You get to decide what sex means to you, and how you express yourself sexually.

Fast Facts:

  • Sexuality is a big, complicated and exciting thing you'll probably spend most of your life exploring.
  • No one--including sex partners and doctors--can tell whether you've had sex before.
  • Sex includes way more than sexual intercourse!

Sex and Sexuality

Sex and sexuality are personal. Everyone gets to define what sex means to them and decide how they express themselves sexually.  This is normal, natural and part of being human!

What is sex?

What is sexuality?

What does it mean to be a virgin? Can someone tell if I’m not a virgin?

What does it mean to be sexually active?

Why do people have sex?

How can you tell if you’re turned on?

What is an orgasm? How can I tell if I’ve had an orgasm?

People define sex in many different ways. Your personal definition of sex is totally up to you. It may change throughout your life. Sex can be anything that creates sexual pleasure (for yourself or someone else).

Sex is a completely normal, natural part of being human. There is nothing wrong or shameful about thinking about sex. People begin to be curious about sex at different ages. There’s nothing good or bad about being interested in sex earlier or later than your friends.  Some people are never interested in sex—and that’s totally normal and ok!

Here are some common activities that people think of as sex:

  • Vaginal sex: Sex that involves a penis or toy in someone’s vagina. Sometimes called sexual intercourse, vaginal sex with a penis is generally the only kind of sex that can lead to pregnancy.
  • Oral sex (going down on, eating out, giving head, blow job, rimming): Any direct mouth-to-genital contact, including the anus
  • Manual sex (hand job, fingering): Any direct hand-to-genital touching, including the anus
  • Anal sex: Any sex that involves inserting a penis or sex toy into someone’s anus
  • Tribbing: When two people rub their vulvas (external genitalia) together
  • When two people rub their penises together
  • Masturbation (jerking off, rubbing one out, getting yourself off): Touching yourself for sexual pleasure
  • Using sex toys with a partner or alone

Here are some other activities you might consider sexual:

  • Kissing or making out
  • Sexting: Exchanging descriptions of sex acts or nude/suggestive images
  • Dry humping: Rubbing your and a partner’s genitals together with clothes on
  • Mutual masturbation: Masturbating in front of someone else, or having someone else masturbate in front of you
  • Fantasizing (or thinking) about sex, watching porn or reading erotica alone or with a partner

Your sexuality is how you feel and express yourself sexually. It’s a big, complicated idea that you’ll probably explore throughout your life. Sexuality includes:

  • Who or what you’re attracted to, including your sexual orientation
  • Your beliefs, values and attitudes related to sex
  • How you relate to and express yourself sexually
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Body image
  • And so much more!

Sexuality changes over time and is influenced by society, how you were raised, your personal experiences and more. It’s something you can explore and discover. There may be times when you’re super interested in exploring your sexuality and times when you’re not very interested.

Many people feel ready to explore sexuality on their own (for example, through fantasizing or masturbation) before they feel ready to explore it with someone else. Some people never feel sexual and aren’t interested in exploring their sexuality. That’s also completely normal and ok! Again, everybody is different.

Pop culture generally shows a pretty narrow range of bodies, gender identities, sexualities and how people express pleasure. But human sexuality is as diverse as humans are! As long as sex is safe, consensual and leaves you and your partner(s) feeling healthy and good about yourselves, that’s all that matters.

How you think about virginity is up to you. Virginity is an idea that society has agreed on (aka a social construct). It is not a medical status. Generally, a virgin is someone who hasn’t had any type of sex. Since people have different ideas about what “counts” as sex, people also have different ideas about what it means to be a virgin.

“Losing your virginity” sounds pretty negative, though. What exactly are you losing? Some people find it helpful to ditch the idea of virginity completely. Instead of thinking about “losing your virginity,” you might want to think about “making your sexual debut” or “becoming sexually active”!

 However, virginity is not affected by nonsexual acts. You cannot lose your virginity by using a tampon, doing the splits, going horseback riding, or doing anything else that isn’t sexual.

Can someone tell if I’m a virgin or not?

