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Dating and sexual feelings

Teenage couple.

Starting to date, thinking about romance, and feeling attraction all can be incredibly cool — and a little overwhelming. As you start thinking about love and sex, don’t forget to focus on feeling good about yourself. Take good care of your body. If you have questions, talk to your parent or guardian, doctor, or another trusted adult. And don’t do anything that makes you uncomfortable. You’ll probably remember these exciting days for many years to come, and you want to remember them happily!

As you start dating, think about what you’re looking for. A solid relationship starts with being with someone who supports you, trusts you, and appreciates you for who you really are. You want someone who deserves you!

When it comes to deciding about kissing and more, remember that so much of what you see on TV and hear in song lyrics is not real or healthy. And remember that there are lots of ways to show affection other than having sex.

Learn about relationships, and play a cool “Rate your date” game.

Deciding about sex arrow top

For teens, not having sex — abstinence — makes good sense. That’s partly because your chances of staying safe from unplanned pregnancy and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are better if you wait. It’s also partly because being older can help you handle the strong emotional aspects of sex. Just because your body seems ready doesn’t mean that you are!

When people say “sex,” they usually mean sexual intercourse, or a man putting his penis in a woman’s vagina. But even if you don’t have sex and are thinking about other types of sexual contact, like touching your partner’s genitals, you want to make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. These are very personal acts and are worth thinking about in a serious way. Also keep in mind that it is possible to get pregnant if a boy ejaculates (“comes”) on the outside of your vagina. And remember that you can get some STIs from oral sex or from genital-to-genital contact that isn’t intercourse. Above all, don’t do anything sexual that doesn’t feel right to you.

In a recent study, young women were more likely than young men to do something sexual that their partner wanted to do even though they didn’t like doing it. What’s up with that? You can say "no" and take control of your body!

If you are deciding about sex, you’ve got a lot to think about. And it makes sense to do your thinking in advance — not when you’re swept up in the excitement of the moment.

Think about your values, deepest feelings, and future goals. Remember that having sex with someone is no guarantee that you’ll stay together. And as much as you care what the other person thinks, it’s what you think that really matters!

If you need help, talk to your parent or guardian, doctor, or another adult you trust. You also might want to consider some important questions about whether you’re ready for sex.

What teens are saying about sex arrow top

You may get lots of messages about sex, everything from intense music lyrics to strict religious rules. Here’s what some young people are saying about waiting, staying safe, and respecting their bodies.

African American girl smiling.“I don’t want to get pregnant at a young age, nor do I want to do something that I will regret later in life. Even if you don't end up getting pregnant, you can still be left very hurt emotionally.”

Girl with long dark hair.“I think you should wait until you find the right guy — the guy that really loves you back, the one that is special. Once you find the right guy, of course you should wait for the right age also. If I choose to have sex, I will use birth control.”

Girl with short layered hairstyle.“It is best to wait. The guy may tell people about it, and the girl will be labeled a nasty name. And don’t let your boyfriend ever pressure you. A guy like that does not respect you.”

Blonde girl wearing a braid.“My boyfriend and I decided we are both ready to have sex. We know the consequences, we love each other, and it did not change anything. He would still love me just as much if I didn't want to have sex anymore. We are using condoms, because we don't want to risk anything happening. However, we discussed what to do if a condom fails, and we both know that we will get through it together.”

Girl with large hoop earrings.“I have decided not to have sex at a young age because I would never want to have a child while I am still one.”

Young girl wearing a headband.“The best way to not get pregnant or STDs is to stay abstinent. Abstinence is a harder promise to keep as you get older because there’s so much pressure to be sexually active. Talk to your parents and guidance counselors. They'll help you keep your promise.”

Talking with your partner about sex arrow top

Anyone you’re seriously thinking about having sex with should be someone you can talk to about it. Talk about what kind of birth control you would use to protect yourselves from pregnancy and STIs. Talk about respecting each other’s feelings and not feeling pressured. It’s a good idea to talk about these things at a time and in a place where you’re comfortable and won’t be interrupted. And it’s a great idea to do this while your clothes are still on!

It’s not too late to stop arrow top

Some people feel like once they’ve had sex there’s no turning back. That’s not true. You don’t have to feel bad about yourself if you regret having sex. Everybody makes mistakes — that’s just part of learning. But it doesn’t make sense to keep doing something that feels wrong to you. 

Could I be gay? arrow top

If you’re having feelings of romantic or physical attraction to other girls, you may wonder about your sexual orientation. It’s natural as you develop to wonder about these feelings, and it may take time to figure out your sexual orientation. Also, having a gay or lesbian parent or sibling doesn’t mean you are gay.

If you’re feeling concerned about your sexual orientation, talk to someone you trust. Also, if you’re feeling stressed about telling others you’re gay or if you’re being bullied about being gay, you can get help. If you feel like you are going to hurt yourself, reach out right away to an adult, a friend you trust, or a counselor. Things can get better. You can visit The Trevor Project or call 866-488-7386.

If you are going to have sex with another girl, keep in mind that women who have sex with women are at risk for many of the same STIs as women who have sex with men. Also, if you are a lesbian, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about protecting your overall health. Lesbians are more likely have certain health problems, like obesity, smoking, and depression, so make sure you learn how to stay healthy and strong.

Dating older guys arrow top

If you date someone a few years older than you, the chances go up that your partner will want to have sex before you feel ready. And research shows that girls with older partners are more likely to face an unwanted pregnancy. Also, if you have sex with a man who is legally an adult and you’re underage, he could go to jail. Rules for this are different in each state.

Staying safe when dating arrow top

You should always feel physically and emotionally safe in a dating relationship. Consider some of the advice below to take good care of yourself.

Remember that you deserve to make your own decisions about sex and not feel rushed or threatened. You don’t owe anyone sex, whether they pressure you by being nasty or by being nice! Sometimes in an unhealthy relationship a partner may try to get you pregnant even though you’re not ready. Remember that it’s your body and your future! Learn about getting out of unhealthy relationships. Learn more about rape and sexual assault. If someone forces you to do anything sexually, tell a trusted adult or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 (HOPE).

To stay safe in a dating situation, it’s a good idea to avoid drugs and alcohol. They make it more likely you’ll do something you would never otherwise do, like have unprotected sex. And remember that someone can slip a date rape drug into your cup, so keep it with you at all times.

When you go out on a date, take your cell phone and cab money with you. That way you can leave if you start to feel uncomfortable.

Protect yourself on the Internet and in text messages. You may think “sexting,” or sending sexy photos or messages, is private. But messages can be traced back to you, and you can even get in legal trouble for sending or forwarding them. Whatever you send can get passed around, and can stay out there forever. Keep in mind that your parents and possible future employers could wind up seeing it. If someone dares you to send this kind of message, think about why they’re doing it — and what you have to lose!

Treat your body with the respect it deserves — and make sure others do too!

What about masturbation? arrow top

You may have heard about or tried masturbation (which basically means giving yourself sexual pleasure). There are lots of opinions about masturbation. From a medical point of view, experts say it’s almost always not a problem — unless it’s interfering with your responsibilities or your social life.


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.