Young people feel a lot of pressure to have sex, both from themselves and from other people.

All those hormones!  Everyone else is doing it!  Songs, videos, memes, our whole culture is saturated with sex.  The fact is, however, that on average only about half of high school students have had sex, and the average age when people start having sex is 17, according to Planned Parenthood.

How do you know if it’s the right time for you to start having sex? Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you get caught up in the heat of the moment. You can talk to your doctor, your parent, a counselor, or an adult you trust to help you find the answers that are right for you.

1) How do I feel emotionally about sex?

Will having sex change how I feel about my partner? Am I able to talk to my partner about what I feel, and what I do and don’t want to do?  Do I have someone else I can talk to about sex who can answer my questions?  If my partner or I get pregnant, do I have an adult I can talk to? Use these five questions to help you figure out how you feel.

2) Do I know how to protect myself and my partner?

Do I know where to get birth control and condoms? Do I have a type of birth control that works for me? Do I know how to schedule a confidential visit with a doctor or nurse if I have questions?  Do I know where my partner and I can get tested for STDs/STIs, including HIV?

3) What do I need to know about sex?

Do I know what the different kinds of sex are, and how to be safe? Do I know how to protect myself from STDs/STIs, including HIV?  Do I know how to put on a condom?

With all its variety, there are three basic kinds of sex: vaginal, when something, often a penis, fingers, or sex toy goes into the vagina; anal, when something, often a penis, fingers, or sex toy goes into the anus; and oral, any mouth to genital (penis, vagina or anus) contact.  Using condoms during vaginal, anal and oral sex can lower risk for STIs, including HIV. Condoms and birth control can prevent an unwanted pregnancy from vaginal sex.

If you live in the New York City area, you can come to the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential sexual and reproductive health services, as well as primary care, mental health, social services, health education, prescriptions, dental and optical care, and specialized services for LGBTQ adolescents.

It’s okay if you’re not ready for sex yet. Everyone is different.  Your values, your culture, your goals and who you are all influence how you feel about sex.  What’s important is that you are able to say “no” or “yes” and feel listened to, and safe.

The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 10,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.