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Sexual Health Q+A: Your Questions Answered

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on April 27, 2022.

Can I Get Pregnant The First Time I Have Sex?

Yes, you can. You can even get pregnant if you haven't had your first period yet but are going through puberty.

Pregnancy, or more correctly, conception, happens when a viable sperm enters a viable ovum (egg). Because eggs only live for 12 to 24 hours, sex has to occur around the time of ovulation for a pregnancy to occur - specifically, the five days before ovulation through to the day of ovulation. This period of time is called the "fertile window" and reflects the lifespan of an ovum and the lifespan of sperm (around 5 days although, rarely, some sperm may last 7 days).

Sex that occurs before a first period could potentially result in a pregnancy if ovulation occurs within five to seven days of the sex. And it has done, many times, as numerous teenagers will testify.

Ovulation in many women, and in particular teenagers, can also be hard to predict if menstrual cycles are irregular. Which is why ANY stage of the menstrual cycle should be treated as a "risk period" for pregnancy until your cycles become predictable.

Pregnancy is not the only thing you need to consider before having sex. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are also prevalent; although the risk of transmission is greatly reduced by condom usage.

How Do I Ask A Partner To Use A Condom?

Bringing up condom usage with a new partner before engaging in any sexual behavior can seem "unromantic" or too business-like, especially if you think sex should be spontaneous.

But protecting your body against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or an unplanned pregnancy is not unromantic, it's smart. Talking openly and honestly about sex lets the other person know that your sexual health is important to you, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. And don't assume that just because you have talked about using a condom means that you are committed to having sex. You always have the right to say "no" if at any point sex doesn't feel OK.

Ways you can bring up condom usage include asking "You have protection, right?". If they answer no, then tell them "No deal. No condom, no sex, and no STIs". Other couples have an agreement to both keep a supply of condoms and share the cost since they both know they want to use them.

If you are young, sometimes talking about sex makes you realize that maybe you are not quite ready for it at this stage in your relationship. Sex with somebody should feel right, and you should never feel pressured into having it.

What Are My Options For Birth Control And How Effective Are They?

Birth control refers to any behavioral, hormonal, spermicidal, or physical device that is used to prevent pregnancy. Unfortunately for most, human error ("Oops the condom broke", or "I forgot to take my pill") is the reason most forms of birth control (also called contraception) fail; and this has resulted in most manufacturers rating their product's effectiveness on a dual scale: perfect use (PU) and typical use (TU). A product with a perfect use score of 97% means that for every 100 people who use that method, it is likely 3 will fall pregnant (and 97 won't). The more common methods of birth control include:

  • Condoms: A latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene sheath is put over a man's erect penis, preventing bodily fluids from transferring from one person to another. PU:97%; TU:87%.
  • The Pill (contains estrogen and progesterone-like hormones): A pill is taken at roughly the same time each day that suppresses ovulation and thickens cervical mucus. PU:99.7%; TU:93%.
  • The Minipill (contains a progesterone-like hormone): A pill is taken at exactly the same time each day that thickens cervical mucus and thins the lining of the endometrium. PU:99%; TU:92%.
  • Intrauterine devices: These contain either copper (eg, ParaGard) or the hormone levonorgestrel (eg, Mirena, Skyla, and Liletta) and are inserted into the uterus where they can remain in place for 3, 6, or 10 years depending on the type. PU:>99%; TU>99%.
  • The Shot (Depo-Provera): A progestin injection is given every three months that suppresses ovulation, thickens cervical mucus and thins the endometrial lining. PU:99.8%; TU:94%.
  • Nexplanon: A flexible rod about 1.5 inches long is inserted via a small cut into the upper arm and releases progestin. Lasts up to three years. PU:99.95%; TU:99.95%.
  • Today Sponge: Single-use polyurethane sponge that contains spermicide is inserted into the vagina and must stay in place for six hours after sex. PU:80-91%; TU:76-88%.
  • The Withdrawal Method: The penis is withdrawn from the vagina before ejaculation. PU:96%; TU:73%.

There are many other forms of birth control including Nuvaring, Ortho-Evra, diaphragms, cervical caps, female condoms, and abstinence. Talk to your doctor or Planned Parenthood clinic about which option is right for you.

What Are The Symptoms Of An STI?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) - also referred to as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are common and easy to catch. Trouble is, many of them have no symptoms, which means you will continue to pass on the infection to others until you are treated. Some, such as genital herpes, genital warts, syphilis and HIV can still be spread even if you use condoms.

The longer you leave an STI untreated, the more damage it can do. STIs have been associated with pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, pregnancy complications, cancer, and enhanced transmission of HIV. While some people may experience an unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, pain or bleeding in the genital region, or flu-like symptoms as the result of an STI; the only definite way to know if you are infected is to get tested. Most clinics or your doctor can carry out testing which may involve a physical examination of the genitals, a urine or blood test, or swabs being taken from the vagina, penis or mouth. Some STIs, such as HIV, syphilis or hepatitis may require a blood test.

Unfortunately, the only truly effective way to protect against STIs is abstinence, unless both partners are in a monogamous relationship and have been tested and found to be free of STIs. And that means abstinence from kissing and skin-to-skin contact as well, since syphilis, herpes, and some other infections can be transferred through saliva and HPV through close skin contact. Ensure you get tested for STIs regularly, especially before entering a new relationship. And insist any new partner gets tested too.

Are There Any Vaccines That Will Protect Me Against STIs?

Currently, there are three vaccines that offer protection against the following infections that can be sexually transmitted: human papilloma virus (HPV), hepatitis A (HAV) and hepatitis B (HBV). In the future, vaccines against HIV and herpes simplex virus (HSV), and hopefully other STIs, should also become available.

There are at least 200 different types of HPVs, and officials have determined that 4 in 10 U.S. adults carry at least one of the 40 types that are easily spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Some of these are considered low risk, in that they do not cause cancer, but can cause genital warts. Experts have determined that 90% of all genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11. High-risk HPV types, especially HPV 16 and HPV 18, have been associated with cancer of the cervix, vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat, neck, and head. Gardasil 9 is an HPV vaccine that prevents against diseases caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58, and is recommended for females and males aged 9 through 45, although older people may still benefit from vaccination.

HAV infection usually produces a short-lasting disease that does not result in long-term liver disease, although 10%–15% experience a relapse of symptoms within the first six months. Vaccination against HAV should be considered for sexual contacts of people with HAV, men who have sex with men, and injection drug users.

All sexually active people should consider vaccination against HBV unless they have already been vaccinated. HBV is a serious liver disease that is 100 times more infectious than HIV. It is found in blood and other bodily fluids such as semen and vaginal secretions and chronic infection can result in liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.

What Are The Signs Of An Unhealthy Relationship?

Every relationship has its ups and downs but in a healthy relationship, you should be able to talk things out together to reach a compromise that works for both of you.

Sometimes relationships start out healthy but become toxic or unhealthy over time. An unhealthy realationship does not just mean physically abusive. It may be verbally, emotionally, or financially abusive instead. If your relationship makes you feel drained, lonely, afraid, or pressured to do something you don't want to do, then chances are it is unhealthy. Other warning signs of an unhealthy relationship include:

  • Looking to others, instead of your partner, for emotional support
  • Your partner makes it hard for you or discourages you from hanging out with your family or friends
  • Your partner implies that you are stupid, and dissuades you from doing something new because it would be outside your ability
  • Your partner does not accept "no" for an answer or scoffs at your answers
  • You are unable to identify any positive influences your partner has on your life
  • You can identify several ways in which you have negatively influenced each other, such as heavy drinking, smoking, or drugs
  • Your partner only identifies things that are wrong with your body, such as your weight, thinning hair, or the size of your breasts; and never compliments you even when you dress up
  • You feel lonely when you are together
  • You are happier when you are apart.

Even though you may recognize your relationship as unhealthy, it can be hard to leave somebody you care about. But it is important to take care of yourself. Confide in a good friend or family member and ask for their support to help you leave. Even though things may be tough initially, it is usually only a matter of time before you can be you again.

What Is Sexual Harassment And How Can I Make It Stop?

Sexual harassment is any sort of unwanted or unwelcomed sexual attention that makes you feel uncomfortable or prevents you from feeling safe in your day-to-day environment, such as your school, work, or at home.

It can take the form of unwanted comments about your body or your looks that are called out as you walk past or are posted on FaceBook. It may take the form of "accidental" touching of your butt or breasts or a discussion about your attractiveness with other workmates or school friends. Some people may propagate rumors about you or keep asking for dates or hookups, even after you have repeatedly said no. Any circumstance that demands sex or a similar exchange in return for a pay rise, promotion, or good grade at school is considered sexual harassment.

If telling the harasser that their behavior is unwanted and needs to stop is unsuccessful, tell an adult or senior colleague who you can trust. The majority of schools and workplaces have an obligation to follow up on claims of sexual harassment. Diary exactly what the person did including the date, time, and place; and document exactly how you responded. If the first person you told doesn't do anything about it, tell somebody else until you get a result. Nobody should have to put up with sexual harassment!

Finished: Sexual Health Q+A: Your Questions Answered

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  • Women’s guide to getting the timing right. Your Fertility. 2022.
  • Sexual health. NHS Choices.
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  • How do they test for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)? When can I get tested for an STD? Sex, etc. 2021.
  • I think I’m being harassed. What exactly is sexual harassment, and how can I make it stop? Sex, etc. 2022
  • Vaccines. American Sexual Health Association. 2022

Further information

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