Sex, for those who have never experienced it, can seem incredibly intimidating. But with the correct information, it does not have to seem so overwhelming. This article will break down the common misconceptions and provide advice regarding everything else you need to know about the decision to become sexually active for the first time. Consent from all participating individuals is an absolute necessity in any sexual experience. This mutual agreement is revocable at any time and cannot be obtained through coercion or force. To read more about the meaning of consent, click here.
Virginity is a powerful idea with vital importance in many cultural and religious traditions. If you are concerned about these designations, it can be helpful to realize that attributing significance to virginity and the hymen is purely symbolic. Since a hymen can stretch at any time throughout a female’s life, there is no reliable external indicator of virginity. Therefore, no one can demand physical proof of your abstinence. A tampon, physical exercise, or any other activity that may stretch your hymen will not jeopardize your status as a virgin. You get to determine what your virginity means to you; if you practice safe sex, your health or value will not be compromised by your decision to have sex.1 For more information about the cultural significance of the hymen, click here.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community may also struggle with the definition of virginity. The concept has popularly been associated with a person’s first encounter with penile-vaginal sex, a designation that alienates the LGBTQ+ population. Again, virginity purely a symbolic concept, allowing a fluid interpretation of its meaning. Only you have the power to decide what constitutes your virginity.
Sex can open up a world of opportunity for pleasure and excitement, but along with all this potential comes a host of responsibilities. Education on the subject can help individuals make an informed decision and increase their confidence if they do decide to have sex. Here are some of the concerns that commonly arise when sex is not approached responsibly. The better these risks are understood, the easier they will be to avoid!
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are an unfortunate but common reality in the realm of sexual activity. Basic knowledge of the varying symptoms and modes of transmission can prevent the contraction of these infections that affect millions of individuals each year. STIs can be contracted through oral sex, anal sex, penile-vaginal sex, shared sex toys, or kissing. To avoid exposure, a barrier method such as a male or female condom should be used when engaging in any type of penetrative behavior, including oral, anal, and penile-vaginal sex. Birth control alone only offers protection from unwanted pregnancy, not from STIs. Limiting the number of sexual partners you come into contact with can also reduce your chances of becoming infected.2 As recommended by Planned Parenthood, individuals who are sexually active should be tested at least once a year, as STIs very commonly show no symptoms.3 For a more in-depth explanation of specific STIs click here, or for prevention and treatability, click here.
If conception is not the aim of your sexual endeavors, you should take precautions to avoid an undesired pregnancy. Despite the many myths in circulation, pregnancy can result from penile-vaginal sex even if it is both partners’ first time. For maximum protection, we recommend using a barrier method in conjunction with hormonal birth control, such as the birth control pill. The only guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy is to completely avoid penile-vaginal sex. For a comprehensive list of birth control options, click here.
For the sake of mental health and emotional wellbeing, be sure that having sex for the first time is an experience that you are prepared to have. Allowing others to make this decision for you, whether it be by succumbing to pressure or to circumstance, can lead to the development of negative feelings towards the experience. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by the attitudes of their peers, to be swayed by the insistence of their partners, or to be swept up by the passion of the moment without careful consideration are more likely to end up expressing regret.4 It is also wise to realize that having sex does not equal love, nor will it make someone love you.5 Although sex can enrich a relationship, it cannot be relied on alone to create any lasting emotional bonds.
Who to Talk to
Sex is not always a conversational topic that people are eager to have. But despite the existing social stigma surrounding sexuality, the benefits of breaking down the barrier is often worth the discomfort. If you are ready to start talking about the idea of having sex but you are not sure who you should include in the conversation, below are some people you might want to consider.
The partner you are choosing to be intimate with should be an active participant in the conversation about becoming sexually active. Find out what they are comfortable with within the context of your relationship, and be sure to respect any limits they define.
If sexual activity is your mutual conclusion, the next step is to discuss the details of the agreement. Communicate openly about what you want from the experience; skip the ambiguity and let each other know what your hopes are for your first time. Disclosing to one another exactly what sex means to you will prevent any vague intentions or painful misperceptions. The emotional preparedness of both participants is essential, and the logistical measures you plan to take should be covered as well: discussing up-to-date STI testing and your preferred birth control methods beforehand will prevent future stress. These topics may seem awkward to discuss at first, but the alternatives can be much worse. Engaging in honest and open communication with a partner may also decrease feelings of anxiety over the experience and make both partners feel more comfortable.
Parents or Guardians
You may be terrified about the thought of your parents finding out you are thinking about sex, but in reality, their priority is probably your safety and health. Research shows that teenagers who talk to their parents about sex are less likely to get pregnant because they are more likely to use birth control.6 If you have a trusting relationship with your parents, they may be a useful resource for support and information.
