Here’s What to Know Before Having Sex for the First Time

Here’s What to Know Before Having Sex for the First Time

Listen, before we go headlong into the great wide world of first-time sex, let’s get something straight: There is no “right” or “normal” time or type of relationship in which to experience sex for the first time. It’s entirely subjective.

Everyone has different desires, relationships, and feelings about sex. What it looks like for you should be as unique as you are. You are the captain of this adventure and only you get to decide when you want to have sex for the first time.

If you’re ready to officially enter your sex-having era, certified sex coach and clinical sexologist Lucy Rowett says it’s important to expand what we think of as “sex.” It can mean so much more than penetrative, PIV intercourse. “Think about it: why should a penis in your vagina or your penis in someone’s vagina mean anything different from any other sexual experience?” she says. “Instead, try exploring what you would define as real sex and as good sex.” This can mean anything from hand sex, to oral sex, to any other forms of erotic touch and play you may be interested in trying out. The possibilities are endless and every single one of them is equally valid.

Instead of thinking of sex as “losing our virginities” in the frame of PIV intercourse, Rowett suggests considering our first-time sexual experiences—with whatever kind of sex—as a sort of “sexual debut.” It isn’t about “losing” something to someone, or “giving something away” to someone else. It’s about a new adventure that we get to experience as a part of being sexually interested humans. And, most importantly, it should be about PLEASURE.

Intimacy educator Taylor Sparks, founder of, adds that we should understand that the first time is not going to be some romance novel kinda thing. If we expect it to happen in a perfect, fairytale way, this can lead to a lot of anxiety and disappointment.

“Having an understanding ahead of time that everyone’s first time experience will be different can relieve some of the anxiety,” Sparks says. “Some experiences will be funny, some awkward.” We need to have compassion for ourselves instead of thinking things need to be picture-perfect in order to be successful. Who has time for all that stress, you know?

So go ahead, take a deep breath and allow yourself to really lean in and enjoy the whole process that is your sexual debut. This should be a fun and exciting experience, not something uncomfortable, painful, or anxiety-inducing.

Now, with all that being said, we do recognize that everyone’s first time can be a little (okay, a lot) intimidating. And so, in the spirit of demystifying sex, we’ve enlisted the help of several (like, so many) of the world’s leading sex experts to help you navigate sex for the first time. Information is lubrication. You’re going to thrive, baby!

First, a note on sexual safety.

Before we dive into our many, many questions (and their many, many answers), let’s have a wee chat about sexual health and safety—because as much as this should be a fun and exciting experience, taking your health (and that of your partners) into consideration is a crucial part of being a responsible sex-haver.

We live in a world that highly stigmatizes STIs (which is BS, BTW). We also live in a post-Roe world—meaning our reproductive health needs to be front and center in our minds before engaging in sexual activity. “This includes being aware of methods of contraception, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and practicing safe sex,” Sparks says. It’s important to use either internal or external condoms to protect against STIs and consider an alternative form of contraception, such as an IUD, birth control patches, implants, or pills.

But sexual safety is about more than just physical health. It’s about emotional health, too. This means having sexual experiences with partners you feel safe with, who respect your boundaries, and who are down to communicate in an open and authentic way. Oh, and who care about your pleasure as much as theirs (obvs).

Communicating authentically will allow you to go into this experience with a clear understanding of what both you and your partner want out of sex—and what your relationship with this person means. Whether casual or serious, “the important thing is to get clear on what [sex] means for you, and then chat about it with your partner to make sure they’re on the same page,” Rowett explains.

Communication can also include a discussion about getting tested for STIs. If your partner isn’t willing to get tested, Rowett says you can go ahead and take it as a sign that this is not the right person to be having your first sexual experience with—or any sex, for that matter. You deserve to feel safe at all times.

Now, without further ado, let’s get to your questions.

1. Does first-time sex hurt?

It really depends. “When it comes to the first time, it is certainly common and normal for intercourse to be uncomfortable, and even painful—because it is the first time,” says sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, who compares pain during sex for the first time to pain in your body after trying a new sport, like running or weight lifting. “Your body naturally hurts the first time and it needs time to adjust to the new movement and experience. Having penetrative sex is just another way that you need to learn to use your body, and there will be an adjustment period.”

