In a healthy relationship, both partners are able to express their feelings and respect each other’s boundaries about sex. You shouldn’t have to have sex to keep your partner. You may feel comfortable kissing or holding hands but not want to go any further. That’s ok.

Deciding whether you want to have sex or when you should is a decision you should make when it feels right for YOU. In a healthy relationship, your partner respects your decisions, even when they don’t like them.

If you are thinking about when to have sex, keep in mind:

  • You should feel comfortable with your decision.
  • Talk with your partner about safe sex practices, like getting tested for STIs and considering birth control options.
  • Be honest with yourself and your partner. If you’re not ready, that’s ok and your partner should respect it.
  • If something scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say no at any time.
  • You have the right to talk openly and honestly about your fears, worries and feelings.
  • If your partner tries to threaten or pressure you into having sex, it can be a sign of an unhealthy relationship. You deserve better.
  • No matter how long you’ve been with someone or how many times you’ve done something, you have the right to say no at any time for any reason.
  • If someone won’t take no for an answer and repeatedly pressures you verbally, emotionally or physically it can be a sign of abuse.
  • You have control over your body, and no one else has the right to tell you what to do with it.

Why is it So Complicated?

Having sex can raise the intensity of emotions that people feel for each other — whether you’re in a serious or casual relationship. At times, this elevation is a good and enjoyable thing, but sometimes it makes a hard situation worse. It’s important that you feel ready and confident in your decisions about having sex.

Even if you are in a healthy relationship and would like to have sex with your partner, some beliefs or expectations might make this decision more complicated. You and the people in your life might have different ideas about when or what type of sexual activity is alright and what is not.

Here are a few ways this might happen

  • Your family does not allow you to date, let alone have sex and there is a risk they would find out.
  • In your culture or religion, it is expected that you wait until marriage. You might agree, disagree or be questioning this belief.
  • You feel that your friends or peers will not agree with your decision and you care about their opinions.
  • You might feel like you’re choosing between what you want and what others want, yet you might also share some of the same beliefs. Just remember that you are capable of making your own decisions and creating your own set of values.

Learn to Communicate

Only you know what’s on your mind, so unless you express yourself, the other person is only left guessing. Communication is always key to a healthy relationship, and the physical part of it is no different. It can be uncomfortable being completely open when it comes to talking about sex, even with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Still, it is important to push past that and let them know what you like, what you don’t like or if you don’t want to go any further. Encourage your partner to be open as well because it takes practice and patience.

Learning to listen is equally, and possibly even more, essential to strong communication. When you show the other person that what they say matters to you, they will be more likely to trust you and listen to you in return. Sex and intimacy are strongly affected by how both people feel, so it really pays off to create a positive atmosphere.

Break Out of the Box

When people are not sure how to act in a certain situation or not sure what others will think is cool, they tend to try and be who they should be and not who they really are. A guy might be led to believe that he should have sex with a lot of girls and not get emotionally attached to them. On the other hand, a girl might be led to believe that having sex with too many guys is “slutty,” and that girls should “play hard to get.” Stereotypes like these can make it harder for everyone to be honest about what they really want and can also make them feel self-conscious.

A relationship will be stronger and more real when both people can truly be themselves both inside and outside of the bedroom. When we question these “rules,” we respect our partner for who they are instead of who they “should be.”

What is Sexual Abuse?

Sexual abuse is any type of unwanted sexual contact. Forcing or pressuring someone to do something they don’t want or don’t consent to is sexual assault. No one should ever take advantage of you sexually when you are asleep, intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. This can be a very serious and dangerous form of abuse. Learn more about sexual abuse and what to do if you experience it.