The 3 sex questions teenagers are too embarrassed to ask

As part of my research for Peer Productions’ new play Losing It, I have been running workshops with teenagers about sex and relationships.  In the workshops we invite our young participants to anonymously write down questions which they might feel too embarrassed to ask out loud. Here are the 3 most commonly asked questions and our answers.

Question: What’s the right age to start having sex?

Answer: In the UK the legal age of consent is 16 for any form of sexual activity for both men and women. The age of consent is the same regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of a person and whether the sexual activity is between people of the same or different gender. This means that people over 16 should not be having sex with anyone under 16. It is also an offence for people in a position of trust (teacher, social worker etc) to have sex with someone who is under 18. However, in practice the police are not interested in prosecuting teenagers under the age of 16 where both mutually agree and where they are of a similar age. There is however specific legal protection for children under 12 who cannot legally give their consent to any type of sexual activity. It is always an offence to have sex with someone without consent regardless of age.

The average age in the UK to have sex for the first time is between sixteen and seventeen. Although it may seem like everyone is having sex under age the more quiet majority are not. Choosing when to start having sex is a personal decision and should not be influenced by what your mates are doing. Lots of people choose to wait before they start having sex and, although sometimes waiting is motivated by religion, you don’t have to be religious to choose to wait.

Research suggests that young people who start to have sex later enjoy their first sexual experience more. Perhaps this is because they have better developed communication skills and feel more confident expressing their needs to a partner.

Question: What should you do if you are pressured into sex?

Answer: It is never acceptable for someone to pressurise someone else into having sex. You do not have to give consent just because your friends are becoming sexually active or your partner wants you to. If your partner is not willing to respect your wishes then they are not worth having sex with.

This is true for both boys and girls. Some people think that boys always want to have sex and this isn’t true. Bullying, blackmailing or in any way coercing someone into sexual activity is abuse and you have the right to expect much more from your relationship.

If you do become the victim of sexual abuse or rape it is not your fault. You can find our how to get help here.

Often young people ask us what to do in the moment when they fear that they will be pressured, abused or raped. This is difficult. When we suggest ways to try and get out of a situation like this we always acknowledge that this is not always possible for victims and that, regardless of circumstances, it is never the victim’s fault. However, this is the advice we give.

  • If your partner won’t accept that you just don’t want to have sex make up any excuse so that you have time to think about the situation. This might include saying you are unwell, have your period (you can have sex on your period but many people prefer not to) have a family emergency etc.
  • Try to physically get away from the situation to a place of safety. Prioritise your own safety over potentially hurting your partner’s feelings.
  • Try and shout and draw attention. This is difficult as many victims freeze with fear and this is completely understandable. However, if you can scream or shout, do so.
  • Whilst it is not always possible fight back, you have the right to defend yourself. The aim of fighting back is to escape the situation.

Question:  Will it hurt?

Answer: This is by far the most common question we are asked. Most girls are convinced that it will be painful the first time they have sex and, in some cases, this has been reinforced by parents, friends and even, at one school, a biology teacher(!) Almost biblical ideas about virgins and blood on sheets still seem to have currency. 

Although some women do find it uncomfortable the first time that they have vaginal sex it does not need to be painful. Although most women are born with a thin membrane known as the hymen which partially covers the vaginal opening, this has usually worn away by adolescence and, contrary to urban myths, it is unlikely to be ripped during first intercourse.

However, If a girl is trying to have sex with someone who she don’t trust then she might feel anxious. There are lots of muscles in the vagina and, if she feels nervous, these muscles are likely to tense up and this might make it difficult to insert a penis into the vagina.

Although internet pornography makes it seem as though women are always ready for vaginal intercourse, in reality most women take some time to become aroused enough to comfortably have sexual intercourse. When a woman feels turned on the blood rushes to her genital area in the same way as it does when a man has an erection. The women’s clitoris becomes engorged and her labia and vaginal opening become wet.   This wetness lubricates the vagina making it far easier for a penis to comfortably be inserted.

Although there are some medical conditions that can make sexual intercourse painful (like vaginismus) in most cases women experience pain because they feel anxious and their muscles are tense or not enough time has been spent ensuring that the woman is aroused enough to be engaging in sexual intercourse.

This is usually a question asked by girls expecting to have vaginal sex. However, it is worth mentioning that some people choose to have anal sex and we get asked about this too. Like any sexual activity you do not have to do this unless you want to. Contrary to the message sent out by internet pornography, although there is nothing wrong with consenting people having anal sex, not everyone has anal sex. If you are trying to have anal sex for the first time you will need to go slowly and gently and will need to use some kind of lubricant. Remember you can still catch STIs through anal sex and if you have a vagina, whilst you can’t get pregnant directly from anal sex, as the anus and vagina are near each other, you need to be careful that semen doesn’t get into this area and cause an unplanned pregnancy.

Regardless of your sexuality and how you are having sex, if you are finding sex painful and are not enjoying it then you should tell your partner and expect them to stop. You can always try something different or try again another time.