Healthy lives for young people
Sex

Having great sex (safely!)

Sex can be a really fun and exciting part of having an intimate relationship with someone, and should be an enjoyable activity in its own right. Find out our top tips for how to have great sex. 

Sex can be a really fun and exciting part of having an intimate relationship with someone, and should be an enjoyable activity in its own right. Whenever you are engaging in sexual activity with someone, it is important to make sure that boundaries, consent and safety (both physical and emotional) are at the forefront of the situation. 

Being prepared

Know what you want and don’t want. It helps to know for yourself what you want from the situation, and what you don’t want. This can include what activities you want to try or avoid, what outcomes you want from the situation, and what care you need before, during and after the activity.  

Activity

Make a list of different situations and what you might think and feel if they happened to you. This can help you think clearly about your boundaries and expectations.  

Know what your risky situations are. Some factors might affect your judgement and safety. These could be general things or something unique to you. For example, if you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs, this might affect the decisions you make or put you in a vulnerable position. Another example could be going out with someone who encourages you to take part in certain activities.  

Activity

Once you know your risky situations, try thinking through some plans that will help you avoid them. These might be things like avoiding alcohol or knowing your limits, and/or not going out with people who push you to take part in activities that make you uncomfortable or vulnerable.  

Read more about alcohol here.
Read more about drugs here.  
Read more about peer pressure here.

Practise. Practising is key to most things and it can really help to practise the plans you have made so you feel comfortable knowing and following your boundaries in the moment. This can either be actually practising on your own or just running through situations in your head, working out what might happen and what you might then say or do. 

Why do you want to have sex?

As well as having strategies for avoiding risky situations, it’s also worth thinking about why you have sex. When you are trying to decide whether to have sex with someone, ask yourself why you want to do it. Read more on healthy and unhealthy reasons to be having sex.  

Sex and Consent

Our main tip for great sex is consent. It’s important that everyone involved is consenting at all times – no one should ever feel they have to do something they are not comfortable with or don’t want to do. Just because you have consented to one thing doesn’t mean you have consented to something else, and it’s completely OK to say no or stop at any point if you don’t want to continue. 
 
If your partner changes their mind, it’s OK for you to feel disappointed, but if you’re so unhappy that your partner feels they have to have sex in order to cheer you up, this isn’t consensual.  

Read more about sex and consent.

Understanding your sexuality 

In order to have great sex, you need to have a good understanding of what you actually want! Every person has a unique sexuality, which is made up of their sexual orientation, their sexual drive, and their wants and desires.  

It is important to understand your sexuality so you can set boundaries, recognise what makes you comfortable or uncomfortable, and know what kind of sex you want to be having, with who and how often.  

Pause for a moment to think about your own sex life. Are you happy about the amount of sex you have? If you’re in a relationship, is the happiness of your relationship linked to the amount of sex or types of sex you have? If you aren’t having sex at the moment, how does that make you feel? How often do you think about sex? What gets you in the mood? What turns you off?  

There’s absolutely nothing unhealthy about not wanting sex, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting lots of it. Sexual desire is unique to each person, and often fluctuates a lot throughout life for various reasons.  

Masturbation

A good way of getting to grips with your sexuality is by masturbating; not only will it help you understand what kinds of touch feel good for you, but it can also help you explore fantasies and find out what turns you on. Read more about masturbation here.

Find out more about sexuality here.

Getting privacy

Whatever form sex and intimacy takes in relationships, privacy is often very important to people.  

It can sometimes be difficult to create privacy, especially if you don’t live alone. If you live with housemates then it can be harder to find time alone with someone without being disturbed. And if one or both of you lives at home with your family, this can reduce your opportunities to be intimate together. 

It really depends on your family and their attitudes to your relationship. They might be relaxed about you spending time together alone, in which case, it may be less of a big deal. But if they’re not so comfortable with it, then this can make things more complicated. 

The first thing to say is that it’s probably wise to respect your family’s rules. Getting caught breaking them will probably result in a combination of extreme embarrassment and, potentially, more rules. Try to talk them about it if you can, to see if you can negotiate a middle ground. This is a better way to demonstrate your maturity and to earn their respect.  

