Making Healthy Sexual Decisions

Young women's version of this guide
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You may be thinking about what it means to be involved in a sexual relationship. As a young adult, it’s normal to think about sex, have sexual feelings, and have a desire to learn more about your own body. Deciding to have a sexual relationship is an important decision since it involves both your body and your emotions. You need to make sure that it is the right decision for you and remember that just because it’s the right decision for your friends, your siblings, your parents, or your partner, it is not necessarily the right decision for you. It’s always good to have a trusted adult to talk to, whether that is a parent, an older sibling, a teacher, a mentor, or someone else you know and trust.

What should I think about before I decide to have sex?

There are many things that are important to think about before you decide to have sex, including whether this is what you want and whether this is the right time in your life. You should also think about how you and your partner will feel afterwards.

Guys sometimes feel pressure to have sex from their peers, from what they think is expected from young men in their culture, or from their own sexual urges. The decision to have sex should be discussed and agreed on by you and your partner. You should never feel pressured to have sex (either by your friends or your partner) or pressure anyone else to have sex. Remember that you are responsible for the decisions you make. Whether you are male or female, it is completely okay to wait to have sex and to say no even if someone else is asking or telling you to have sex.

What do I need to know if I’m sexually active or I’m thinking about becoming sexually active?

Young men have to make lots of decisions about sex, including whether to abstain (not have sex), or become, or continue being, sexually active. If you are sexually active, you’ll also need to think about the:

  • Gender of your sexual partner(s)
  • Kind of relationship you have with them
  • Type of sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention and contraception methods you use (what you will use to make sure that neither of you gets an infection from having sex and your partner (if female) doesn’t become pregnant)
If you’re concerned about making healthy sexual decisions, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: “How do I know if I’m ready to have sex? What should I think about before I have sex?”

Talking With Your Partner

Before you decide to have a sexual relationship, talk with your partner about whether having sex is what you both want.

  1. Ask about his or her sexual history, including if he or she has had any sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Always be careful and protect yourself with a condom (regardless of if you are a young man or young woman) as some people may not be honest about their sexual history.
  2. Talk about STI prevention methods. Condoms are the most effective, but you have to use them every time and correctly. If you have any questions about how to correctly use a condom, talk to your doctor.
  3. If you are in a heterosexual (straight) relationship, talk about birth control and what you would do if it failed. If you feel that you don’t need to talk to your partner about these issues, then you should rethink whether or not you should be having a sexual relationship. Remember that a young woman CAN get pregnant the first time she has sex and even if she has not yet started having her periods, and ALWAYS use some form of birth control to prevent this unless you are trying to have a baby.
  4. Be open and honest about whether you or your partner have been, or will be, sexually involved with other people. Remember, the risk of getting an STI or a virus that can cause cancer or AIDS is increased if you or your partner(s) are having sexual intercourse with other people. The more partners, the greater the risk! This can also help prevent misunderstandings and fights later on.
  5. Talk to your primary care provider (your doctor) about condom use and how to prevent STIs.

It’s important for everyone to remember that a female can get pregnant at ANY time if you have sex without a condom or if she is not using birth control correctly. To lessen the chance of a pregnancy and STIs, you should use a latex condom EVERY time you have sex, from start to finish. The only way to absolutely prevent your partner from getting pregnant or either of you from getting an STI is to not have sex.

Getting Advice and What to Ask

Whom can I talk to about sex?

If you have questions about sex, whether or not you’re thinking about having a sexual relationship you should talk to your parent(s)/guardian(s), a trusted adult such as a school counselor, someone from your religious center/youth group, or your healthcare provider. It’s a good idea to get information and discuss concerns so that you can make healthy decisions.

How do I find a health care provider to discuss birth control and STI protection?

Many young men and women can talk to their moms, dads, adult siblings, or guardians about these issues, while others need confidential services. You can talk to your primary care provider about birth control or STI protection. You also have the option of talking to a health care provider (HCP) at a student health center or school clinic. You should feel comfortable with your HCP, since it is important to share personal information and any health problems with her/him. You need to find a provider who will listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and take the time to explain things clearly to you. If you have concerns about whether your doctor/provider will keep the information you share with him/her a secret and not tell your parents, be sure to bring it up with him/her.

Make sure you know how to receive confidential, non-judgmental services when talking about your sexual choices and health.

Practice these questions to ask:

  • Will the bill be sent to my house?
  • What if I want to be tested for STIs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, or HIV?
  • What if I find out that I have an STI?
  • If I’m covered by my parents’ insurance, will they find out about examinations and tests (such as test for STI’s) that are done on me?
  • What if my partner is pregnant?
  • Is there any information that you are required to tell my parents/guardians?
  • What happens if I have a big problem and need help telling my parents/guardians?
  • What should I know about emergency contraception that is available for females?

Emergency Contraception

What happens if my partner forgets her birth control method or the condom breaks?

If your partner forgets her birth control method or the condom breaks, she has an option called emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill”. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Both males and females age 17 or older can buy it at a pharmacy. Call ahead to make sure they carry it and ask about the cost. If you are 16 years old or younger OR you don’t want to buy emergency contraception yourself, you may be able to get it from your health care provider, or a Family Planning Clinic such as Planned Parenthood at a low cost. For more information about emergency contraception, you can call Planned Parenthood at: 1-800-230-PLAN, or visit the Emergency Contraception website.

Sexual Orientation

What if I’m not sure whether I’m gay, straight, or bisexual?

You may also be trying to figure out your sexual orientation (if you are attracted to men, women, or both). If you feel like you want to talk to someone or you need more support, your health care provider can help you find a counselor or support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your provider, you can speak with someone and get advice on where you can find a counselor or support group.

If you’re concerned about your sexual orientation, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: “I think I’m attracted to guys/girls – or – I think I’m attracted to guys and girls.”

Are You Ready For Sex?

Ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re ready to have a sexual relationship:

  • Is your decision to have sex agreed on by both you and your partner?
  • Is your decision to have sex based on the right reasons? (It shouldn’t be based on peer pressure or just to relieve sexual urges. If you decide to have sex, it should be because you feel emotionally and physically ready. Your partner should be someone you trust and someone you feel comfortable discussing sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy with since both of these are very real things that can happen to anyone who has sex.)
  • Do you feel you would respect any decision you and your partner made about whether to have sex or not, including to stop in the middle of it?
  • Are you able to comfortably talk to your partner about sex and your partner’s sexual history?
  • Have you and your partner talked about what both of you would do if your partner became pregnant or got an STI?
  • Do you know how to prevent pregnancy and STIs?
  • Are you and your partner willing to use contraception to prevent pregnancy and STIs?
  • Do you really feel ready and completely comfortable with yourself and your partner to have sex?