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Why waiting to have sex makes sense

Couple.

You may hear so many messages suggesting that it’s a good idea to have sex, from songs on the radio to talk at school. You may also feel curious about sex or have a strong attraction to someone.

Deciding to have sex is a big deal, though, so think it through. You could wind up with an unplanned pregnancy. You could also catch an STD, or sexually transmitted disease (also known as an STI, or sexually transmitted infection).

Having sex before you’re ready can seriously hurt your relationship — and your feelings. Few people regret waiting to have sex, but many wish they hadn’t started early.

Keep in mind that even if you’ve already had sex, you can still choose to stop. Read on to see why abstinence — not having sex — makes a lot of good sense.

Unplanned pregnancy arrow. top

Three out of 10 teen girls in the United States get pregnant before they turn 20. And most teen pregnancies are not planned.

Getting pregnant before you’re ready can be a huge shock. The emotional stress and money worries of raising a baby can be a lot even for an older couple. Imagine what your life would be like if you had to get up with a baby in the night and take care of it every day!

Abstinence is the safest way to prevent the challenges that come with teen pregnancy. Check out some of these facts about teen pregnancy:

  • Teen mothers are less likely to finish high school.
  • Teen moms are more likely to be — and stay — single parents.
  • Babies born to teen moms face greater health risks.
  • Teen moms face health risks, too, including possibly being obese later in life.
  • Teen moms are at a higher risk of being poor.
  • Kids of teen moms are more likely to have problems in school and with the police.

If you do get pregnant, remember that you need to take care of yourself. Be sure to see a doctor. Get help from a trusted adult, like your parents, grandparents, or school counselor.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) arrow. top

Sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs (also known as sexually transmitted infections or STIs) are a huge problem among young people.

Consider some reasons that abstinence makes sense in staying safe from STDs:

  • One in 4 teen girls has an STD.
  • Condoms decrease the risk of STDs, but they are not 100 percent effective. This is especially true for STDs that can spread just by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes, which has no cure.
  • Having an STD increases your chances of getting HIV, too, and there is no cure for HIV.
  • Some STDs have no symptoms, so you can’t know if your partner is infected. A partner with no symptoms can still give the STD to you, though.
  • Some STDs have no symptoms, so you can’t know if you have them, but they can cause serious health problems. These problems include trouble getting pregnant when you are ready to have a baby.

What if I don’t have “real” sex? arrow. top

Different people may have different definitions of abstinence. Some think it means not having sexual intercourse, but others think it means avoiding other sexual acts, too. Experts say complete abstinence — not having vaginal, oral, and anal sex — is safest. Consider these facts:

  • Even if you don’t have intercourse but semen (cum) gets in your vagina, there’s a chance you could get an STD or get pregnant.
  • You can get some STDs from oral sex.
  • It’s easier to get some STDs from anal sex than from vaginal sex.

Avoiding intimate sexual contact, including skin-to-skin genital contact, is the only sure way to prevent all STDs and pregnancy. If you are having sexual contact, though, it’s super-smart to use a condom.

Also keep in mind that acts like oral sex are intimate acts. Try to think about whether you want to do something intimate before you do it. Think about having respect for yourself and having the respect of your partner.

Stats on sex   arrow. top

As you consider whether abstinence is right for you, consider some research on what teens think about sex.

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Sex by the numbers

Check out some fast facts about sex.

  1. Do lots of teens wish they could slow down their sex lives?
    Yes.

One out of 3 teens age 15 to 17 felt things were moving too fast sexually.

  1. Do many girls wish they had waited to have sex?
    Yes.

In one study, almost 7 out of 10 girls 15 to 19 who had sex wish they had waited.

  1. Do teens think boys get the message that abstinence is okay?
    No.

Nearly 2 out of 3 teens think boys often get the message that they're expected to have sex.

 

Sources: Kaiser Family Foundation and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

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Ways to stick to abstinence arrow. top

It’s not always easy to abstain from sex. It can help to make a plan ahead of time and get support from people you trust. You might try talking with your parents/guardians about sex to see if they have advice. You also might keep in mind the reasons you made the choice to be abstinent.

Don’t be afraid to take a stand with your partner. If you are close enough with someone to consider having sex, you should be close enough to talk about the decision. If you and your partner can’t agree, then you might think about whether you’d be better off with someone whose beliefs are closer to your own.

Your own body may tell you to give up on abstinence. Remember that your body is not in charge! Remind yourself of the possible physical, emotional, and financial costs of having sex before you’re really ready.

Consider these tips for staying abstinent:

  • Get involved. Some people find it helps to get involved in activities that let them focus on something other than sex, like volunteering or joining a sports team.
  • Get together. When you hang out with your date, it can help to hang out in a group. Also, try not to spend a lot of time in secluded places with no one else around or at someone’s house when no adults are home.
  • Get out. Always take a cell phone and cab or bus money in case you want to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
  • Practice. Think about how to say “no” ahead of time, so you don’t have to come up with replies on the spot.
  • Stay sober. Drugs and alcohol can make you more likely to do something you otherwise never would.
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Sex talk

A young couple and the words 'If you really like me you'll have sex with me.'

Maybe your partner says, “If you love me, you’ll have sex with me.” It’s just not true. You don’t have to have sex with someone to prove you care. Sharing time, thoughts, feelings, and mutual respect are what make a relationship strong. And don’t ever feel like you owe your date anything sexually because that person spent money on you. You don’t owe that person anything — except “thank you”!

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Content last reviewed April 15, 2014
Page last updated May 28, 2014

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

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