleasure.
When did you first have sex?
Lena (30), Germany: 17.
Bernadette (32), UK: My first sexual experience was when I was 16. It was during a trip to Italy. What can I say! It was my first oral experience.
Tom (35), Germany: I was 16 years old.
Daria (26), Germany: 18.
Justine (32), France: Tried at 17, succeeded at 19.
Anonymous 1: 16.
Julia (24), Poland: 19.
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): 19, almost 20.
Adriana (31), Portugal: 18
Jürgen (36), Germany: 19.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): 15, couple of days before my 16th birthday.
Chris (31), Belgium: Drunk at a party. Standard.
Anonymous 2: 15.
Sarah (24), Germany: 18.
Oh, wait, what constitutes sex for you – do you count oral or handjobs?
Lena (30), Germany: Hard to say for me. Very close to the real deal? Not less intimate though.
Bernadette (32), UK: Oh tI am so relieved that’s the second question. I have an older sister and from listening to conversations with her and her friends, i was aware of ‘making out’ and ‘fingering’ (oh god how much I hate that word!!) and oral or what we sometimes call foreplay. I actually, by accident, when I was 15 and sneaking out to night’s out, I witnessed someone getting ‘fingered’ and I didn’t really understand. I asked my sister a lot of questions that night. I mean, I was 15, all the horniness, the lust I didn’t understand, wanted to be explored, right? At the same time, it repulsed me a little?
Tom (35), Germany: Sex, by my definition, is not exclusively penetration. So, all kind of sexual interaction counts and it has not really changed over time for me.
Daria (26), Germany: I think both are already a form of ‘real’ sex. [But] I still think penetration is another form of intimacy.
Justine (32), France: There is something more intimate about penetration…
Anonymous 1: It is. It is penetration anyway.
Julia (24), Poland: Yes, it is very intimate sexual contact. Penetration isn’t the only sexual act in my honest opinion.
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): That all constitutes sex for me, yes. Always has.
Adriana (31), Portugal: All are sex. My view changed overtime. I thought non-penetrative sex was just foreplay, then, at 21, I bought a book on sexual pleasure which broadened my understanding of sex.
Jürgen (36), Germany: Yes, they are both sex!
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): When I talk about my first time, I mean penetrative sex. It was also the first time for my boyfriend at the time and we were both really clumsy – OMG, even with hand jobs, so I don’t count that as sex haha. From my perspective today, non-penetrative types of sex count as sex and are at least as good. I think my point of view has changed due to the increasing quality of the sex I had over the years. A good hand or oral job is equivalent to penetrative sex for me and sometimes even more intense.
Anonymous 2: 50:50, depends on how satisfied I am by either.
Sarah (24), Germany: You think it’s sex? Great! It’s sex! Regardless of which body parts participate and where they go. You do you (and each other).
How old were you when you had your first orgasm?
(we’ll wait while you’re scrolling up again to the first question)
Lena (30), Germany: 20?
Bernadette (32), UK: 21, from oral sex. It was a big deal! It took me a long time to understand what worked for me.
Tom (35), Germany: Same age I had my first time. So did my partner.
Daria (26), Germany: 18.
Justine (32), France: 31 (ouch…)
Julia (24), Poland: 23.
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): 51.
Adriana (31), Portugal: 1st orgasm with a partner? I was 25. It took me a long time to let go and enjoy instead of worrying about what the other person might be expecting of me.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): Phew, I’m not so sure. Probably with 17/18, it was probably through oral sex. By masturbation probably at the age of 14/15? In the first years of my sex life (16-19) I tried out a lot, was curious and unfortunately most of the time I wanted my male partner to have fun, orgasm and find me sexy. I have faked many orgasms, often putting my own needs on the back burner. That is super sad. But I’ve learnt to enjoy myself – and the magic that if you’re having a good orgasm, nothing will turn your partner on more.
Chris (31), Belgium: 17.
Anonymous 2: 16.
Sarah (24), Germany: With a partner? 20.
Did your parents talk to you about sex?
Lena (30), Germany: Not really, I think.
Bernadette (32), UK: As I have an older sister, that really paved the way. She had the awkward conversations and she filled me in later. My parents are very intimate and loving, but also very protective. It was more a conversation about making sure that I am ok and protected.
Tom (35), Germany: Yes, they did and at the same time they were very open regarding bringing a girlfriend home or for sleep overs.
Daria (26), Germany: Yes, it was an open conversation but not that detailed.
Julia (24), Poland: Not really, they got me educational books… but I started talking to them about sex eventually.
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): My parents did not talk to me about sex. And, from what I gathered what was going on between them, I felt it was just simply something that a couple does, apparently. I somehow though that if you wanted to talk about it – or even think about it – it would be considered ‘dirty’ and ‘indecent’.
Adriana (31), Portugal: Nope. Sex was a taboo in my house.
Jürgen (36), Germany: No.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): No. When I was around 16 my mum just said every time I met my boyfriend: don’t do anything stupid. Of course she meant having sex but she better meant safer sex.
Anonymous 2: A lil bit.
How important is sex in a romantic relationship for you?
Lena (30), Germany: I find physical connection very important – but everyone can define for themselves if this means actual sex.
Bernadette (32), UK: I have a high libido, I am touchy, I love intimacy. I would say intimacy is key in my relationship, spending time with each other’s body, learning the nooks and crannies of our bodies. Not necessarily penetrative sex. For me it’s more about how curious are you about the other person’s body? I have had relationships though where my higher sex driver has been an issue. I think it was only an issue because I am a female? And I feel sad about younger me. That my desire wasn’t as important as the male’s desire.
