Find out the 10 things you need to ask yourself if you’re thinking about having sex.
10 questions to ask yourself before sex
Most people have sex for the first time when they’re 16 or older, not before. If someone’s boasting about having sex, it’s possible that they’re pretending.
Although there’s a legal age of consent, it’s not necessarily the right age for you to start having sex. There are no rules about how long you have to be going out with someone before you do it. Being ready happens at different times for everyone – don’t decide to have sex just because your friends are pressuring you. You can read this whole page or go straight to the sections:
- It’s your decision
- Talking about sex
- 10 questions to ask yourself
- Safer sex
- Lesbian, gay or bisexual couples
- How do I bring up the subject of safer sex?
- Read the signs that they want sex
- Alcohol or drugs won’t help
- Sex and the law
It’s your decision
You can always choose whether you want to have sex, whoever you’re with. Just because you’ve done it before, even with the same person, doesn’t mean that you have to do it again.
Working out whether you’re ready is one of life’s big decisions. You’re the only one who can, and should, decide. Whether you’re thinking about losing your virginity or having sex again, remember the following tips.
Talking about sex
It’s better to have an embarrassing talk about sex than an embarrassing sexual encounter before you’re ready. There are lots of things to think and talk about, such as:
- Are you both ready?
- Will you be having sex for the right reasons and not because of peer pressure?
Sex isn’t the only aspect of a relationship, and there are other ways of enjoying each other’s company. Discuss what you want and what you don’t want to do. You can do other things that you both like, such as talking, meeting each other’s family and friends, going to gigs or the cinema, doing sport, walking, and listening to music.
10 questions to ask yourself
You need to have the confidence to work out how you want to respond if sex comes up, and how far to go. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable. Is it the right time, in the right place, and with the right person? Do you really trust the person, and do you feel the same way about one another?
If you think you might have sex, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it feel right?
- Do I love my partner?
- Does he/she love me just as much?
- Have we talked about using condoms, and was the talk OK?
- Have we got contraception organised to protect against pregnancy?
- Do I feel able to say ‘no’ at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that?
If you answer yes to all these questions, the time may be right. But if you answer yes to any of the following questions, it might not be:
- Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
- Could I have any regrets afterwards?
- Am I thinking about having sex just to impress my friends or keep up with them?
- Am I thinking about having sex in order to keep my partner?
Being in a relationship doesn’t mean you have to have sex. Even if you’ve done it once or twice you still need to make sure that your boyfriend or girlfriend is as keen as you each time.
When you decide to have sex, there’s the possibility of pregnancy and/or catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia. Whoever you’re thinking of having sex with, it’s important to talk about contraception and condoms before you have sex. Both of you have a responsibility to have this conversation.
You need to use condoms to reduce the risk of catching an STI, whoever you are having sex with. If you’re a boy/girl couple, you need to use an additional form of contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy.
There are 15 different kinds of contraception, including the implant, injection, the combined pill and the progestogen-only pill. Most kinds of contraception are used by girls, but both of you have a responsibility to consider which you will use. A pregnancy will affect both of you.
Lesbian, gay or bisexual couples
If you have lesbian, gay or bisexual sex you can still get or pass on STIs. You still need to know about contraception in case you have straight sex as well. Find out more about sexual health for women who have sex with women and for men who have sex with men.
How do I bring up the subject of safer sex?
Starting a conversation about the different types of contraception could be a good way to start talking about other issues to do with sex, such as how you feel about it and what you do and don’t want to do. You could try saying, “I found out that there are 15 different types of contraception…If we were to have sex, which one should we use?”
And researching the options together will help both of you feel more confident and in control of the situation. Find out about the 15 different kinds of contraception.
You can get free and confidential advice about sex, contraception and abortion at any time. Visit your local doctor, community contraceptive clinic, sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic (find your local services) or young persons clinic (call 0800 567 123) to find out more.
Read the signs that they want sex
Many people are surprised when a situation leads to sex, so learn to read the signs. If someone suggests that you find a quiet place, or makes lots of physcial contact, or suddenly tries to charm and flatter you, they might be thinking about sex, even if you’re not.