Nope! No one—including your doctor or sexual partner(s)—can tell whether you have had sex or not. If you have physical trauma from a sexual assault, a doctor might be able to tell by doing an exam. But sexual assault isn’t sex—it’s violence.

Your medical provider might ask whether you’re sexually active. They ask this to find out your risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and pregnancy. They want to know if they should test you for STIs, talk about birth control and safer sex, or give you a Pap smear (if you have a vagina and are over 21 years old).

If you’ve had oral, manual, vaginal or anal sex, you are sexually active. You can explain up front exactly what you mean, if you want to: “Yes, I’ve had oral sex.” You should also tell your health care provider if you’re not sexually active now, but might be soon. If you’ve had sex, but not recently, tell your medical provider.

They’ll probably ask some follow-up questions. This is also your chance to ask any questions you have about birth control, STIs and sexual health. It may feel awkward to talk about sex at first. That’s normal. But it’s important to be open and honest with your health care provider. Remember: They want you to be healthy, and that includes learning about sex.

Even though masturbation counts as a sex act, it carries no risk of STIs or pregnancy. This means you don’t need to tell your health care provider about it.

People have sex for lots of reasons. Here are some common ones:

  • Pleasure
  • Intimacy
  • To relax
  • To have fun
  • Because they’re turned on
  • Curiosity
  • To please a partner
  • To feel good about themselves/for self-esteem
  • If they feel pressured by their partner
  • If they feel pressured by their friends or peers
  • To have a baby

There’s no wrong reason to have sex if you want to, but you should never feel that you have to. It is healthy to think about your reasons for having sex though, especially if it’s the first time you’re having sex or the first time with someone new. Check out 5 questions we recommend you ask yourself before sex here.

Being sexually aroused or excited (aka turned on) can feel different to different people. But generally, bodies go through some common processes. Here are some physical signs you may be turned on:

  • Your heart beats faster.
  • You breathe faster.
  • Your muscles feel tense.
  • Flushing of your face or skin, or feeling flushed.
  • Your nipples might harden and feel extra sensitive.
  • The blood flow to your genitals increases. In people with a vagina, this can make their clitoris and/or labia minora look puffy or feel extra sensitive. In people with a penis, this gives them an erection.
  • If you have a vagina, it begins to make vaginal lubrication. You may feel wet down there.
  • You probably can’t tell, but the vagina lengthens.
  • If you have a penis, the testes become a bit bigger and the scrotum tightens.
  • If you have a penis, it may release some natural lubrication (pre-come).

Other signs:

  • You’re thinking about sex or something you find sexy.
  • You’re thinking about a particular person or body part you find attractive.
  • If you have a vagina, you may feel a “tingly” feeling around your vulva or in your clitoris. Some people say this feels like they have to pee.

Feeling turned on doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have sex or are ready to have sex. You can enjoy the feeling of  arousal without acting on it. You may feel turned on but only be comfortable having sex by yourself (masturbating).

Arousal is different than desire, because your body can become sexually excited when you do not want to have sex. This is completely normal. Having an erection or feeling wet does NOT necessarily mean that someone wants to have sex. These physical changes are NOT consent.

An orgasm is often considered the “climax” of sexual pleasure. Every body is different, which means people experience orgasms in lots of different ways. However, there are some ways orgasms are similar. When someone has an orgasm (or comes), their heartbeat gets faster, their blood pressure rises, and they breathe quicker. Sometimes, people have muscle spasms in their feet or hands. If you have a vagina, the muscles in your vagina and uterus rhythmically contract. If you have a vagina, you may also release fluid. This is called female ejaculation (or squirting). If you have a penis, muscles at the base of the penis contract, forcing semen out of the penis. This is called ejaculation.

During an orgasm, you may feel a sudden, intense release of tension. Some people have an urge to cry out or yell. The brain releases a flood of feel-good chemicals including oxytocin, serotonin and norepinephrine.

Afterward, you may feel happy, relaxed and/or sleepy. People with penises and some people with vaginas have a refractory period where they cannot have an orgasm. Some (but not all!) people who have vaginas can have multiple orgasms very close to each other.

This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.