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Sex: Making the Right Decision

Last Updated April 2022 | This article was created by editorial staff and reviewed by Deepak S. Patel, MD, FAAFP, FACSM

The decision to engage in sexual activity or behavior as a teen or young adult can be a confusing one. Sexual activity includes vaginal (penetration of the vagina by the penis or other object), oral, or anal. Sexual behavior can include sexting, taking sexually explicit photos of yourself, using online chat rooms for sexual conversations, social media abuse, masturbation, and viewing pornography.

Path to improved well being

There are many things to consider before choosing to engage in sexual activity or behavior. These include:

  • The person’s age/maturity
  • Involvement of others
  • Privacy
  • Safety
  • Long-term impact
  • Consent from both you and your partner

Never give in to peer pressure about sexual activity or behavior. Nobody can tell you what to do with your body or when to do it. Having sex to fit in with others won’t make you feel cool or grown up. Don’t be pressured to engage in activities such as sexting and taking sexually explicit photos of yourself or others.

Don’t assume that “everybody’s doing it.” Your friends might say they’re having sex. But they may be lying to sound cool. Choosing to have sex or not is private. You don’t have to share that kind of information with others.

Don’t let others pressure you into sexting or taking sexually explicit photos of yourself. Sometimes, partners will pressure the other person to do this.

Masturbation and viewing pornography are also private. Do not share pictures, videos, or social media posts of yourself engaging in these activities.

Abstinence from sexual activity is okay. This means you are 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. Some abstain because of personal values. Others abstain to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some are not ready to have sex. If you have a friend or partner who abstains, give him or her your support.

Figuring out when you’re ready to have sex can be hard. Your body may give you signals that make you feel like you’re ready. That’s natural. Your body isn’t the only thing you should listen to. Your beliefs, values, and emotions also are important when deciding to have sex.

Don’t let anyone tell you, “If you loved me, you would have sex with me.” Even if you really like the person, don’t fall for it. Having sex to keep a partner doesn’t work in the long run. If someone wants to break up with you because you won’t have sex, then that person isn’t completely interested in your and isn’t worth it. You should never say this to someone else. That is pressuring your partner. You should never pressure a partner to have sex. Respect your partner’s feelings and beliefs.

One sign that you’re not ready is feeling pressured. If you feel nervous and unsure, you’re probably not ready. Consider:

  • Paying attention to your feelings.
  • Taking a step back.
  • Figuring out what you really want.
  • Talking to someone you trust (parents, counselor, teacher, pastor, family doctor).

Things to consider

If you choose to have sex as a teenager or young adult, there are some risks. These risks include:

  • You may feel too young to have a baby at your age and want to wait to start a family.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs). STIs include herpes, chlamydia, genital warts (caused by HPV, human papillomavirus), gonorrhea, syphilis, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). You can get an STI through same-sex and heterosexual activity. They can be passed on through vaginal, oral, and anal penetration.
  • Physical health problems in girls.
  • A higher risk of certain types of cancers in men and women who did not receive the HPV vaccine as a preteen.
  • Having sex before your body develops can physically hurt.
  • Emotional pain. Having sex before you’re ready can make you feel bad about yourself. This also causes anxiety.
  • Safety and privacy concerns. If you are sexting or taking sexually explicit photos of yourself, you are putting yourself at risk. Those things can end up in the wrong hands through texting, messaging, and social media.

If you’ve had sex and decided it was a mistake, you’ve learned something about your feelings. You can make better choices in the future. This 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.

If you’re going to have sex, or if you’re already having sex, be safe. Not having sex is the safest. Protect yourself and your partner by:

  • Using a latex condom. This offers the most protection against STIs. It offers some protection from pregnancy.
  • Using a spermicide with a condom. This offers better protection against pregnancy. However, it can cause genital irritation, which may increase your risk of catching an STI.
  • Using the condom correctly. Read the package instructions or talk to your doctor.
  • If you are sexually active and have a uterus, talk to your doctor about long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs). This includes an intrauterine device (IUD) or an implantable rod under the skin to prevent pregnancy.
  • Getting the HPV vaccine to protect against genital warts and cancer.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How do I know if my partner has STIs?
  • What are the symptoms of an STI or pregnancy?
  • How young can a girl become pregnant?
  • How can I have safe sex?

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