Preparing for your first time may seem like the most awkward, daunting and uncomfortable experience ever—but you’re not alone. Questions like “Am I ready to have sex?” “Is this the person I want to lose my virginity to?” and “Who can I talk to about this?” may be running through your head. The truth is, sex is complicated, and no one can answer these questions—except you. Whether you’re single and dating or in a serious relationship, becoming sexually active is one of the biggest “adult” decisions you’ll have to make. Luckily, there are many accessible resources and people you can reach out to to ensure you’re making the right choice.
An important question you should first ask yourself is how you define sex or being sexually active. Dr. Michelle Sia, an instructor of obstetrics and gynecology in Boston University’s school of medicine and associate director of the Residency Program, says the first step is defining what sex is for you and your partner. “Sex is a very general term. For some people, sex doesn’t go beyond kissing or oral sex. For others, it can mean going all the way and having vaginal or anal sex. If your partner wants to have a physical relationship that goes beyond your terms, then that’s when you may want to pause and ask yourself if that’s what you want, too.”
Whether you’re in a committed or open relationship, you should establish a line of communication and trust with your partner and discuss your concerns about sex. After you decide what sex means to you, you can establish a sexual relationship and open up a discussion that is honest and respectful. For example, you can say, “I want to have a sexual relationship with you, but I don’t want to go further than mutual masturbation or oral sex.” Dr. Sia said, “It’s important to talk about these things before you get caught up in the heat of the moment.”
As you probably know, while sexual activity can be fun and pleasurable, it comes with its risks, too—namely pregnancy and contracting STIs, including HIV and AIDS. Just as you might take care to eat well and carve out time to exercise, you should also take steps to care for your sexual health. It’s important to discuss these risks with your partner, and before engaging in any sexual activity, new partners who are already sexually experienced should always get tested—including yourself. You can start by saying, “I want a physical relationship with you, but first I need to know how many sexual partners you’ve had, and I’d like you to get tested.”
If you’re not ready to get pregnant, you should consult with a gynecologist about protecting yourself from STIs and finding the best birth control method for you. Don’t be afraid to tell your gynecologist that you don’t think you’ll remember to take a pill every day or if you’re concerned that your parents will find out that you’re on birth control.
Dr. Sia said, “There are so many forms of birth control out there that isn’t limited to the pill. You have to find out what’s going to work for you and your lifestyle. There are even options for teens who don’t want their parents to know that they are taking the pill.” The most important thing is to stay healthy.
It’s also a good idea to find someone other than your partner to talk to for advice when you’re deciding to have sex. This person can be a parent, doctor, gynecologist, aunt or friend. You can start this conversation by explaining your relationship with your potential partner, go into why you want to have sex, and ask their opinion on how to approach the issue. You can ask, “How can I approach this situation and make the right decision for myself?”
But no matter who you choose to talk over your decision with, Dr. Sia pointed out that you should also “consult with a gynecologist whom you like and trust to talk about the intimate details of your sex life. You would return a sweater you don’t like to the store, so as a public consumer of healthcare, you should look for a doctor who fits your needs.” This would be the best person to talk to about birth control and protection against STIs.
And what if you want to wait to have sex, possibly even until marriage? There’s nothing wrong with waiting to have sex or waiting for the right person, and there are benefits to waiting, like not having to worry about getting pregnant and contracting STDs. Waiting to have sex gives you time to learn more about the risks involved (emotional and physical) and gain an understanding of the time and effort it takes to build a strong, lasting relationship with someone you love—and someone who wants the same things you do.
In the end, this decision is about you, your sexual identity and what feels right to you. Whether it takes you weeks, months or years to figure out, as Dr. Sia said, “at least it will be on your terms.” Above all else, sex should not be stressful, but enjoyable—and the best way you can enjoy having sex is if you are confident in your decision.