Psychotherapist Nicole Tammelleo says “hundreds of people” have told her that, when they had penetrative sex for the first time, it felt like their partner was “hitting a brick wall,” which isn’t what sex should feel like. Lube can help with this (more on that later), but if that doesn’t help get things running smoothly, you should consult your doctor or a gynecologist to see if you may have a condition called vaginismus, which makes it really hard for anything to enter the vagina.

“What is important here, however, is the distinction between short and long-term pain,” says Fehr. “Short-term pain is a sign you’re having a new experience and your body is not used to it. You might be sore. This kind of pain typically goes away after a few days. But long-term pain during intercourse signals that there are missing ingredients that your body is not getting to make sex work for you. It may be too fast and done too soon, before the body has time to get fully engorged on the inside. It may be that there is not enough foreplay or connection time together before sex and that the body is simply not ready. None of this means that you’re broken. It does mean that there is a missing ingredient, or potentially something that is causing discomfort from the inside.”

She suggests asking yourself what you need to make the experience safer, more relaxing, fun, enjoyable, and stimulating. What might your body be missing? Going slower? Being touched more sexually? Softer strokes? “All of this is part of self-discovery that takes time,” says Fehr.

However, if your vagina is burning, itching, or in serious pain during or after sex, talk to your doctor, especially if the sensation doesn’t go away quickly on its own or gets worse over time.

2. Will I bleed the first time I have sex?

The myth that everyone with a vagina bleeds the first time they have penetrative sex is, as it turns out, very much not true. In fact, it’s very incorrect and pretty problematic.

Sure, some people do bleed the first time, and that bleeding is usually caused by the stretching of your hymen—a thin, delicate piece of tissue located just a couple of inches inside the vagina. But more than 50 percent of people don’t bleed their first time because the hymen can be stretched during regular, non-sex activities like jumping on a trampoline, riding a bike, or running around.

Also, bleeding after sex can happen any time in your life—not just the first time. Once again, you should definitely invest in some lube to make the experience just a whole lot more enjoyable.

3. Is it possible a penis won’t fit into a vagina?

Moving into penetrative sex, you might be wondering how something that size could fit inside you. The truth is, most vaginas are between three and seven inches long, but they’re actually super stretchy and can expand much longer and wider during sex (and childbirth). Very rarely, some penises won’t fit, but that’s why taking it slow is important.

As mentioned above, if intercourse feels uncomfortable (or like the penis is hitting a wall in your vagina), try a different position, slow things down, or try some manual or oral stimulation to increase blood flow to the vagina.

4. Should I use a condom the first time I have sex?

      Nothing is more distracting than worrying about STIs and pregnancy during sex. Even if it feels awkward, it is so, so, so important to chat with your partner beforehand about what you’ll do to protect yourselves. Use a condom even if you’re on another form of birth control to protect you both from STIs. Feel free to check out local clinics like Planned Parenthood for free and affordable testing.

      5. Who is supposed to bring the condom?

      If there’s even the slightest possibility of sex potentially happening, you should already be prepared with a condom, suggests ob-gyn Tamika K. Cross, MD. Since condoms help prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, take responsibility into your own hands and don’t expect your partner to provide them. “Why put your faith in someone else’s preparedness?” says Dr. Cross.

      So if you realize you need to order some, here are a few of our favorite condom options.

      6. What counts as “first-time sex”? Does it have to be penetrative?

        Sex is not synonymous with penetrative sex, and first-time sex does not have to be the first time your vagina is penetrated by a penis. The reasons this is such a common misconception is rooted in patriarchy.

        “Keeping virginity has long been seen as the virtue because we’ve positioned sex (and our availability for sex) specifically for women as something that we do for men—and that includes safekeeping it for them,” says Fehr. “It naturally follows that maintaining your virginity for a future partner is valuable and desired. Shift this perspective to engaging in sex for your own experience and pleasure and having sex become something that you gain—an experience for yourself, your body, your intimacy with yourself and another person, vulnerability, pleasure, and so on.”

        Certified sex therapist Laurie Mintz, PhD, author of Becoming Cliterate says her favorite definition of sex comes from the Go Ask Alice! site, which is run by a team of Columbia University health professionals. Their definition of sex is:

        “Any act involving contact with the vulva, clitoris, vagina, anus, penis, or testicles between one or more consenting people for the purpose of sexual pleasure could constitute Doing the Deed. Genital-to-genital, mouth-to-genital, mouth-to-anal, hand-to-genital, anal-to-genital, toy to genital…you get the idea. Yes, this definition could encompass phone sex, masturbation, and genital contact through clothes. In this definition, consent matters and intent matters (pelvic exams do not equal sex, for example). Notice that penetration does not define sex, nor does a possibility of pregnancy, nor does orgasm.”

