How do you Know if You’re Ready for Sex?
By sara dueck
Deciding if you are ready for sex is a pretty big step. This decision is complicated and deeply personal. No one else can make it for you—not your friends, your parents, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your teachers or religious leaders, no one. While it’s empowering to be totally in charge of how you express and act on your sexuality, it can also be a bit daunting. What if you use the wrong judgment and make a decision that you can’t take back? Don’t worry. Just because you make a decision now does not mean that you have to stick with that decision for the rest of your life. And no matter what happens, no sexual experience or lack of sexual experience will make you any less worthy of love, friendship, or the right to make your own decisions.
Just because the decision to become sexually active or not is up to you, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for some help. Here are a few simple tips to help you make this decision. (There are a lot of factors that go into this decision, and we couldn’t possibly cover them all in one article—don’t be afraid to ask a friend or adult you trust for advice or guidance.)
Understand why you want to have sex
There’s only one acceptable reason to be involved in any sexual act, and that’s because you want to. Sex is all about exploring your body, your pleasure, and your intimacy with another person, and if the idea of that doesn’t make you excited, you’re probably not ready to have sex.
Even though there is only one good reason to have sex, there are lots of bad reasons. Sometimes people think that if they have sex with someone, it will make them feel special or loved. Sometimes people think they owe it to their partner to have sex with them. Sometimes people think they have no choice. But remember: sex is not a magic lamp. It won’t make someone else love you or do what you want. It won’t magically solve problems in your relationship. It won’t make you popular, and it won’t make you feel less lonely or insecure. Sex is just sex.
Become aware of the risks of sex
Sex comes with its own set of inherent risks and rewards. If you’re considering having heterosexual vaginal intercourse with your partner, you need be aware of the possibility of pregnancy. And if you’re considering engaging in any sexual act with anyone, you need to consider which sexually transmitted infections (STIs) you might be at risk of transmitting or contracting.
But there are other risks aside from unwanted pregnancies or STIs. Without adequate lubrication, education, or communication between partners, sex can be physically painful and, in rare cases, can even cause long-lasting physical damage. And sometimes, it’s possible for sex to have a negative emotional or psychological impact. If two partners have different levels of emotional attachment, having sex can result in feelings of rejection or anger. And for some people with a history of sexual abuse or trauma, having sex might trigger an unwanted psychological response. The emotional and psychological risks of sex are the trickiest to protect yourself against, but these risks can be reduced by being honest with yourself and your partner about your motivations and expectations.
Get comfortable talking about sex
This might seem obvious, but if you get embarrassed or uncomfortable by simply talking about sex, you’re probably not ready to have sex. Remember those risks we just talked about? You need to be able to talk frankly and openly with your partner about those risks, and you need to be willing to take actual steps to reduce those risks. This means buying condoms, dental dams, birth control, or lubrication. This means talking to your partner about what actions you’ll both take if one of you becomes pregnant. This means being prepared to get tested for STIs, to seek medical treatment if you do contract an STI, and to inform your partner if they are at risk of contracting an STI from you. This also means asking your partner about their preferences, dislikes, and boundaries, and being honest and open about your own. Being able to talk about sex is crucial to understanding consent and living a healthy sexual life.
Get to know yourself and set healthy boundaries
Saying “yes” to one sexual act does not mean you’ve said “yes” to every sexual act imaginable. This is where your boundaries come in. Setting boundaries are all about knowing yourself. Now that you are familiar with the physical, emotional, and psychological risks of sex, which risks are you willing to expose yourself to? How will that dictate which boundaries you set for yourself?
Just like your decision whether to have sex or not can change multiple times over the course of your life, the boundaries you set can also change. Over time, you might become more comfortable taking certain risks with a partner, and together you can discuss new boundaries. Or maybe, you’ve realized you’ve exposed yourself to more risk than you are comfortable with, and now you need to dial your boundaries back a little. That’s okay. Your boundaries are up to you and you alone, and if you find yourself with someone who doesn’t respect your boundaries, ditch ‘em.
Sometimes, it’s harder to understand ourselves than other people. Analyzing your motivations can be tough, and that is why it is so important to spend time getting to know yourself. You’ll only know if you’re ready to have sex if you’ve asked yourself some hard questions about your motivations for having sex, your expectations of sex, what levels of risk you’re willing to expose yourself to, and what boundaries you need to set.
For some other important questions to ask yourself about your readiness for sexual activity, take our "Am I Ready" quiz
SARA DUECK - STAFF WRITER & EDUCATOR
Sara Dueck (she/her) is a queer, feminist, usually nervous, over-educated millennial with a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master’s degree in Medieval Studies. Sara grew up in a small town in Southern Alberta, Canada - deep in the heart of right-wing territory.