First Time Having Sex? Here’s What Experts Have To Say

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For some, the first time having sex can be a tricky, scary, and confusing thing. For others, it can be exciting and fantastic. No matter how you feel, it doesn’t help that 33 states and Washington DC require schools to teach sex education, while 34 are mandated to stress abstinence when teaching about sex and HIV/ sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Without the proper education on safe sex, contraceptives, condoms, and consent in schools, this leaves many young people with more questions than answers. For starters, people define "sex" in different ways. It can include vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex, in addition to other activities.

Maybe you've already learned about sex in school, from friends, from parents, or somewhere online, and maybe you're not ready to have sex yet — which is totally normal. Maybe you have a partner you are comfortable with, and you've gone through the steps of deciding that you're ready for sex. Regardless of whether you're absolutely sure you want to have sex, even if you've never kissed anyone and you're just curious, this information is useful to have just in case the moment arises. The truth is, there’s not really a “best way to have sex for the first time,” but there are some things to keep in mind..

One thing to note if this is your first time having sex, is taking the necessary precautions. While sex is a natural and normal part of being a human being, there are measures to take to protect you and your partner from STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Make sure to have a conversation with your partner — and don’t forget to go over your thoughts on what sex means to you ahead of time. There are many ways to have fun with a partner, whether it ends in orgasm or not. There is also no singular definition of sex and no textbook answer for how to have sex for the first time; it can vary from person to person, making a conversation all the more important.

What is sex?

The definition of sex ranges widely, and you’ll also create a personal definition between you and the person you have sex with. The American Psychological Association defines sex as “the physiological and psychological processes related to procreation and erotic pleasure.” Consider this an umbrella definition. People of all gender identities can have sex and achieve orgasm, and there is an entire world of ways to do so. In fact, some organizations, including the Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC), include solo stimulation as sex. SERC defines sex as: “An activity in which one, two or more people use words or touch to arouse themselves and/or each other.” And, orgasm doesn’t have to be the goal — some people might enjoy sex whether or not they have an orgasm, and taking that pressure off can lead to even more pleasure. Every single person should be in charge of their own definition, both before having sex, during, and afterward.

Precautions to take during sex

If you can’t tell, communication is key when it comes to setting up a positive sexual experience. If it isn’t your partner’s first time having sex, asking them to have a screening for sexually transmitted infections (STI) is a good place to start. The next topic should be protection. John Hopkins Medicine directs partners to use condoms every time they have penetrative sex to prevent spreading STIs. Condoms can also help prevent unwanted pregnancy — if the sex you’re having penis-in-vagina sex, birth control is another super important topic to discuss ahead of time. Another way to practice safer sex is to use a dental dam, which is placed between the mouth and vagina or anus during oral sex.

Understanding Consent

Once you have STIs and birth control covered, talk about what feels good to each of you. Know each other’s boundaries, both physical and emotional, before getting down to it. And don’t worry if you don’t have your own preferences quite yet: exploration can be fun, but consider using a safe word to use when any sensations become too intense.

If at any point during the sexual activity, you find that you’re uncomfortable or do not want to continue, it’s okay to tell your partner to stop and take a breather. Having sex should be enjoyable and there is no shame in stopping. If it’s your first time, taking things slowly will help ease your mind. Planned Parenthood also notes that consent is not “a one-time act – it is an ongoing agreement,” and that a person may “revoke consent at any time for any reason.” It’s also important to understand your partner’s limitations as well; pay attention to their reactions and ask them if they’re comfortable with going further before assuming.

Questions for sex experts

Now that we have some of the basics covered, Teen Vogue turned to the experts and asked them some of the most top-of-mind questions when it comes to first-time sex: New York City-based sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder, MD; sex educator and writer Gigi Engle; obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Rebecca Brightman, MD; psychotherapist Jennifer Freed, PhD.; and sex therapist Amy Levine. Ahead, read all about what to expect when you have sex for the first time.

1. Will I bleed during vaginal sex?

“Bleeding the first time is normal, but there likely won't be a lot of blood, so don't freak out,” Gigi Engle says. Some people bleed, others don't. You're more likely to bleed if your hymen hasn't been broken.”

2. What is a hymen?

The hymen is a piece of thin, fleshy tissue that’s located just inside the vagina, according to Planned Parenthood. “Breaking” your hymen doesn’t always happen during sex; Engle notes that some people with vaginas “break their hymen doing very normal things like riding a bike, doing gymnastics, or riding a horse.”

“You have to remember that you're putting something inside you that had never been inside you before, so the stretching can cause some very minor tearing,” she continued. “The best way to avoid bleeding is by using a water-based lube and a well-lubricated condom.”

If it does happen during sex, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Some blood is perfectly normal.

3. Is there a best position for first-time sex?

Rebecca Brightman: Whatever position you find to be the most comfortable. If you are too tense and things are really uncomfortable, sometimes it helps to get on top and that way you can control entry.