        “Ultimately, sex should leave you feeling like you gained something for yourself,” says Fehr. So yeah, it can look however you want it to look.

        7. Is one type of sex more “real” than other types?

        Despite what you might have seen in media, a P going in a V isn’t what sex is, and Mint says thinking that is actually pretty problematic for a number of reasons.

        “The vast majority of people with vaginas don’t orgasm from intercourse alone, so this definition is very penis-centric,” she says. “Second, this definition is not inclusive of non-heterosexual sex.”

        If you build up penetration so much, there’s a good chance you’ll be extra anxious heading into the experience. Instead, try to reframe your mindset, which might help you feel a little more at ease before trying any new type of sex.

        Also, there’s no sex hierarchy where some acts are considered more “real” than others. One type of sex isn’t “more special” than other types. If you never want to have penetrative sex or oral sex or anal sex or whatever sex, don’t! There’s plenty of other types to experiment with, if you want to at all.

        8. Do I need to tell my doctor if I want to or have had sex?

        The best part about getting a gynecologist is you have someone to bounce sex-related questions off of, so utilize their knowledge. “Sex and sexual function are such big topics, and there’s often a lot of shame around them, but we can cover anything that’s going on,” Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD, an ob-gyn in Beverly Hills, previously told Cosmopolitan. “You deserve to understand your body, get good information, and have fun and enjoy sex.”

        Plus, this is your go-to person for things like birth control, sexually transmitted diseases, and overall reproductive health, so you might as well get comfy with them. If you’re worried about them reporting to your parents, know that in most states, it’s illegal (even if you’re underage), but you can ask your doc before disclosing anything you don’t want to get back to your fam.

        9. Am I supposed to pee after having sex?

        For people who are newly sexually active, know it’s an issue of a urinary tract infection (UTI). “Sometimes there’s not enough lubrication, which causes irritation to the urethra, and intercourse pulls bacteria up into the urethra,” Felicia Lane, MD, director of female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery for the University of California, Irvine, previously told Cosmopolitan.

        So yes, whether you use fingers, toys, or a penis for penetration, peeing cleans out your urethra after sex. As time goes on, your body becomes more used to fending off external bacteria, but it’s still a good idea to pee within an hour or two after sex, no matter how experienced you are.

        10. Should I use lube the first time I have sex?

        Using lube sometimes gets a bad rap as a sign that you’re not turned on enough, but even if you and your body are saying “Okay, let’s do this!” a little lube can make sex so much more pleasurable. Another benefit of using a water– or silicone-based lube with a condom (by the way, avoid oil-based lube, which can degrade latex) is that less friction means the condom is less likely to tear.

        11. Do I need to shower before having sex for the first time?

        It’s important to practice good hygiene, especially if penetration is involved since bacteria can easily make its way up the vagina or anus. Always wash your hands before and after touching another person’s genitals. If this is your first time having penetrative sex, taking a bath or shower beforehand can help soothe you since the warm water can relax muscles. Additionally, afterward, you might feel like cleaning up to remove any condom residue or body fluids, but it’s a personal preference, so don’t feel like you have to.

        12. Will I know what to do the first time I have sex?

        The best thing you can do before you have sex for the first time: masturbate. “Take time to explore your own body and find out what you really like when it comes to how you like being touched, what areas feel pleasurable to you, and what areas don’t,” says sex and relationship coach Azaria Menezes. This can be super empowering and make room for lots and lots of pleasure when it comes time for partnered sex, she confirms.

        13. What if sex doesn’t feel good at first? Does that mean I hate it?

          Each person is different and preferences may even vary from day to day or mood to mood, says sex therapist and founder of Modern Intimacy Kate Balestrieri. “Don’t try to force anything just because you read about it in an article. Trust your own erotic truth, and let it be your guide to authentic pleasure.” Pay attention to what feels good over what you think is supposed to feel good.