You need to decide whether you want to have sex. Don’t let someone else decide for you by just going along with it. Make the decision in advance and stay in control of the situation, especially if you’ve had alcohol, because you’ll be less inhibited.
If you’re not sure that you can stay in control, avoid situations that could lead to sex, such as going to someone’s room or somewhere quiet.
Alcohol or drugs won’t help
Many people have sex or lose their virginity when they’re drunk. After a few drinks, you’re more likely to lose your judgement, and you may do things that you wouldn’t do normally. You may regret your actions in the morning, and you won’t be able to undo what you’ve done.
People are more likely to have sex without a condom when they’re drunk. This can lead to an STI or unintended pregnancy.
Find out more about sex, alcohol and keeping safe.
Sex and the law
The law says that it’s legal for you to consent (agree) to sex from the age of 16. If you’re under 16, you can get confidential contraceptive and sexual health services, including abortions. You can get free condoms from some GPs, community contraceptive or young persons clinics, and Brook Advisory Centres.
If you’re under 13, the situation is different because the law says that you can’t consent to sex at this age.
14 things you should know about sex
There are so many stories around sex, it’s hard to know what to believe. Find out about the facts – it’s the best way to make sure that you have safer sex.
- Can you get pregnant the first time you have sex?
- Can you get pregnant if a boy withdraws (pulls out) before he comes?
- Can you get pregnant if you have sex during your period?
- Can you get pregnant if you have sex standing up?
- Can you get pregnant from oral sex?
- Does alcohol make you better in bed?
- Can you use clingfilm as a condom?
- Will a boy’s balls explode if he doesn’t have sex?
- Can you wash condoms and use them again?
- Can you get pregnant if you have sex only once?
- Do you always get symptoms if you have an STI?
- Can women who have sex with women get STIs?
- Do all gay men have anal sex?
- Does starting her periods mean a girl is ready to have sex?
- Can I get help and information on sex if I need it?
1: You can get pregnant the first time that you have sex.
You may have heard that a girl can’t get pregnant the first time that she has sex. The truth is, if a boy and a girl have sex and don’t use contraception, she can get pregnant, whether it’s her first time or she has had sex lots of times.
A boy can get a girl pregnant the first time he has sex. If you’re female and have sex, you can get pregnant as soon as you start ovulating (releasing eggs). This happens before you have your first period. Find out more about periods and the menstrual cycle.
Using contraception protects against pregnancy. Using condoms also protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Before you have sex, talk to your partner about contraception, and make sure you’ve got some contraception. Find out about getting contraception and tips on using condoms.
2: You can get pregnant if a boy withdraws (pulls out) his penis before he comes.
There’s a myth that a girl can’t get pregnant if a boy withdraws his penis before he ejaculates (comes). The truth is, pulling out the penis won’t stop a girl from getting pregnant.
Before a boy ejaculates, there’s sperm in the pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-come), which leaks out when he gets excited. It only takes one sperm to get a girl pregnant. Pre-come can contain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so withdrawing the penis won’t prevent you from getting an infection.
If a boy says he’ll take care to withdraw before he ejaculates, don’t believe him. Nobody can stop themselves from leaking sperm before they come. Always use a condom to protect yourself against STIs, and also use other contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
3: You can get pregnant if you have sex during your period.
There’s a myth that a girl can’t get pregnant if she has sex during her period. The truth is, she can get pregnant at any time of the month if she has sex without contraception.
Sperm can survive for several days after sex, so even if you do it during your period, sperm can stay in the body long enough to get you pregnant.
4: You can get pregnant if you have sex standing up, sitting down or in any other position.
You may have heard the myth that a girl can’t get pregnant if she has sex standing up, sitting down, or if she jumps up and down afterwards. The truth is, there’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ position if you’re having sex without a condom or another form of contraception.
There are also no ‘safe’ places to have sex, including the bath or shower. Pregnancy can happen whatever position you do it in, and wherever you do it. All that’s needed is for a sperm to meet an egg.
5: You can’t get pregnant by having oral sex.
