You can be intimate without going all the way or putting yourself at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Having sex doesn't always involve penetration. Kissing, touching and holding each other can give you a lot of pleasure.
Doing anything sexual with your partner doesn't guarantee a long or happy relationship. Don’t feel pressured into doing things you’re not ready for. It's OK to wait.
Kissing can be one of the best things about a relationship. Once you’ve had that first awkward kiss, you can take your time and enjoy kissing.
Everyone kisses differently, and there are different ways of doing it (with lips only, with tongues, or kissing the cheeks and neck). Getting used to kissing each other can be exciting. Touching and stroking each other’s skin can feel good too.
Be honest with each other. Tell your partner if you don't like their kissing technique, but tell them gently. Be aware that your kissing might not work for them. Try saying something like, "I really like kissing you, but could we do it a bit more gently?" You’ll only know what the other person likes if you tell each other.
You can't get an STI from kissing, but you can get or pass on a cold sore, so avoid kissing if either of you has one.
Going further, or not
Kissing can lead to more serious stuff, such as touching each other’s vagina or penis, or having oral sex (using your mouth on your partner’s genitals). But it doesn’t have to. If things are moving too fast for you, say so. It’s up to you what you do with your body, so don’t let someone do more than you want.
You could say something like:
- "Wait, this is too fast for me, we need to slow down", or
- "No, I don’t want to do that".
It’s OK to tell them you don’t want to do certain things, even if you've done them before.
Building up to sex
If you're close and both feel ready, you can get used to each other’s bodies and discover what you like and don’t like.
Enjoying sex without penetration gives you time to decide if you want to go all the way with this person. A good relationship is about being friends, trusting and respecting each other, and never having to pretend.
Mutual masturbation (touching)
Mutual masturbation is when you touch each other’s genitals. This can feel good if you're both ready. But be gentle, because the clitoris and penis can be very sensitive.
There's a risk of pregnancy if sperm is transferred to the vagina on your or your partner’s fingers, so make sure this doesn’t happen. You can put a condom on the penis as soon as it becomes erect.
Find out how to put on a condom properly.
Bear in mind that STIs can be passed on through oral sex. So if you have oral sex, use a condom. Avoid oral sex if either of you has sores around your mouth, vagina or penis. Sores could be a sign of an infection, so get them checked out by a doctor or at a sexual health or genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic.
When do you start having sex?
Some couples kiss and cuddle for months before having sex. Other couples wait for years. Once you feel relaxed and comfortable with each other, sex is more likely to be fun and enjoyable.
If you decide to have sex, discuss which contraception is best to use – there are 15 methods of contraception to choose from. Always use condoms to protect against pregnancy and STIs. Choose condoms that carry the CE mark or BSI kite mark, which is a recognised safety standard. Don’t use novelty condoms unless they carry the CE mark or BSI kite mark.
Remember that infections can pass from woman to woman, and from man to man, so you need to know about (and practise) safer sex, whoever you're having sex with. Read advice on sexual health for lesbian and bisexual women, and sexual health for gay and bisexual men.