          14. How can I look pretty while having sex for the first time?

          Whatever face you’re making or how your stomach looks in any particular position literally does! not! matter! Focus, instead, on what you’re experiencing, what feels good, and the sensations of how exactly your partner is touching you. “The best thing to do is to ditch the idea of performative sex so you can make room for what really turns you on,” says Menezes.

          15. How long does first-time sex last?

          Hopefully this goes without saying, but no need to schedule this like an appointment. Allotting only a certain amount of minutes in your day for first-time sex sounds like an unnecessary stress you shouldn’t pang yourself with.

          “Give yourself time and go slow,” says Menezes. Have sex when you know you don’t have any plans afterward to make room for not only the sex itself, but cuddling. You may want to engage in some pillow talk too.

          16. Does first-time sex still count if I don’t orgasm? What about if my partner doesn’t orgasm?

          The sole purpose of sex does not need to be experiencing an orgasm, says ob-gyn Angela Jones, MD. Especially the first time you do it.

          Sure, it’s great, and it should be something both partners actively work toward as they become more familiar with their own needs, but take the pressure off. Think about sex as a way to connect with your partner on a deeper level, via all its emotional and mental benefits. “An individual’s worth is not tied to whether or not they climax during sex,” says Dr. Jones.

          Plus, an orgasm will probably come with time as you and your partner get more comfortable together. “Generally, being able to orgasm with a partner requires a high level of safety, trust and communication—again, things that might evolve and build over time,” says Fehr.

          17. Should I fake an orgasm the first time I have sex?

          I know pop culture has ingrained in us all the need to moan and writhe with pleasure at every single touch, but do yourself a favor down the line and don’t set the bar for this kind of acting. Tammelleo says this is especially important the first time you have sex with a new partner. You don’t want to create any unrealistic standards, especially since many people with vaginas don’t have orgasms the first time they have sex with a new partner.

          “If you fake an orgasm or tell your partner you had one when you didn’t, it’s harder to communicate your needs in the future,” Tammelleo says. Plus, once you get into the habit of faking, it makes it that much harder to stop, take a step back, and be like, “Actually, what you’re doing doesn’t rock my world as much as you think, sorry.”

          18. What should I talk about with my partner before having sex?

          Talking about sex with a new partner is a must. “In order to have good sex, you need to communicate your wants, needs, and desires to your partner,” says SKYN sex and intimacy expert Gigi Engle. This includes talking about what this sexual encounter will mean to you, if you are in a casual or serious relationship, if you and/or your partner are planning on being monogamous, and whether or not you are sleeping with other people.

          And don’t worry, you don’t have to bring up this convo the moment you match with someone on Tinder, but you should bring it up before you take that trip to pound town, says Engle. Also, after having sex, it’s important to spend some time chatting, reconnecting, and reflecting on the experience.

          19. How will I know what my partner likes during sex?

          Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time having sex, the worst thing you can do is go into it with the assumption that you know everything about what your partner wants. No amount of slumber party gossip about blow jobs and giving massive hickeys can prepare you for what your partner is actually gonna be into.

          The only way to find out is to ask them: Do they like oral sex, or would they rather leave that off the menu? Would they rather have the music on or off? Lights on or lights off?

          Not only does asking questions show your partner that you care, but it may also encourage them to do the same, making the whole experience better for everyone.

          20. What if I regret having sex for the first time?

          Not only should you temper your expectations going into it, but also keep in mind that when you’re looking back on the experience later, don’t beat yourself up about it. If you waited to have sex for the first time with a long-term partner only to break up in the future, don’t feel bad for sharing that experience with that person as long as you had consensual, enthusiastic fun in the moment.

          21. Do I have to tell my partner it’s my first time having sex?

          No new partner needs a full report of your sexual history. Whether you’ve slept with 50 people or 0, that’s your business. Seriously, no one is entitled to your “number.”

          However, getting intimate for the first time can be, well, intimate. If you feel like you’re withholding something important to you, it could negatively affect your overall comfort level and vibe. So if it feels right to tell them, tell them. If you’d rather not tell them, then don’t.

          But keep in mind that if you tell someone you’ve never had sex before and they freak, then they’re probably not someone you wanted to be with anyway. They should take that as their cue to be even more communicative with you.

          22. What if I want to stop in the middle of having sex?

          That’s absolutely okay. Remember that just because you start an activity—for example, sex—you don’t have to finish or continue it. You have the right to pause or stop whatever it is. No. Matter. What. Same goes for your partner, of course.

