Choosing What to Do

When it comes to sexual behavior, there are as many different possible decisions as there are people and couples. Some people feel sexual desire but don’t act on it at all. Others choose to act on it alone through masturbation but decide not to be sexual with anyone else. Some people may decide to engage in some sexual behaviors but not others. The important thing is that you make the choice for yourself and stick to it.

Remember, decisions can change. You may choose to be sexual with a partner today and change your mind next week. Or you may have been sexual with a partner in the past and decide not to be with future partners. Just because you’ve done something before doesn’t mean you have to or even should do it again— even with the same partner. Each decision is unique. So think about it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you engage in any sexual behavior.

Who is your partner?
What is your relationship with this person? Sexual activity often involves many feelings and emotions that can be confusing. How will you and your partner handle these feelings if they come up? How will sex change your relationship with this person?

Do you feel safe?
Consider your partner, the situation, the location… Do you feel safe and taken care of? Do you feel respected by your partner? Do you respect your partner? Can you talk and listen to him/her? Are you worried that someone might walk in?

Is it consensual?
No one has the right to be sexual with another person without that person’s explicit permission. Have you talked about what behaviors you give permission for and have permission to start? Have you talked about where you will stop? Do you feel like your partner respects your decisions? Do you respect your partner’s decisions?

What is your motivation?
Why are you thinking of doing this? People can have many reasons for having sex, like to become closer, to feel loved, to express love, to feel good, to satisfy curiosity, to gain popularity, to get someone to like them, to fit in, or to rebel. Let’s face it, some of these aren’t very good reasons for getting sexually involved with someone else. Be honest with yourself, what are your reasons?

Is it non-exploitative?
Exploitation is when one person uses someone else for selfish reasons. Exploitation should not be part of sexual relationships. Partners should be interested in each other’s well-being as well as their own. Are you and your partner looking out for each other?

Are you being honest?
Have you talked to your partner about your feelings, what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do? Were you truthful in these conversations? Being honest with yourself and your partner can help you have a better relationship.

Is it pleasurable?
One reason that many people participate in various sexual activities is because these behaviors provide physical, emotional, and psychological pleasure. Does the sexual activity you are considering or engaging in feel good?

Is it protected?
Most sexual behaviors carry some risk of STDs or pregnancy. It’s important to protect yourself from these risks—either by avoiding behaviors and eliminating the risk or by using effective protection and reducing the risk. Do you understand the risk involved in each behavior you are considering? Do you understand the benefits of abstaining from some or all risky behaviors? Do you understand how condoms or birth control can reduce your risk? Do you know how to use condoms or birth control correctly?

What does your gut instinct say?
A lot of people talk about listening to their inner voice or gut to let them know whether they are making the right decision. Think about a time that this was true for you. Maybe saying yes made you feel happy and excited or maybe it made you feel nervous and embarrassed. Maybe after you said no, you felt like a weight was lifted off your shoulders. Whatever the decision is—if it feels wrong, it is wrong for you. And remember, you can always change your mind. Even if you’re in the middle of sexual activity, you can ask to stop. There is never a point of no return. You and your partner always have the right, the ability, and the responsibility to stop if either one of you changes your mind. Unfortunately, sometimes sexual partners don’t respect our wishes. See the section on sexual abuse for more information on date/acquaintance rape.

Try This: When faced with a decision try testing your gut instinct. Pick one possible choice and tell yourself it is your final decision. Keep telling yourself that for a few hours or a few days and see how you feel. Then switch to another decision. Do this as many times as there are choices. If you feel differently - whether it’s better or worse—that can tell you if you’re making the decision that is right for you.

On the Rocks: Making good sexual decisions can be complicated under the best of circumstances. If you’re drunk or high, it can be nearly impossible. Alcohol and drugs get in the way of our better judgment. Staying sober is the best and safest bet.

Back to Top