You may have heard that you can get pregnant by having oral sex. The truth is, a girl can’t get pregnant this way, even if she swallows sperm. But you can catch STIs through oral sex, including gonorrhoea, chlamydia and herpes. It’s safer to use a condom on a penis, and a dam (a very thin, soft plastic square that acts as a barrier) over the female genitals if you have oral sex.
6: Drinking alcohol doesn’t make you better in bed.
There’s a myth that drinking alcohol makes you perform better in bed. The truth is, when you’re drunk it’s hard to make smart decisions. Alcohol can make you take risks, such as having sex before you’re ready, or having sex with someone you don’t like. Drinking won’t make the experience better. You’re more likely to regret having sex if you do it when you’re drunk. Find out more about sex and alcohol.
7: You can’t use clingfilm, plastic bags, crisp packets or anything else instead of a condom. They won’t work.
There’s a myth that you can use a plastic bag, clingfilm or a crisp packet instead of a condom. The truth is, you can’t. Only a condom can protect against STIs.
You can get condoms free from:
- Community contraceptive clinics
- Sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
- Some young persons services
You can also buy them from pharmacies and shops. Make sure that they have the CE mark on them, as this means that they’ve been tested to European safety standards. Find sexual health services near you, including contraception clinics.
8: A boy’s testicles (balls) will not explode if he doesn’t have sex.
You may have heard the myth that if a boy doesn’t have sex his balls will explode. The truth is, not having sex doesn’t harm boys or girls, and a boy’s balls will not explode.
Boys and men produce sperm all the time. If they don’t ejaculate the sperm is absorbed into their body. Ejaculation can happen if they masturbate or have a wet dream. They don’t have to have sex. Find out about boys’ bodies.
9: Condoms can’t be washed out and used again.
Don’t believe anyone who says that you can wash condoms and use them again. The truth is, you can’t use a condom more than once, even if you wash it out. If you’ve used a condom, throw it away and use a new one if you have sex again.
This is true for male condoms and female condoms. Condoms need to be changed after 30 minutes of sex because friction can weaken the condom, making it more likely to break or fail. Get tips on using condoms.
10: You can get pregnant if you have sex only once.
You may have heard the myth that you have to have sex lots of times to get pregnant. The truth is, you can get pregnant if you have sex once. All it takes is for one sperm to meet an egg. To avoid pregnancy, always use contraception, and use a condom to protect against STIs.
11: You don’t always get symptoms if you have an STI.
You may have heard the myth that you’d always know if you had an STI because it would hurt when you pee, or you’d notice a discharge, unusual smell or soreness. This isn’t true.
Many people don’t notice signs of infection, so you won’t always know if you’re infected. You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they’ve got an STI. If you’re worried that you’ve caught an STI, visit your GP or local sexual health clinic. Check-ups and tests for STIs are free and confidential, including for under-16s. Find out about sexual health services near you.
12: Women who have sex with women can get STIs.
You may have heard that women who sleep with women can’t get or pass on STIs. This isn’t true. If a woman has an STI and has sex with another woman, the infection can be passed on through vaginal fluid (including fluid on shared sex toys), blood or close body contact.
Always use condoms on shared sex toys, and use dams to cover the genitals during oral sex. A dam is a very thin, soft plastic square that acts as a barrier to prevent infection (ask about dams at a pharmacist or sexual health clinic). If a woman is also having sex with a man, using contraception and condoms will help to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy.
13: Not all gay men have anal sex.
You may have heard that all gay men have anal sex. This isn’t true. Anal sex, like any sexual activity, is a matter of preference. Some people choose to do it as part of their sex life and some don’t, whether they’re gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual.
According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (taken in 2000), 12.3% of men and 11.3% of women had had anal sex in the previous year. Whatever sex you have, use a condom to protect yourself and your partner against STIs. However, having sex isn’t the only way to show your feelings for someone.
14: A girl is not ready to have sex just because she’s started her periods.
You may have heard that a girl should be having sex once she starts having periods. This isn’t true. Starting your periods means that you’re growing up, and that you could get pregnant if you were to have sex. It doesn’t mean that you’re ready to have sex, or that you should be sexually active. People feel ready to have sex at different times. It’s a personal decision. Most young people in England wait until they’re 16 or older before they start having sex. Find out more about periods and the menstrual cycle.