If you are reading this section, you may be wondering, “Am I ready to have sex?” Since sex is an emotionally and physically complex topic, it’s important to understand certain things before deciding whether or not you’re ready for it.
In this section, we will discuss:
- What your personal values are about sex and how they are shaped
- How to decide whether you are ready to have sex for the first time
- How to determine whether you are ready to have sex in a given moment
- Possible reasons you might decide to have sex or not to have sex
- Important health considerations to help you stay well informed and safe during sex
There’s a lot to consider when making the decision to have sex, so take your time to think about it. Some of the issues on the next pages might be really important to you, while other issues may not be a concern for you at all. Use this section in whatever way is most useful for you. You can always come back to it when you need.
How Do I Define “Having Sex”?
The term “having sex” can mean a lot of different things to different people. Because it’s not just one activity, a lot of behaviors may be happening when people say they are “having sex.”
You might hear people talk about sex like it is only one activity: penile-vaginal intercourse. Sometimes, this is the only thing people are thinking about when they ask, “Did you have sex?,” but that is not the only definition of sex.
The most commonly discussed types of sex are vaginal intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex.
- Vaginal sex or intercourse: when a penis, a person’s hand, or a sex toy is moved back and forth inside a vagina
- Penile-vaginal sex is specifically when a penis is moved back and forth inside a vagina
- Oral sex: when someone uses their mouth to stimulate another person’s penis or vagina/vulva
- Anal sex or intercourse: when a penis, fingers, or a sex toy (like a dildo or vibrator) is moved back and forth inside an anus
Even though these are the most commonly discussed types of having sex, many people define sex as any physical contact with another person that feels sexual. For more information about different types of sexual activities, visit the Sexual Activity section of this guide.
The following pages contain questions and considerations you should think about before deciding whether you are ready to have any type of sex.
What Are My Personal Values About Sex? How Are My Values Shaped?
Before you ask yourself whether you’re ready to have sex, it’s helpful to understand what personal values you have about it. Personal values are the core beliefs, attitudes, or standards that matter to you. Your personal values, whether about work, family, or sex, guide how you live your life every day. Whether or not you are aware of it, you can express your personal values through actions, thoughts, feelings, and words. You may feel strongly about some values and be more flexible about others. A lot of times, you may not be fully aware what your values are, even if they dictate how you behave on a day-to-day basis.
The personal values you have about the topic of sex, specifically, may be influenced by a number of factors, including:
- The time and place you live in history
- Societal and cultural expectations
- Portrayals of sex in the media
- Religious beliefs
- The beliefs of your family and friends
- Your age*
- Your gender
- Your academic, career, and personal goals
- Your past sexual experiences
*Age can impact your values in several ways. Some people’s values change as they grow older. For example, at age 20, you might decide that you are not ready for a serious, long-term relationship, but you may be ready at age 25. Societies and families have different expectations for different age groups. For example:
- In our society, teenagers are rarely expected to be married or raise children of their own.
- You may hear parents say that their child is “too young to date.”
Sex (and whether or not to have sex) is a sensitive or even controversial topic, in part because people do not always agree or share the same values. For example, people may agree or disagree with the following value statements:
- “Sex is only acceptable within marriage.”
- “You should only have sex with someone you love.”
- “It’s okay to stay with a partner who cheated on you.”
Since sex is a sensitive topic, you may experience a considerable amount of inner turmoil or conflict with others if you disagree on what values are important. For this reason, it is helpful to recognize …
- what your values are and why they are important to you,
- how your values may differ from others’,
- how your values are shaped,
- how your values change over time, and
- whether or not you are willing to compromise on your values when challenged.
You may find that you agree with some standards about sex and disagree with others. Based on your personal values about sex, you may decide to behave in ways that go with or against people’s expectations. You may also find that your own values may change over time or vary across certain situations.
Why Do I Want to Have Sex?
