Young people
Many young women and men in the UK felt that they did not lose their virginity at the right time, according to a survey. Getty Images/Uriel Sinai

Losing their virginity too soon is the biggest regret of many young people, new research has suggested.

In the UK, one must be 16 years old or older to be considered able to legally consent to sex. However, it seems many people may not be ready to have intercourse at that age.

In the findings published in BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health, researchers found that more than a third of women and a quarter of men in their teens and early 20s who responded to the latest poll by the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) said they did not feel that their first sexual experience happened "at the right time." About 40 percent of young women and 26 percent of young men of the thousands of people polled said they regretted having sex too soon.

The Natsal survey is done every decade or so in the UK and provides a detailed picture of the sexual behavior in the country. For this new work, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine researchers looked at the responses of nearly 3,000 people who answered the poll between 2010 to 2012.

Most of the young women and men who felt they started having sex too soon said they wished they had waited longer to lose their virginity. Meanwhile, a few of them felt they should have started having sex sooner.

Most of the people polled had had sex by the time they turned 18 years old, and half of this group had lost their virginity before they turned 17. Nearly a third of the responders became sexually active before they even reached the age of consent.

According to the BBC, Kaye Wellings, founder of the Natsal survey, said that the age of a person did not dictate whether or not they are ready to have sex. "Every young person is different - some 15-year-olds may be ready while some 18-year-olds are not," the professor explained.

Melissa Palmer, a doctor and a co-researcher of Wellings, noted that more women seemed to be pressured into having sex too soon compared to men.

"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," she said.

"Although the survey results yielded some positive outcomes, such as nearly nine in 10 young people using 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," she continued.

So when is the right time to lose your virginity? The NHS provided a set of questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you are ready for this next step.

If you think you might have sex, ask yourself:

  • 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 organized 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 your answer to these questions is yes, then you may be ready to become sexually active. However, if you answer yes to any of the questions below, then you may want to wait a little longer.

  • Do I feel under pressure from anyone, such as my partner or friends?
  • Could I have any regrets afterward?
  • 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?