Deciding when you are ready to have sex for the first time is a deeply personal experience, and the fact that you are asking us this question means you are already approaching the subject with care and thoughtfulness. We have some thoughts to help you explore what having sex means to you, navigate the emotions and physicality of sex, and make an informed decision about whether having sex would be safe and pleasurable for you.
When many people think about having sex for the first time, they think about penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. They imagine the jump from “virginity” to ”having sex” as an event that happens all at once, at the moment of penetration. But sex is so much more complex, imaginative, and interesting than that! There are many different ways to have sex, and everyone’s definition of sex is a little different. Your health care provider will typically define any oral, anal, or vaginal penetration as sex. However, you may consider “sex” to include or exclude external and internal fingering, oral sex, vaginal penetration, anal penetration, and masturbation with or without a partner, among many other things.
Deciding when to have sex is an extremely personal process, and part of that process is figuring out what you like! Consider what things make you feel excited, curious, or nervous about having sex. Many adolescents explore awareness of their body through masturbation, a normal and healthy part of sexual development. Knowing what kinds of touch make you feel good is empowering, and helps you communicate with future sexual partners about what you want.
Deciding when to have sex also requires consistent, open communication and informed consent between you and the partner or partners involved. Here are a few key things to remember:
- You do NOT need to have sex to show or “prove” that you love and care about someone. Sex is just one way for people to share attraction, care, or love. A partner who truly loves, respects, and cares about you will never pressure you to perform any sexual acts you are not comfortable with.
- There’s no rush! Different people are ready for sex at different times, and it’s always okay to say no if your partner feels ready for sex before you do.
- Remember our expansive, creative definition of sex. There are so many ways to have pleasure with a partner that don’t include PIV penetration, and you can choose which activities you feel comfortable exploring.
The decision to have sex for the first time (and every time after that) is yours, not anyone else’s. Sexual consent is a clear, enthusiastic agreement between two or more people to a specific sexual activity. Consent is always:
- A choice given without the use of force, control, threats, or manipulation.
- A conversation about boundaries, hopes, and desires of the people involved.
- Enthusiastic! Consent happens when you say yes to things you want to do!
- Specific to the action you are consenting to. Saying “yes” to kissing, or even saying “yes” to a specific sexual act, doesn’t mean you have said “yes” to other acts.
- Reversible – you can ALWAYS change your mind and stop, whether you’re just kissing or in the middle of sex.
We encourage you to learn more about consent by visiting our guide here.
Finally, if you haven’t already, make a plan to get on birth control before you start having sex! From birth control pills to IUDs, there are lots of options to choose from, and different options work best for different bodies and lifestyles. Talk to your health care provider about which option is best for you. If you are planning to have PIV sex, remember to always use a condom for added protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses.
We are so glad that you asked us a question that’s on so many young people’s minds, and we hope that these thoughts are helpful. Remember that your body is yours, and you get to decide when you’re ready to take this step.