Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy's (ACAP) "Ask Alex"

Page updated on Mar 9, 2020 at 10:15 AM


When should you have sex?

You should have sex when you’re ready both physically and emotionally.  This can mean different things for everyone.  It’s best to be in a committed relationship where you can talk with your partner about sex…including what you want and don’t want, how you will prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  You should think about and answer some of the following questions:

  • How will sex impact your relationship?
  • Does having sex now match your values? 
  • What would your parents think?
  • What would you do if you got a sexually transmitted infection or pregnant?
  • Am I being pressured by someone to have sex?
  • Can I talk openly with my partner?

Choosing when to have sex is a big decision and there’s a lot to think about.  Make sure you spend some time thinking about it and answering the questions before making a decision.

How do you know when you're in love?

Being in love is different for everyone. In general, love involves being in a healthy caring relationship. It involves trust and respect – giving it as well as receiving it. This person that you are in love with makes you happy and you feel comfortable with him/her. You might feel like you would do anything for them and that they would do the same for you. There’s passion and excitement. You help each other out. You share the good times and bad times. Usually there is a strong physical or sexual attraction even if you’re not sexually active. These are just some of the ways you can tell if you’re in love.  Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between being in love and lust.  That will take time to figure out.  So take things slow and enjoy the relationship.

How do you prevent sexually transmitted diseases/infections?

If you have unprotected sex (oral, anal, vaginal), you put yourself at risk for contracting over 30 types of sexually transmitted infections.  While abstinence (not having oral, anal or vaginal sex) is the only way to stay 100% safe, the next best way to prevent STIs is using condoms (male or female) every time you have sex.  Many STIs do not have signs or symptoms so be sure to get tested if you’ve had unprotected sex and before you have sex with a new partner.

I'm gay. How do I tell my parents? 

If telling your parents is a good move (physically, mentally, emotionally) then think about when, where, and how you want to have the conversation.  Set a date with your parents and let them know that you want to talk to them about something very important.  Talk to a trusted adult, like a school counselor, and practice the "talk".  Parents react in different ways.  Be prepared for them to be shocked, upset, sad, in denial, accepting, loving, etc.  They may have lots of questions.  Have resources for them like PFLAG - Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians or Gays ( so that they can seek support if needed.  Make sure you have someone you can reach out to after the talk like a good friend, family member, teacher or counselor.  Check out or for more information.

Is it illegal for a 22 year old to be in a relationship with a 16 year old? 

Yes, it is if it is a sexual relationship.  There are laws to protect young teens (under 18) from adults (over 18 years old) who might prey on you or try to take advantage of someone who’s younger.  Sometimes the older person might use things (money, transportation, expensive items) that they have to get what they want.  For example, they may say I’ll drive you to school and pick you up, but I need something in return, like sex.  Every state has different laws regarding minors and age of consent (when you are able to say yes to sex). 

Beyond the law there are other reasons not to have relationships with an older person.  A 16 year old and a 22 year old are more likely to be in very different places in their lives.  While you might be trying to concentrate on high school, the older partner might be in a full-time job.  You might need to study at night but he/she doesn’t.  The 16 year old probably lives with their parents and have certain rules to follow.  A 22 year old probably lives on his/her own and follows their own rules, which may conflict with the rules for the 16 year old.  These are just some things to consider when thinking about relationships between teens and adults.

What is a spermicidal lubricant? Does it help protect against pregnancy? 

Spermicidal lubricant is a special unscented, clear, unflavored, and non-staining liquid with the properties of a spermicide. It usually comes as a separate spermicide contraceptive in the form of foams, gels, creams, etc. with gliding effect. Spermicidal lubricant contains the chemicals non-oxynol 9 (N-9) or octoxynol that prevent pregnancy by immobilizing and killing sperm. Spermicidal lubricants used alone without a condom can provide decent protection against pregnancy. If a couple uses spermicides alone correctly every time they have intercourse, about 6% of them will become pregnant. However, not all couples use spermicides every time and they don't always use the spermicide correctly, so the average pregnancy rate is about 21%. Spermicidal lubricant also does not prevent transmission of some diseases and infections, including HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, genital herpes, gonorrhea, etc.

I just learned I am pregnant and I'm afraid to tell my parents. What should I say to them? 

Since you are pregnant, it is very important to talk to your parents or another trusted adult you may know such as a teacher, a counselor, someone else's parent, or a doctor or nurse at a teen clinic near you. Your parents may be upset at first, but they will more than likely be able to help you confront this challenge. I suggest you sit them down, tell them calmly what you are facing, and be completely honest about the whole situation. At the very worst, they will be disappointed, but you will need their support more than ever during this time. Seek their advice about your future and help them walk you through the important decisions you will face, rather than trying to go it alone.

When is the most likely time during my menstrual cycle that I might get pregnant? Is there any "safe" time to have sex without protection and not get pregnant? 

There is never a "safe" time to have sex without contraception and avoid the risk of pregnancy. You may get pregnant anytime during your cycle, especially if you choose to have sex without using contraception. The most likely time during your cycle that you might get pregnant occurs when you are more fertile. Your fertility is highest during the day that you ovulate, and up to five days prior to that time. Your ovulation day typically occurs approximately 14-16 days after the first day of your last period. However, every woman's cycle varies and many teen girls have very unpredictable cycles, making it extremely difficult to determine when you might ovulate. To be certain about preventing pregnancy, be abstinent or reduce your risk by always using one or more methods of contraception every time you have sex.

I've heard Emergency Contraception is now sold at pharmacies. What is it, how does it work, and who is allowed to buy it?

Emergency Contraception is designed to prevent fertilization between the egg and sperm. During the time between intercourse and conception, sperm continue to travel through the fallopian tube until the egg appears. Emergency Contraception is like taking emergency birth control the "morning after" because it still isn't too late to prevent pregnancy. The pill can stop conception from occurring. The active ingredients in Emergency Contraception are similar to those in birth control pills, except in higher doses. Some Emergency Contraceptives contain only one hormone, progestin, and others contain two, progestin and estrogen. Progestin prevents the sperm from reaching the egg and keeps a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus (implantation). Estrogen stops the ovaries from releasing eggs (ovulation) that can be fertilized by sperm. The first dose should be taken no later than 72 hours after unprotected sex, followed by the second dose 12 hours later. It can reduce a woman's risk of pregnancy by 89% when taken exactly as directed. Emergency Contraception has three possible ways in which it can work.

  1. Ovulation is inhibited so the egg will not be released;
  2. The normal menstrual cycle is altered, delaying ovulation; or
  3. It can irritate the lining of the uterus so that if the first and second actions fail, the lining of the uterus will not allow the embryo to attach to it.

Emergency Contraception is available to women 18 years and older without a prescription at most pharmacies. Women must show proof of age to purchase it. For women 17 years old and younger, it is available with a doctor's prescription.

Have questions about love, sex, or relationships?  Text the word “SEX” or “ACAP” to 30644.  Responses are usually made within 24 -48 hours.  This is not a hotline and not intended for emergencies.