          “Make sure you enthusiastically consent to each and every thing the two of you do together,” says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. “‘Enthusiastic’ is a key part of that sentence. Don’t just go along with something. Make sure you’re excited about it.”

          Check in with each other as things progress to make sure you’re both enthusiastic about what you’re doing every single time. Just because you had sex once doesn’t mean you have to say “yes” every time.

          23. How can I feel less nervous about having sex?

          A big part of enjoying sex is focusing on the sensations you’re feeling instead of, for example, your nervousness (which is totally common to feel your first time, even if you know you’re ready to have sex).

          “Deep breathing is a fantastic way to let go of distracting thoughts,” Marin points out. As you’re taking those deep breaths, focus on how different parts of your body are feeling and how your partner’s body feels against yours—not just the obvious part, but their fingers in your hair, hands on your hips, whatever it is.

          24. Is first-time sex supposed to feel good?

          The more aroused you are, the better sex is likely to feel, so don’t neglect foreplay. For some people that means oral sex and for others it’s just old-fashioned kissing.

          “Resist the temptation to think of these activities as the things you do before moving on to the ‘main event,’” says Marin. Whether or not you do orgasm the first time you have penetrative sex, clitoral stimulation is the key to most vagina-havers’ pleasure, and vaginal intercourse doesn’t usually provide very much of it.

          25. What if I’m “bad” at having sex?

          It’s natural to worry that you won’t be “good” in bed your first time, but trust, what matters most is that you are invested in how your partner feels and vice versa, and that you two are communicating about it.

          “A lot of people get anxious about sexual performance, but perhaps the best quality in a lover is enthusiasm,” Marin says. If you’re genuinely enjoying giving your partner pleasure, they’ll notice it and have more fun, she says.

          Need some guidance to get you started? Simple questions like, “How does that feel?” and “Do you like when I [fill in the blank]?” give your partner a chance to express appreciation for what you’re doing or to gently ask for something a little different.

          26. What if my partner is “bad” at sex?

          A common concern is that if you tell your partner something doesn’t feel good—or something else would feel better—they’ll feel attacked. But if they care about your pleasure, they’ll be happy to hear how to help you feel it. In the moment, it can be hard to figure out what exactly you want, so it can be helpful to talk post-sex about what you enjoyed, what you could do without, and what you’d like to try next time.

          27. What’s having sex for the first time like?

          Teen movies and TV shows sold us a pretty unrealistic vision of what having penetrative sex for the first time looks like. It’s always perfectly choreographed and mood-lit and romantic, and ends in an implied simultaneous orgasm. As if.

          Don’t expect fireworks the first time you have sex—whether it’s oral, anal, manual, or penetrative. Sex is messy and human and flawed and often awkward, no matter how many times you’ve done it. It’s the practice and the exploration that make sex fun.

          28. Will having sex for the first time be awkward?

          One of the best ways to have good sex is to stop worrying about having good sex. “Have fun and enjoy moments of silliness if they arise,” polyamorous activist and cofounder of The Sex Work Survival Guide Tiana GlittersaurusRex, previously told Cosmopolitan. “It’s okay to laugh and bask in all parts of the journey.”

          In fact, laughing together will help ease some of your nerves, relax your muscles, and help get you talking, all things that’ll make your first time—and every time after that—even better.

          29. Will having sex for the first time sex change my life forever?

          Rowett says that one of the biggest misconceptions about having sex is that it will be this enormous, life-changing experience that will leave you seeing stars. This just isn’t super realistic. This can be especially true if you’ve been building up sex in your head to be such a momentous occasion. Basically, we low-key set the bar too high.

          According to Rowett, a “Wait, was that it?” kinda reaction is not uncommon after first-time sex, “not necessarily because it was bad, but because they built up this picture in their head of how they thought it would be and how they would feel afterwards, and usually, it’s not like that,” Rowett says. Honestly, it’s better to have realistic expectations. This is just another experience that people have and it doesn’t need to be legendary to be special. Keeping this in mind can take a lot of the pressure off.

          Gigi Engle is a writer, certified sexologist, sex coach, and sex educator. Her work regularly appears in many publications including Brides, Marie Claire, Elle Magazine, Teen Vogue, Glamour and Women’s Health.

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