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One of the biggest misnomers about partnered sex is that vaginal intercourse is "all the way," is the only "real" sex, and is some sort of final goal to sexuality, which is unfortunate and untrue. Vaginal intercourse also isn't the only sexual activity that presents the possibility of both physical and emotional risks, negative and positive.
The idea that heterosexual intercourse is the only sexual activity anyone needs to think about being ready for can also leave queer people out in the cold, or give the idea that the readiness (or lack thereof) of gay, lesbian or bisexual people doesn't matter. Of course, some of all that hoopla about why genital intercourse is THE sex can have to do with the fact that it's often where the greatest risks are taken.
Any kind of genital sex is often framed as "taking it to the next level," even though in plenty of relationships, or for plenty of people, that may not be any sort of "next" or "higher" level at all, especially if one or both people involved really aren't and don't feel ready. It can be a big shocker to presume a sexual activity safe and then discover you've got a sexually transmitted infection, or feel some heartache from something you thought had nothing to do with your heart at all. To have any kind of sex be as good in the short and long-term as it can possibly be, anticipating, recognizing and managing realities and risks -- both wanted and unwanted -- is a big help. The best sex is pretty much always the sex everyone involved really wants and is earnestly ready for.
If you're considering having sex for the first time or for any time thereafter, there are a bunch of things you and your partner should know and evaluate, especially with an activity like intercourse where pregnancy is an additional risk. So take stock, see where you stand in terms of a readiness ideal and get real!
When we're figuring out if we're ready for sex with a partner, if we want to ask ourselves the most basic questions possible, those are:
If you said yes to the last question, then you and your partner(s) are probably in a sound position to have a kind of sex together and more likely to have positive outcomes. If you said no to the last question, then one or both of you might want to press pause, and rethink your choices and/or take some time to make changes to whatever needs changing to get you both to that yes.
And that's the Cliff's Notes. Want the novel? Keep reading.
Intercourse or other partnered genital sex will not necessarily do any of the following for you or your partner:
There's a lot to think about when deciding if it is right for you and your partner to have vaginal intercourse or other genital sex. Here are some questions to ask of yourself, and to ask of your partner.
Do either of you feel you must or should, feel pressured in any way from your partner or friend, or think sex will fix troubles in your relationship? Then hit the pause button. Sex between people should only happen when it is what both people enthusiastically and actively want and not just because they think it'll make the other person happy (or get them to stop nagging). Another thing to give you pause might be if you're fantasizing about sex based on movies or television. Remember how in Tom and Jerry cartoons, Tom could hit a wall and walk away from it just fine, and you knew that wouldn't work in real life? Same goes with a lot of sex in movies and television; it isn't often as it appears.
On the other hand, if you've been with your partner long enough (whatever that means to you) to feel good about the idea of sex with them, feel a strong desire for sex yourself, and have a solid level of other sexual experience (including kissing, petting, masturbation); you feel you can trust yourself and your partner with limits; if you're looking to explore your sexual relationship responsibly and sensitively, and for some greater intimacy and sexual exploration with no notion any certain result -- positive or negative -- is guaranteed, and you've got a firm grip on reality, read on.
I'd also suggest checking in with yourself to be sure that sex is what you really want from sex. In other words, take some time to think about what you're looking for in having sex with someone else, and that what you're seeking really is sex, rather than, for example, more general physical affection, personal validation, a way to cement your relationship, control or ownership of someone else, some kind of risk when you're feeling stagnant in your life, friendship or other things that certainly can be aspects of sex, but which sex might also not really tend to or be the best choice to address or accomplish.
If it's for you and your partner as well as you, fantastic. But if it's for someone else primarily, not for yourself -- or JUST for yourself -- take another pause. People have hands and fingers. They know how to use them to get off and you can rest assured they've been using them long before you came along. Sex with someone else shouldn't just be about self-gratification; that's what masturbation is for. If your friends are saying you should, with no understanding of your relationship, or your own needs, they're being crappy friends. A lot of friends who pressure their friends to have sex do so because they don't feel all that good about their own choices, and want to hide behind endorsing sex to make themselves feel better. Tell them to carry their own baggage, not try and pass it off on you.
