Toni Weschler’s book on fertility awareness is the best I’ve ever found. It’s called Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health and was recently re-released in its 10th Anniversary Edition. She also sent me a copy of her latest book Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body on teenage sexuality. I found it so helpful that I wanted to pass on Toni’s wisdom to my readers (and their daughters, nieces, goddaughters, and so forth). In short, this article is something that I think every woman needs to read, including those who’ve been celibate for a while and are considering becoming sexually active with a new partner. This is the kind of nitty-gritty discussion that should, in my view, be part of the curriculum for young and old everywhere. Read on! – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Probably one of the most important decisions you will ever make is when and with whom you choose to have sex. And as you will read below, that’s in large part due to this fundamental truth:
Girls have a lot more to lose from sex than boys do.
Of course, from the looks of it in most media today, you’d think that everyone and their neighbor was having hot and problem-free sex. In reality, sex can be awesome, but only at the right time, in the right context, and with the right person.
When you first start to think about your own sexuality, it’s important to realize that all the conflicting emotions, cravings, and confusion that you may experience around it are not only normal, but probably inevitable. After all, sexual issues, from romance to teen pregnancy to sexual orientation and everything in between, are all complex matters that fill bookshelves everywhere.
So when’s “the right time,” and for that matter, what’s considered normal? Well, some of you will become sexually active before your friends do, while some of you will choose to avoid serious sexual activity until you’re much older, or even married. Most of you are straight, but some of you will realize you’re gay or bisexual. Many of you may already be extremely interested in sex, and others perhaps not at all. The point is that every girl’s sexuality develops differently and on its own timetable. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to develop an unwavering self-respect that is so strong that it will guide you in deciding when, and with whom, to become sexually active.
Some Things to Consider
First and foremost, of course, is to accept that you are unique, both in terms of where you are now in your physical and sexual development, and the person that you’ll become as you grow older. So think about the issues below as you contemplate the question of when will you be ready for sex, or even whether you want to continue having it if you are already sexually active. In either case, you can take control of your sexual choices so that you maintain a healthier you—both physically and emotionally.
- Your Personal Values and Goals
As you can imagine, your values and goals in life can have a profound impact on your attitudes about so many things. Are you religious? Secular? Do you want to start your own business and make a lot of money, or perhaps find a way to help save the world? And while you’re thinking about all that, it’s probably worth considering what role your parents played in your views. For as much as you may think that your parents were born before electricity, you’ve almost certainly been affected by them in many profound ways.
One of the best things you can do to help you figure out if you are ready to have sex is to ask yourself why you want to. Out of curiosity? For the physical pleasure? Because everyone else is doing it? Something as simple as jotting down the answers to these questions can help you clarify what’s really important to you.
- Your Willingness to Take Physical Risks
When you hear the phrase “physical risks,” you may imagine gymnasts performing triple flips with a half twist on a wooden bar barely wider than an iPod and four feet above the ground. But when we refer to sex, we’re talkin’ about dangers well beyond broken bones, and ones that could have implications for your entire life.
The most obvious risk of sex is an unplanned pregnancy (Duh!). But you can also contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) any time bodily fluids are exchanged (including from vaginal, oral, or anal sex, or from just rubbing your vulva up against a penis!). And since some STIs are incurable and can lead to infertility or even death, you should be smart enough to assertively protect yourself. If you are going to be sexually active, only a condom can sharply reduce your risk of both unplanned pregnancies and STIs.
- Your Willingness to be Emotionally Vulnerable
Unless you are the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, it’s pretty likely that you have a heart. That’s a good thing, unless, of course, you value not getting hurt! One of the complexities of having sex is that it can touch your soul, in both magical as well as very painful ways. Part of deciding if you are ready to have sex is to ask yourself some pretty tough questions, like:
- Will having sex decrease my self-esteem?
- How strong will I be if I end up feeling used?
- Am I willing to risk damaging my reputation?
- Will having sex end a good relationship, or maybe even worse, cause me to remain in a bad relationship?
- Your Ability to Resist Pressure
When you first read the subheading above, what did you think of? Maybe defending yourself from a guy who forces sex on you? Actually, peer pressure can be just as influential.
One of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself is to develop a healthy self-image. And that kind of confidence comes from knowing your body inside and out, developing special strengths and talents, and trusting in yourself to make choices that you will not regret in the future. By growing your confidence, you will be able to assert yourself in situations that may not feel right to you. And regardless, any guy who holds sex over your head as the key to his heart does not truly care for your heart (or your health). You can resist this pressure by being true to yourself.
- Your Expectations for the Relationship (Especially Your “First Time”)
Part of deciding if you are ready for sex is to ask yourself what you want from a particular relationship. Is this someone that you respect? Is this a guy that you consider a friend first? Do you feel like you can trust him? Two of the greatest regrets women often discuss are with whom they chose to have sex for the first time, and when they did it. Because your first sexual experience will undoubtedly be one of your most memorable life events, good or bad, this is an issue you’ll probably want to think about before you become sexually active.
- Your Ability to Communicate Your Needs
If you were a fly on the wall, you’d probably notice a common issue among women when discussing their relationships with their partners: Respect. Specifically, being treated with it, or, alas, without it. Oh sure, women often don’t use that exact word, but the concept, and frustration, is right there at the top of the list. And when talking about sex, the bottom line is you won’t be able to communicate with a potential partner until you have respect for each other.
Even then, of course, it won’t necessarily be easy! For some reason, it’s human nature to assume that if two people are close, they should be able to read each other’s minds, right? But wow is that a wrong assumption, especially when it comes to sex! In fact, the reverse is true: Those people with the best relationships will tell you that the most important quality that keeps their relationship strong is their ability to be open with their partner about e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. So if you think it will be awkward to talk about sex, you can pretty much assume that having sex won’t be any easier! Remember, it’s all about respect and communication.
The Sex-Smart Way to Health and Happiness
Sex can be an incredibly positive experience, but as you’ve been reading, it also comes with a lot of potential perils. In the end, one of the most important decisions you will probably ever make is with whom you have it and when you choose to do so, as well as the precautions you take when you decide to do it. Like everything in life, this is an area where knowledge is good, ignorance is bad, and the best knowledge you can have is truly knowing your own values and body.
P.S. A special note on staying safe while going out:
Any situation in which you are forced to have intercourse against your will is considered rape, even if you know the person, and even if you have had sex with him in the past. No means NO, period.
Here are some things that you can do to avoid date rape:
- Decide on your personal sexual limits beforehand, and communicate them clearly with your date.
- Be assertive, knowing that you have a right to protect your body.
- Know that you have the right to change your mind, even if you have started to be physical with a guy.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs, which may impair your thoughts and actions.
- Carry extra money or a cell phone so you can make a phone call for help.
Trust your gut—if something doesn’t feel right, get out of the situation. If he doesn’t understand, gets angry, or is demeaning, you can’t worry about hurting his feelings.