How Do I Know When I Am Ready for Sex

Author: Mary Beth Bonacci


by Mary Beth Bonacci

"How do I know when I am ready for sex?"

If I had a quarter for every time I've been asked this question, I'd be a very rich woman.

I shouldn't be surprised. Every single television show with a female teenage cast member has had at least one episode where she's being pressured for sex, but decides not to because she "doesn't feel ready."

Do you ever wonder about these girls? How do they know? What determines whether or not they're ready for sex? Is it some kind of alarm that goes off in their heads? Some version of the biological clock? And what good does it do them to be ready? Does being "ready" make sex any different? Any better? Does it protect them from anything?

I debated a sexologist on a TV show once. (Yes, she really was a sexologist. She had her doctorate in sexology. Don't ask.) She said that sex is okay for teenagers when they've encountered their "sensation of readiness," which she likened to "the feeling you get when you can dive off the diving board and not climb back down the ladder."

How helpful.

The problem with her approach, and with the whole "ready" thing, is that it relies strictly on feelings. But feelings, unfortunately, are inside of us, and they can change rather frequently. (In my case, every 4.5 seconds or so.) Feelings alone aren't very helpful in making decisions.

For instance, if you're trying to decide whether to dive off of a diving board, would the most important question be how ready you feel? Maybe you feel very ready. Maybe you've visualized the perfect dive. Maybe your form is perfect, and your bathing suit looks great. You feel ready. But there's no water in the pool.

Will "feeling ready" help you? No. You're going to die as soon as you hit, and it doesn't matter how ready you "felt." Feelings are inside of you, but the pool is outside, and it doesn't care how you feel.

Sex is the same way. When someone goes to the doctor with a sexually transmitted disease, the doctor doesn't say, "You had a sexual relationship before you felt ready, didn't you? If you had felt ready, this never would have happened."

Sexual activity carries very real consequences. Sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy are two of the more obvious problems. A million teenage girls get pregnant every year. And I'm sure you're all aware of the frightening epidemic of AIDS, and the fact that teenagers seem to be at particularly high risk. There are other diseases you may not hear so much about. Herpes is a painful, incurable sexually transmitted disease which is said to affect up to 50 percent of sexually active, single Americans. The Human Pappilomavirus (HPV) causes sexually transmitted warts. The frightening thing about HPV is that these warts are often pre-cancerous growths, leading directly to cancers of the reproductive system. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection which can leave a girl permanently sterile without even having any symptoms. "Feeling ready" won't protect you from any of this. Nor will it protect you from the emotional and spiritual consequences that come with premarital sexual activity. We'll discuss them later.

So enough of the gross stuff. The point today is just this--decisions about sexual activity are difficult to make in today's world. There are a whole lot of people shoving a whole lot of different information at you. And a lot of people make decisions about sex by spending a lot of time talking about whether or not they feel "ready."

It doesn't work. Being really ready for sex means understanding all of the consequences--physical, emotional and spiritual. Being ready means being in a situation where you don't have to fear any consequences. It means being with one permanently faithful partner who won't leave you and won't infect you. It means being in a situation where pregnancy doesn't have to be feared. It means living our sexuality the way God, who invented the whole system, planned it.

Sounds like marriage to me.

Bonacci is a frequent lecturer on marriage.

This article appeared in the April 27, 1995 issue of "The Arlington Catholic Herald."

Courtesy of the "Arlington Catholic Herald" diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese. For subscription information, call 1-800-377-0511 or write 200 North Glebe Road, Suite 607 Arlington, VA 22203.