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 they're pretending.
There are no rules about how long you have to be going out with someone before you have sex. Being ready happens at different times for everyone - don't decide to have sex just because your friends or partner are pressuring you.
You can read this whole page or go straight to the sections to find out more:
- Sex and the law
- It's your decision
- How to talk about sex
- The questions to ask yourself about sex
- How do I bring up the subject of safer sex?
- Lesbian, gay or bisexual sex
- Reading the signs they want sex
- Alcohol won't help
Sex and the law
The law says it's legal for you to agree - or consent - to sex from the age of 16.
If you're under 16, you can get confidential contraceptive and sexual health services, including advice about an unplanned pregnancy.
You can get free condoms from some GPs, community contraceptive or young persons' clinics, and Brook services.
If you're under 13, the situation is different because the law says you can't consent to any sexual activity at this age.
Read Will they tell my parents? to find out more about confidentiality, whatever your age.
Deciding when to have sex
Working out when you're ready to have sex and feeling comfortable about it is one of life's big decisions. You're the only one who can, and should, decide.
Just because you've had sex before, even with the same person, doesn't mean you have to do it again.
How to talk about sex
It's better to have an embarrassing talk about sex than an embarrassing sexual experience 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 or partner pressure?
- Do you have contraception sorted?
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 you both like, such as talking, meeting each other's family and friends, going to gigs or the cinema, taking part in sport, walking, and listening to music.
The questions to ask yourself about sex
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 to prevent STIs and HIV, 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 just 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 your boyfriend or girlfriend is as keen as you are each time.
How do I bring up the subject of safer sex?
When you decide to have sex, there's the possibility of pregnancy, catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia, or both. 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.
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 there are 15 different types of contraception . If we were to have sex, which one should we use?".
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, or young persons' clinic. Call the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for details. Find your local sexual health services.
You need to use condoms to reduce the risk of catching an STI, including HIV, whoever you're having sex with.
If you're in a boy/girl couple, you should use an additional form of contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy.
Choosing the right contraception
There are 15 different kinds of contraception, including the implant, the 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 talk about this: a pregnancy will affect both of you.
Lesbian, gay or bisexual sex
If you have lesbian, gay or bisexual sex, it's important to use a condom every time as you can still get or pass on STIs, including HIV. You also 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 men who have sex with men.
Reading the signs they want sex
Many people are surprised when a situation leads to sex, so learn to read the signs. If someone suggests you find a quiet place, makes lots of physical 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 you can stay in control, avoid situations that could lead to sex, such as going to someone's room or somewhere quiet.
Alcohol won't help
Many people have sex or lose their virginity when they've been drinking. After a few drinks, you're more likely to lose your judgement, and may do things 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 also more likely to have sex without a condom when they're drunk. This can lead to an STI or unintended pregnancy.
Find outmore about sex, alcohol and keeping safe.
Article provided by NHS Choices