Adapted from Planned Parenthood

There are different kinds of sex — but you need good communication and consent no matter what kind of sex is involved. Sex can lead to pregnancy and/or STDs, but there are ways to protect yourself.

What’s sex?

People define “sex” in different ways. Some people believe that it only counts as sex if a penis goes into a vagina, but this isn’t true for everybody. Different types of sex include:

  • Vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina intercourse)

  • Oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact)

  • Anal sex (penis-in-butt intercourse)

  • Fingering or hand jobs (hand-to-genital contact)

  • Dry humping or genital rubbing

  • Masturbation (touching yourself)

Whatever sex means to you, being sexual with another person comes with a lot of responsibility. Before you have sex, think about what things you feel comfortable doing, ask what the other person feels comfortable doing, and think about any risks involved — like STDs or pregnancy — and how to help prevent them.

It’s just as important to think about what you DON’T feel comfortable doing — and then talk about it with your partner. And if you’re in the middle of doing something that you thought you wanted to do but change your mind, that’s OK, too. You can stop any time you want.

If you’re going to have vaginal, oral, or anal sex, talk with your partner about how you’ll help protect each other from STDs.

If you’re having vaginal sex, it’s also important to use birth control if you don’t want to get pregnant.

How do I know when I’m ready to have sex?

Deciding when to have sex is a big deal. It’s an important decision that only you can make. But it can be really helpful to talk it out with someone you trust — like a parent, a friend, or someone else who cares about you.

Sex can be really great, but it also has risks — STDs and unintended pregnancy are no joke. But sex can also have emotional risks. Sex before you’re ready, sex with someone you don’t trust or respect (or who doesn’t trust or respect you), or sex that doesn’t feel good can lead to some really stressful feelings. And sex shouldn’t be stressful.

A healthy sex life fits in with everything you’re about, including:

  • Your personal values

  • Your school and career goals

  • The emotional and physical risks you’re willing to take

Think about:

  • If having sex is something you really want to do, or something you’re being pressured to do

  • Whether family and friends will support your decision (and how important that is to you)

  • Your feelings about who you are and what you’re comfortable doing

  • Whether you want to be in a committed relationship before you have sex (and if that’s true for your partner too)

  • What the pros and cons are – and especially thinking through any cons before deciding

Is everyone else already having sex?

Even if it seems like everyone your age is having sex, they’re probably not. Only about half of high school students have ever had vaginal sex, and the average age when people start having sex is 18. But even once they have had sex, most teens don’t have it very often. And lots of teens who’ve had sex say they wish they’d waited.

You’re not ready to have sex if the reason you want to sounds anything like:

  • I’m the only virgin in my group of friends.        

  • I want to “get it over with.”   

  • My boyfriend or girlfriend will break up with me if I don’t have sex.      

  • Having sex will make me popular.        

  • I’ll feel older if I have sex.        

What if I don’t want to have sex at all?

Some people aren’t ever interested in having sex. This is called asexuality. But just because you don’t have to have sex now doesn’t mean you’ll never want to.

People have different sex drives — an urge or interest in having sex. Lots of things affect sex drives, like stress, hormones, life experiences, illness, medicines, how comfortable you are in a relationship, how safe you feel, and how attracted you are to someone. How important sex is in your life can change over time — so don’t worry if it’s not something you’re interested in right now. That’s totally normal and ok.

Does sex hurt?

Adapted from NHS Choices

When a woman has vaginal sex for the first time, it can be a little painful. There may also be a small amount of blood, but this isn’t always the case and usually occurs because the hymen has been broken during sexual intercourse.

The hymen is a small piece of thin skin (membrane) that can either partially or totally cover the entrance to the vagina. A woman might already have broken her hymen without knowing about it; this can happen when playing sports or using a tampon.

When a man has sex for the first time it shouldn’t hurt, but he can make it easier for his partner by using foreplay, making sure there is plenty of lubrication and by being gentle and going slowly.

Outside of having sex for the first time, pain during sex is quite common and affects both men and women. It can be caused by a variety of things, such as an illness, infection, or a physical or psychological problem.

Sex is likely to be uncomfortable if you’re not relaxed and aroused. Make time for foreplay and try not to think of penetrative sex as the main goal, as penetration will be painful if the vagina is not lubricated. You can also try using a lubricating product.

If you’re still finding it difficult to have sex, there may be an emotional reason or anxiety that’s causing problems. Speaking to a counsellor or sex therapist can help deal with underlying worries. Ask your GP or sexual health (GUM) clinic about a referral.

Common infections such as thrush and cystitis, which can cause pain during sex, can be easily treated with over-the-counter remedies. Check with your doctor or local health clinic if you’re not sure what’s causing the problem. Sore and itchy symptoms can sometimes be a sign of a sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Should I talk to my parents about sex?

Adapted from Planned Parenthood

It might feel awkward at first, but talking to your parents about sex can be a really good thing They probably know more than you think and can answer your questions.

Do I really need to talk with my parents about sex?

Lots of teens talk with their parents about sex. If you feel safe talking with your parents about sex, do it. Sure, it can be a little embarrassing, but it’s definitely worth starting the conversation. Your parents (or other adults you trust) can offer great information and advice.

One way to avoid awkwardness is to ask your parents what their values are when it comes to sex. This takes the pressure off of you to do all the talking and shows them that you respect their opinions.

You could start by saying something like, “Some of my friends are having sex. What do you think about that?” Or, “How did you first learn about sex?”

Asking them questions about what it was like when they were your age is a great way to learn, get their trust, and even hear some stories from their past. You can also try using something from a TV show or a movie to start the conversation. Your parents will probably really appreciate you being open with them. They may even be relieved that you brought it up!

Do my parents need to be involved when I make decisions about sex?

Decisions about sex are very personal and private, but there are some good reasons to involve your parents. Your parents:

  • Might have good advice on whether you should start or continue a sexual relationship, based on a ton of life experience.

  • Could suggest ways to help prevent pregnancy and STDs. They could even go with you to get tested, get birth control, or the HPV vaccine. Their health insurance might cover the cost of your doctor’s visit.

  • Can support you during difficult situations like dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, STD, or sexual assault.

Your parents care about you and want to be involved in your life. They were your age once, and they know what it’s like to be a teenager. They’ll probably be proud of you for being responsible about your health. Get more tips on talking with your parents about sex and your body.

If you decide you can’t involve your parents in your decisions about sex, you can still take care of your health. Most states have laws that let teens get STD testing and birth control without their parents. You can also check with your local health center to see if they can give you free or low cost health care, without using your parents’ insurance. Some states have special programs that help teens get their own private health insurance plan for sexual health services. Learn more about going to the doctor.