Like with braces and bad skin, most of us grow up believing that virginity is a thing to be shed. Its very language implies that we’re working to lose it, to get rid of it — and it's assumed that we’re more mature for having done so. Be it in a university dorm room, your parents’ house, or the supply closet at a local cafe (we’re not judging), your V-card is a thing you anticipate casting off. But in most cases, the actual moment of impact (sex, that is) is a little like ripping off a band-aid: painful, efficient, and generally disappointing.
It is, of course, unequivocally true that it gets better. Few sexual encounters will be quite as awkward and as loaded as the first one.
It's also true that each of our experiences is entirely our own. We begin having sex at different ages, in different spaces, with all manner of different feelings attached (if any, at all). There's no formula — each story comes along with its own set of nuances. That’s why we spoke to real women about their "first times" and the advice they'd give their younger selves if they could do it all over again (not that anyone would want to).