Stephen Snyder: OK, this is important. The best position is the one where YOU feel the most comfortable. An advantage of lying on your back is that your body weight is fully supported by the bed, so you can relax more fully. An advantage of you on top is that you get to control everything. Why not tell your partner you want to try it both ways? See which one you like better. Remember, your pleasure and comfort are the top priorities here.

Amy Levine: Missionary is a good first position to start in as it allows you to gaze into each other's eyes, connect, and kiss. Be sure to get a great organic lube like Yes, as wetter feels better and eases penetration so it doesn't hurt. Know that the amount of natural lubrication is not an indication of how aroused you are, as it can change.

Jennifer Freed: Experiment openly with your partner to see what feels best. There is no "best" position for everyone. Only you can determine with the help of a loving partner what feels most connected and pleasurable. The most important thing about your first experience is that you are sober — you are clearly making a positive choice — and that you feel safe and close with the person you are choosing.

4. Will penetrative sex hurt less if I don't use a condom?

GE: No. Condoms make no difference. Be sure the condom you use is lubricated and use some extra lube if possible. Remember that even if you're on the pill or have an IUD, this does not protect from STIs. You need to use condoms.

RB: Perhaps, but you always should protect yourself against sexually transmitted infections. So wear a condom. Have some lubrication available as well. And don't be embarrassed to use it. While there may be more friction and discomfort with using a condom, it's important to protect yourself and safety comes first.

AL: A lubricated latex condom can help ease any possible discomfort. However, adding lubrication like Sustain will make the in-and-out more pleasurable. Remember if you're using latex condoms, you only want to use water-based lube.

5. Should I be on birth control when I have penetrative sex for the first time?

GE: It's certainly recommended, but condoms are 98% effective if used correctly. If you're not in a monogamous, stable relationship and both of you have not been screened for STIs, you should use condoms whether or not you're on an alternative form of birth control.

JF: Always have protection and always be comfortable enough to make sure you have a frank discussion about protection before you make a decision to have sex with someone. Your choice of birth control is a very personal choice and it is important that you talk to a medical practitioner about what type of birth control is best for you.

SS: It's a great idea to see your gynecologist before having sex for the first time, so you can discuss all your birth control options. At the very least, you should make sure [your partner is] wearing a condom — both for contraception and for disease prevention.

AL: Using a latex condom consistently and correctly is effective to prevent pregnancy and also reduce the risk of STIs if someone is infected.

6. Is it possible that a penis won't fit into a vagina?

GE: You'd be very surprised how much a vagina actually can handle. Think about it, one day you might push a 7-pound baby out of your vagina. If you use lube and have proper foreplay, you'll be able to handle it. If it really hurts, take a break and try again.

RB: Take your time and try to be relaxed. When [people with vaginas] anticipate discomfort and pain during sex that they clench the pelvic floor muscles and feel as though their partner can't achieve full penetration. Again, using a lubricant really helps in this case. However if things are too painful and it feels like things "don't fit," you may want to see an OB/GYN and get evaluated.

SS: The only part of your vagina that offers any real resistance to penetration is the outermost portion. So once you've taken them a few inches inside you, there's usually not much problem with deeper penetration. But if for any reason you don't feel comfortable with deeper penetration, just tell them.

7. How long will first-time sex last?

RB: It really depends. It can last from less than a minute to several minutes. Many young [people with penises] experience premature ejaculation (early orgasm), particularly if they are newly sexually active themselves.

8. Do I have to orgasm for it to count?

GE: No. That being said, you should strive to have an orgasm! Your first time having sex can be uncomfortable as it's new and your vaginal muscles aren't used to penetration, so don't be shocked or disappointed if you don't have an orgasm — you are totally normal!

SS: No. It's especially unlikely to happen if it's your first time. Your first time, you're really only exploring. Don't set any goals besides that. Let the experience be whatever it's going to be.

AL: No, and if you don't know your body well, your orgasm may be elusive. Every person defines "sex" differently. To some, having sex means that the penis was in the vagina. To others it may include anal or oral sex.

9. Does my partner have to orgasm for sex to count?

SS: Of course not. Why set goals like that? It's silly.

10. Will sex hurt?

GE: Having sex for the first may be more uncomfortable than it is painful. Just use lots of lube for easy penetration and you'll be alright.

SS: Many, but not all, [people with vaginas] report there's some pain the first time. Most describe it as not a huge deal. If you find that it hurts a lot, ask your gynecologist. Don't do it if it hurts a lot.

11. Can I have sex while I'm on my period?

GE: Yes. Being on your period doesn't affect whether or not you can have sex.

SS: Yes. Just remember to put a towel underneath you.

RB: Absolutely! And again, just because you have your period, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be protecting yourself against STIs and pregnancy.

AL: Yes. Remember you can get pregnant even though you have your period. So be sure to use latex condoms.

