As a sexuality educator, I spend most of my time helping parents understand how to talk with their children and teenagers about sex, sexuality, gender, and all of the myriad issues that go along with those things. One question that parents often ask me is how to make sure their teenagers are ready to have sex. Putting aside issues of whether parents should have substantial input and control over their teenager’s sexual activities, I found that parents were relying on goals that were far too vague. Parents want to make sure that their teenagers are mature enough, have good communication with their partners, understand the health and reproductive consequences, etc.
One parent lamented that she and her daughter had (what the mother thought were) great conversations about the need for all of these things, but that her daughter went ahead and had sex even though she never had good communication with her partner and ended up having unprotected sex. Was her daughter not listening to her? Pretending to go along and then choosing a different route? While those are possibilities, the more likely problem is that the daughter was not sure how to measure and assess her relationship to make sure that she had reached the goals she enthusiastically agreed with her mother were important.
And so, my list of ten concrete things that teenagers need to do before they have sex was born. Just to be clear, these are things to do before you have oral sex, sexual intercourse, or anything else that could get you pregnant or an STD.
1. Have an orgasm.
Yes, before you start having sex, you should give yourself an orgasm. It’s important to know what feels good to you before you can show another person what feels good to you.
2. Know the other person’s sexual history.
And I don’t mean just vaginal intercourse for this one!
3. Know the other person’s STD status, as well as your own.
The only way to know this for sure is to be tested! And if you’re both virgins, well, you’re not going to be for long. You might as well get that scary first STD testing out of the way so you’ll know what to expect next time around.
4. Talk about exactly what STD protection and birth control you will be using.
These two issues go hand-in-hand (for heterosexual couples), and it is the domain of both parties to be intimately involved.
5. If you are part of a heterosexual couple, talk about what happens if the woman gets pregnant.
Here are a few options to talk about, in alphabetical order: abortion, adoption, raising the kid alone, raising the kid together. With the understanding that reality is different than the theoretical, make sure you’re both on the same theoretical page.
6. Have your best friend’s blessing.
We can rarely see someone we’re in love with clearly. It is often our best friends who can see our lovers and our potential lovers for who they really are. Listen to what your best friend has to say, and take it to heart. If it’s not what you wanted to hear, give it some time. Wait a month. A good relationship will be able to withstand another month before having sex. Then ask a different friend, and see what they have to say.
7. Meet your partner’s parents.
At the very least, make sure you know why you haven’t met your them. The best sex comes out of knowing someone well, and knowing someone’s family is an important part of knowing them. (Even if they’re really, really different from their family.)
8. Be comfortable being naked in front of each other.
You don’t actually have to strip down in broad daylight to make sure you’ve reached this milestone, but it sure helps!
9. Have condoms on hand.
Make sure they fit right, that they’re within the expiration date, and that they haven’t been exposed to extreme conditions (like the inside of a really hot car). Condoms should be part of any respectful sexual relationship. There need be no assumption of hook ups outside of the relationship, just an assumption of good sexual habits being made and kept.
10. Make sure that your partner has done all of these things too.
Part of a happy, healthy sexual encounter is taking care of everyone’s emotional needs and physical health. Both people need to pay attention to themselves and to their partner. That way each person has two people looking out for them. It’s just the best way to do things.