One of the biggest questions for teens isn’t “Should I have sex?” but “How far should I go?” While one’s own comfort level and that of the partner should be the top priority in this decision, other factors play a role — especially if teenagers are considering that amorphous concept of “third base.”

“Third base” probably sounds outdated to today’s teenagers. Today’s official term is outercourse. Long ago, it was called “heavy petting.” All these terms refer to the idea of two people making out, stopping just short of sexual intercourse. This can range from each partner remaining dressed and rubbing up against the other, to some fumbling around through clothes to touch each other’s genitals, to full nudity and a combination of rubbing and touching. Generally, this continues until the partners mutually release each other from sexual tension.

Now, many teenagers think that outercourse is a great compromise. Perhaps they want to avoid intercourse for moral or religious reasons. For these young people, going to third base means they can remain abstinent. Others may be scared of contracting AIDS or another STD, and so they are staying away from “going all the way.”

Unfortunately, both of these ideas are playing with fire.

Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as herpes and genital warts, can be passed from one partner to another without penetration. If you engage in full body contact in the nude, you should be aware that you’re at risk of contracting or spreading a venereal disease.

Another reason that performing outercourse in the nude can be somewhat dangerous is that sometimes matters can get out of hand, and outercourse can become intercourse. Sometimes, this is mutually agreed to, and sometimes it’s not. When it’s not, it’s often called date rape.

No matter whether you are having intercourse or outercourse, it’s absolutely essential that you remember to practice safe sex and be mindful of both partners’ comfort levels. Once those are taken care of, then the decision should be far easier — and safer — to make.

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