You have probably heard the word ‘sex’ around friends, in TV shows and movies or online. But what does it actually mean? Sex can mean different things to different people. The term “having sex” often means when a penis is put inside another person’s vagina – this can also be called ‘sexual intercourse’ or ‘penetration’. But sex is not just vaginal penetration; there are lots of other forms of sex too.
What you define as sex might be based on your culture, values, belief system, gender or sexual orientation, and what you feel comfortable with. Other kinds of sex or ‘sexual activities’ include:
- Kissing (using lips and/or toungue to kiss another person’s lips or another part of their body – might be called a pash, making out or necking)
- Masturbation (touching your own genitals alone in a private place to feel good sexually – might be called jacking off or wanking)
- Manual stimulation (using hands or fingers to touch another person’s genitals – might be called a hand job or fingering)
- Oral sex (using the mouth, tongue and lips to touch another person’s genitals – might be called a blow job or going down)
- Anal sex (putting a penis, finger or sex toy into a person’s anus or butthole – might be call butt stuff or anal)
- Mutual masturbation (using your hands or a sex toy to pleasure yourself at the same time your partner touches themselves)
- Intimate touching, or dry rubbing (pressing someone’s body up against their partner’s, usually laying down, and cuddling or humping fully clothed – might be called dry humping)
Who’s doing it?
Not everyone has sex – some people don’t feel like it or may not have a partner or anyone that they want to have sex with and that’s ok too. Sex can feel like a big step, so it is important you wait until you feel ready and comfortable to do it. This might be a different time to your friends and peers, and that is ok. Everyone becomes ready in their own time. Check out our page on relationships and things to think about when deciding if you are ready to have sex.
Are you feeling uncertain about sex? Do you feel like everyone is doing it but you? Don’t worry – you’re not alone!
Less than half of year 10, 11 and 12 students in NSW have ever had sex! Most of those who said they hadn’t had sex felt good about their decision to wait. Most students who already had sex discussed it with their partner before they did, and most of them used *protection*!
Why do people have sex?
People have sex for fun, to feel good, to make a partner feel good or they might want to become pregnant to have a baby. Sex can be a fun and exciting way to connect with another person or with yourself and your own body. Sex is a normal and natural thing as long as it is done safely. Having sex also come with some risks like sexually transmissible infections (STIs) and, becoming pregnant if you don’t want to be.
Pleasure and orgasm
Sometimes sex can lead to an orgasm. An orgasm is usually a sudden, strong feeling or rush of pleasure during sexual activity. During an orgasm, muscles around your genitals might tighten and relax, you might feel hot and your skin might get flushed or rosy. This typically lasts somewhere from a few seconds up to a minute or two!
If you have a penis, there will usually be a release of a white, thick fluid when an orgasm happens. This is called an ejaculation. The fluid is called semen, and it has millions of microscopic sperm inside. People with a vulva might also have a release of fluid when they orgasm or they might not. Orgasms are different for everyone and can look and feel different depending on the person.
Sometimes during sexual activity only one partner will have an orgasm, or sometimes no one will have an orgasm – this is all normal. Sex can still be very enjoyable without an orgasm.
STIs and Unplanned Pregnancy
Unprotected sex means sex without a condom or contraception meaning there could be a risk of pregnancy (if it is penis in vagina sex) and getting an STI.
Protected sex means that:
- you are using a condom which is a barrier form of contraception; and/or
- you and your partner have been tested to make sure you don’t have an STI; and
- you are using contraception to protect against pregnancy if you don’t want to become pregnant.
It is important that you use protection each time you have sex if you do not wish to get pregnant or if there is a risk of transmitting an STI.
Consent and Healthy Relationships
Sex should only happen between people of legal age who consent to that sexual activity. In NSW, the legal age of consent is 16. Consent for sex means that a person has all the information about the sexual activity they are planning to engage in, are sober or in a clear state of mind, and they want to participate.
Consent needs to be given every time for every kind of sexual act, even if the type of sexual activity changes throughout sex. Everybody will feel comfortable or uncomfortable with different things and it is important to know your own boundaries, communicate about them and respect the boundaries of others. This means that if you or your partner are uncomfortable at any point or don’t want to have sex, you should stop and talk about it.
For more information about how to give or get consent for sex check out our section on consent and respectful relationships.
Fisher, C. M., Waling, A., Kerr, L., Bellamy, R., Ezer, P., Mikolajczak, G., Brown, G., Carman, M. & Lucke, J. 2019. 6th National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2018, (ARCSHS Monograph Series No. 113), Bundoora: Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health & Society, La Trobe University.