Before considering all the different factors that impact whether you feel ready to have sex, it helps to think about why you want to have sex. You should only have sex if you want to, so it’s good to understand why you feel that way.
In general, people have sex either because they want something or because they want to avoid something. People who had sex because they genuinely wanted to have sex usually report more satisfaction than those who had sex because they were afraid of what would happen if they did not, or if they were trying to avoid social stigma by not having sex, for example:
Reasons related to wanting something:
- I want to have sex to connect with someone or express love to someone I care about.
- I want to have sex to feel good, have fun, or release sexual tension.
Reasons related to avoiding something:
- I want to have sex because I think most other people my age have had sex.
- I want to have sex so that people will think I’m cool.
- I want to have sex to “get it out of the way”.
- I want to have sex because my partner says they will break up with me if we don’t .
- I want to have sex to prove that I’m straight.
You should never be pressured into having sex. Likewise, you should never pressure your partner into having sex before they are ready. Try to make sure you and your partner both are having sex because you want to, not because you are trying to avoid negative feelings or prove something to others.
Am I ready to have sex for the first time?
Deciding to have sex for the first time is an important choice. After all, sexual experiences are deeply personal and private. When people have sex, they reveal themselves to another human being in ways that can make them feel physically or emotionally vulnerable, no matter who they are.
Feelings and Values Around Virginity
You may have heard that someone who has not had sex before might be called a “virgin,” so “losing your virginity” means having sex for the first time. In some cultures, people think it is a good thing to not have sex (or to stay a “virgin”) until you are married. Others may think differently – you might notice stigma around whether someone is “still a virgin.” You might hear different ideas about whether it’s “good” or “bad” to have sex based on how old someone is, their gender, or other traits. You might even hear people being called rude names based on whether or not people think they have had sex.
No matter what people say, there is nothing about having sex that makes you automatically “good” or “bad.” There is no one “right” time to start having sex. Whether to have sex and when to have sex are personal choices – it’s different for everyone.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself if you’re thinking about having sex for the first time. They are just for you to think about – you don’t have to share your answers with anyone to “prove” that you’re ready.
Some of these questions may also be helpful to consider if you are wondering whether you’re ready to have sex with a new partner.
Questions to Consider
It’s okay not to know the answers to all of these questions right away. Most people need time to think about their answers because values can be complicated or hard to explain. Your answers to some of these questions may also change over time or in different situations, and that’s completely normal. Again, the questions are just intended to get you thinking of your own values, reactions, etc.
The questions are available in a printable document, Am I Ready – Questions Journal that has space for writing your reflections.
How do my values align with my family / cultural values about sex?
Family and cultural values are often very strongly held beliefs. If your values are different from your family’s, that might lead to conflict. You might feel comfortable talking with one family member about whether to have sex, but not another. What you choose to share or not share with your family is personal – it depends on your individual relationship with your family members.
- What values about sex are important to my family?
- On which values do I agree or disagree with them?
- Would I feel comfortable telling my family about my decision?
- Are there any family, religious, or cultural beliefs I would be violating if I chose to have sex?
- Am I prepared to deal with how my family and friends may react, whether positively or negatively?
Can I handle the personal and emotional risks associated with sex?
Do I understand the physical and health risks associated with having sex, and am I prepared to manage them?
Note: Understanding issues related to sexual health is critical for your long-term health. You can learn more about pregnancy, STIs, and safer sex later in this section.
Remember, you are the only person who can decide whether you are ready to have sex! You should engage in sex willingly, never through pressure or force. The truth is that even if you prepare as much as possible for your first time, your expectations about sex – good and bad – may not be met. To prepare you, the next part of this section will discuss some common expectations about having sex.
Am I Ready to be Sexually Active?
What expectations do I have about sex?
You may have certain expectations about sex based on movies you’ve seen, TV shows you’ve watched, or things you’ve heard other people say. But the reality is that most times, sex is different from what people initially expect.
