Recently, after learning that I have facilitated sexual health education classes for nearly two decades, a high school student asked me this. “If you could choose to answer only one question for us [high school students], which question would you choose?”. “Only one?” I clarified. “Yup, one. You know, the GOAT (greatest of all time) question?”. While 99.9% of the questions that students ask are great, there is one question that is undisputedly the GOAT. It’s “how do I know if I am ready to have sex?”. Keep in mind it’s not the frequency with which I am asked this question that makes it the GOAT. It’s the fact that within the answer lies other essential questions to explore. So now you know what the GOAT question is, here’s a summary of the answer (and more questions!). A person knows that they are ready to share a sexual experience when their decision is made using the heart, head, gut and groin. The head, heart, gut and groin (HHGG) is a formula sexual health educators use with youth to explore the depth of sexual decision making.
The first H in the HHGG is for Head—this is where our youth hold the practical knowledge that they need to keep themselves safe, comfortable and healthy if they make the choice to share a sexual experience. Some of the questions they need to be able to answer: Does the relationship have a need for safer sex methods (ALWAYS!) and is it the type of sexual activity that requires birth control? Do they know that most birth control methods are free in BC as of April 1, 2023? If so, where/how will they get these resources? Does everyone involved know how to use the resources correctly? Do they know when and where to follow up after sex—if so, where can they access testing? Do they have a safe and respectful place to share this experience? Who are their trusted adults and/or community resources to connect with? Do they understand the details, process and laws of consent?
The second H is for Heart. The heart is where their values, beliefs and emotions are. Some of the questions they need to be able to answer: How do they feel about the possibility of sharing such a personal experience? Does this choice align with their values and beliefs? Do they understand and accept each other’s religious, cultural, family and/or personal beliefs about sexuality? How do they feel about their partner and what are their expectations about how this experience will shape the relationship? Can they speak confidently about their expectations of each other?
The first G in the HHGG is for Gut. The gut is where their instinct/intuition resides. Their gut feelings are often the truest sense of whether this is a positive choice for them. If they can pay close attention, their gut will often give them a visceral clue about how they truly feel about a situation. Some of the questions they need to be able to answer: Does sharing a sexual relationship create feelings of excitement and energy? Does it create feelings of fear and stress? Is there a mix of excitement and fear? Do they find themselves trying to talk themselves or their partner into or out of a choice?
And finally, the second G is for Groin. For anyone who has ever experienced sexual attraction, you’ll recognize its power which is anything but subtle! Attraction is also often very difficult to talk about in a comfortable, confident way. This is especially true for our young folks with their emerging feelings. Some of the questions they need to be able to answer: Do these feelings take the lead in this decision-making process? Are there ways to share sexual attraction that will help it to be a respectful, pleasurable and safe experience? Do they know their own boundaries? Are they ready to share them out loud with their partner long before the situation is going down in real time? Do they have a plan about how to check in with each other to ensure they don’t get caught up in the power of the groin?
Ultimately, it’s only when youth can answer the many questions that the HHGG formula hold that they’ll be able to answer the GOAT question for themselves.
*I have intentionally used the pronoun they throughout this article. This was done so that you can replace it with any pronoun that represents the youth in your life.