One of the best (and scariest) things about being young is having new experiences, like your first date or your first kiss.
In honour of International Youth Day we’ve put together a guide to safer sex. Whether it’s your first time or your eighth, knowing how to have safer sex is an important life skill.
How do I have sex?
One the most common questions young people ask our educators is ‘how do you have sex?’. The simplest answer – although it may seem unhelpful – is there is not a one-size-fits-all way to have sex. In the same way that there is no ‘right way’ to be a good human. We might be given examples through things like pornography but that doesn’t mean it’s good sex. In fact, a lot of pornography shows an unrealistic type of sex (no hair, no mess, constant orgasms) and most concerningly doesn’t show consent.
Media like this also focuses on penis-in-vagina or penis-in-anus sex. However, sex can be any kind of intimate, consensual contact including things like oral sex, mutual masturbation, using sex toys, sexting, phone sex and more.
Basically, having sex involves any activity that involves consent and sexual pleasure. How it’s done relies on people having the ability to communicate what they find safe, pleasurable and respectful.
It’s important to remember that in South Australia the legal age of consent is 17.
So that’s sex but what is sexuality?
Sexuality is the emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction that a person feels toward others. It’s how you feel towards others and not about who you have sex with. Some people use labels to describe their sexuality, for example straight/heterosexual, gay/homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, or some people might not fit into a specific category.
Everyone’s sexuality is different and who you’re attracted to may change over time. Although this can be confusing for those experiencing this it’s important to remember that it’s very common, especially if you’re young.
Your sexuality or your sexual identity and the way you wish to describe it, or who you share it with is completely up to you. This is different for everyone and is not as simple as ticking a box that defines you. This is important to remember when it comes to having sex, you should not feel pressured or categorised as having specific sexual desires or wants. This is for you to choose and no one else.
There is support out there for people who want to talk about their sexuality or are struggling with their sexual identity.
For more information read headspace’s article Understanding sexuality and sexual identity.
‘It’s not yes unless it’s a hell YES!’ – Consent and sex
There is no sex without consent. Consent is an agreement between people to engage in a sexual activity. To legally give consent in South Australia you must be 17 and over. Consent must come before any sexual activity of any kind from touching to intercourse.
There are some important things to remember about consent to sexual activity:
- Consent must be gained before sexual activity and be present throughout the activity. This includes checking in with your sexual partner/s during sex to make sure they are enjoying themselves and want to continue.
- Consent must be given freely without pressure, guilt, or threats.
- Just because someone does not say ‘no’, it does not mean that consent has been given. It must be clear not a ‘maybe’ or ‘I guess so’ it must be a ‘YES’.
- It must be specific. If someone gives consent to one type of sexual activity it doesn’t mean that they consent to other sexual activities. Talk with your partner/s and agree together about what’s OK for each of you.
- Consent is reversible, this means that you and your partner/s can stop or have a change of mind at any time.
There are lots of ways you can ask for consent and it doesn’t have to be awkward. When you’re in the heat of the moment here are some ways to ask for consent:
- Would you like to….?
- Can I….?
- Do you want to try…?
- What would you like to do….?
- How do you feel about…?
- Do you want to stop?
- Do you want to go further?
During a sexual activity you can ask:
- Are you enjoying this?
- Are you comfortable?
- Would you like to try….?
Consent needs to sound like a clear and enthusiastic agreement, for example: ‘YES!’, ‘Absolutely’, ‘I really want to keep doing this,’ ‘Can we…..’.
It does NOT sound like ‘No’, ‘Maybe’, ‘I don’t want to’, ‘I don’t think I’m ready’.
It is important to also look out for non-verbal communication.
Here are some ways body language can let you know the person you’re with is not comfortable with what is happening:
- Pushing you away
- Holding their arms tightly around their bodies
- Turning away from you or hiding their face
- Stiffening muscles
- Not responding to your touch
It’s against the law to do sexual things (even kissing or touching) to someone if they have NOT given or are UNABLE to give consent.
It is important that you understand your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to sex so that you know where you stand.
SHINE SA: Sexual Health and the Law for Under 18s Fact Sheet
Legal Services SA: Sex and Consent
Get familiar with your own pleasure
Sex should be pleasurable and that is why some people benefit from getting familiar with what their own body enjoys and what areas feel pleasurable to them.
Pay attention to what feels good over what you think is supposed to feel good. Sex toys are a great way to help uncover this.
Play Safe: Sex toys can be fun for masturbating and sex
Avoiding STIs and unintended pregnancy
Part of safer sex is protecting yourself and your sexual partner/s from STIs and unintended pregnancy. You don’t need to have sex with lots of people to get an STI and often STIs have no symptoms. That’s why it’s important that if you have been sexually active you get a sexual health check regularly and before engaging in sex with any new sexual partner/s. Getting a sexual health check is usually a quick and easy process. For more information visit Get A Sexual Health Check.
To avoid STIs during sexual intercourse condoms are your best protection against infection. It is important to discuss protection before engaging in sex.
Sometimes people feel awkward discussing the use of condoms or dental dams (for oral sex) but really they’re there to protect both you and your partner/s.
Play Safe: How to ask your partner to wear a condom
Contraception is also part of the safer sex puzzle. There are many different types of contraception available that can be used to prevent pregnancy. It can be difficult to find the right type of contraception that works best for you.
SHINE SA: Choices in Contraception
Got questions? Talk to a sexual health expert
Sex is a very personal and intimate thing but it’s important that when you need support you reach out to trusted health professionals.
If you have questions about having sex or anything sexual and reproductive health you can call SHINE SA’s FREE Sexual Healthline or you can make an appointment at one of our clinics.