Research published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health shows that four in 10 women and one in four men didn’t feel they picked the ‘right’ time for their first sexual encounter.
The latest National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles poll revealed many people didn’t feel ‘ready’ to have sex when they did.
Researchers questioned 2,825 sexually experienced British people between the ages of 17 and 24 about their experience of losing their virginity.
Participants were quizzed about whether both they and their partner had been equally keen to have sex, whether the decision had felt like their own, whether contraception was used, and whether they had felt ready at the time to start having sex.
Too soon for sex?
Most wished they had waited longer to lose their virginity, while a few said they should have done it sooner.
Those polled opted to have sex by the time they were 18, with half reporting their first time happened by the time they turned 17.
Nearly a third had sex before turning 16, the age of consent in the UK.
When it comes to being equally willing to have sex, one in five women said they and their partner weren’t of the same opinion when choosing to have sex for the first time, suggesting some felt pressured to have intercourse.
More concerning was the fact that the majority of these women reported that they hadn’t been in charge of the overall decision.
Meanwhile, one in 10 didn’t use contraception when losing their virginity.
Professor Kaye Wellings, the co-author of the research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that though the age of consent was protective it was not necessarily an indicator that someone is ready to have sex.
“The message from the paper is not ‘scrap age, let them have sex at 12’. It is much more about the variability, that actually you might be 17, 18, 19 and not be ready,” she said.
“Every young person is different – some 15-year-olds may be ready while some 18-year-olds are not.”
Also commenting on the research co-researcher Dr Melissa Palmer told BBC: “Our findings seem to support the idea that young women are more likely than young men to be under pressure from their partners to have sex.
“Although the survey results yielded some positive outcomes, such as nearly nine in 10 young people using a reliable method of contraception at first sex, further efforts are required to ensure that the broader wellbeing of young people is protected as they become sexually active.”
So how do young people ensure they find the ‘right’ time to have sex?
The NHS recommends asking yourself some questions before embarking on your first sexual experience:
Does it feel right?
Do I love my partner?
Does he/she love me just as much?
Have we talked about using condoms to prevent STIs and HIV, and was the talk OK?
Have we got contraception organised to protect against pregnancy?
Do I feel able to say “no” at any point if I change my mind, and will we both be OK with that?
If you answer yes to all these questions, the time may be right.
But if you answer yes to any of the following questions, it might not be:
Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
Could I have any regrets afterwards?
Am I thinking about having sex just to impress my friends or keep up with them?
Am I thinking about having sex just to keep my partner?
The news comes as it was revealed in October that STI cases are on the rise among young people in the UK.
Recent statistics from Public Health England suggest a case of chlamydia or gonorrhoea is diagnosed in a young person every four minutes in England.
While further findings reveal that over 144,000 of those diagnosed back in 2017 were between the ages of 15 to 24.
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