Sex and the Media
Sex does not always go as smoothly as it is portrayed through the media. Even if you prepare as much as possible and do things the way you think is “right,” things may not go according to plan, and that’s okay. Sex, especially the first time, can be funny, awkward, embarrassing, or even unpleasant. Like everything else people do for the first time, you first time having sex can be a learning experience.
Sex and Your Emotions
If you or your partner feel uncomfortable at any point during sex, it is okay for you to change your minds. You can ask your partner to slow down, pause, do something different, take a break, or stop altogether.
If you start to have a bad feeling but can’t explain why, listen to your gut instinct and stop what you are doing. You do not need to explain why you feel a certain way until you are ready. If you later feel comfortable and ready to keep going, you can always change your mind, communicate that to your partner, and continue.
People have different reactions after their first time having sex. These can range from very positive, to indifferent, to very negative. Any of these reactions are normal.
After having sex for the first time, you might experience a few of the following feelings, sometimes even several at once:
- Your emotions after sex may range anywhere from negative to positive.
- Possible negative emotions: disappointment, frustration, regret, anger, depression, resentment.
- Possible positive emotions: satisfaction, happiness, stronger connection with partner, fulfilled, growth, elation, love.
- The impact that having sex has on you may range anywhere from insignificant to significant.
- If the impact is insignificant, sex could seem uneventful or anticlimactic. You may feel like nothing has changed or you may wonder what the “big deal” was.
- If the impact is significant, sex could seem to lead to a redefined sense of self and/or the relationship. In other words, you may feel like your whole relationship or self-identity has changed.
Misconceptions About Sex
Some people make assumptions about their first time having sex and what will change because of it. Here is a list of common assumptions people make, and why those assumptions may not necessarily be true.
Some people assume that sex will hurt, especially the first time. Others assume that sex will feel amazingly good the first time.
- Everyone’s first experience with sex is different.
- Sex will neither definitely feel good nor definitely feel bad the first time.
- It’s true that for some people there might be some discomfort, but sex shouldn’t be painful. The next section of the guide (the Sexual Activity section) explains more about this, why it might happen, and how to handle it.
- In general, the best ways to make sure you have positive experiences with sex are to go slowly, pay attention to what you are feeling, and communicate with your partner if something feels good or bad.
Some people assume that having sex will “fix” problems in their relationship.
- Sex will not automatically lead to a longer, better, or healthier relationship with your partner.
- This is especially true if your partner pressured you into having sex in the first place.
- If your partner pressures you into doing something before you are ready, that is a red flag.
- “Red flags” are signs that a relationship may not be healthy. It means you may not be able to trust your partner – they may not have your best interests at heart or they may be taking advantage of you.
- Sex will not automatically solve underlying troubles or unmet needs in your romantic relationship.
- If you have poor communication with your partner, argue a lot, or simply do not enjoy spending time with them, that can be a sign of larger problems.
- If you or your partner feel like your relationship has slowed down or become less interesting, having sex is not likely to fix those problems.
- There are ways to keep the relationship fresh, such as by sharing new hobbies or going to events together.
Some people assume that having sex will improve their social life or make others think they are “cool.”
- Having sex with someone will not automatically help you “fit in” better with your peers, feel “cooler,” or make you feel more mature.
- If you are looking for a way to improve your social relationships, having sex will not help you connect with your peers.
- This is because sex is such a sensitive, personal topic, and people have very different strong values about sex. There are more effective ways to bond with peers, such as through shared interests and hobbies.
Your values and attitudes about sex may change over time, or may change depending on a particular time or place. The same goes for your partner. That is why you and your partner should maintain clear, consistent, and frequent communication with one another.
Deciding if I Am Ready to Have Sex at a Particular Moment
If you are sexually active and asking yourself whether you should have sex with someone in a specific moment, there are certain things you want to keep in mind. To help you consider those, read and answer the following questions. If your answer to each of these questions is not “yes,” you shouldn’t have sex at that moment. To know that you are ready, all your answers should be “yes.”