Tom (35), Germany: It is crucial since it is the most intimate thing you can share with another person. However, this perspective has changed. In my teenage years sex was exclusively for romantic relationships. This is not the case any more. I witness a disconnection between sex and the concept of a romantic relationship.
Daria (26), Germany: Really important, I think. It’s a way of showing your love, you can’t be closer to someone.
Justine (32), France: Very.
Julia (24), Poland: Very important. It builds great intimacy and sensitivity for one another.
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): It never was important to me. I had to turn 50 to really develop a feeling for it and a need. Today, I absolutely consider sex very important, a vital part of a relationship. Mutual sexual devotion paired with unconditional trust is everything.
Adriana (31), Portugal: Very! It’s not so much about how often [I have sex], but about how at ease I feel with the other person. I feel that communication during and around sex is a good indicator of the quality of communication in a relationship in general.
Jürgen (36), Germany: Very important.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): In my eyes, sex is super important for a good, healthy relationship. Sex creates closeness, strengthens the bond. Good sex makes me feel good, it makes me feel happy, strengthens the connection to my partner and increases my self-confidence and self-love. Even if it sounds trite: ‚making love‘ is an apt term.
Anonymous 2: Extremely.
Sarah (24), Germany: Important, sure. But communication, trust, intimacy? More important, for me.
Vagina, vulva, clit: do you know the differences?
Lena (30), Germany: I do now, but didn’t for a long time. Just like many others – shocking, no?
Bernadette (32), UK: I took a test on a website where I got my mooncup. I am so embarrassed to say – I got most of it wrong. It made me study though, rediscover, and I bought a book about it! I wish there was more emphasis on this in school.
Tom (35), Germany: I do know the difference. Had the privilege to have had opportunities to talk openly about it with partners and friends. This includes both, the anatomical descriptions as well as the politically correct uses of the different terms.
Daria (26), Germany: Yes, I started reading different literature about it a few years ago, mind blowing how little we know.
Justine (32), France: Yes! Now I do.
Julia (24), Poland: Yup!
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): Yeah, I know the differences. Admittedly though, I started learning about it pretty late in life, but this led to my self-exploration and desire and it made me feel in control of what I want – and how – in terms of being satisfied (sexually).
Adriana (31), Portugal: Learned it in science class at the age of 11.
Chris (31), Belgium: More or less.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): Our vulva is the bouncer of our vagina, which is the magic corridor to the dance floor (uterus). And the clit is where the magic happens. 🙂
Anonymous 2: Yess.
Sarah (24), Germany: Yes, but I still catch myself calling everything “vagina”.
Do you think our thinking about sex has changed over the last decades?
Lena (30), Germany: Yes. More extremes of everything being sexualised & ‘conservative’ images.
Bernadette (32), UK: That’s difficult, like the way I think about it changes every month?? I am so grateful though that i can find things in books and podcasts and that i can talk about it with friends. I so love being a woman? The whatsapp groupchats?? The best? This openness – I want more of it, all the time. And I feel like I am starting to see more of that. If I ever have a child, regardless of gender or sexuality, I want sex to be a celebration for them and a discovery. Yeah talks might be awkward but worth it.
Tom (35), Germany: In my opinion we might not think in a different way about it (but of course, this is just a personal perspective) but we talk about it more openly. In addition, due to dating apps and urban hedonism, sex can be consumed more easily.
Daria (26), Germany: Hard to say, I think, because as I got older, my way of talking about it changed a lot.
Julia (24), Poland: Completely.
Adriana (31), Portugal: Yes. I’ve witnessed a huge change. Sexual pleasure can be discussed with less shame and guilt. This has helped shake normativity in sexual practices: people are more encouraged to discover what works for them. Consent has also, thankfully, become part of the conversation. It was barely mentioned when I was a teenager.
Sandra (58), (East-)Germany: Yes, it changed. Today we talk more about sex, the access to sexual education, and being able to satisfy your curiosity via the internet has become so easy. This has made talking about sex more accessible also in conversations with friends, men and women, without them being your partners. I really think that’s amazing.
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): Definitely! But it’s still a long way to go (for example until every woman and man knows the difference between vulva and vagina).
Anonymous 2: Definitely.
Sarah (24), Germany: Yes. I think mainstream conversations about who has sex and how and with whom have expanded. And some schools even teach about consent now, amazing! But our bedrooms are still not free from heteronormativity, the good ole patriarchy, and transphobia. We got a long way still to go.
Sex: what is it? (in 5 words or less)
Lena (30), Germany: Intimacy, fun, feeling alive, connection, self-love.
Bernadette (32), UK: Liquids! Body liquid. Kissing! Smoochy smooches. It’s intense. Awkward, at times. It’s escapism. Takes your mind and body elsewhere. We can do with more of that, in 2020.
Tom (35), Germany: Consensual – passional – psychological – exciting – unique.
Daria (26), Germany: Intimate, passionate, language, desire.
Julia (24), Poland: Sexual physical contact based on attraction, passion, needs and love (not always with love.)
Sandra (58), Germany (born in the GDR): Sex? What it is? For me? The most beautiful physical experience where your emotions run wild!
Sahra (27), Germany (born in the former GDR): My type of cocaine.
Adriana (31), Portugal: Hard work that pays off.
Chris (31), Belgium: In and out and in.
We want to thank all contributors for their honest, raw, funny and heart-warming answers. Now go have sex. Alone or with others.
Answers have not been altered or shortened, we just edited out spelling and grammar mistakes for clarity.