Making Healthy Sexual Decisions

Young women's version of this guide

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’s the right decision for you. It’s always good to have a trusted adult to talk to.

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 will feel afterwards.

Guys sometimes feel pressure to have sex from their friends, from what they think is expected from young men in their culture, or from their own sexual urges. Regardless of your gender identity you should know 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.

Did you know? According to a study of high school students in the United States, 39% of students who identified as male reported ever having sex.

Teens and young adults may decide to wait to have sex for many reasons. They may want to be older, finish school, or be married first. They may have certain religious or cultural beliefs affecting their decision. They may want to avoid the risk of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or pregnancy. They also may just be unsure about what they want.

The decision to have sex for the first time (and every time after) is yours, not anyone else’s!

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 be sexually active. If you are sexually active, you should also think about the:

  • Kind of relationship you have with your sexual partner(s)
  • What you will do to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) with any kind of sex
  • What you and your partner(s) will use for contraception to prevent pregnancy, if you’re having vaginal sex

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 their sexual history, including if they have had any sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
  2. Talk about STI prevention methods. If you decide to have sex condoms are the most effective way to prevent an STI. If you have any questions about how to correctly use a condom, talk to your doctor.
  3. If you are having vaginal sex (vaginal-penile sex), talk about birth control and what you would do if it failed. If you feel that you can’t talk to your partner(s) about these issues, then you should consider whether or not you should be having a sexual relationship. You can learn more about birth control options here.
  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, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus; the virus that causes AIDS), or a virus that can cause cancer is increased if you or your partner(s) are having sexual intercourse with other people. The more partners, the greater the risk!
  5. Talk to your primary care provider (your doctor) about condom use and how to prevent STIs. You can also talk to them about contraception if you are having vaginal sex.

Remember anyone born with female organs can get pregnant at ANY time if they have sex with someone who has male organs and don’t use a condom, or if they are not using birth control correctly. To lessen the chance of pregnancy and STI’s, you should use a latex (female or male) condom EVERY time you have sex, from start to finish. The only way to absolutely prevent pregnancy or 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 discuss all your choices and any concerns you have so that you can make healthy decisions. Deciding whether or not to have sex can be a difficult decision, so it’s always good to have someone to talk to.

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

Many teens and young adults can talk to their moms, dads, adult siblings/relatives, or guardians about these issues, while others need confidential services. You can talk to a health care provider (HCP) about birth control or STI protection. You should feel comfortable with your HCP, since it is important to share personal information and any health problems with them. You should find a HCP who will listen to your concerns, answer your questions, and take the time to explain things clearly to you.

Ask your health care provider about the confidentiality policy. You should be able to talk privately about any sexual health issues including your sexual choices and not feel judged.

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/guardians’ 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 we forget to use a birth control method or the condom breaks during vaginal sex?

If anyone born with female reproductive organs forgets their birth control method or the condom breaks, and a pregnancy is not desired, you can consider using emergency contraception. Emergency contraception, also known as the “morning-after pill” can be used by people with female reproductive organs. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Anyone, regardless of gender or age, can buy some types of emergency contraception pills over the counter (without a prescription) at a pharmacy in the United States. Other forms of emergency contraception require a prescription from a HCP or a visit to a health care provider’s office.

For more information about EC, you can:

Sexual Orientation

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

You may also be trying to figure out your gender identity (whether you identify as a woman, man, both, neither or something else) and your sexual orientation (who you are attracted to). 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 health care provider, you can speak with a trusted adult or a hotline and get advice on where you can find a counselor or support group.

For more information, you can call the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender National Hotline at: 1-888-843-4564. Services are confidential.

It’s important that having sex is a positive experience and YOUR decision, regardless of whether your partner(s) gender identities. If sex is painful, not pleasurable, not your choice, or makes you feel that it is the wrong decision for you, you should talk with a trusted adult.

Am I 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 completely your own (you feel no pressure from others, including your partner(s))?
  • Is your decision to have sex based on the right reasons? (It shouldn’t be based on peer pressure, a need to fit in or make your partner happy, or a belief that sex is the only way to make your relationship with your partner(s) better, or closer. If you decide to have sex, it should be because you feel emotionally and physically ready. Your partner(s) should be someone you trust.)
  • Do you feel your partner(s) would respect any decision you made about whether to have sex or not?
  • Are you able to comfortably talk to your partner(s) about sex and their sexual history?
  • Have you and your partner(s) talked about what both of you would do if either of you got an STI or got pregnant (with vaginal sex)?
  • Do you know how to prevent pregnancy and STIs?
  • Are you and your partner willing to use contraception and barrier methods to prevent pregnancy and STIs?
  • Do you really feel ready and completely comfortable with yourself and your partner(s) to have sex?

If you answered NO to any of these questions, you are probably not ready to have sex. If you think you should have sexual intercourse because others want you to or you feel like you should since everyone else is doing it, you should rethink your decision to be sexually active.

You should only have sex because you: trust your partner(s), feel comfortable with yourself and your decision, know how to protect yourself against STIs and unplanned pregnancies, and most importantly because you want to and you know that you’re ready! Also, if you start having sex and decide you are not ready – that’s totally okay and your choice.

Ultimately the decision to have sex for the first time (and every time after) should be your choice.