- Do I feel safe with my partner?
- Are we both in the mood to have sex?
- Do we both want to have sex, without pressure or coercion?
- Are we in a private location (e.g., bedroom) where we won’t be interrupted or disrupt others?
- Do we have protection against STIs (condoms, dental dams, etc.), know how to use it, and agree to use it?
- Do we have protection against unwanted pregnancies (e.g., birth control), know how to use it, and agree to use it?
- Am I prepared to communicate my needs, desires, and sensory sensitivities? If so, is my partner willing to respect them?
- If my partner changes their mind abruptly, am I going to be respectful of their wishes?
- Are we both sober and able to communicate consent?
- Are we legally allowed to have sex?
Remember that you or your partner can always change your minds if for any reason either of you start to feel unsafe, afraid, embarrassed, or uninterested in continuing. You have the right to change your mind, no matter what you may have said before. Likewise, your partner can pause or stop any time they want. When that happens, it is important to respect each other’s wishes and stop.
What Should I Do If I’m Being Pressured?
Pregnancy, STIs, and Safer Sex
It’s important to understand the potential health risks and consequences of sexual activity. Most often, these risks are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy. These risks can be greatly reduced through practicing what’s known as “safer sex.” This page will explain the basics of STIs and how to prevent pregnancy.
OAR is not a medical organization, so we have included this page listing external resources that contain detailed information on STIs, safer sex, and birth control methods. We strongly recommend that you visit the external sites for more information.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Some health issues can be physically passed from one person to another through sex. These are called sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Engaging in sexual activity with others increases your risk of contracting STIs and STDs, such as pubic lice, herpes, genital warts, gonorrhea, or HIV.
- Some STIs can be completely cured; others are lifelong and manageable with treatment.
- If you ever notice unusual smells, itching, or discharge coming from your genitals, you should contact a medical doctor as soon as possible.
- It’s important to know about STIs and STDs so you can fully understand any symptoms and possible risks. Learn more about the different types of STIs and STDs here.
- Many people do not have any symptoms even though they have an STI. So, you could unknowingly pass on an STI to others, even if you don’t have symptoms.
- If you are sexually active, you should get tested regularly for STIs.
- Before you have sex with a new partner, you should talk about whether each of you has been tested for STIs and how you will reduce your risk of transmission.
- All sex involves the potential risk of contracting an STI, but there are ways to make sex safer or “protected.”
- Use safer sex practices even if you don’t notice symptoms or anything unusual.
- Learn more about reducing your risk of STIs and STD transmission through “safer sex” here.
If you are sexually active and know you have an STI, it’s important to disclose the information with others before engaging in any sexual activity where the STI could be passed on. There is social stigma around STIs that can make disclosure nerve-wracking, but talking about your STI status with partners is an important part of showing respect and keeping you both safe.
People with STIs deserve and can have fulfilling relationships. Make sure to seek treatment, talk openly with your partners, and learn about and practice safer sex in all your relationships moving forward.
Pregnancy and Contraception
There are different types of sex, but pregnancy is only possible through penile-vaginal sex. Therefore, if you are having penile-vaginal sex, but don’t want sex to result in pregnancy, you will need to use contraception. Contraception is also called “birth control,” which means using certain methods to avoid pregnancy as a consequence of sexual intercourse.
It’s possible to get pregnant during unprotected sex. It’s also possible to get pregnant during protected sex if the method of contraception is improperly used, such as by putting on a condom incorrectly or taking birth control pills irregularly.
- The most effective method of birth control is abstinence. Abstinence is choosing not to participate in sex of any kind – vaginal, anal, or oral. Abstinence is 100% effective in preventing STI transmission and pregnancy.
- If you want to have sex and want to prevent pregnancy, you will need to choose contraception that works for you and your partner.
- If you have sensory sensitivities, you may need to try a few different methods before finding one that is comfortable for you.
