But having sex for the first time is so personal that there's no way of knowing if you'll have a magical experience, an awkward experience, both, or neither. As for the pain? That doesn't have to happen. "Some people experience pain, others don't. Bodies and experiences are very diverse," says Lindsey Doe, PhD, host of Sexplanations.
Whether or not having sex for the first time is painful depends partially on a person's individual anatomy. Some people who have vulvas naturally have more hymenal tissue than others, according to Planned Parenthood, so penetrative sex — meaning penis-in-vagina sex, fingering, or using an internal sex toy like a dildo or strap-on — might be more painful for them than others because it can stretch the hymen. Someone might also experience more pain during sex if they have a condition like vulvodynia, which causes chronic pain around the opening of the vagina. "Pain is the body's way of saying that something is wrong," Dr Doe says. She suggests reaching out to a clinical sexologist, who can help you work through ways to make sex feel better.
Barring issues with anatomy, sex can also hurt if either you or your partner aren't ready or haven't been taught how to make sex pleasurable for everyone involved. That's true even if you're not having penetrative sex. "There are behaviors that are more prone to tearing and discomfort like penetration of the vagina or anus, but sex can hurt in all forms," Dr. Doe says. "Penises can get bent, bitten, and bruised. Vulvas can hurt from over-stimulation of the clitoris." Penetrative sex can also be painful if someone isn't emotionally ready for sex, she says. Especially for people who have vaginas, not being mentally prepared for sex can make their vagina too dry or too tight. If your body isn't ready, you might just need a little more foreplay to turn yourself on, you might need to use lube, or you might need to rethink having sex and try again when you're in the right place emotionally.
Of course, those problems are much less likely when the people having sex know how to make sex feel good. "We don't teach people how to make the experience pleasurable. We barely teach them what sex is," Dr. Doe says. "If sexual knowledge and skills were taught around stimulation, communication, and consent, pain during first intercourse experience would be rare."
To avoid painful sex, Dr. Doe suggests educating yourself. "Learn about the foreskin and how it can stimulate the sensitive head of the clitoris or penis without bombarding them. Learn about the stages of arousal," she says. It can help to find someone you can talk to about sex. Ask what their first time was like, talk to your partner about what you want out of the sexual experience, and do your research. (PSA: Dr. Doe's Sexplanations videos are a great place to start.)
She also suggests that the first person you have sex with is someone you trust. You don't have to be married, or even dating, but it's much more likely that you'll have that magical sexual experience if you trust that your partner won't hurt you.