Ethical sex sounds complicated and a bit difficult, but if you choose to be sexual, you should aim for ethical sex. It's actually not as complicated as it sounds.
At a recent lecture I attended, "Sexuality in the 21st Century and Beyond: Adolescents' Behavior and Beliefs," the following basics for what ethical or positive sex is were agreed upon: ethical sex is consensual, respectful, and protected.
What do you need in order to have Ethical Sex?
- You need to know and be comfortable with your own body. This helps you to determine what you are comfortable consenting to, and gives you an understanding of what you might like from your partner.
- You need to be comfortable with your own sexuality and be able to experience sexual pleasure without guilt or shame. If you're ashamed of being sexual, you might not plan ahead for sex or might be less respectful of your partner and her or his sexuality. This works against having both protected and respectful sex.
- You need to be assertive about your sexuality. If you aren't able to be assertive about what you would like to do and what you would not like to do, it's harder to have truly consensual sex.
- You need to have respect for other's values. Your partner may not share the same values or beliefs about sex as you do, and she or he may be more or less comfortable with different ways of expressing sexuality due to those values. To have respectful sex, you need to respect those values.
- You need to understand your own needs and your partner's needs. Understanding your own needs helps you express them to your partner, allowing her or him to be respectful or you, and understanding your partner's needs allows you to respect those needs and thus be respectful of her or him.
- You need to understand what you're looking for in a sexual experience. Are you having sex because you care about the other person, because you want sexual pleasure, because you want the other person to care about you, or for some other reasons? Part of respectful sex is being respectful to yourself by acknowledging what you want and honestly evaluating whether sex is the best method to obtain it. Depending on your goal, you might also need to think about whether acting on that goal through sex is respectful to your partner.
- You need to be able to communicate with a sexual partner in sexual terms. If you aren't comfortable talking to your partner about protection and other aspects of sexuality, it's harder for the sex to be well protected and also harder for it to be respectful.
- You need to be able to express your sexuality without exploiting others or being violent towards others. Being violent towards someone is never ethical sex. If you aren't able to listen to your partner and respect what she or he is comfortable with, then you can't have consensual or respectful sex.
- You need to be able to protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you don't have both knowledge about STIs and ways to protect yourself from STIs (such as condoms or dental dams), you can't have protected sex.
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For More Information
To better understand what it means to have consensual, respectful and protected sex, check out other sections of the Web site involving each of these topics!
To learn more about what consensual sex is and how to make sure any sex you have is consensual sex, read Understanding Consent and Consensual Sex.
For more information about respectful sex, read
If you're interested in learning more about protected sex which, depending on the sexual act, might involve protection from an STI and/or protection from an unwanted pregnancy, read about Protecting Yourself and Birth Control.
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- Julia Ransohoff
- Christina Jeffery
- Nancy Brown, Ph.D. with:
- Katie Ransohoff
- Joanna Yang
- Anna Rafferty
- Leigha Winters
- Nigel Anderson
- PAMF Education Division
- Youth Venture
Sexuality in the 21st Century and Beyond: Adolescents' Behavior and Beliefs presented by Nancy Brown, Ph.D., Human Biology 143: Sexuality in Adolescence, Stanford University, 2005.
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: October 2013