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Auntie SparkNotes: When Is It Okay to Have Sex?

Auntie SparkNotes: When Is It Okay to Have Sex?

To have sex, or not to have sex? That is the question that brave Auntie will answer. —Sparkitors

Dear Auntie Sparknotes,

I've been going out with my boyfriend for half a year now. He's wonderfully sweet and considerate, among many other great qualities that I won't list or I'll risk sounding like Bella describing Edward. So, my question is...when is it okay to have sex?

*whew* There, I asked it. I know that it's a huge, momentous decision to do so. I've been raised to believe that it's something best left until after marriage. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to be a terrible thing as long as it's done carefully. It's not really something I could talk to my parents about (their approach is to completely avoid the subject--to date, they still haven't given me "the talk"). That said, I know the risks, and especially considering that I'm heading off to a prestigious college in the fall that will cost a truckload of money, I don't particularly want to play with the chance of getting pregnant. I do (in theory) know how to use and obtain contraceptives, though, and part of me says that there's nothing wrong with experimenting as long as I'm careful.

For what it's worth, my boyfriend hasn't pressured me to do anything, and neither of us are in a real hurry to get anywhere. But I guess my real question is, how do I go about making such a decision when the time comes?

Hoo boy.

First, the obvious: there are some people out there for whom the only answer to this question is "IT'S NEVER OKAY BEFORE MARRIAGE!", followed by a lot of screaming, followed by the suggestion that you hide in a closet and/or lock your business district into a heavy-duty chastity belt until your wedding night, because you are a filthy-minded sex beast who can't be trusted.

Auntie is not one of those people. And while this is a complicated issue, I think you guys can handle an honest discussion about it that doesn't a) condescend, b) insult your intelligence, or c) involve the claim that even thinking about having sex before the age of 25 will cause you to become instantly pregnant and/or infected with a flesh-eating STD.

So, here's the deal with deciding to have sex:

It's up to you.

Okay? Byeeeee!

...Just kidding.

But it is up to you, and only you, to decide when, why, and with whom you want to have sex. And the "huge, momentous" part comes from the fact that you have to be able to own that decision completely, no matter what happens. Some teens are mature enough to do that... and, of course, some aren't. Making the right choice for you means knowing your own mind. So, before you embark upon any activities that involve taking your pants off, you should be sure that:

It's legal. Even if you feel you're mature enough to make an informed, intelligent decision about whether or not to have sex, state law may not agree with you, so make sure that you're legally permitted to do what you're doing. (The age of consent varies from place to place, and some states include caveats for relationships where both parties are underage or close in age.) Opening yourself (or your partner) to potential prosecution for your extracurricular activities just isn't worth it. And if you're under the age of 15, please—for the sake of Auntie's sanity—don't go jumping into the sack with anyone just yet.

You're not doing this for the wrong reasons. Bad reasons to have sex include: wanting to feel more mature, thinking it'll improve your relationship, or feeling that your virginity is a pox of which you must be rid. The only good reason to have sex is that you, personally, want to—because you've given it careful consideration, maturely weighed your options, and decided that it's a good idea.

You AND your partner can handle the risks, responsibilities, and consequences.
The obvious dangers are pregnancy and STDs—the risk of which can be reduced through the use of contraceptives, if you use them correctly and every time (which, again for the sake of my own sanity, I assume you'll be doing). Not sure what "correctly" means? Ignorance is not bliss, y'all. Click here and get informed.

There are more prosaic, awkward responsibilities, too. I'm talking about buying condoms, remembering to take the Pill, visiting the gyno, and being completely and totally nude (gasp!) in front of another person. If any of these things make you squeamish, do not pass go. If you're not mature enough to withstand the embarrassment of obtaining birth control, you're not mature enough to have sex.

You're prepared for the aftermath. For some people, sex is a powerful, emotionally-wrought experience; for others, it's just something fun to do. But you won't know until afterward where you fall on the spectrum of sexual seriousness, which means that you need to be ready to fall... anywhere. That means having a trusted partner who's willing to communicate with you, even about squicky and embarrassing topics. (Does that describe your boyfriend?) And it also means having the emotional maturity to handle any outcome, even if the outcome is crappy. Most high school relationships don't last; statistically speaking, you and your boyfriend are probably going to break up. Can you handle sex knowing that things likely won't work out?

No doubt you've heard the "You'll be sorry!" argument against doing the Horizontal Naked Dance with your high school boyfriend, the idea being that when you break up, you'll regret having given up your virginity to the "wrong person." In reality, of course, it doesn't necessarily play out that way—having sex doesn't reduce your inherent worth as a person, and there's no law that says you have to regret getting busy just because it didn't lead to marriage. (After all, most people don't end up marrying their first sexual partner.)

But the only way to avoid regret—and this is true for all decisions, not just naked ones—is being able to look back afterward and say, "Well, it might not have worked out, but I made that choice because I was ready, I was informed, and it was what I really, reeeeeeally wanted... and I'm not sorry."

And unless you can do that, the smart thing to do is wait.

Questions? Comments? Flesh-eating STD? Leave them below! (Well, maybe not the STD.) And to get in touch with Auntie, email your questions to or find her on Facebook.

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, relationships, sex, boyfriends, decisions, birth control, contraceptives

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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