12. Do I tell my partner it’s my first time having sex?

GE: I think it's important to be open and honest with someone you're sleeping with. The first time is often an emotional experience — we can feel vulnerable afterwards. So, I'd advise that you have the conversation about your experience beforehand.

JF: You are not ready to have sex until you can be truthful and vulnerable with your partner.

SS: It's a good idea to be honest about it. That way, you won't be burdened with wondering whether they know or suspect. And you'll be able to let them know what you need in order to feel comfortable.

13. Who initiates sex/ how do you initiate sex?

GE: This is pretty subjective. You can initiate sex with kissing and foreplay before moving to the main event. Always be sure you have protection on hand before getting into the sex. If you want to have the "I'm ready" conversation with your partner, just tell them you're ready to take the relationship to the next level.

RB: It doesn't matter who initiates it. I don't think one should have intercourse for the sake of having intercourse. If you are really in the mood and want to be intimate, it is OK to initiate it by asking them, but if your partner doesn't give enthusiastic consent, you need to respect that.

14. Should first-time sex feel special?

GE: Some people want their first time to be special; others don't see it that way. You need to think about how YOU feel about it and what you want your experience to be. Do you want it to be with a long-term partner, surrounded by flowers? Do you want it to be a casual hookup? Or do you want it to be spontaneous? Remember, you are in control of your own experience. No one is allowed to dictate what you do with your body.

SS: What should feel special is that you've decided to explore how it feels to have intercourse, and that you've decided who you want to explore it with. Your partner should feel the same way.

15. What if first-time sex is awkward?

GE: Honestly, sex is kind of awkward. Don't psych yourself out and expect some huge, teen-movie experience. That isn't likely to happen. Sex is not this serious thing. We make mistakes, embarrassing things happen. Don't beat yourself up if there are awkward silences or someone farts or sneezes. Sex should be fun.

RB: Sex for the first time is frequently awkward! Having sex for the first time is often idealized in the movies so don't let that fool you! Learning what you like and what your partner likes takes time.

JF: Awkward is normal. You can laugh about it together because you are that close. Awkward just means you are learning how two bodies fit together and it is an amusing puzzle. Part of the delight of making love is finding out how to move together in a way that feels comfortable and exciting for both of you. It is only truly awkward in a bad way if you are trying to play it cool and fake it. There is nothing wrong with not knowing what pleases you and your partner the first time. It is a journey of intense and promising curiosity. The best way to go into the first sexual experience is with no expectations of how it should go, but more a true desire to be closer to that person.

16. How do you properly put on a condom?

GE: To properly put on a condom; pinch the tip of the condom to leave a small amount of space at the top. To unroll it, slide it down the shaft of the penis.

RB: Practice on a banana. Place the condom on top of the banana. The length of the condom will be curled upwards and inwards and you will slide the edges down to cover the length of the banana.

17. What makes a condom break?

GE: The space in the top is very important because, otherwise, it can lead to breakage. Also, stay away from anything other than water-based lube, as it can corrode the latex and cause breakage. Store your condoms in a cool, dry place.

RB: Nothing is perfect and sometimes condoms tear during sex or slip off. It is really important for your partner (or you) to hold the condom against the shaft of the penis when they withdraw. This prevents "spillage.”

AL: Air in the condom can cause it to burst. So, be sure to pinch the tip, roll it on correctly (don't flip it around if you realize it's rolling the wrong way — get a new one to keep yourself sexually healthy and not get pre-cum inside of you which, [if you have a vagina], can possibly get you pregnant if sperm are present in his urethra from the last ejaculation) and smooth the air out.

18. How do you reach orgasm?

RB: Having an orgasm is a reflex that occurs when you are really "turned on" and stimulated. It doesn't happen all of the time and it's very normal for it not to happen when you have sex for the first time.

SS: First, get good at reaching orgasm when you're by yourself. Then experiment with how to make this happen during partner sex. If you need help figuring out how to reach orgasm by yourself, there are wonderful resources online at OMGYes.

19. How will I know if I had an orgasm?

GE: Oh. You'll know. If you only think you had one, you didn't.

SS: First learn all about your orgasm by yourself. Then when you're with a partner you'll know how to spot one if it happens.

20. How will I know if my partner is enjoying it?

RB: Oh, you will know!

21. Should I feel embarrassed if I'm not dating my partner?

GE: You should absolutely not be embarrassed if you choose to have sex with someone you're not dating. Just use protection, make sure YOU feel comfortable with what's happening, and have fun! Slut-shaming is so passé. Don't ever let someone feel bad for wanting to experience one of the most wonderful, basic things people can experience.

SS: That's your decision. Do whatever feels right for you.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus , Know Your IX , and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

This article was originally published in 2017 and has been refreshed.


Related: The 10 Most Common Questions LGBTQ Teens Have About Sex, Answered

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue