Note: this post was updated in March 2023 to reflect expanded resources.
Deciding to become sexually active can come with an array of emotions, such as excitement, nervousness, and happiness. It’s normal to have some or all of these feelings when considering if you want to have partnered sex.
We made this sexual readiness guide to help navigate what these feelings may mean and how ready you are to have sex.
Below we will discuss some questions for you and your partner(s) to consider when determining if you want to engage in any type of sexual activity. But first, let’s define how we are using the term sex and sexual activity in this guide.
When we say “sex” or “sexual activity,” we’re describing any activity that involves the genitals such as oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex. We are also including sexual activities such as grinding/dry humping/genital rubbing, using sex toys, and penetrating the vagina or anus through fingering or fisting.
If you are considering any of these activities, reflect on these questions to help you understand your sexual readiness and that of your partner(s).
1. Why do you want to engage in this sexual activity with your partner(s)? Why does your partner (or why do your partners) want to engage in this sexual activity?
People engage in sex for many different reasons, including emotional, mental, or physical connection and pleasure. Knowing if you and your partner(s) share similar reasons for wanting to have sex will help clarify if all parties are ready and have similar expectations for the experience. Feeling pressured, thinking this will fix or guarantee a relationship, or believing sex will change or help your image among your friends are not good reasons to engage in sex.
2. Do you feel safe and comfortable engaging in the sexual activity with your partner(s)?
Sometimes we may be physically and emotionally ready to engage in sexual activity, but we also need to feel safe and comfortable with the partner(s) we plan to have sex with. If you don’t feel comfortable and safe with your current partner(s), consider reflecting on why through journaling, talking with a counselor, or a finding confidential resource on campus. (Check out our list of specific resources below.)
3. Are you comfortable with the place and time you are expecting to engage in the sexual activity? Does your partner (or do your partners) feel comfortable?
Once you understand if you are ready emotionally and physically to engage in the sexual activity with your partner(s), it’s time to consider when and where. If you already have the time and location planned, consider if you feel safe and comfortable in the location and at the time. For instance, you may be stressed about an upcoming exam or have privacy concerns about the chosen space. If so, then you may want to change when and where you plan to have sex.
4. Do you understand your wants, needs, and desires for the sexual experience? Do you know the wants, needs, and desires of your partner(s)?
Reflect on your expectations for the sexual experience including the type of pleasure (emotional/physical), the ways you want your partner(s) to touch you, what you want to do before and after the experience, and anything else that you might want. If you are unsure what you want out of the sexual experience, consider engaging in self-pleasure (masturbation) beforehand to learn more about what you like and don’t like. You can also reflect on your past sexual experiences if applicable, journaling about what you think this sexual experience will be like, or communicating to your partner(s) that you are unsure of the type of pleasure you are seeking. It’s also important to talk with your partner(s) before sex to know what they want or expect. If you find your expectations are not aligning, then have a deeper conversation about what you are looking for in the relationship and sexual experiences.
5. What are your boundaries for the sexual experience? What are the boundaries of your partner(s)?
In addition to communicating what you and your partner(s) want out of the experience, it’s important to discuss emotional and physical boundaries. This may look like not wanting your partner(s) to touch a specific area of your body or to not engage in specific sexual acts. It’s important for you and your partner(s) to respect those communicated boundaries. If you find a partner is not respecting your boundaries during this conversation, then you should not engage in sex with them. Respecting boundaries is foundational to a consensual and pleasurable sexual experience. If you want to learn more about healthy and unhealthy relationships or need a confidential resource to talk to about your relationship, then meet with the Associate Director of Well-Being, Gender Violence Prevention, Alyse Campbell.
6. Are you and your partner(s) prepared to practice safer sex?
Safer sex includes having the correct barrier methods needed for the specific sexual activity you are going to engaging in (condoms, dental dams, and gloves), getting tested for STIs if you have been sexually active in the past, and considering birth control options if pregnancy is a concern. Additionally, if your barrier method breaks or your birth control fails, ensure that you know how to get emergency contraception or get tested for STIs. Being prepared for the unintended consequences of engaging in a sexual activity is important for your health and well-being and that of your partner(s).
7. Do you have any hesitation or questions left unanswered? What about your partner(s)?
Although we tried to discuss the main points of sexual readiness in this guide, there may be something you are still hesitant about. That’s okay! As you start to discuss your sexual readiness with your partner(s), make sure to discuss and express any questions or feelings that may be lingering after answering these questions.
8. How do you and your partner(s) feel after answering the above questions?
After reflection, how do you feel? If you find you are concerned that your expectations of the experience don’t align with those of your partner(s), then you probably aren’t ready to engage in sex with them and may need additional steps to ensure you both are ready. However, if you and your partner(s) feel confident that this experience will be safe, consensual, and pleasurable with aligning expectations and beliefs, then you are most likely ready to have sex!
If you are still unsure what your sexual readiness level is, then you can reach out to the confidential the Associate Director of Well-Being, Gender Violence Prevention, Alyse Campbell, or to me, Molly Hutchison. I’m a Health Education Specialist who serves all Hopkins students and trainees.