Hesperian Health Guides

Deciding if You Are Ready for Sex

two young men talking together

Most young people begin to have loving or sexual feelings as they get older. Thinking about touching or being touched by someone, whether of the same or opposite sex, in a sexual way is not unusual. But people often have these feelings before they are ready to act on them.

Only have sex when you decide that you are ready and know how to protect yourself from harm. Sex can be enjoyed by both people, but not if there is fear or shame.

a young girl standing alone and thinking about a boy
I wonder if he likes me?

Young women have sex for many different reasons. Some do it because they want to have a baby. Others do it because it makes them feel good or wanted. Some women feel they have very little choice because it is their duty as a wife or girlfriend. Some trade sex for money or for other things they need to survive, such as food, or clothes for their children, or a place to live.

Others have sex because they think it will make someone love them more. Sometimes a friend or a boyfriend can make a girl feel that she should have sex when she is not ready.

No one should have sex when she does not want to. Only have sex when you decide you are ready. Sex can be enjoyed by both people, but it is difficult to enjoy something when you feel fear or shame, or have not given consent.

If you are ready for a sexual relationship, always protect yourself against pregnancy and disease.

Having a relationship with no sex

a girl and boy sitting on a bench with their arms around each other

Building a loving relationship takes time, caring, respect, and trust from both sides. Sex is not the only way of showing someone that you care. Having sex does not mean that you will fall in love.

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pressure to have sex

You can spend personal time together without having sex. By talking and sharing experiences you can learn something more important about each other—how you view life, decisions you would make together, what kind of partner and parent you would each make, and how you feel about each other’s plans for life. Touching each other (without sexual intercourse) can be satisfying by itself, and is not dangerous as long as it does not lead you to lose control and to have sex when you are not ready.

Talk to your boyfriend or girlfriend. If you are sure they are right for you, but you are not sure you want to have sex, talk about ways to wait. You may find that they are not ready for sex, either. If you respect each other, you will be able to decide together.

Talk to your friends. You may find that some girl friends are facing the same difficult choices. You can help each other find ways to have good relationships without sex. But think twice about advice from a friend who is already having sex. A friend may try to convince you to do something she is doing to make herself feel better about doing it. This is called ‘peer pressure’.

a girl listening to a woman as they walk together

Protecting yourself if you are ready for sex

right\alt=a girl and boy sitting close together
If he really cares about you, he will want to protect you. If he is pushing for sex, he may care only about himself.

When you decide you are ready for a sexual relationship, you must protect yourself against pregnancy and disease. There are many ways to make sex safer. This means you have to plan before you have sex.

Before you have sex, talk about it. Let your partner know how important it is to protect yourself. If you find it hard to discuss, perhaps you can first pretend you are talking about another couple.

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safer sex

Many communities have people who are trained to provide condoms and other family planning methods. Talk to them or ask a health worker where to get a method of protection. If you feel embarrassed to ask, find someone you trust to help you. Some family planning clinics have special services for teenagers and may have trained teenagers as peer counselors who can give you information.

Since you cannot tell by looking if a man has a sexually transmitted infection or HIV, sex is safer only if you use a condom every time. If a man has a discharge coming from his penis or a sore somewhere on it, he has an infection and will almost certainly give it to you!

If you had sex and notice a new discharge from your vagina, sores on your genitals, or pain in your lower belly, you could have an STI.

This page was updated:01 Feb 2021