Communicating

Have a conversation (or lots of them!) with the person you are going to have sex with. Talk about what you want to do, what your boundaries are, what you are worried about, how you are going to make sure you have safe sex and anything else you want to discuss! Communication is key to consensual and enjoyable sex.  

Being safe 

It is important to keep in mind that you can still get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) even if it is your first time. If one of you has a penis and the other a vagina then pregnancy is also possible, so it is really important to have contraception sorted first.  

It’s also harder to get excited about sex if you’re worried about pregnancy or STIs. A lot of people like to visit a clinic before they have sex so that they can get tested, get free condoms and get comfortable with a type of contraception before they think about actually having sex. 

Condoms

Condoms are the only method of contraception that also protects against STIs. We recommend getting familiar with condoms before you have sex so you feel confident with them. Remember: you shouldn’t ever feel pressured to have sex without a condom in the same way you shouldn’t ever feel pressured to have sex. You have the right to choose to use condoms every time. 
 
Read our guidance on condoms:  
How to use a condom 
Talking about condoms 
Condom excuses 
Common condom mistakes 

Creating and enjoying physical intimacy 

Lots of people find that physical intimacy is very important in relationships, however this doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual. Other types of physical intimacy can be really rewarding and valuable, and are important to have in combination with sex as well as on their own.  

You might like to think about what kinds of physical affection are important to you. Do you like touching or being touched – and if so, in what ways? Which acts of physical affection could you live without and which feel important to you? 

The kinds of physical affection people prefer are unique to them. For example, having your arm stroked could be unbearably tickly for one person. Another person may find it soothing while another person may find it erotic.  

Here are some examples of physical intimacy to think about: 

  • Cuddling 
  • Kissing 
  • Holding hands 
  • Hair stroking 
  • Massage 
  • Back stroking 
  • Back scratching 
  • Showering/bathing together 
  • Napping together 

Taking your time

There’s no rush when it comes to sex; in fact, going slowly can help you get more turned on, be more present, feel more pleasure and have bigger orgasms! Take your time kissing and touching each other, for example, exploring each other’s erogenous zones. Or, step back from sex and try something else like giving each other massage, or taking a bath or shower together.  

What are erogenous zones?

An erogenous zone is an area of your body which is very sensitive, and can produce a sexual response when it is touched. An important part of discovering your sexuality is learning which parts of your body feel good to be touched.  
 
Common examples of erogenous zones for people with penises include the penis, scrotum, anus, prostate and nipples. Common examples of erogenous zones for people with vulvas include the vulva, vagina, anus and nipples. They can also include, but are not limited to, other areas of your body such as your neck, ears, back, hips and thighs. 

Letting go of the script 

Expectations of sex often centre around a certain order of activities, and often around penetrative sex. However, there are so many different ways to have sex, and you will only find out what things you enjoy by trying them!  

Trying new things and being adventurous can be really exciting, and can take you by surprise! It’s important to remember when trying something new to talk about it, get consent and take your time to make sure you and your partner have the time and space to see how you feel about it.  

Another part of the ‘script’ of sex can be the expectation to have an orgasm. Orgasms are fun, but if that is your only aim it can take the fun out of sex. Also, putting pressure on yourself or your partner to have an orgasm can actually make it harder to do, and can encourage performance anxiety rather than enjoyment.  

Read more about orgasms.

Our advice is to let go of any ‘scripts’ about how sex should be and go with the flow! Taking the pressure off certain activities and being flexible with your expectations can help you relax and enjoy being intimate with someone.  

Listen to your body

Sometimes, even if we really REALLY want to have sex, our genitals don’t get the message! Sometimes erections, vaginal wetness and relaxed muscles just don’t happen. Trying to have sex when your body isn’t ready could result in pain or discomfort which, ultimately, will mean it’s not enjoyable. Try and be comfortable with the possibility that even if you’ve been looking forward to this for ages, you might not be able to make it happen and that’s OK. There is no rush.  

Read more about erections and staying hard. 
Read more about painful sex.  

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