First Things First - How to Have Sex For the First Time

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Sex is a great many things: exciting, fun, fulfilling, and rewarding. But having sex for the first time can feel a little intimidating.

You're not alone if you're feeling a touch nervous or wondering how to have sex for the first time. Lots of people have questions about how to have sex for the first time, and getting the inside scoop on getting down can help you have a great first time.

There are a few important things to keep in mind to make your first time having sex a positive experience. First and foremost, sex should always be consensual. What does that mean? Both people are excited and enthusiastically interested in having sex! If anyone says 'no,' 'stop,' or feels pressured to do something that they don't want to do, it's not consensual.

It's normal to feel nervous and excited — or other things, too. Make sure to communicate openly with your partner. Better communication almost always leads to a better experience all around. Let your partner know how you're feeling emotionally, what you're enjoying (or not) physically, and remember — it's always okay to change your mind. If you're not enjoying something, you can always stop.

But when both parties are enthusiastic about exploring sex together, and on the same page with open communication, your journey can be lots of fun! Do your best to relax, keep your sense of fun and humor, and focus on what feels best for you both!

Does Sex Hurt the First Time?

"Sex" encompasses lots of intimate activities, not just penetration. However, it's normal to wonder if the first time you experience penetration you'll feel pain. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. While some people do experience pain or a combination of pain and pleasure, others don't feel pain at all.

If you're concerned that having sex for the first time will hurt, there are a couple of things you can do. Before you have penetrative sex with a partner (vaginal or anal), spend some time exploring the sensations by yourself (with your fingers or a toy) and see what feels good. Then, be honest with your partner about your concerns. Let them know how you're feeling! Using plenty of lube and going at a slow, relaxed pace helps too.

Take your time with foreplay. Give everyone plenty of time to get super steamy before you dive in; your body getting turned on is how it prepares for sex.

If sex hurts the first time, that doesn't mean it always will. Penetration — vaginal or anal — might come with some pain the first few times you try. That's because your body is getting used to something new. As you spend more time exploring what works best for you and your partner, you'll discover how to maximize your pleasure. But if you're experiencing pain, remember that it's always okay to stop.

Do People With Vaginas Always Bleed the First Time?

No. But sometimes they do. Historically, there was a great deal of mythology around virginity (a sexist and outdated concept) and the belief that if a person with a vagina did not bleed the first time they had sex, that they were not truly a virgin. The belief was that if a person's hymen — a thin membrane in the opening to the vagina — was intact, it meant that they had never before had penetrative sex. If a person's hymen is intact, it can tear the first time they engage in penetrative sex, and can produce some bleeding.

However, sex with a partner is not the only way in which a hymen can be torn — activities like mountain biking, horseback riding, or even solo sex with fingers or toys can cause it. If first-time sex does cause bleeding, it should be a small amount. If you experience heavy bleeding or bleeding that doesn't stop, you should call your doctor.

Getting Ready for First-Time Sex

Two hands tearing open a condom wrapper

There are some ways to prepare for having sex the first time to increase your chances of having a wonderful, memorable time.

It's always helpful if you've spent some time solo exploring your own anatomy and discovering what feels good to your unique body. That way, you can point your partner in the direction of what you know brings you pleasure, and hopefully, they can return the favor.

Another important part of sex is safety. Even if it is your and/or your partner's first time, staying safe is still important. People with vaginas can get pregnant the first time they have sex with a penis-having partner. Discuss this with your partner — there are many kinds of birth control that can help prevent unintended pregnancies.

You can also get a sexually-transmitted infection (STI) from a partner, so planning ahead and having protection — like condoms — is important, as is discussing your history of testing. Before having sex with any partner for the first time, getting tested for STIs can help prevent sharing infections.

When the countdown is on, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success. If you're worried about body odor or hair, take the time to enjoy a hot shower or bath to get clean and trimmed — the hot water can help relax you, too.

Don't head into your first romp with an overly-full stomach, either. You don't want to be distracted by a belly full of food when you've got more important things to focus on!

Finally, while many adults find that enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine can help get them "in the mood," too much alcohol can do more harm than good. Not only does drinking start to impair your ability to get aroused and have an orgasm, but it can also quickly make consent impossible. When someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can't consent to sex.

What to Expect The First Time You Have Sex

Let's start with what not to expect: the movies. On-screen sex — whether from Hollywood or adult films — is often very unrealistic. Lovers in films gracefully tumble into twisting sheets, and without a word, know how to please one another... leading to a fireworks show of orgasms at exactly the same moment. More often than not, this isn't how it goes. Especially not your first time. But that's totally okay.

The first time you have sex, you may experience a blend of emotions leading up to it. You may feel excited and nervous, anxious and happy, or many other things. It's all okay! As long as you're sure that having sex is what you want to do — enthusiastic consent is always critical.

First-time sex can be awkward, but that's normal, too. Keeping a sense of humor and not expecting perfection can help a great deal.

You'll likely feel some new sensations when you have sex for the first time. Let your partner know which ones feel great (e.g. ear nibbles, neck kisses, slow-motion tongue action) and which ones you're not enjoying as much. Try not to focus on how you think your partner wants you to respond, and stay present in your own pleasure and experience.

Everyone's first time having sex with a partner is different. Sometimes, if both partners are enjoying themselves, it can last for a long time. Also, sometimes the new intensity and pleasure of sex with a partner bring around an orgasm very quickly. Or perhaps not at all — these things are all perfectly normal. It all comes back to communication. If you and your partner are into it, keep it up all night! But if you're ready to stop, for any reason, say so.

How Do I Know if I'm Ready for Sex?

Sex can be an important milestone for an individual or a couple, and sometimes you're not sure if you're fully ready. Spend some time reflecting on what you want, and make sure you're deciding to have sex because of your own desire, not pressure from an outside source. Make sure you trust your partner and are able to have honest conversations with them about topics like birth control, STIs, and what does and doesn't feel good.

There's no magic age to have sex, either. One study from the CDC says that just over half of people have penetrative sex by the time they're 18, but many people don't have these kinds of encounters until much later in life. There are plenty of reasons that people wait: they may not feel ready themselves, they may not have a partner they trust or they may prefer to wait until a long-term relationship or marriage before having sex.

In the End...

Almost everyone is nervous about having sex for the first time. Staying relaxed, present, and keeping communication open will help your first time be positive and memorable. You might not know right away what works best for you, but when it comes to sex, the joy truly is in the journey. Experimenting and growing with an enthusiastic and caring partner is one of the most rewarding (and fun) parts of a sexual relationship.

References

26 Things to Know About Pain and Pleasure During Your First Time. (June 2019). Healthline.

What happens the first time you have sex?. (February 2021). Planned Parenthood.

5 Reasons Why We Need to Ditch The Concept of Virginity For Good. (August 2013). Everyday Feminism.

What Exactly is a Hymen? (December 2008). Our Bodies Ourselves.

Women and Virginity: Preparing for the First Time. (August 2013). Good Therapy.

Birth Control Health Center. (January 2021). WebMD.

Sexually transmitted infections. (June 2019). Office on Women's Health.

Here’s What Happens When You Mix Booze with Sex. (September 2019). Healthline.

Am I Ready For Sex? (May 2020). Teen Health Source.

Over Half of U.S. Teens Have Had Sexual Intercourse by Age 18, New Report Shows. (June 2017). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.