Making choices about sex

Whatever choices you make about sex it is important that you feel that they are the right choices for you.

Making choices about sex is not always an easy or straight forward process. People have sex for all sorts of different reasons including because they:

  • are 'horny'
  • are 'in love'
  • want to lose their virginity
  • want to experiment
  • feel lonely
  • want to feel physical intimacy
  • fancy someone
  • want to feel emotional intimacy
  • were drunk or 'out of it'
  • enjoy sex
  • like the person
  • feel pressure to have sex.

Sex should be a positive and enjoyable experience, yet sometimes sex can end up having a negative impact on your life and health. Be honest with yourself about what you want and the choices you make.

Sometimes sex and the choices we make aren't always rational decisions. Lots of people say 'sex just happened'. Often people talk about making choices in the 'heat of the moment'. While we all learn from our experiences, thinking ahead may enable you to be more in control.

When you think about sex and making decisions about sex there are many things to consider.

  • How do you feel about having sex?
  • How does your partner feel about sex?
  • What do your friends and parents think?
  • Are you having sex with someone you feel safe with?
  • How will you feel after sex?
  • What contraception will you use?
  • How will you prevent STIs?
  • Do you need to talk to your partner about sex?
  • What sort of sex are you prepared to have (oral, vaginal, anal, etc.)?
  • Why do you want sex?

You need to do what feels right for you. To feel better about the choices you make you can:

  • Communicate with your partner. In any relationship between two people, communication is important. Communication can allow us to clarify our needs, feelings and wants and to also hear about those of our sexual partner. You can check if you are wanting the same things, and if your wants are different whether that is acceptable to you.
  • Talk to friends and family. Friends and family may be able to provide good advice and support. Sometimes talking can help clarify how you are feeling. Make sure you talk to people who will respect your confidentiality and privacy.
  • Be clear and honest about your own wants and desires.
  • Seek out information. Have the facts about sex, STIs, condoms and contraception at hand so you can make well informed choices.
  • Talk to a health care worker. There are many services specifically set up to help with sexual health issues.
  • Be prepared. If you are planning to have sex make sure you have condoms and water based lubricant available.

Having sex for the first time

If you are just starting to become sexually active, remember staying in control can be tough but keep in mind that:

  • kissing or groping does not mean that you have to have sex;
  • just because you have a boyfriend/girlfriend does not mean you have to have sex with them;
  • at any time during sex you can choose to stop if you no longer wish to continue;
  • sex against your will is a crime, even if it is with somebody you know; and
  • sex has to be your choice - don't let yourself be pressured or bullied.

Are you ready for sex? Your first sexual experience should be positive and safe, but how can you know if you’re ready for sex? Here’s a checklist from the World Health Organisation of life skills that you need to keep yourself safe. Can you honestly say yes to each one?

  • Can you make good decisions about relationships and sex and stand up for those decisions?
  • Can you deal with the pressures for unwanted sex?
  • Can you recognise a situation that might turn risky or violent?
  • Do you know how and where to ask for help and support?
  • Do you know what safe sex is and could you insist on condoms?

If you don’t feel sure about these things, you might not be ready to have sex. Delaying sex until you feel confident and comfortable will help you to make sure your first sexual experiences are safe and positive.

Alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol and other drugs can affect the decisions you make about sex and practising safe sex.

People like using alcohol and other drugs when out socialising. The reasons for this are varied but can include:

  • a socially acceptable practice
  • makes you more social and friendly
  • enjoyable
  • more likely to chat to people you find sexually attractive
  • your friends are all doing it
  • feel more in control
  • removes your inhibitions
  • frequently socialise in pubs, clubs or other places where alcohol is served.

Alcohol or other drugs can have negative effects on your sex life, and health more generally. Research shows alcohol and other drugs do affect the decisions people make about safe sex. Research also shows that people often state that they had unsafe sex because they were 'drunk' or 'out of it'.

Alcohol and other drugs can lead to you making decisions you wouldn't otherwise make. For example you may choose to have sex with someone you wouldn't have otherwise chosen, you might not use a condom whereas you normally would, you may regret having sex at all. During sex it's not uncommon for men to lose their erection after heavy drinking or taking other drugs.

Staying safe

If you are having a night out and think you might have sex with someone, it is important you make a decision beforehand about what you want to do. Once you have made that decision you need to stick to it.

If you think you might have unsafe sex once you have been drinking or taking drugs then you need to consider not drinking or taking drugs or reducing your intake so that you can stay more in control.

If you choose to inject drugs, don't share any injecting equipment including needles, syringes, swabs, filters, spoons, tourniquets, the mix, etc. Sterile syringes are available from pharmacies and Needle and Syringe Program outlets. The program is an anonymous and confidential service. See safe injecting for more information.

How do I know if my partner has an STI?

If there are no obvious symptoms then it is not possible to tell if someone has an STI, unless that person decides to tell you.

People can have an STI and not even know they do. This is one of the reasons why practising safe sex and seeing a doctor for a regular sexual health check-up is important.

Some people believe you can tell if someone has an STI based on the number of sexual partners they have, who they have sex with, if they dress well, or if they look 'clean' and 'healthy'. These beliefs are incorrect and often reflect the values and biases of the person making the statement.

Unless there are obvious symptoms, there is no way you can tell if somebody has an STI by judging the way they look, their sexual behaviour or hygiene.

There is no one type of person who catches STIs. Anyone who is sexually active can be at risk of catching an STI.

How should I negotiate safe sex?

If you want to practise safe sex, then there is a range of things you can do to make sure you stick to that decision.

  • Make sure that you have a supply of condoms always available.
  • Ensure you know how to use a condom correctly.
  • Be clear about the reasons why you want to use a condom - your partner may have all sorts of arguments about why they don't want to use them.
  • Talk to your partner about safe sex - so they are clear about your expectations.
  • Put the condom on.
  • Hand the condom to your partner and ask them to put it on.
  • Avoid alcohol or drugs if it is likely to weaken your resolve.
  • Make it clear to your partner that you won't have sex if a condom is not used.
  • Make sure you choose a brand of condom that fits comfortably.
  • If your partner won't use a condom, then engage in sexual acts other than intercourse.
  • Don't let putting a condom on disrupt the flow, make sure they are nearby and easily within reach.

Your partner needs to respect your decision regarding safe sex - if they don't then you need to consider how much they value you and your beliefs.​

Page Updated: Thursday 7 March 2013
Contact page owner: Centre for Population Health