- Some birth control methods also prevent STI transmission; others only prevent pregnancy.
- It’s important to educate yourself on what contraception methods are available, how to use them, and how effectively they work. Learn more about contraception here.
You can limit the risk of unplanned pregnancy by using effective birth control methods, but sometimes accidental pregnancies occur. For example, an unplanned pregnancy may occur due to a condom breaking during sex or a person taking an antibiotic that causes birth control to be ineffective.
If someone becomes pregnant, there are three options:
- Abortion (ending the pregnancy through a medical procedure)
Many people have strong beliefs about which options are right for them. If you become pregnant and need support navigating next steps, talk to a trusted friend or counselor. Your doctor or a local Planned Parenthood can also provide you with information to help make the best choice for you.
Things You Should Know Before Having Sex
There are a few things related to health and the law that everyone should understand before having sex. These are important topics to know about to make sure you are being respected, that you are showing respect to others, and that you are keeping yourself and others safe.
Reasons Not to Have Sex: Non-Negotiables
No matter what personal beliefs you have about sex, there are certain times when you cannot have sex. These are non-negotiables, as they are against the law.
In many places, it is illegal to pass a sexually transmitted infection onto someone else on purpose. This means that if you know you have an STI, you should inform your sexual partners and practice safer sex through using protection. (Even if not revealing this information is not against the law where you live, it is important to show respect to your partners by letting them know if you have an STI. This allows your partners to make fully informed choices.)
Age of Consent
The laws regarding sexual conduct are designed to protect people from being taken advantage of. Specifically, it is a federal crime for anyone to engage in sexual activity with another person who is under 16 years old and at least four years younger than them. The state you live in may have stricter age-of-consent laws, so it’s important to know what laws apply to your situation.
The law is also designed to protect people from being shocked with what is called “public indecency.” Sexual activity in public places is illegal. Nudity, or exposure of sexual parts, in public places is also illegal in many parts of the country. A safe and recommended place to have sex is a private bedroom.
If you are reading this guide, odds are that nobody has legal guardianship over you. But if someone does have legal guardianship over you (typically a parent), that means you have relinquished all decision-making power to them. In this context, that means that they also play a significant role in determining whether you can give informed sexual consent.
- According to the National Guardianship Association’s Standards of Practice (2007), “The guardian shall acknowledge [your] right to interpersonal relationships and sexual expression. The guardian must take steps to ensure that [your] sexual expression is consensual, that [you are] not victimized, and that an environment conducive to this expression in privacy is provided.”
Legal issues might come up if you are under guardianship and your partner is not, or if your partner is under guardianship but you are not.
Guardianship laws and practices vary from state to state. Some states have laws explicitly saying that people under guardianship still have the right to make their own choices about relationships and sex, but other state laws are more vague. If someone has legal guardianship over you, they can learn more about their role and how guardianship affects your sexual expression by reading this article and checking state guardianship laws.
There are lots of things to think about when deciding whether you are ready to have sex for the first time. It’s important to stay true to your personal values and remember that having sex is a personal choice. It’s okay if you need time to think before deciding, and it’s also okay if you don’t have all the answers right away. It’s okay never to have sex at all. Finally, it’s okay to change your mind.
- Everyone has their own personal values about sex.
- Personal values are shaped by many factors, including your family’s beliefs, cultural expectations, and personal experiences.
- Only you can decide whether or not you are ready to have sex.
- You should only have sex if you want to, never due to pressure or force.
- Having sex for the first time may be different than what you expected, and that’s okay.
- In some cases, it is illegal to have sex. No one should have sex if it is illegal to do so, even if they want to.
- There are possible health risks (STIs, STDs, unintended pregnancy) that can be reduced by practicing safer sex.
Information found on OAR’s Sex Ed. for Self-Advocates website, related videos, resources, and links are not a substitute for professional medical advice. All users of the site should consult with a physician or other health care provider to discuss specific concerns if they require further information or clarity