Get Real! Why Am I So Paranoid About Sex?

Heather Corinna

It's not paranoid to be concerned about pregnancy with sexual activities which can result in pregnancy. It's not paranoid to worry about pregnancy happening when it isn't what you want or are ready for.

alsexnikkah asks:

I’m 13. I want to have sex really bad but I still don’t have a
boyfriend and blah blah blah. I KNOW how to not have sex with a guy
that I JUST met. I like to go out with a guy for awhile before I do
anything like sex. But when I do have a boyfriend for like a year I
would like to have sex. But I am always freaking out about getting
pregnant! But I can’t wait if I find someone that I like for awhile and
stuff! And like I would like to do oral. But I am scared if I will get
herpes or something. I’m always so paranoid about this! :|

Heather replies:

I dig in here, I want to make clear that I don’t think there is any one
right age, right time, or right kind of relationship for everyone when
it comes to what makes sex right or best. That varies from
person-to-person a lot, and isn’t usually based on something as simple
as only how old we are. I do think — and working with people and their
sex lives for as long as I have, feel comfortable saying I know —
there are some core things that tend to make for best sexual choices
with people of every age, though, so I want to address some of those
with you. I also want to present some things which are going to
be more challenging for you with partnered sex at your age, things
which often won’t be as challenging just a few short years from now.

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I hope you’ll know that my interest is in doing what I can to help people figure out what’s right for them
sexually, not what I or anyone else thinks is right for you. I want
everyone to have a sex life — whenever they have it, and at every
stage of your life — that’s beneficial to you, that’s healthy, and
that’s about where you’re at right now and who you are right now.
here’s hoping I can help you figure that out for yourself.

First let’s unpack in this is the idea that worrying about sexually
transmitted infections has anything to do with paranoia. It doesn’t.

To be paranoid about something means to have irrational or
delusional concerns. If I was worried that penguins from Mars were
going to sneak into my house at night to do experiments on my pug, that
would be paranoid. Being certain I was going to become pregnant via
oral sex or from a toilet seat are also things we could say are
paranoid, since pregnancy can’t happen those ways.

Sexually transmitted infections are very real and very common,
especially among young people: those under 24 have the fastest rising
rate of STIs. That’s because of where you’re body is at with its
development and because young people so often go without safer sex,
don’t get tested and treated for STIs too often — and the younger
someone is, the more likely it is safe behaviors don’t happen — and
tend to switch partners more frequently than many older people do. All
that while at the same time, young people often come to sexual
partnerships assuming they’ll be lifelong and singular even though
that’s rarely the case. While STIs are far more often transmitted via
vaginal or anal intercourse, some STIs can also be transmitted orally,
such as Chlamydia, HIV and, yep, Herpes.

Pregnancy is also very real. It’s not paranoid to be concerned about
pregnancy with sexual activities which can result in pregnancy. It’s
not paranoid to worry about pregnancy happening when it isn’t what you
want or are ready for. You absolutely should be concerned with both
these things, and do what you can to prevent them if you don’t want
those outcomes, either by taking a pass on the kinds of sex where they
are potential results or by doing things like using safer sex and
reliable methods of birth control.

Age-in-years, all by itself, is not usually the best way to figure
out if someone is ready, or in a good place in their life, for
partnered sex. But even though age-in-years isn’t all there is to these
choices, let’s also not kid ourselves.

13 is very young when it comes to partnered sex,
especially genital sex like oral sex or intercourse. Just so you have a
sound idea about the sex lives of others your age, especially since a
lot of young people aren’t honest with each other about sex, in the
United States, less than 13% of teens under 15 have had sex with a
partner. For those who have intercourse, most teens do so for the first
time around 17. What’s best for your peers may or may not be best for
you, but those figures are smart to consider: there are reasons most
teens wait until they’re older than 13 to have sexual partners.

