So, you’ve decided to have sex for the first time. Whether you’re in high school, college, in your twenties, or fifties, making your sexual debut can feel like a big step. We get a lot of messages from society about what “losing your virginity” should look like. But really, there’s no one “right” way to have sex for the first time — and “virginity” means different things to different people, anyway. You might see your “first time” as your first time getting naked with a partner, having an orgasm with a partner, having a consensual sexual experience, having queer sex, or something else. You get to decide what "counts."
“Having sex doesn't ‘change’ you,” Dr. Jill McDevitt, CalExotics Resident Sexologist, tells Refinery29. “Many people think that having sex for the first time changes something fundamental about them as a person, especially for women. But ‘virginity’ doesn't exist. It's a social construct we made up, and the person you are after sex is the same as before sex, just like you [were] the same person before and after you ate ice cream for the first time.”
That said, you don't want to get a brain freeze the first time you eat ice cream. And you probably want your first time having sex, whatever that means to you, to be fun and pleasurable for both you and your partner. We talked to the experts to get their advice, and added a few tips of our own.
Pick a location
Find a place where you can be intimate without having to worry about being barged in on or interrupted. If you have roommates or live with family, try to find a time when they're not around. If you can't do it in the comfort of your home, make sure you won't be anywhere that bystanders could see you accidentally, and keep in mind that having sex in public is illegal. Ideally, you'll be somewhere you feel comfortable. I have a friend who had sex for the first time in an old truck with her head consistently banging into the window crank — it made the night memorable, but not in the way she'd hoped.
Forget what you heard about your "first time"
We get a lot of messages about sex from media and society. Try not to focus on what you’ve learned about "virginity" loss from TV, movies, or even your friends, because in real life, people’s experiences can be so different from each other's. “Get rid of any expectations; the first time we have sex is typically not our best. Plus, many things you hear about the first time are not absolutes,” says Emily Morse, PhD, SKYN Condoms’ Sex & Intimacy Expert and host of the podcast Sex With Emily. “Not everyone bleeds the first time, has pain, or even enjoys it — and if you fall in those categories, know that there is nothing wrong with you.”
Decide what kind of sex you want to have
What does having sex for the first time mean to you? Your first time having oral sex? Your first time getting naked with a partner? Your first time having penis-in-vagina sex? “You get to say yes or no, to any and all things. You get to decide what you do with your body and how,” says Dr. McDevitt. “There are many ways to have sex. It's not just penis-in-vagina. Hell, it doesn't even always involve genitals at all. There is no outcome to ‘achieve’ and no ‘goal’ to reach.”
Figure out what you like before you begin
If you’re not sure what you want your first time having sex to look or feel like, take some time for introspection and masturbation before proceeding. “If you are reading this thinking ‘But how do I know what turns me on?’ or ‘I need someone else to turn me on,’ I say hold up,” Goldwyn says. “Take some time to date yourself, have sex with yourself and figure out how you like to be touched before introducing a partner to the mix.”
Choose a partner who you can trust and feel comfortable with
A partner who pressures you to have sex when you don’t feel ready is not a good partner. You don’t have to be in a relationship with the first person you have sex with, but you should feel safe and comfortable with them.
“First and foremost, when having sex for the first time, make sure that you are with someone you trust, that you’re actually ready to have sex, and that you’re not feeling pressured at all to just ‘check it off the list,’’ Dr. Morse says. “Remember to go slow, pay attention to how you’re feeling, and to stay present.” If you think you’re ready to have sex but then, after beginning, decide you want to stop, that's okay, too.
"Enthusiastic consent" is key
On that note, getting and giving enthusiastic consent is a crucial way to make sure both you and your lover aren't just diving into sex because you think you "should" or to satisfy the other person. "Make sure you enthusiastically consent to each and every thing the two of you do together," sex therapist Vanessa Marin told Cosmopolitan. "'Enthusiastic' is a key part of that sentence. Don't just go along with something — make sure you're excited about it.”
Plan for safer sex
Before you have sex, decide which safer sex measures you’ll take. If you’re having sex that can result in pregnancy, what kind of birth control will you use? If you're having oral sex, will you use a barrier method to protect against STIs? If you decide not to, do you know the risks and are you comfortable with them? Educate yourself, talk with your partner, and prep in advance — it’s a good idea to have condoms or dental dams your nightstand, ready to go.
And amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it's also smart to ask the person you're seeing what precautions they've been taking. Have they been vaccinated? Do they wear masks and social distance in public? How many people do they see on the regular? All important things to know to protect yourself and others from the virus.
Conversations about safer sex don't have to be awkward, says Liz Goldwyn, founder of The Sex Ed, a multimedia platform for sex, health & consciousness education. “Make a joke as an icebreaker and talk about protection up front — it is NOT a mood killer,” she suggests. “You will feel so much more at ease and primed for pleasure if you feel secure on this front.”
Share your boundaries
When you talk about safer sex, also talk about your boundaries, Goldwyn says. Are there things you definitely want your first time having sex to include, or things you definitely don’t want it to include? Share them. If you've experienced assault or abuse in the past, what can your partner do to help you feel safe?
“Talk about your boundaries along with your desires,” Goldwyn says. “Are there places you like to be touched? What about areas or moves that make you uncomfortable? And do you know what your partner’s ‘no’ and ‘go’ zones are? I suggest having this conversation before hooking up to take the pressure off the heat of the moment.”
Focus on foreplay
Spend a lot of time kissing, making out, and touching each other before you start having sex. Maybe add in some dry-humping, too. By spending a lot of time on foreplay, you’ll be turned-on, naturally lubricated (if you have a vagina), and feeling good by the time you start having sex — which will make sex feel so much better, no matter what kind of sex you have.
If you’re having sex that involves penetration, using lubrication will increase comfort, decrease the chance of any injury or pain, and even help sex feel more pleasurable. Lube is especially helpful for penetrative sex, but it’s great for any kind of external stimulation, too. If you haven’t used lube before, try masturbating with it beforehand to see what it's like.
Try to stay in the moment
When having sex, focus on how you feel, not how you look. “Do NOT worry about what your body is looking like,” says Goldwyn. “There is no such thing as perfection — sex is often awkward, messy, and funny. There’s a huge range of experiences, and the last thing you want to be concerned with is your angles. I promise that your partner is not going to be concerned about your cellulite or love handles.”
Sex is about pleasure, and it should be fun, so try and loosen up! "In addition to trying to stay in the moment, know that it's OK if things don't go exactly as planned," explains Rebecca Alvarez Story, sexologist and founder of Bloomi. "We often idealize our first time having sex when in reality it may be quick, awkward, or trial-and-error the first few times, and that's okay," she says. " If you try a sex position and it doesn't work out, or if you can't get a condom wrapper open quickly, whatever the hiccups are, try to laugh it off and enjoy yourself."