Not Everyone Bleeds Their First Time Having Sex

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
When it comes to virginity, there are a lot of myths out there. And while the phrase “popping your cherry” might lead you to imagine a burst of blood, that’s not really how it works. While some people bleed after having penis-in-vagina (P-in-V) sex for the first time, others don’t — and whether you bleed or not doesn’t say anything about whether you were “really” a virgin or not. Let’s talk about virginity, blood, and what to expect the first time you have sex.

What Is "Popping Your Cherry"?

Let’s get one thing clear: There are a lot of different ways to have sex. While society tends to think of losing your virginity or "popping your cherry" as a straight woman or straight man having penis-in-vagina sex for the first time, that’s a definition that leaves out a lot of people and a lot of different kinds of sex. Many LGBTQ folks go their whole lives without having P-in-V sex, after all.
When it comes down to it, virginity is a social construct, not a biological reality — and unless you’ve very recently had sex, a doctor won’t be able to tell the difference between a vagina that’s had sex and a vagina that hasn’t. But whether you define “losing your virginity” as the first time you have P-in-V sex, the first time you have oral or anal sex, the first time you get naked with a partner, the first time you have an orgasm with someone else — or any other definition — having sex for the first time can feel emotionally significant. (But if it doesn’t, that’s okay, too.)

Is It Normal To Bleed When Losing Your Virginity?

Let’s focus on P-in-V sex for now — we'll come back to other kinds of sex later. A lot of people think that everyone with a vagina bleeds after their first time having P-in-V sex, but we know this isn’t true. Numbers vary, but one 1998 study found that 63% of women did not experience bleeding after the first time they had P-in-V sex. So both bleeding and not bleeding are normal, but you’re a little more likely not to bleed.

Why Do People Bleed After Losing Their Virginity?

There are two main reasons people with vaginas might bleed after their first time having P-in-V sex: tearing the hymen and lack of lubrication. We’re going to go into more discussion about these in a minute, but first, keep in mind that when we say “bleed,” we’re talking about just a little bit of blood — you might notice a red smear on the condom, you might see a bit of blood on toilet paper when you wipe after peeing (which you should do after sex), or you might notice a few drops of blood on your underwear. This blood is more like the spotting you might see between periods than a full-on period.

What Does The Hymen Have To Do With Virginity?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the hymen, which is also called the vaginal corona, or just the corona. “The hymen is a thin membrane that partially covers the entrance of the vagina,” sex educator and trauma specialist Jimanekia Eborn explains. This much-discussed membrane is stretchy and thin, and it’s located near the vaginal opening. It’s what we call a vestigial feature, meaning that while many thousands of years ago it may have had a purpose, our bodies really don’t have a use for it now — like your wisdom teeth or your appendix.
Some people are born with more hymenal tissue than others — and some people with vaginas are born without a hymen at all. And while certain descriptions of the hymen make it sound like a solid tissue that you can “break” — like the Kool-Aid man bursting through a wall — that’s really not how it works. Along with being stretchy, for the vast majority of people, the hymen doesn’t completely cover the vaginal opening. In the rare cases that the hymen does cover the entire vaginal opening, it’s called an imperforate hymen. When this happens, people need to have minor surgery when they begin menstruating so that their period blood can exit their body.
Your hymen will gradually wear away over your whole life, for a whole bunch of reasons: everything from your hormones changing to period blood leaving your body to masturbation to physical activity to, yes, sex. Although you might have heard that you can “lose your virginity” by using a tampon, doing the splits, or riding a horse, that isn’t true, because those activities are nothing like sex (trust me). If you do bleed after having sex for the first time, it might be because your hymen has stretched or torn — but it doesn’t “break.” And you might stretch or tear your hymen at other times, doing totally non-sexual activities, and notice a bit of blood then, too.

What Does Lubrication Have To Do With Virginity?

One common reason that some people bleed after the first time they have sex is because their vagina wasn’t very lubricated and the friction from sex caused an abrasion — this also means that sex might feel uncomfortable or painful. To avoid this, make sure that you’re very turned on before you have sex — spend time on foreplay, outercourse, and maybe oral sex or fingering instead of going straight to P-in-V penetration. Also, use lube — it adds some extra wetness and makes everything feel better (just keep in mind that oil-based lubricants aren’t safe to use with condoms). If you bleed after having sex when it’s not your first time, this might be the explanation, too.

Are There Other Reasons Someone Might Bleed After Sex?

In some cases, bleeding after sex might indicate a health condition like a vaginal infection or endometriosis. If you bleed your first time having P-in-V sex but not subsequent times, this probably isn't the reason. But if you keep noticing bleeding as you have sex more often, then you'll probably want to get things checked out. “If there is continued bleeding, it may be a tear in the vagina from aggressive sex, or there may be something that is wrong with the cervix,” explains Eborn. “If it is something that is continued, one should definitely get it checked out by a gynecologist.”

What Does It Mean If I Don't Bleed After Losing My Virginity?

If you didn't bleed after losing your virginity, it doesn't mean you weren't a virgin. Like we said, different people have different amounts of hymenal tissue and different amounts of lubrication — and more than half of people with vaginas who've had P-in-V sex didn't bleed after their first time. So if you didn't bleed, don't stress — if the moment was significant to you, it's still significant.

What About Bleeding After Other Kinds Of Sex?

Vaginas might bleed after having any kind of sex that involves vaginal penetration — such as being fingered or using a sex toy — for similar reasons as bleeding after P-in-V sex: the hymen gets stretched or torn, the fingers or toy cause an abrasion or small cut, or one of the health conditions mentioned above. Bleeding after anal sex (or anal fingering or using a sex toy) might also indicate a tear or abrasion, or a hemorrhoid (a swollen vein in your anus), and in rare cases, a perforation in your colon. You shouldn’t notice bleeding after any type of oral sex, so if you do, you should see a doctor. If a penis bleeds after any kind of sex, the urethra, prostate, or foreskin may have been irritated, but it could also indicate a health condition, so you should see a doctor.

Does Losing Your Virginity Hurt?

While some people with vaginas feel minor pain or discomfort when they have P-in-V sex for the first time (or first few times), if you start having sex and it feels bad, you can stop. Try spending a lot of time on foreplay and other sexual activities before beginning penetration, use plenty of lube, go slowly, try a different position, and communicate with your partner. And that goes for any person having any kind of sex. Remember, sex should be fun and feel good.

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