Part II: You Need to Be Emotionally Ready

This is Part II of a larger resource, The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex.  

Am I Ready For Sex?

While many people carefully choose their first sex partner, others lose their virginity under circumstances they later regret. Taking the time to assess the implications of sex before you go through with it can help you make a better choice. Peer pressure or coercion from a significant other may make you think that you have no choice in the matter, but you always have a choice.

In a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 71% of sexually active teenagers would rather have waited longer before having sex. When asked to offer advice to their peers, 64% of these teens opined that sex should wait until after high school. The main reason these teens regretted early sexual experience was their emotional unreadiness. The act of sex may leave you feeling vulnerable in a way that you’re unprepared for, and finding yourself in that situation with someone you do not know or trust can be devastating.

Questions you can ask yourself might include:

    • Is this something that I want to do?
        • You alone have the power to decide you are ready for sex. If you feel pressured, ask yourself why. Is your partner trying to make you feel guilty? Is someone saying you are a prude for not having sex? Do you have reservations about sex in spite of assurances that you’ll have a great time? All of these are good reasons to not move forward with sex. Loving and respectful partners understand that you may not be ready, and a partner who dismisses your concerns is not a good choice.
    • How well do I know my partner?
        • Sex is best experienced when there is a high level of trust between both partners. For instance, many potential partners will be interested in continuing a sexual relationship for a while. It takes time to build this level of trust. While not impossible, it is never easy to trust someone you just met or know little about. The emotional and sexual investment might be more than either of you is really ready for.
    • Do I know enough about sex?
        • Many people are unaware of the finer points of sexual wellness and don’t want to embarrass themselves by revealing that fact. Sex is easy to understand from a physical standpoint, but STIs, methods of protection, and pregnancy risks are often misunderstood. Myths about sex abound (see Part III: The Common Sex Myths and Misconceptions), and what you’re hearing from your friends may not be the truth. If you educate yourself on the realities of sexual risks, you will learn to better protect yourself.
    • Can I do this sober?
        • Sex can be awkward, especially the first time. The temptation to drink to or get high may be strong here, but resist the urge. Firstly, when you are drunk or high it’s more likely that you will use protection incorrectly or not at all. Secondly, lowered inhibitions can lead you to agree to do things you wouldn’t otherwise. If you feel that you cannot approach a sexual experience without alcohol or drugs, you should not be having sex.

Life doesn’t always happen the way we plan it, and you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation even after you have decided you’re ready. If you decide to change your mind, you have every right to do so. Someone who respects you will not mind you taking time to reassess. If you feel a need to identify boundaries before continuing, do so – if you feel you need to leave, leave without guilt. You are protecting yourself. That is never something to be sorry about.

Discussing Safer Sex with a Partner

Responsible partners should have a frank discussion about sexual health. Ideally, this conversation should happen well before you have sex, not in the heat of the moment. To best serve both of your needs, be honest and work through issues like proper protection together.

Having “the talk” is never without awkwardness. Embrace the awkwardness and have fun with it if you can, but take the subject matter seriously. If you feel your relationship is moving in that direction, bring it up matter-of-factly or set aside some time to talk about it. Make it clear that you will not have sex without protection. If either of you are sexually active you should both be screened for STIs. The two of you can choose protection options (see Part IV: Learn the Proper Precautions) that best fit your needs.

No Means No

Sex should always be consensual, no matter what kind of history you have with a partner. Sexual consent is more than courtesy; it’s the law. You always have the right to say no in any circumstance and have that choice respected. This means that no one can take advantage of you when you are drunk, high, or sleeping. Ambiguity about the direction a relationship may take is not uncommon, but sexual consent is never ambiguous.

States apply consent laws differently, but they generally distinguish sexual assault from rape. Rape is defined as forced penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth by a body part or object. The victim may know the attacker in scenarios such as date rape  or acquaintance rape. Coercion subdues the victim into the act of intercourse against his or her will. This may be as simple as holding someone down; 8 out of 10 rapes involve bodily force alone.

Sexual assault takes many forms. Legally it is defined as unwanted sexual contact that doesn’t end in penetration. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors outside of a relationship, sexual intimidation, and stalking are all forms of sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault are crimes of force and humiliation, not sex.

Silence can mean many things and should never be taken as assent. A partner may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or they may be afraid to speak up. If someone says no and you continue, you are committing sexual assault or rape.

If you believe you have been the victim of a sexual crime, the following resources may be helpful:

    • RAINN: The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network offers hotline services via the Internet or the phone. RAINN can also link you directly to support services in your area.
    • SARA: The Sexual Assault Resource Agency offers hotline services, legal and medical accompaniment, and free confidential therapy to survivors and their families.
    • Sexual Assault: The U.S. Department of Justice’s resources page lists numerous links to survivor resources and advocacy groups for victims and their families.

Return to The Authoritative Guide to Safer Sex: Table of Contents.