Very few countries — and no states in the United States — have an
age of consent that is as low as 13. Many states provide a window in
which some or all sexual activities between same-age partners below the
age of consent are lawful, but there are usually still some
restrictions even then. In the United States, it is not lawful in most states for you to terminate a pregnancy
without a parent being notified or giving their permission. While you
or I may or may not agree with some or all of these laws and policies,
they are what they are, regardless, and can impact you or any sexual
partners you may have.

At 13, you probably don’t have the resources you need to get your
own sexual healthcare and contraception by yourself, or to manage an
accidental pregnancy (not to mention dealing with the emotional and
practical aspects of that). Even just getting transportation to those
services may be tricky for you. At 13, you’re probably having a tough
time with the family you’ve got: some sex does pose risks of pregnancy,
and dealing with a kid on top of your family is likely more than you
can handle or want to handle. Let’s also be frank: at your young age, a
pregnancy could pose some serious risks to your health. At 13, you
probably won’t feel able to be honest with your folks or even some of
your friends about having sex, which would make it a secret: not a good
recipe for a healthy sexuality. Sex can present challenges and hard
feelings sometimes even without unwanted outcomes, and to have a
healthy sex life, we usually need some good support from people we
aren’t having sex with.

At 13, you and your friends are just getting used to having sexual feelings
about one another, and have usually barely gotten started learning how
to manage those feelings, let alone enact them with genital sex. You
may find that partners or friends are without the maturity
to handle you being sexual with kindness and care: some people can be
very cruel to the youngest people when they’re sexually active, and
that can really hurt and become very isolating. You and partners also
may not even feel that comfortable with your bodies all by yourselves,
yet: if we rush in to intimacy, we can wind up feeling very overexposed
and insecure. Many people your age don’t have the communication skills
yet for a sex life that’s healthy, safe and equitable. You may not feel
able to be assertive enough with every partner, for example, to make
clear that you want to reduce your risks of STIs and need a partner to
use safer sex with you. (And since a lot of people assume that the
youngest teens are easy to take advantage of sexually, you may need
those skills even more than someone older does.) Developing that kind
of confidence and assertiveness, especially with sex, tends to be
something that takes young people some time, and which few people at 13
are very good at just yet. A lot of women still aren’t great at it at
30, but they also usually have better resources than you do. While an
STI, unwanted pregnancy or having a partner tell friends you’re a slut
isn’t something anyone wants, older people won’t tend to find their
lives, well-being or health as derailed by things like that as someone
your age can.

One other thing we know statistically is that the younger a person is, the more unrealistic
their expectations of sex tend to be. So, when younger teens say they
want sex, they usually have an idea of what it is that doesn’t resemble
reality or meet those expectations. Statistically, the younger someone
starts being sexually active — when we’re talking about genital sex
like oral sex and intercourse — the more often they later report it
was either unwanted or unpleasant for them. In other words, we don’t
hear from many young women your age who are sexually active in that way
where everything is awesome: quite the opposite, really. With anything
in life, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try something that can carry
a lot of risks unless we’re pretty sure it’s going to be worth it. And
if your expectations aren’t sound, we can’t assess that very well.

When your expectations are more realistic, for example, you’ll know
that just being with someone for a certain amount of time and having
sexual feelings about them isn’t enough to decide if someone is a good
choice in a sexual partner. The quality of the relationship you’re in
with someone matters a lot, so, when we’re considering a partner, we
usually pay attention to how they treat us and others, we listen to how
they talk about sex to know if they have the maturity for it, we see
how they deal with other parts of life and our relationships which
require a lot of care and responsibility.

Lastly, as I’ve also talked about here at the site before, it’s
really tough for us to know what sexual activities we might want to do
in the abstract. For example, I like oral sex a lot, and do know what
it’s like, but that doesn’t mean I am going to want to do it with just
anyone, or with every partner at any given time. And there have been
things in my life I wanted to try in the abstract, expecting I’d like
them, but discovered I didn’t, or didn’t in a certain context or
relationship. There have been things I didn’t think I’d like or have
interest in which I’ve discovered I did. One thing we know about sex
and sexuality is that it often tends to surprise us.

I think in some ways, you’re putting the cart before the horse. You
CAN wait for partnered sex, of any and every kind, until it’s something
both you and whomever else you have it with are both ready for it,
including until a relationship has all of what you want and need in it.
And if you really, truly feel you can’t — if you feel you cannot
control your own actions — then that’s a sure sign that sex right now
would be a very poor choice for you. For sex with others to be healthy,
the people involved need to be able to have a good deal of
self-control, as well as the ability to think clearly and not too

What I hear you saying through your question is that you’re feeling
very scared about unwanted outcomes with sex, and that you also have
yet to find yourself in a relationship which has what you need in order
to be okay with sexual partnership. Additionally, you make clear that
you are feeling sexual desires very strongly, which you’re having a
tough time with and I also hear you saying that you worry you can’t
control your own sexual actions or choices if you meet someone you like.

To me, all that suggests that the best thing for you when it comes
to genital sex right now is probably simply to masturbate. Masturbation
is something we can all do — and the majority of all people do
masturbate — to meet our own sexual needs, to answer our own sexual
desires, to experience a release of those pent-up sexual feelings that
can make us feel so antsy sometimes. It’s also a great way to get to
know your own body and sexual responses, which is valuable to you, but
also will be valuable when you do have sexual partners. Extra bonus?
Unless you’re masturbating with hands or other objects that aren’t
clean, you don’t have to worry about STIs. You also don’t have to worry
about pregnancy or about someone else’s sexual wants and needs. When
we’re not feeling ready for or up to all that partnered sex requires,
or who we’d choose as partners aren’t, masturbation is a great answer,
whether that time of not having all we need for good, healthy sex with
partners happens when we’re 13 or 33. And it will tend to happen more
than once in our lives. Too? Most men and women do not reach orgasm for
the first time, and learn to be orgasmic, with a partner, but with

The idea, should you have it, that sexual needs can only be met by
sexual partnership isn’t sound. Plenty of people in sexual partnerships
find their sexual needs are not met, even when those
partnerships have some things they want and need, such as a given level
of commitment or having what they need to take care of their health.
It’s also very common for younger women to find they have a
particularly tough time getting both emotional and physical needs met
in early sexual relationships, especially if they happen too soon for
them or their partners. Masturbation meets most people’s physical needs
when it comes to sex, as well as many emotional needs. It is different
from partnered sex in that a) there are some things you really can’t do
only by yourself, and b) there are emotional wants and needs, like
having companionship, that can’t be met with masturbation. However,
this is another area where very young people’s expectations are often
unrealistic. If you think partnered sex is, sexually, RADICALLY
different than masturbation is — especially physically, where it’s
most similar — chances are that your ideas about what partnered sex
can or will provide are off-kilter.

Plus, it doesn’t sound like you’re not currently with someone you
are interested in a sexual relationship with, so it doesn’t make sense
to get too hung up on making sexual choices with partners just yet. And
when all of this is abstract — it’s not about another person you
actually are involved with and know well — none of us can know what we
want in a real way: we can only know what our fantasy is about what sex
could be like.

Way back at the top of the page, I mentioned that in even just a few
years, this is likely to be a pretty different situation. That might
seem hard to fathom, because it’s so easy to feel like the way we are
is how we’ll always be, but know that in the teen years, we change a
LOT and often very quickly and unpredictably. Who we are at 13 is often
very different from who we are at 16. What we’re capable of handling
and what kinds of skills and resources we have at 17 usually differs
from what we’ve got going on at 14. Later on in life, we don’t see such
big changes from, say, being 35 to being 40. But in a lot of ways,
adolescence is all about enormous changes happening all the time, and
every single year often bringing a world of differences with it. The
fact of the matter is that based on all we know, sex with a partner for
you now is way less likely to be something you both enjoy and that is
healthy for you all around than it is in a few years.