It's smart to take stock of what your expectations are, and give them a reality check. Talk to a friend who has had intercourse or other genital sex who is really honest with you (or an older sibling or family member) about what you expect, and listen to their own experiences. Gather diverse perspectives: one person's sexual experiences can often vary a lot from those of another.
If you have a list as long as Santa's of sexual expectations, it isn't very likely they'll all be met. Sex is often not what we expect, whether the difference between our expectations and reality is positive, negative, or just another ball of wax. Often -- with sex or anything else -- the less we expect, the more we often receive. Intercourse or other genital sex isn't a miracle cure for anything, and it isn't always a fireworks show: it can be a wonderful, natural affirmation of intimacy, and an excellent physical and emotional experience as long as you're ready for it and take it at face value, without romanticizing it or imagining it to be something it is not. The sex you have with someone else tends to be a mirror of your relationship: if your relationship is lousy, the sex within it isn't likely to be better or to improve the relationship.
Some studies show that a good 30% of people never have sex again with a first partner. Only about 25% of women usually report enjoying first intercourse; less than 8% report orgasm from first intercourse. Those bummers most likely had to do with being ill-prepared in general, not taking the time to learn each other's sexual basics, both partners not being equally invested, and overall, with unrealistic expectations. In other words, not about something being terribly wrong with people, but about people's expectations being out of whack. The cultural idea that first sex is the best sex is almost always off-kilter. Sex is one of those things that tends to improve for people over time and which gets better with time and experience, rather than starting off perfect and fantastic and either staying there or getting worse.
There's a lot to juggle; probably more than you think. Here are the material, physical, emotional and interpersonal ideals for partnered sex that's most likely to be enjoyable, safe, physically gratifying, and emotionally sound.
Those material items are ideal to prevent and deal with disease, illness, infections or pregnancy (when applicable). Obviously, your mileage may vary when it comes to what sexual health and sexuality items might be covered by your insurance or your country, city or state's services provided to you for free or low-cost. These items may also be limited by your age or personal or family means. There is no sex, save masturbation -- no matter how long you and your partner have known each other, or what you have convinced yourself of -- that does not carry some risks, no matter how safe you play it, and reducing and managing those risks often costs money.
One last thing that is important to consider is what the laws are in your country, province or state when it comes to sex and related issues. For instance, are you and/or your partner over the age of consent? What about laws and policies around access to birth control? If you're engaging in sex with pregnancy risks, are you making your choices knowing what your rights, or those of your partner, are in terms of pregnancy, abortion or parenting? Many areas, provinces and states have laws and policies around sex and reproductive/sexual rights which may surprise you and may influence you or a partner's sexual choices, so doing a little homework in that department makes a whole lot of sense.
Toss the checklist to your partner too: talk about the items on it together. This is about both of you. You may find that simply discussing the reality of the situation makes a big difference for you both. A lot of sex is innate and intuitive, and it is perfectly normal to feel driven by our libido and our emotions, but it isn't smart to ignore good sense and responsible behavior, or the practical parts of sex, because of those feelings and desires. Rather, when we have our basic needs in place, it can be a lot easier to be spontaneous and free-spirited with sex.
That's a lot to look at, we know. How did you do? What do you have already set, and what might you need to look into evaluating, talking about or getting?
Please know that realistically, even most older adults will not check every single thing on this list. But we can safely say that any person who's pretty darn ready for partnered genital sex, and who's most likely to have beneficial and healthy sexual experiences, should have or be working towards most of what is on this list, as should their partner.
If you can see some areas where you're lacking, give yourself time to think about them, maybe re-evaluate, slow down, and hold off before you become sexually active until you've made more progress. When you see weak spots in what you've got on the list, how about just doing some work on those? In talking to a partner who feels they're ready, you might want to remember this list so that you can better articulate and explain in what areas you don't feel you or they are really ready.
There isn't a statute of limitations on your sex life. You can initiate any of it at any time during your life, and change what you want to do as you go along, determining at any time what is best for you, and for your partner(s). If you haven't checked almost all of the things on those lists, take a look at the ones you didn't check and try and figure out what you need to do for yourself right now. There is no reason to set yourself up for a fall, or rush into something that won't be enjoyable or rewarding, when it isn't going to go away if you wait. Be honest with yourself, and above all else, do what is right for YOU.