Planned Parenthood

What's Sex?

What is Sex?

What's sex? At a glance:

  • People define "sex" in different ways. It can include vaginal, oral, and anal sex, and other activities.
  • Vaginal, oral, and anal sex have more risks (like pregnancy or spreading STDs) than other sexual activities.
  • If you're going to have any kind of sex, it's important to make sure you (and your partner) both feel ready and are protecting yourselves against pregnancy and STDs.

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What’s sex?

People define "sex" in different ways. Some people believe that it only counts as sex if a penis goes into a vagina, but this isn't true for everybody. There are lots of different ideas about what sex can be:

  • Vaginal sex (penis-in-vagina intercourse)
  • Oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact)
  • Anal sex (penis-in-anus intercourse)
  • Dry humping or genital rubbing
  • Fingering or hand jobs (hand-to-genital contact)
  • Masturbation

Most sexperts like us believe "sex" includes any or all of the above.

However you define it, being sexual with another person takes a lot of responsibility. Before you have sex, think about what things you feel comfortable doing, and if there are consequences to them (like STDs or pregnancy). It's just as important to think about what you DON'T feel comfortable doing. And if you're in the middle of doing something that you thought you wanted to do, but change your mind, that's OK, too. You can stop any time you want to.

If you're going to have vaginal, oral, or anal sex, talk with your partner about how you'll protect yourselves against STDs.

If one of you has a penis and the other has a vagina, and you're having the kinds of sex that can cause pregnancy, it's also important to use birth control if you don't want to get pregnant. 

What's an orgasm?

An orgasm is the pleasurable release of built-up muscle tension that can happen from any kind of sexual stimulation. Having an orgasm is sometimes called "coming" or "cumming." Guys tend to reach orgasm more quickly and easily than women (although this isn't true for everyone). And women are more likely to orgasm from stimulation of the clitoris than the vagina.

During an orgasm, you may feel warm, your heartbeat will race, you'll breathe harder, your face and chest might get flushed, and you'll have muscle spasms in your genitals. It's often intense and feels really good.

Men usually ejaculate when they orgasm. Some women ejaculate during sexual activity, too. People sometimes call female ejaculation "squirting." The fluid that comes out when a woman ejaculates is not urine (pee), though it may look like it. Most women don't ejaculate, but either way is normal.

Although people tend to think that having an orgasm is the "goal" of sex, many women and men get lots of pleasure from doing sexual things even if they don't have an orgasm. In fact, putting a lot of focus on having an orgasm can make you anxious, which can make sex less good.

What's oral sex?

Going down on someone. Eating someone out. Giving someone a blow job. These are all ways that people talk about oral sex — using your mouth to stimulate another person's genitals.

Some people like oral sex, and others don't. Some people like giving oral sex but don't like getting it, and some like getting it but not giving it. All of this is totally fine, and it's up to you to decide for yourself what you're comfortable with. In order to make sex better, it's important to talk about what kinds of sex you do and don't want to have. Like all kinds of sex, when having oral sex, it's important to let each other know what feels good and what doesn't.

You can't get pregnant from oral sex, but unprotected oral sex puts both people at risk for STDs. Although it's less likely you'll get an STD from oral sex than from unprotected vaginal or anal sex, safer is always better. So for safer oral sex, use a condom to cover the penis, or a Sheer Glyde dam, cut-open condom, or plastic wrap to cover the vulva or anus.

What's anal sex?

Anal sex means penis-in-anus intercourse. A lot of people enjoy anal sex, and lots of people don't like it at all. Either way is perfectly fine. If you don't like it or don't want to try it, don't let anyone pressure you into it. Sex should feel good and be safe and comfortable for both of you.

Anal sex can hurt if you're not relaxed and don't use lube (AKA, lubricant). The anus doesn't naturally make lubrication like the vagina does, so you really need to use lube for anal sex to make it feel better and keep the condom from breaking. Don't use anything with oil in it, like Vaseline, lotion, or baby oil, which can damage condoms. You can get safe lubricants in the condom aisle at drug and grocery stores.

Listen to your body. If anal sex (or any sex) hurts, stop doing it and tell your partner how you feel  — sex that's painful or uncomfortable should not continue and your partner should respect that.

You can't get pregnant from anal sex. But there's a bigger chance of getting STDs, including HIV, from unprotected anal sex. So it's important to always use condoms AND lube during anal sex to decrease the risk of STDs.

Should I talk with my parents about sex?

If you feel safe talking with your parents about sex, do it. Sure, it can be a little embarrassing, but it's definitely worth starting the conversation. Many parents and other adults you trust can offer great information and advice about sex, health, and staying safe.

One way to avoid awkwardness is to ask your parents questions about what they think about sex to show them that you respect their opinions. You could start by saying something like, "Some of my friends are having sex. What do you think about that?" Or, "How did you first learn about sex?"

Asking them questions about what it was like when they were your age or when they first started having sex is a great way to learn, get their trust, and even hear some funny or cute stories from their past. You can also try using something from a TV show or a movie to start the conversation.

Your parents will probably appreciate you being open with them and will be happy to help you find information or resources when you need them.

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What's Sex?