Don’t forget that for most people, sex is something progressive. In
other words, rather than leaping right to oral sex or intercourse, more
young people will spend months or years with things we call
"outercourse" like kissing and making out, dry sex (people rubbing
their bodies together while clothed) or petting ("feeling up"):
activities where there is not direct, unclothed genital contact. That
often makes sense, especially when all of sex is new, because spending
time with those things helps you and a partner get to know one another,
get practice communicating about sex with lower-risk activities, and
helps you make good choices about if a given partner is someone you
even want to do more with.

For now, you can certainly take the time you need to find out about
how to protect yourself as best you can from unwanted outcomes like
STIs, and how you can talk about that together with a potential partner
to make agreements. Reducing the risk of STIs is about practicing safer
sex with partners, not about being with someone for a certain amount of
time. That means a combination of behaviors you both do which include
using latex barriers and getting tested. To find out more about how to
practice safer sex and what it entails, check out the links I’ll give
you at the end of this page.

You also can research reliable methods of birth control now, and
find out how to use them right. If we’re going to have intercourse with
someone, using reliable methods of birth control consistently and
correctly is what reduces the risk of unwanted pregnancy, just like
practicing safer sex massively reduces the risk of STIs. You can also
take formative steps now to choose healthy relationships where you’re
not only cared for and treated with respect, but where everyone is on
board and committed to sex and everything around it being healthy and

I’d encourage you to trust your instincts in this. Often, when we
feel really nervous about something, or fearful, it’s for good reason.
Fear is how our minds and bodies give us cues about what is and isn’t
safe. I think right now a lot of why you’re feeling fearful now is
because sex would probably be too much, too soon for you. When it
isn’t, and when you’ve also been with someone who you care for and have
had time to build some trust with — as well as time to find out about
how to prevent unwanted outcomes of sex — I think you’ll feel a lot
better and less freaked about all of this.

Last but not least, I’d encourage you to talk to an adult in your
life you trust and who loves you about all of this in-person, rather
than just interacting with someone like me who doesn’t know you or your
life: you could talk to a parent or guardian, an older sibling, a
doctor, a teacher, a counselor, a coach, a mentor. Someone who knows
you is going to have a better idea of what you probably are and are not
ready to handle, and can probably better help you suss out your own
unique needs than I can. I also will again say that if anything at all
in our lives has to be a huge secret from the people who love us, it
usually isn’t good news. I know it can be intimidating to talk to
adults about sex, but it usually is worth taking that plunge so you
have someone who cares for you and has some perspective to connect with
about this.

I’m going to leave you with some links to look at, to figure out
your real readiness right now and to get a handle on what you’ll need
to do with things like managing risks of pregnancy and sexually
transmitted infections. So, look things like this over, then be sure to
give yourself the time and space to digest and process them.
Opportunities for sex really don’t go away, and as I like to remind
people of all ages, the good stuff that feels good on all levels is
always worth waiting for, especially since the substandard stuff not
only can be a real bummer, it can also result in some rough unwanted
consequences, too.

Editorial Media

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Jodi Jacobson

Every month, CREDO Mobile, the country's only progressive phone company, allocates $150,000 to be given away to three nonprofit groups. How much of the donation each group gets depends on the number of votes they receive. And we are asking you to take a moment to vote for Rewire.

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You read that right: Everyone wins.

Every month, CREDO Mobile, the country’s only progressive phone company, allocates $150,000 to be given away to three nonprofit groups. How much of the donation each group gets depends on the number of votes they receive. And we are asking you to take a moment to vote for Rewire.

Rewire is an independent nonprofit online publication dedicated solely to publishing the best possible news, analysis, commentary, investigative research, and multimedia work on reproductive and sexual health, rights, and justice every day. We do so with a relatively small team of incredibly dedicated editors and reporters; tech, communications, and social media experts; multimedia professionals; and razor-sharp financial and management staff who work to ensure we spend every dollar wisely. We also have a dedicated board of directors who oversee our work.

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Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.


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