Apr 1, 2003 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Abstinence: Information for Teens

Am Fam Physician. 2003 Apr 1;67(7):1571-1572.

What is sex?

Sex is any behavior that involves using a person's sex organs for pleasure. When people talk about “sex,” they usually refer to sexual intercourse, which is penetration of the vagina by the penis. But “sex” also can include oral sex, manual sex (masturbation), and anal sex. You are a virgin if you have not had sexual intercourse. You are not a virgin if you have had sexual intercourse.

All my friends are having sex…

Do not assume that “everybody is doing it.” Your friends might say they are having sex, but they may just be bragging. They may be stretching the truth, or they may be making up stuff from what they have seen in magazines, on TV, or on the Internet.

Do not give in to peer pressure about sex. Nobody can tell you what to do with your body or when to do it. Having sex just to fit in will not make you feel cool or grown up. And you can get a reputation for being “fast” or “easy,” which may make you feel uncomfortable about yourself. Whether you have sex or not is private. You do not have to share that kind of information with friends if you do not want to.

What are the risks of having sex?

You could get pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like herpes, chlamydia, genital warts, gonorrhea, syphilis, or AIDS. Having sex before you develop physically can hurt. Girls who start having sex before 18 years of age tend to have more health problems, including a higher risk of cervical cancer.

Sex also has some emotional risks. If you have sex when you are not ready or because someone is pressuring you, you may feel bad about yourself or wonder if your partner really cares about you. You may have to deal with other consequences you had not thought of.

What is abstinence?

Abstinence means choosing not to have sex. It is an important option to think about. A lot of young people make the choice to wait. Some people abstain from sex because of religious or spiritual beliefs, or because of personal values. Others abstain to avoid pregnancy or STDs, or because they are just not ready to have sex. If you abstain, that's great. You should feel good about your choice. And if you have a friend or partner who abstains, give him or her your support.

I had sex, but now I wish I hadn't

Maybe you made a decision you regret, and now you know you were not ready to have sex. You have learned something about your feelings. Now you can make better choices in the future, which may include deciding not to have sex again until you are older. You might want to talk about your feelings with someone you trust.

How will I know I am ready to have sex?

Figuring out when you are ready can be hard. Your body may give you signals that seem to say you are ready. That is natural. But your body is not the only thing you should listen to. Your beliefs, values, and emotions play a bigger role in when you choose to have sex.

One sure sign that you are not ready is if you feel pressured or if you feel really nervous and unsure. Take a step back. Try to figure out what you really want. Talk to someone you can trust, like your parents, a counselor, a teacher, a minister, or your family doctor.

“You'd do it if you loved me.”

Do not let anyone use this line to push you into having sex. Even if you really like the person, do not fall for it. Having sex to keep a partner usually does not work. Even if it does, you might not feel good about your decision. If someone wants to break up with you because you will not have sex, then that person is not worth your time in the first place.

Do not use this line on someone else, or you risk losing the person and feeling bad about yourself. Respect your partner's feelings and beliefs.

What if I decide to have sex?

If you are going to have sex, or if you are already having sex, you should be as safe as possible. (Remember, though, the “safest” sex is no sex.) To protect yourself and your partner, use a lubricated latex condom and a spermicide with nonoxynol 9. (Read the label to make sure the spermicide has nonoxynol 9 in it). Even though it is not 100 percent safe, this method of protection will help lower your risk of catching an STD or getting pregnant. Condoms and spermicide will not work if you do not use them correctly every time. Read the packages to figure out how to use them, or go to your family doctor or a health clinic so someone can help you.


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2003 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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