You and Your Sexuality
Frequently Asked Questions
Sexuality and Puberty Expand All
When puberty starts, your brain sends signals to certain parts of the body to start growing and changing. These signals are called hormones. Hormones make your body change and start looking more like an adult’s (read Your Changing Body: Puberty in Girls). Hormones can also cause emotional changes.
During your teen years, hormones can cause you to have strong feelings, including sexual feelings. You may have these feelings for someone of the same gender or a different gender.
Thinking about sex or just wanting to hear or read about sex is normal. It’s normal to want to be held and touched by others.
Expressing Sexual Feelings Expand All
There are many ways to express sexuality. Sexual intercourse (vaginal sex) is one way. Others include masturbation, oral sex, and anal sex.
Touching or rubbing your own genitals (such as the clitoris, vagina, or penis) can give you pleasure. This is known as masturbation. It can help you learn what kind of touch makes you feel good. Masturbation can let you enjoy your sexuality without having sex.
Touching a partner’s genitals or other parts of the body can provide sexual pleasure. Touching will not cause pregnancy and is less likely to cause a sexually transmitted infection (STI) than other sexual activities (read How to Prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections).
Oral sex is when one partner’s mouth comes into contact with the other partner’s genitals. This can provide sexual pleasure and lead to orgasm. Some teens believe oral sex is not really sex because it does not cause pregnancy. But it can spread STIs. Using a condom or a dental dam during oral sex can help protect you against STIs.
During vaginal sex, also called sexual intercourse, the hard (erect) penis goes into the vagina and moves in and out. This can lead to orgasm. (Orgasm can also happen during masturbation, oral sex, or anal sex.)
During vaginal sex, when the male partner has an orgasm, the penis spurts semen, which contains millions of sperm, into the vagina. The sperm can swim up into the uterus and then a fallopian tube, where sperm can fertilize an egg. This can lead to pregnancy. Vaginal sex can also spread STIs.
If you have vaginal sex and do not want to get pregnant, use a reliable birth control method every time. Birth control can reduce the chance of pregnancy occurring. Read Birth Control to learn about the different options. Some are better at preventing pregnancy than others.
Another form of sex is anal sex, in which the penis is placed into the other partner’s anus. This form of sex can greatly increase the risk of getting an STI, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Anal sex can cause tiny tears in the rectum and anus. The germs that cause an STI may enter the body through these tears. Using a condom during anal sex can help protect you against STIs.
Condoms and dental dams can protect against STIs. Even if you are taking birth control pills or using any other form of birth control to prevent pregnancy, you still need to use a condom or dental dam to protect against STIs.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expand All
Sexual orientation is a person's emotional, romantic, or sexual attraction to other people:
"Lesbian" means you are a female who is attracted to other females.
"Gay" means you are attracted to people of the same gender.
"Bisexual" means you are attracted to people of more than one gender.
"Straight" means you are attracted to people who are not your gender.
Many teens think about their sexual orientation during puberty. Things you have done—holding hands with a friend of the same gender, looking at or touching each other’s genitals—may make you wonder about your sexual orientation. This is normal.
Who you are attracted to is not a choice you make or something that can be changed. Read Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Teens to learn more.
Gender identity is your sense of your own gender. Your gender may be male, female, both male and female, neither male nor female, or something else. This identity may or may not be the same as the sex you were assigned at birth. Gender identity (who you are) is not the same thing as sexual orientation (who you are attracted to).
Most people are told they are a boy or a girl (male or female) based on the genitals they were born with. This is the sex you are assigned at birth. If someone is transgender or nonbinary, that male or female label does not match their gender identity.
Some people may feel that they belong to neither gender or to both genders. People who feel this way are sometimes called gender nonbinary, gender fluid, or genderqueer.
Read Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Teens to learn more.
Some people may not be accepted by their families and friends based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This may lead to feeling lonely, scared, or depressed. Some people may even consider suicide. If you feel confused or unhappy, or if you are being bullied or mistreated, talk with an adult you can trust. If you cannot talk with your parents, ask a teacher, doctor, or school counselor for help.
You can also read Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Teens to find a list of resources that may help, including anonymous hotlines and peer support.
Deciding About Sex Expand All
Ask yourself what your feelings are about sex. Are you really ready for sex? If you are dating, do you know how the other person feels about sex? Make up your own mind about the right time for you. Do not have sex just because
you think everyone else is
you think it will make you more popular
you are talked into it
you are afraid the other person will break up with you if you do not
you feel that it will make you more grown-up
If you’re not ready to have sex, say so, and stick to your decision. It can help to think about what you would say if someone pressures you to have sex. The following examples can work:
"If you love me, you will have sex with me."
Answer: "If you really love me, you will not pressure me."
"You are the only one I will ever love."
Answer: "Good, then we will have lots of time later."
"If you don’t want to have sex with me, I will find someone who will."
Answer: "That’s your choice. My choice is to not have sex."
Sexual Violence and Safety Expand All
Rape is any genital, oral, or anal penetration without consent. Most victims know the person who raped them. It may be someone they are dating. It may be a friend of the same age or an adult. The offender might use physical force or threats. Often alcohol or drugs are used before rape. No matter who the offender is, rape is a crime.
Although rape is never the victim’s fault, it makes sense to take precautions to protect yourself. Avoid situations that might put you at risk of unwanted sex. Avoid walking alone. Limit alcohol and drug use. Never leave a drink unattended. Always go to parties with a friend and check in on each other. Never leave without your friend and never leave with a stranger.
This type of violence can happen between couples in relationships. It is also called domestic violence. It can involve physical violence, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse. Even threats of violence are considered intimate partner violence. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is important to seek help. Tell an adult—a parent, teacher, doctor, or counselor. Read Intimate Partner Violence to learn more.
The internet is a helpful resource, but it can also be unsafe. You may be exposed to unwanted sexual material or be harassed. You may meet people online who want to talk about sex or meet you.
Never give out personal information (like your name, address, phone number, or school). Use a fake name for usernames. Keep your profiles private so that only people you know can see your information.
Never agree to meet someone in person that you met on the internet. Be aware that adults can pose as teenagers online. Do not respond to any message or email that makes you feel uncomfortable. Report these messages to parents, guardians, or other authorities.
Anus: The opening of the digestive tract through which bowel movements leave the body.
Clitoris: A female sex organ found near the opening of the vagina.
Dental Dam: A thin piece of latex or polyurethane used between the mouth and the vagina or anus during oral sex. Using a dental dam can help protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Egg: The female reproductive cell made in and released from the ovaries. Also called the ovum.
Fallopian Tube: Tubes through which an egg travels from the ovary to the uterus.
Genitals: The sexual or reproductive organs.
Hormones: Substances made in the body by cells or organs that control the function of cells or organs.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): A virus that attacks certain cells of the body’s immune system. If left untreated, HIV can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
Masturbation: Self-stimulation of the genitals.
Orgasm: The feelings of physical pleasure that can happen during sexual activity.
Penis: The male sex organ.
Puberty: The stage of life when the reproductive organs start to function and other sex features develop.
Rectum: The last part of the digestive tract.
Semen: The fluid made by male sex glands that contains sperm.
Sexual Intercourse: The act of the penis of the male entering the vagina of the female. Also called "having sex" or "making love.”
Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI): An infection that is spread by sexual contact.
Sperm: A cell made in the male testicles that can fertilize a female egg.
Uterus: A muscular organ in the female pelvis. During pregnancy, this organ holds and nourishes the fetus. Also called the womb.
Vagina: A tube-like structure surrounded by muscles. The vagina leads from the uterus to the outside of the body.
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Last updated: February 2023
Last reviewed: August 2022
Copyright 2023 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. All rights reserved. Read copyright and permissions information.
This information is designed as an educational aid for the public. It offers current information and opinions related to women's health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care. It does not explain all of the proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for the advice of a physician. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.
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