Explore the Web
If you think you could benefit from discussing your decision to become sexually active but don’t feel comfortable speaking with anyone you know personally, the digital age has supplied an alternative. The internet is an incredibly vast resource for connecting with others who share your concerns, or for reading about their experiences. The anonymity can be an amazing opportunity to explore without the awkwardness of a face-to-face conversation, but keep in mind this anonymity can also encourage some people to fabricate or exaggerate. When in doubt, stick to the verified facts and use the Ask an Expert feature on our site.
The Next Step
Once you have come to the conclusion that you are mentally prepared to become sexually active, it is essential that you take steps to actively protect your body as well. Ensuring that you have access to contraceptives before having sex is the best defense against infection and unwanted pregnancy. Barrier methods such as male or female condoms are usually the most easily obtainable forms of contraception. Condoms have no age requirement for purchase and can be found at most convenience stores, grocery stores, doctor’s offices, and health centers. This method is also affordable, as male condoms have an average cost of about one dollar each.7 Hormonal birth control methods can be used independently or in combination with a barrier method, but hormonal methods are slightly more challenging to acquire as they require a doctor’s visit or a trip to Planned Parenthood.
What to Expect
There is no standard, one-size-fits-all experience for a first sexual encounter. Females may experience slight pain or bleeding, but neither is guaranteed. The absence of these occurrences does not imply anything about the status of your virginity; each body is different and responds differently to sex.
The blood that sometimes passes from a female’s vagina during her first penile-vaginal sexual experience comes from the presence of an unstretched hymen, the thin piece of mucosal tissues that partially covers the vaginal opening. But contrary to popular belief, a penis is not the only method of stretching a hymen. Many nonsexual activities can result in the hymen stretching, such as gymnastics, horseback riding, or other forms of physical activity. Further, the hymen comes in many varieties, some of which could allow the penis to pass through the vaginal opening without any bleeding. Spotting after a female’s first few times having penile-vaginal sex can also be expected. However, if the bleeding persists or becomes heavier (and is not a menstrual period), it may be wise to see a doctor.
In terms of orgasm, it is unlikely for a female to have this experience the first time she has sex. This intense pleasure usually comes with a level of sexual bodily awareness that most virgins do not yet possess. As females become more in touch with their bodies and more experienced in maneuvering with a partner, orgasm becomes much more accessible.8
Foreplay, sexual activity leading up to intercourse, is an excellent way to ensure both partners are fully aroused. Although males and females report equally enjoying prolonged foreplay, it is an especially significant aspect of sex for females, as they are less quick to become fully sexually aroused. More foreplay means more vaginal lubrication, the natural substance produced by a female’s body to make stimulation of the vagina and vulva easier and more pleasurable.9
Tips for a Better First Time
Below are some suggestions to help maximize pleasure for both partners during their first sexual experience.
- Try to relax. Focus on the new sensations you are experiencing rather than any anxiety or preconceived notions you have about the event.
- Take your time and make sure you and your partner are both fully aroused before attempting penetration. Much of the pain a female might feel her first time can be attributed to insufficient lubrication. Arousal triggers a female’s natural lubricant, increasing comfort for both partners. Nerves could prevent proper lubrication, so spending time on foreplay will prime the bodies for sex. This should also be a priority for LGBTQ+ couples, as lubrication is a critical component of anal sex or manual stimulation.
- Use lube! Personal lubricants will ensure there is adequate lubrication. Using extra lube, such as KY Jelly or AstroGlide, will ensure a more sensational experience.
- Use protection. Sex free from the worries of a possible pregnancy or STI is much more enjoyable.
The fundamental priority of a first sexual encounter should be the comfort of both participants; once you and your partner feel secure and at ease, pleasure will follow.
If you have considered the material and come to the conclusion that you are not prepared for sex, there are infinite alternatives. Exploring your interests and desires through oral sex, manual stimulation, masturbation, or other sexual behaviors can be fulfilling and pleasurable with less risk. It is also your choice to abstain. As long as you are informed and moving at the pace that empowers you, you are in control of your sexuality.
- Hobday, A.j., et al. “Function of the Human Hymen.” Medical Hypotheses, vol. 49, no. 2, 1997, pp. 171–173.
- LeVay, Simon, Janice I. Baldwin, and John D. Baldwin. “Sexually Transmitted Diseases.” Discovering Human Sexuality. 2nd ed. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2012. 469. Print
- Planned Parenthood. “How Often Do I Need to Get Tested for STDs?” Planned Parenthood. N.p., 15 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
- Ingmire, J. (2014, July 17). Eye movements reveal difference between love and lust. UChicago News.
- Osorio, Alfonso, et al. “First Sexual Intercourse and Subsequent Regret in Three Developing Countries.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 50, no. 3, 2012, pp. 271–278/.
- “Talking to Your Parents.” I Wanna Know.
- Parenthood, Planned. “Where Can I Buy Condoms & How Much Will They Cost?” Planned Parenthood.
- Szymanski, Katie. “What to Expect the First Time You Have Sex, According to a Sex Therapist.” Her Campus
- Levay, Simon, John Baldwin, and Janice Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. 3rd ed. N.p.: Sinauer Associates, 2016. Print.
Last Updated: 3 May 2018.