You are here
Teens & Young People: Questions About Sex
Frequently asked questions about sex for teens and young people
Laws about sex vary depending on which country or in some cases which state (for example in the US) you live in. The most important thing to know is the age of consent. This is the age at which it is legal to have sex. In the UK, the law says that it's illegal to have sex with a girl or boy who is under sixteen. In other places, the age of consent may be older or younger than this, and it may be that there is a maximum age gap that is permitted between partners. Find out more on our page about teen sex and the law.
Penis size differs from person to person. The average length when erect is 10-18cm (4-7in) although there may be some variation around the world.
It is quite normal for a man's penis to curve or lean slightly to the right or the left when erect. Many men's penises will curve upwards too. However, if the penis suddenly develops a lump that causes it to bend abnormally, it should probably be checked by a doctor. It may be a sign of a condition called Peyronie's disease, which isn't life threatening, but may be uncomfortable and require treatment. You can find a diagram of the male sex organs on AVERT's website.
Vaginas come in all different shapes and sizes, just as other parts of the body do, so there is no set way that a vagina should look. A woman's sex organs are protected by two thick folds of skin or "lips" called the outer labia. Inside these is another set of lips known as the inner labia. These are thinner than the outer labia and are usually slightly different lengths. In some women the inner labia will stick out below the outer labia. In other women it will be the other way round. Women also have a clitoris, which is a small sensitive bump a little way above the urethra (urine hole) and the entrance to the vagina. You can find a basic diagram of the vaginal area on the AVERT website, but remember, this is just an anatomical drawing - you shouldn't expect your vagina to look exactly like this!
You could start off by simply smiling, making eye contact and saying hello. If they notice you, you could then think about taking things further. Look for clues about their interests, as these can be a good starting point for conversations. If they seem happy to chat, you could then introduce yourself and eventually work up to meeting for lunch, a coffee, or a trip the cinema etc. Even though it can be nerve-racking asking somebody out, don't try too hard to make an impression. The most important thing really is to be relaxed and be yourself: that way they will know your interest is genuine. Even if the person concerned doesn't seem interested, at least you will know you tried.
Remember, you can fancy someone and ask them out regardless of their gender, race, or religion - there are no rules!
Many people have feelings towards other people of the same sex, and wonder whether this means that they are homosexual. Some people who are attracted to other people of the same sex are gay and go on to have sexual relationships with people of the same sex. Some who have gay feelings find that these change over time and they become attracted to people of the opposite sex. Others may be attracted to both men and women, and have relationships with both. It can take time to work out exactly how you feel, so don't try to rush it. Take things slowly, and remember - gay, lesbian, straight or bisexual, you are normal and you shouldn't be ashamed. To help you understand your feelings a little more please read AVERT's page on homosexuality, or have a look at our sexual attraction page.
As with any potential relationship situation, you need to be prepared for the possibility of rejection if the person doesn't feel the same way as you. Sometimes getting to know a person as a friend first and trying to gauge their feelings and attitudes can help you to decide whether to take things any further. Perhaps mention a well-known gay celebrity and see what their reaction is. Sometimes you may find that other people's ignorance and fears mean that you experience a really negative response. If this happens, it's really important not to take it personally. You are not to blame for the prejudices that other people have. If you are worried about it, talking things through with someone on a LGBT hotline can be really useful. These advice lines are usually staffed by people who have been in similar situations, and it can be really helpful to talk to someone who knows exactly what you're going through. Gay groups or gay youth groups can also be a great source of advice and support, as well as a fantastic means of meeting people - both friends and possible partners - without having to work out whether they are gay or not. Links to the telephone numbers for national gay and lesbian advice lines in the UK and USA can be found on our help and advice page.
In some countries such as the USA and UK, young people are entitled to advice and free contraceptives from their doctor in confidence. If you are unsure or live outside the USA or UK may need to check with your doctor or local clinic what their policy on confidentiality is. Although it may be embarrassing (both for you and your parents), it can sometimes really help to talk things through with an adult. It's probably a good idea to gauge what their reaction might be first, but you may find they're more understanding and supportive than you expect.
First time sex can be painful for girls, as the penis entering the vagina can stretch or tear the hymen (the thin layer of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina). Not all girls have hymens (they may have been born without one or may have broken it through sport or inserting tampons earlier in life) but if they do and it tears, a girl may bleed a little. She may also find this bleeding continues the next few times she has sex, although once the tear has healed, she shouldn't have any further problems. Being nervous and tense the first time can mean a girl does not produce enough natural lubrication to allow easy penetration. Nerves can also cause the muscles in a girl's vagina to tense up, making penetration difficult. Both of these problems can make sex more painful.
The most important thing you can do to reduce the pain is to relax. Being relaxed, and absolutely sure you're doing the right thing means you're less likely to involuntarily tighten your vaginal muscles, and more likely to produce natural vaginal lubrication. You could also try using a lubricant, as this will make penetration easier. However if you are using condoms, you must use a water-based lubricant such as KY Jelly (available from most supermarkets and chemists). An oil-based lubricant like Vaseline will cause the latex of the condom to disintegrate and it will not be able to prevent transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV, or stop pregnancy.
It is really important not to be pressurised into having sex when you really don't want to. Just because your friends say that they are doing it doesn't mean they actually are. There is no 'right' age to start having sex. What is important is choosing a time that is right for you. There are many ways in which you can give and receive sexual pleasure without having sexual intercourse. Thinking through all the implications of having sex can be a useful way of helping you arrive at a decision. There are lots of reasons why people don't want to have sex. Being pushed into having sex when you don't want to could mean you might regret it later on. Although it can be hard to say what you want, it is also important to talk to your partner before you sleep together for the first time. As a rule, if you can't talk about sex, then you're not ready to have it yet. Try and be open about how you're feeling. Talking to each other will increase your confidence and reassure you that you both care about each other and are looking after each other's feelings. Also, it gives you the opportunity to talk about things that you might be worried about. Remember, even if you feel ready for sex, your partner might not, so always give them the chance to be honest with you. For more information about having sex for the first time, please visit our first time sex page, or take our checklist test to make sure you're ready.
There is no safe time to have unprotected sex if you wish to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. STIs can be transmitted whenever an infected person has sex with an uninfected person, and pregnancy is always a possibility, even during a girl's period. Although women are generally only fertile for a few days every month (usually around the middle of the menstrual cycle), most women have no definite way of knowing when this is. Sperm can also survive inside the body for several days, meaning a woman can potentially become pregnant over quite a long period of time. If she has irregular periods, "safe" days can be particularly difficult to predict. Some couples do use the so-called 'rhythm' method as a form of contraception, but the success rate is not high, and it also offers no protection from STIs.
If a boy pulls his penis out before he ejaculates, the girl can still become pregnant. Sperm can be present in pre-come (the lubricating fluid that leaks from the penis before and during sex) and just a small amount in or around the vagina can be enough to make a woman pregnant.
If you think you or your partner might be pregnant you will probably be anxious about what to do. You might be worried about how people in your family will react. They might be angry at first, or find it hard to believe, but they might be able to help you consider what to do. Some people decide to have a baby if they are pregnant and others decide to have an abortion. If you really can't talk to a parent you might be able to get adult advice from a youth worker or an adult in school.
Page last reviewed:
Next review date: