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Sex and young people - 15 things you should know about sex

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There are so many stories around sex, it's hard to know what to believe. Find out about the facts - it's t

he best way to make sure that you have safer sex.

1: Yes, you can get pregnant the first time that you have sex.

You may have heard that a girl can't get pregnant the first time that she has sex. The truth is, if a boy and a girl have sex and don't use contraception, she can get pregnant, whether it's her first time or she has had sex lots of times.

A boy can get a girl pregnant the first time he has sex. If you're female and have sex, you can get pregnant as soon as you start ovulating (releasing eggs). This happens before you have your first period. Find out more about periods and the menstrual cycle.

Using contraception protects against pregnancy. Using condoms also protects against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Before you have sex, talk to your partner about contraception, and make sure you've got some contraception. Find out about  getting contraception and tips on using condoms.

2: Yes, you can get pregnant if a boy withdraws (pulls out) his penis before he comes.

There's a myth that a girl can't get pregnant if a boy withdraws his penis before he ejaculates (comes). The truth is, pulling out the penis won't stop a girl from getting pregnant.

Before a boy ejaculates, there's sperm in the pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-come), which leaks out when he gets excited. It only takes one sperm to get a girl pregnant. Pre-come can contain  sexually transmitted infections (STIs), so withdrawing the penis won't prevent you from getting an infection.

If a boy says he'll take care to withdraw before he ejaculates, don't believe him. Nobody can stop themselves from leaking sperm before they come. Always use a condom to protect yourself against STIs, and also use other contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

3: Yes, you can get pregnant if you have sex during your period.

There's a myth that a girl can't get pregnant if she has sex during her period. The truth is, she can get pregnant at any time of the month if she has sex without contraception.

Sperm can survive for several days after sex, so even if you do it during your period, sperm can stay in the body long enough to get you pregnant.

4: Yes, you can get pregnant if you have sex standing up, sitting down or in any other position.

You may have heard the myth that a girl can't get pregnant if she has sex standing up, sitting down, or if she jumps up and down afterwards. The truth is, there's no such thing as a 'safe' position if you're having sex without a condom or another form of contraception.

There are also no 'safe' places to have sex, including the bath or shower. Pregnancy can happen whatever position you do it in, and wherever you do it. All that's needed is for a sperm to meet an egg.

5: No, you can't get pregnant by having oral sex.

You may have heard that you can get pregnant by having oral sex. The truth is, a girl can't get pregnant this way, even if she swallows sperm. But you can catch STIs through oral sex, including gonorrhoeachlamydia and herpes. It's safer to use a condom on a penis, and a dam (a very thin, soft plastic square that acts as a barrier) over the female genitals if you have oral sex. 

6: No, drinking alcohol doesn't make you better in bed.

There's a myth that drinking alcohol makes you perform better in bed. The truth is, when you're drunk it's hard to make smart decisions. Alcohol can make you take risks, such as having sex before you're ready, or having sex with someone you don't like. Drinking won't make the experience better. You're more likely to regret having sex if you do it when you're drunk. Find out more about sex and alcohol.

7: You can't use clingfilm, plastic bags, crisp packets or anything else instead of a condom. They won't work.

There's a myth that you can use a plastic bag, clingfilm or a crisp packet instead of a condom. The truth is, you can't. Only a condom can protect against STIs.

You can get condoms free from:

  • community contraceptive clinics
  • sexual health and genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics
  • some young persons services

You can also buy them from pharmacies and shops. Make sure that they have the CE mark on them, as this means that they've been tested to European safety standards. Find sexual health services near you, including contraception clinics.

8: No, a boy's testicles (balls) will not explode if he doesn't have sex.

You may have heard the myth that if a boy doesn't have sex his balls will explode. The truth is, not having sex doesn't harm boys or girls, and a boy's balls will not explode.

Boys and men produce sperm all the time. If they don't ejaculate the sperm is absorbed into their body. Ejaculation can happen if they masturbate or have a wet dream. They don't have to have sex. Find out about boys' bodies.

9: No, condoms can't be washed out and used again.

Don't believe anyone who says that you can wash condoms and use them again. The truth is, you can't use a condom more than once, even if you wash it out. If you've used a condom, throw it away and use a new one if you have sex again.

This is true for male condoms and female condoms. Condoms need to be changed after 30 minutes of sex because friction can weaken the condom, making it more likely to break or fail. Get tips on using condoms.

10: Yes, you can get pregnant if you have sex only once.

You may have heard the myth that you have to have sex lots of times to get pregnant. The truth is, you can get pregnant if you have sex once. All it takes is for one sperm to meet an egg. To avoid pregnancy, always use contraception, and use a condom to protect against STIs.

11: You don't always get symptoms if you have an STI.

You may have heard the myth that you'd always know if you had an STI because it would hurt when you pee, or you'd notice a discharge, unusual smell or soreness. This isn't true.

Many people don't notice signs of infection, so you won't always know if you're infected. You can't tell by looking at someone whether they've got an STI. If you're worried that you've caught an STI, visit your GP or local sexual health clinic. Check-ups and tests for STIs are free and confidential, including for under-16s. Find out about sexual health services near you.

12: Yes, women who have sex with women can get STIs.

You may have heard that women who sleep with women can't get or pass on STIs. This isn't true. If a woman has an STI and has sex with another woman, the infection can be passed on through vaginal fluid (including fluid on shared sex toys), blood or close body contact. 

Always use condoms on shared sex toys, and use dams to cover the genitals during oral sex. A dam is a very thin, soft plastic square that acts as a barrier to prevent infection (ask about dams at a pharmacist or sexual health clinic). If a woman is also having sex with a man, using contraception and condoms will help to prevent STIs and unintended pregnancy.

13: Not all gay men have anal sex.

You may have heard that all gay men have anal sex. This isn't true. Anal sex, like any sexual activity, is a matter of preference. Some people choose to do it as part of their sex life and some don't, whether they're gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual.

According to the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (taken in 2000), 12.3% of men and 11.3% of women had had anal sex in the previous year. Whatever sex you have, use a condom to protect yourself and your partner against STIs. However, having sex isn't the only way to show your feelings for someone.

14: A girl is not ready to have sex just because she's started her periods.

You may have heard that a girl should be having sex once she starts having periods. This isn't true.

Starting your periods means that you're growing up, and that you could get pregnant if you were to have sex. It doesn't mean that you're ready to have sex, or that you should be sexually active.

People feel ready to have sex at different times. It's a personal decision. Most young people in England wait until they're 16 or older before they start having sex. Find out more about periods and the menstrual cycle.

15: Help for sexual problems is available if you need it.

If you want to talk to someone in confidence, you can call the Sexual Health Helpline on 0800 567 123.

Find sexual health services near you.  

To find your nearest youngpeople's service, visit the Ask Brook website.  

Find out where to get help when sex goes wrong.

Condom, no condom? is an interactive video on YouTube where you decide what happens. Just choose which button to click at the end of each section to continue the story, and see the consequences of your choices.

Medical Review: September 28, 2013

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