Choosing when (and if) to have sex for the first time is one of the heaviest decisions of a person's life. Sex can affect your relationship, your emotions, your health, and your future so while it's totally normal and natural to want to take things to the next level, being thoughtful about that decision is key. Read through the questions below, have an open and honest conversation with yourself, and don't be afraid to chat with someone you trust about any concerns you have before losing your virginity.
1. Can you handle the emotions that come with sex?
Sex can bring you closer to your partner and make your relationship feel stronger. But it can also intensify the negative emotions you experience when something goes sour, like a fight or a breakup. The truth is, sex can make you feel more attached to someone and subsequently more vulnerable if things don't work out. Of course, that's not to say you won't be able to handle it: If you are truly ready, you should also be mature enough to understand that this might happen, and be mentally prepared if it does.
2. Will you be responsible when it comes to your health?
Of course you already know about the dangers of STDs, but it's so important that we're going to bring it up again. One in four teen girls has a sexually transmitted disease, so it's up to you to protect yourself once you start having sex. This means not being embarrassed about buying condoms, getting tested, or talking to your partner.
Dr. Jenny M. Jaque, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology for the Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California reminds us that, "Some [STDs] are curable and others are not." This is why it is so, so important to be responsible when it comes to sex. "Condoms help decrease the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease if they're used appropriately," she says. That's why they're the first step in safeguarding your health.
You also need to have a gynecologist you're comfortable with. She'll run tests to determine whether you have any STDs (and you should insist your partner does the same). Dr. Jaque also says this is a good time to talk with your physician about any questions you have about sex that you may be too embarrassed to talk about with a family member. Topics could include safe sex practices, signs, symptoms and prevention of STDs, contraception, and what to expect in terms of pain and bleeding.
If you don't feel comfortable with any of the above, you're not ready to have sex. And if your partner isn't up for talking about it and getting tested, that's even more of a red flag.
3. Can you and your partner talk openly and honestly?
Do you trust your partner? Are you able to talk to him or her about anything? If not, you shouldn't take things to another level yet. "An important thing to consider is whether the person you will be having sex with is free of sexually transmitted diseases," says Dr. Jaque. And that requires open communication. Sit down and discuss their previous sexual history. "It only takes one sexual encounter to be exposed to sexually transmitted diseases that can last a lifetime," she warns. Having this discussion before you have sex will be vital to your decision.
And remember, whether or not they have a known STD, if your partner refuses to wear a condom, he is inconsiderate and not worth the risk. They should be just as concerned about your health (and his!) as you are.
4. Will you be careful when it comes to birth control?
Since condoms aren't always the most reliable way to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, Dr. Jaque suggests talking with your doctor about additional birth control options. There are many different kinds, from the Pill, to the NuvaRing, to an IUD. Your doctor will help you choose the right one for you based on your medical history, the kinds of periods you have (for example, certain birth control methods can help make them less painful or heavy), and your life (for example, if your schedule makes it hard to take a pill at the same time every day, that's probably not your best option).
If you don't feel comfortable talking with your doctor about this or using birth control, you should put the brakes on having sex. Dr. Jaque warns that an unplanned pregnancy can put young women at risk for complications or miscarriage; not to mention the potential trauma of tough decisions like adoption or abortion.
So are you really ready? If you're not, don't worry about it the right time will come. Remember, this is your decision and you shouldn't do anything with your own body just because someone else is pressuring you. If you are ready, practice safe sex and make sure you have someone you can talk to about any questions you might have, from the school nurse to an adult you trust and look up to. And of course, we're always here to help!