There are lot of factors that go into making the decision to have sex. Deciding whether or not you are ready to have sex is a deeply personal decision, and no one else can make it for you—not parents, not religious leaders, not teachers, not partners, not friends. The decision to have sex is not a moral choice; it’s just about your own personal needs and wants. If you’re considering becoming sexually active (either for the first time or after a period of sexual inactivity) or if you already are sexually active, these are some things to consider.
What are your reasons for having sex?
The only acceptable reason to have sex is because you want to. If a partner or friend is trying to convince you to have sex, they might be someone you need to distance yourself from. If anyone fails to respect the choices that you make with your own body, they’re not someone worth keeping around.
What are some unhealthy reasons for having sex?
Analyzing your own motivations for having sex can be tricky. Us human beings are very good at lying to ourselves. Try making it a personal practice to check in regularly with yourself and question your motives for having sex. If you catch yourself exhibiting any of these unhealthy behaviours, you need to reassess your reasons for having sex.
You’re not comfortable communicating about sex
Communication is key when it comes to sex. It’s alright to be nervous talking about sex with someone new, but if you find your discomfort with the topic is so debilitating that you can’t have an honest and open discussion with your partner(s), this might be an indicator that you’re not emotionally ready for sex. The same thing goes for purchasing condoms or lube—if you can’t bring yourself to buy the supplies you need to have safe and pleasurable sex, you might not be ready to have sex yet.
If you really want to have sex, but you find yourself struggling to communicate about sex or to purchase the supplies you need to prepare yourself for sex, try talking about sex with a person you trust. The more you talk about it, the more comfortable you’ll become.
You’re not being safe
The most important thing to look out for during sex is your own safety. If you think you’re ready for sex, then you absolutely need to be ready to educate yourself about the risks of sex. STIs and pregnancy—do you have a plan in place to protect yourself against these (assuming you or your partner(s) don’t want to become pregnant)? If you or your partner(s) are at risk of becoming pregnant, you need to be able to have a frank conversation with your partner(s) about how you’ll reduce the risk of pregnancy and what steps you’ll take if one of you does become pregnant. As for STIs, not only do you need to be aware of the steps you need to take to prevent contracting an STI, you also need to be comfortable discussing those steps with your partner(s), and you need to be comfortable going to your local health clinic to get tested for STIs at regular intervals.
Listen to your body. Your body is excellent at communicating with you. If sex is uncomfortable or painful, or if it’s triggering traumatic thoughts, feelings, or memories, it’s time to stop. Your body knows more than you think, and listening to your gut instinct is a crucial part of developing a healthy relationship with sex.
If you’re placing yourself in situations that put you at risk of physical or emotional harm, you need to take a step back and consider why you’re making those choices. Each person has their own inner gauge for the level of risk they’re comfortable with; learn what kind of risks you aren’t comfortable taking, and respect the boundaries that you’ve made for yourself.
You don’t listen to other people’s needs or boundaries
I know we hear the word “consent” a lot these days, but I cannot over stress how vital consent is in every sexual encounter. Just as you need your partner(s) to respect your own boundaries, you need to respect other people’s boundaries. Gratifying your own sexual needs does not ever justify harming someone or ignoring their wishes in the process. Consent isn’t just about listening to the word “no,” it’s about paying careful attention to your partner(s)’s verbal and body language, maintaining constant communication, and knowing how and when to stop. If you have difficulty stopping a sexual encounter, even when your partner(s) express their wish to stop or seem disinterested in continuing, you need to step back and check your impulse control. If you’re not able to manage this impulse control on your own, seek professional support.
You use sex as a coping mechanism
Do you turn to sex when you need validation? If you find that you are using sex to measure you’re own personal worth, you need to take a step back. Sex is not the answer to loneliness, sadness, low self esteem, depression, or anxiety. This problem is not limited to partnered sex. If you turn to turn to porn or masturbation to cope with personal problems, you’re relationship with those things might not be healthy.
If you find yourself turning to sex, porn, or masturbation when you’re in a low emotional spot, try questioning your motives. Ask yourself what you’re feeling in that moment, and try to come up with healthier methods for coping with those feelings. If you find that your feelings of loneliness, sadness, low self esteem, depression, or anxiety are too great for you to manage on your own, it’s time to consider reaching out for professional support.
You use sex to manipulate other people
Sex is not a tool. Don’t use it to try to make someone else like you, to make someone do what you want, to convince someone to be in a relationship with you, or to buy you anything or do you any favours. Conversely, don’t withhold sex to make someone do what you want, as a form of punishment, or as a means of bargaining.
Sex should never come with strings attached. If you’re using sex to get something, or if a person you’re sleeping with is trying to manipulate you with sex, stop having sex! Those are super unhealthy signs. Either leave that unhealthy relationship, or take some time to figure out why you’re using sex as a tool to achieve your goals. If you can’t figure that one out on your own, seek support from a professional.
You care more about other people’s pleasure than your own
Sex should be pleasurable and enjoyable for all parties. It’s great to want to make your partner(s) feel good, but if you’re prioritizing someone else’s pleasure over your own, that’s not healthy. In order for you to enjoy a healthy sexual life, you need to be able to communicate your own needs and wants and to set your own boundaries and stick to them.
You’re having sex with people you’re not comfortable with
Even if it’s just a one-night stand, you should have a basic level of comfort and communication with your partner(s). It’s ok to be choosy about the people you’re having sex with. If you’re sexually involved with someone you’re not attracted to, chances are the sex won’t be very satisfying. Bustle writer Vanessa Marin makes an excellent point: “If you would feel embarrassed telling your best friend that you slept with a certain someone, maybe don’t have sex with that person.”
You don’t know how to stop
If your relationship with sex is turning into an addiction, it’s time to seek help. It’s fine to have a high sex drive, but if you’re becoming so dependent upon sex, porn, or masturbation that it’s affecting your normal life, something is up.
This is not an exhaustive list of healthy and unhealthy reasons for having sex, but it should give you a starting point when navigating your decision to have sex. Remember, the decision to have sex or not is yours alone—you can change your mind at any point. Most importantly, whether or not you’re having sex has no bearing on your inherent worth or goodness as a person.
References: Marin, Vanessa, “9 Signs Your Relationship With Sex Might Be Unhealthy,” Bustle.com, Bustle, 28 Dec. 2015, https://www.bustle.com/articles/130353-9-signs-your-relationship-with-sex-might-be-unhealthy?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=owned&utm_campaign=sexrelationshipsbustle.