Sex: Making the Right Decision


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What is sex?

The word sex is used in several ways. It can refer to sexual activity and most often vaginal intercourse, which is penetration of the vagina by the penis. It also can mean what sex you were born (male or female) or physical appeal (being sexy).

A virgin is someone who has not had sexual intercourse.

All my friends are having sex... Should I?

Don't give in to peer pressure about sex. Nobody can tell you what to do with your body or when to do it. Having sex to fit in won't make you feel cool or grown up. And it may give you a reputation that may make you uncomfortable.

Don't necessarily assume that "everybody's doing it." Your friends might say they're having sex, but they may just be bragging to sound cool or to be popular. They may be stretching the truth, or they may be making stuff up from what they've seen in magazines, on TV or on the Internet. Whether you have sex or not is private. You don't have to share that kind of information with friends if you don't want to.

What are the risks of having sex?

Some of the health risks include pregnancy and catching one or more sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV. Having sex before you develop physically can also hurt. Girls who start having sex before age 18 tend to have more health problems, including a higher risk of cervical cancer.

Sex also has some emotional risks. If you have sex when you're not ready or because someone is pressuring you, you may feel bad about yourself or wonder if your partner really cares about you. You may have to deal with consequences you hadn't thought of (such as pregnancy or an STI), which can cause stress.

What is abstinence?

Abstinence means choosing not to have sex. It's an important option to think about. A lot of young people make the choice to wait. Some people abstain because of religious or spiritual beliefs or because of personal values. Others abstain to avoid pregnancy or STIs, or just because they aren't ready to have sex. If you abstain, you should feel good about your choice. And if you have a friend or partner who abstains, give him or her your support.

I had sex, but now I wish I hadn't.

You've learned something about your feelings. Now you can make better choices in the future, which may include deciding not to have sex again until you're older or are more ready. You might want to talk about your feelings with someone you trust.

How will I know if I'm ready to have sex?

Figuring out when you're ready can be hard. Your body may give you signals that seem to say you're ready. That's natural. But your body isn't the only thing you should listen to. Your beliefs, values and emotions also play an important role in when you choose to have sex.

One sure sign that you're not ready is if you feel pressured or if you feel really nervous and unsure. A little nervousness is normal, but you should pay attention to your feelings. Take a step back. Try to figure out what you really want. Talk to someone you can trust, like your parents, a counselor, a teacher, a minister or your family doctor.

"You would do it if you loved me."

Don't let anyone use this line to push you into having sex. Even if you really like the person, don't fall for it. Having sex to keep a partner usually doesn't work in the long run. Even if it does, you might not feel good about your decision. If someone wants to break up with you because you won't have sex, then that person isn't worth your time in the first place.

You also should never use this line on someone else, or you risk losing the person and feeling bad about yourself. Respect your partner's feelings and beliefs.

What if I decide to have sex?

If you're going to have sex, or if you're already having sex, be as safe as possible. (But remember, the "safest" sex is no sex.) To protect yourself and your partner, use a latex condom. Condoms offer the most protection against STIs and pregnancy. Using a spermicide with condoms can offer better protection against pregnancy, but may not be right for everyone. For example, spermicides that contain nonoxynol-9 can cause genital irritation and may increase your risk of catching an STI. Remember that condoms won't work if you don't use them correctly every time. Read the package to figure out how to use them, or go to your family doctor or a health clinic so someone can help you figure it out.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 07/10
Created: 01/98

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