Intimate relationships

Sex can be an important part of your relationship

and an intimate way to express yourself, both physically and emotionally. It can also just be a fun and gratifying activity for you and your partner(s) to enjoy together. The most important part is that you do so consensually, according to boundaries you’ve established for yourself that you and your partner respect.

Deciding when, where, how & why to have sex is a decision only you should make

If you’re considering when to have sex, keep in mind:

You should always feel comfortable with your decision.

You are not obligated to have sex if you are in a relationship.

Discuss safe sex practices with your partner.

Have ongoing conversations about getting tested for STIs and considering birth control options.

Be honest with yourself and your partner.

It’s okay if you’re not ready to do something, even if you’ve done it before — your partner should always respect your boundaries.

If something scares you or makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say no at any time.

You have the right to speak openly and honestly about your fears, worries, or feelings.

If your partner tries to threaten you or pressure you into having sex, it can be a sign of an unhealthy or abusive relationship.

That includes if someone won’t take no for an answer or repeatedly pressures you verbally, emotionally, or physically. You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who respects you and your decisions.

You have control over your own body.

No one else has the right to tell you what to do with it.

Sex & communication

It can be uncomfortable to talk openly about sex, even with someone you’re close to. That’s okay.

It’s important to respect your own discomfort by letting them know what you do or don’t like, especially if you don’t want to go any further. Encourage your partner(s) to be open as well — it takes practice and patience to really understand each other’s needs.

Learning to listen is equally (possibly more) essential to strong communication. When you show your partner that what they say matters to you, they’ll be more likely to trust you and listen to you in return. Sex and intimacy are strongly affected by each other’s emotions, and creating a positive atmosphere will help you both get the most out of your shared experience.

Sexting is a valuable way to express intimacy for some relationships but it comes with its own risks. Learn about staying safe online to ensure that you and your partner are doing so safely if you decide to send sexual content. Remember: once you post or send a photo (or message), it’s out of your control.

Breaking out of the box

When people aren’t sure how to act in a certain situation or don’t know what others will think, they sometimes try to be the person they assume they should be and not who they really are.

People with heteronormative assumptions about gender might think a guy should have sex with a lot of girls without getting emotionally attached while a girl should “play hard to get” to avoid coming off as “slutty.”

Stereotypes make it harder to be honest about what you really want and can make you or your partner self-conscious. There’s no one way to enjoy having sex and a relationship will be stronger and more meaningful when both people can fully express themselves inside and outside the bedroom. When we question assumptions about what we’re supposed to enjoy, we respect ourselves for who we are instead of who we assume others want us to be.

Why is it so complicated?

Sex can raise the intensity of emotions that people feel for each other, even if you’re in a casual relationship.

At times, this elevation is a good and nourishing feeling, but it can sometimes make a difficult situation harder.

Even if you’re in a healthy relationship and want to have sex with your partner, certain beliefs or expectations might make the decision more complicated. You might have ideas that are different from others’ in your life about when or what type of sexual activity is permissible, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you feel ready and confident in your decision.

We talk to a lot of young people experiencing situations that complicate their decisions around sex. Some of the most common ones we hear include:

  • Your family doesn’t allow you to date, let alone have sex, and there’s a risk that they’ll find out.
  • The expectation in your culture or religion is that you’ll wait to have sex until marriage. You might agree or disagree, or be questioning this belief yourself.
  • You feel like your friends or peers won’t agree with your decision and you’re concerned about what they think.

It’s normal to feel like you have to choose between what you want and what others want, even if you share some of the same beliefs. Remember that you’re always capable of making your own decisions and establishing the values you choose to live by.

What's not okay

Any type of unwanted sexual contact is sexual abuse. Forcing or pressuring someone to do something they don’t want or consent to is sexual assault. That includes taking advantage of you when you’re intoxicated, asleep, or under the influence of drugs. Sexual abuse is very serious and extremely dangerous.

Learn more about sexual abuse and what to do if you experience it.

Learn about sex & casual relationships

What questions can we answer for you?

Is your relationship healthy?