Dear Broad Strokes,
My partner and I have been planning to have penetrative sex for the first time. I’m excited, but I’m also really nervous. Will it hurt to have someone else inside me? What should I expect? How can I make sure we have a good time?
Dear Nervous Nancy,
There are so many songs, TV shows, and movies about people having sex for the first time, so there are a ton of myths around the experience. Most significantly, cultural representations of “losing one’s virginity” tend to focus on the experience as painful or uncomfortable for the person experiencing penetration. This myth comes from a cisheteronormative narrative of sex in which the person being penetrated is an innocent, passive woman who has no sexual experience and thus is supposed to experience shame or embarrassment.
There is absolutely no reason why you should experience either pain or shame when you have sex for the first time. It can be helpful to remember that even though there’s a ton of hype around the concept of virginity, it’s a socially constructed, fairly meaningless concept. You as a person will not change because you have had penetrative sex. You will not magically become an adult and people will not be able to tell by looking at you. The only thing that will change is your experience in the bedroom. Hyping this up as a really big deal or putting pressure on yourself to respond a certain way will make the experience worse for you. When you’re nervous, your vaginal/anal muscles involuntarily tighten, which will actually make sex more painful. In this way, the myth that people experience pain the first time they experience penetration is a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you’re scared about pain, sex will feel more painful.
My best advice would be to share your feelings with your partner before you have sex, and to have a conversation about how you both can work to make the experience feel comfortable. Pick a time and place that’s calm (AKA your roommate won’t barge in), or just agree not to plan it in advance if that feels more natural. Make a plan for protection in advance so you don’t have any condom/birth control emergencies in the moment. I wouldn’t drink too much. In general, drunk sex is often not as good because you’re sleepy and not alert to your partner’s cues. Finally, if you haven’t already, try putting one or two fingers inside yourself during masturbation. When that sensation is pleasurable and comfortable, you’re ready to have sex.
When you actually get into the bedroom, I cannot stress enough that foreplay is your best friend. You may be feeling excited to get to the actual sex, and want to rush through everything else. Don’t do that, because it’ll make the sex worse. People with vaginas need, on average, 15-30 minutes of foreplay to become fully aroused; until that point, direct vaginal or clitoral stimulation can be uncomfortable. After half an hour or so of foreplay, when you’re feeling nice and aroused, don’t jump straight into intercourse. I would recommend that your partner pleasure you with their hands or mouth for a while. You might want them to pleasure you until orgasm, until just before orgasm, or just until you’re nice and relaxed – whatever feels best to you! The point is that you get very aroused before you move on to anything else.
When you’re ready for intercourse, have your partner slowly insert their fingers, penis, or a sex toy into you. Ask them to move slowly. Every few seconds, they should pause, let you adjust to the sensations in your body, and ask you how you’re feeling. It may feel great, and you may want them to move faster because you’re really enjoying it. But it’s also okay to go at this very slow pace, where your partner pauses every few moments to check in with you before moving forward again. If you’re experiencing pain, there is absolutely no need for you to “push through” or to take it silently. Tell your partner, and ask them to either pause inside of you or to pull their body part/sex toy out. It is totally okay to take a break in the middle or even to try again a different day.
For people with vaginas, you might be wondering about your hymen and whether you’ll bleed. Hymens come in all different shapes and sizes, and they don’t necessarily break. They do sometimes rupture or bend, during your first time having sex and/or your first time using a tampon or through certain kinds of sports. Your hymen will probably still be there after you have sex, but it may have a different shape. You might bleed a little for a few days, but it’s also totally possible that you won’t. In the rare event that you are bleeding copiously or still experiencing pain after two days, you should see a doctor.
To summarize, stay away from gendered mythologies that emphasize pain and shame during your first time having sex. Instead, focus on how each sensation feels to you and communicate that to your partner. Keep it sexy, fun, and comfortable for your partner and yourself. Enjoy!