When Am I Ready For Sex?

When Is The Right Time For Me?

It can feel at times like sex and the idea of sex is all around and constantly bombarding us. Sexy images of celebrities and models in the media, sex on television and in the movies, locker room discussions about sex between peers, and more. Most adolescents are keenly aware of all these messages and images surrounding them. And as they begin to date and see their friends dating, they may even have the impression that all of their peers are coupled up and sexually active. So between all these messages and experiences, it’s only a matter of time until a teen asks him- or herself, “When is the right time for me to become sexually active?” And if you find that you are one of the teens out there who is having trouble figuring out the answer to this question, then read on…


Getting Stuck With Guidance on Sexual Readiness:

It can be difficult for teens (and the parents of teens) to know where to turn to get guidance on figuring out the “right” time to become sexually active. American law on the matter is only so helpful considering that depending on what state you live in the age of consent (when a person can legally engage in sexual activity) ranges from 14-18. That is a pretty big age range considering the magnitude of cognitive and emotional changes that can occur for a person within those four years. And in looking to society norms as a cue to when the “right” time is, a recent study by The National Survey of Family Growth reported that 46% of males and 47% of females, age 15-19, claim to have had sex. So with such an even split one could say it is just as normal not to be having sex as it is to be having sex. And ethical/religious perspectives vary from sexually liberated viewpoints that sex is a health human pleasure to be enjoyed whenever it is safe and consensual, to perspectives that sex is only morally appropriate for procreation within a marriage – and every opinion in between. So no wonder so many teens are confused by question of when is the right time to start having sex!


What To Think About In Figuring Out If Sex Is Right For You:

In thinking about issues of sexual readiness, TeenHealthFX would like adolescents to remember that there is no one set age when a person is truly ready for that level of physical intimacy. Because people are different, each person is going to develop and mature at a different pace – as well as have different levels of access to sexual health information. So instead of focusing on reaching a particular age, being in a certain grade in school, or counting the months or years you’ve been in a steady relationship, consider instead how prepared you are for the ethical, psychological, social, and physical aspects of being sexually active by thinking about these following eight areas put together by Tim Hartnett, PhD and Amy Cooper, DHS:

  1. Knowledge of disease and pregnancy prevention. Responsible sex requires that participants know how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and from STIs. Not being well-educated about all of the circumstances in which pregnancy can occur and STIs can be transmitted can put a person on a potentially problematic path of dealing with a crisis situation or other unpleasant experience.


  1. Reflection on the impact of pregnancy or disease. In addition to be educated about safer sex practices, it is also important for people to give serious thought about the consequences of being sexually active. Questions to bear in mind include: What immediate action will I want to take if my method of birth control fails? What if my birth control method fails and I (or the person I am having sex with) gets pregnant? What if I am deceived by the information I get from my partner about his/her sexual history? It is important to remember that sex is never 100% safe, to think about the “what it’s,” and to consider if the level of risk is worth taking at this point in your life.


  1. Addressing moral and ethical issues. There are many individuals and groups out there that will try to influence your decision about when to become sexually active. With the varied viewpoints you will be faced with, you may not be able to please everyone. And while making the decision of what feels right for you is an important step in establishing your own identity, you might be met with scrutiny and judgment from people with opposing views. So it is important to decide about whether you can handle possible negative reactions from others, as well as whether or not there will be an intolerable amount of conflict within yourself to go against the beliefs of family, friends, or religious institutions.


  1. Self-esteem and decision making. Peer pressure and biological drives can be a powerful influence and a strong force against a person’s ability to make a decision and to stand by that decision. That said, responsible decisions about sex can only be made consistently when you see that you have the personal maturity to follow your own best thinking despite what others think and regardless of what your own body wants in the heat of the moment.


  1. Ability to communicate your feelings. Creating positive sexual experiences for yourself requires that you be able to openly express your feelings. If you are not yet comfortable talking about sex in a direct and honest way, then it is less likely that sex will be a consensual and mutually satisfying experience. You need to think about whether you can talk about sex with your partner and how specific you feel you can be with him/her about your needs and limits.


  1. Ability to handle relationship dynamics. The dynamics of relationships are often very emotionally challenging. Strong feelings of rejection, jealousy, and guilt can all be a part of the teenage dating world. And the intensity of these feelings can become dramatically increased when sex is involved. Have you thought about how you will feel if your relationship changes after having sex or how well you cope with emotions around dating in general when sex is not involved?


  1. Knowledge of sexual anatomy and functioning. Between a lack of knowledge about how the female and male bodies work, as well as unrealistic myths of what happens during sex – first-time sexual experiences for some can range anywhere from disappointing, to humiliating, to traumatic. So it is important to have a good sense of how male and female bodies work to ensure a healthier sexual experience.


  1. Making sense of childhood sexual experiences. Many teens have already had sexual experiences as children. These experiences can range anywhere from situations that involved sexual abuse, to age-appropriate explorations alone or with partners of either gender (like playing “doctor”). Whether abuse or age-appropriate curiosity and exploration, these experiences usually took place without much thought and without any kind of discussion – so questions about the meanings of these experiences may linger. And strong negative emotions may be present – particularly if there was a history of sexual abuse. These unresolved thoughts and feelings from past experiences can also impact our readiness for current sexual encounters. In cases like this, talking to a counselor prior to any sexual activity is usually recommended. 


FX appreciates that with these eight points to consider there is certainly a lot to think about. And in thinking about these factors, it might be helpful to discuss some or all of them with a trusted adult – your parents, an adult sibling, an extended family member, or a counselor. And when you do think or talk about these issues, make sure that you are realistic with yourself about where you are at – and make sure that you take into consideration what is right for the person you are today and the person you want to be, rather than what might be right for someone else.