Losing your virginity doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating, but your first time is a bit of a big deal in terms of how it affects your mind and body. And it’s confusing: What is virginity anyway? How the heck can you lose something that’s an abstract? We’ve got the lowdown on everything about losing your virginity and what to expect for your first time: the good, the bad, the ugly (well, we hope your partner is at least cute).
First thing’s first: What is virginity?
That depends on who you ask. Doctors actually get kind of annoyed by the concept of virginity, because it’s so subjective. Dr. Erica Zelfand explained, “As a doctor and as a sex-positive ally for my patients, I really wish this antiquated term would just go out of style already. When people hear the word ‘virginity’ they usually think of the first time a penis enters a vagina, or the first time a vagina is occupied by a penis. Conventionally this is thought to be a bloody, messy, painful process, but it really doesn’t have to be.” (Uh, thank God.) Dr. Zelfand added, “It’s also dismissive of the other ways in which we can explore and express ourselves sexually. ‘Virgin’ is not a medical term.” Amen!
Basically, you have to define virginity for yourself. It’s extremely personal.
Does oral sex or anal sex count as sex?
This is a little more cut and dry than what counts as virginity. Whereas virginity has a lot to do with personal, moral, ethical, spiritual and logical beliefs, sex can actually be somewhat universally defined. Sex isn’t limited to just sexual intercourse. Basically, anything with “sex” after it, is–you guessed it–sex. So don’t think you’re getting around it by only engaging in oral sex or anal sex. Both are extremely intimate acts, whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end, and both pose the same risks as sexual intercourse–save for pregnancy. But the STD, STI and emotional vulnerability? That’s all still there.
Does rape count as sex?
This is a tricky one, because rape poses the same risks as sex–sexually transmitted diseases, STIs, pregnancy–with added trauma. Experts are very quick to point out that being raped is a lot different from actually having sex.
Licensed therapist Laurel Wiers says, “Did someone have sex with you when you are raped? Yes. Did you have sex with them? No. The mere definition of rape is ‘sex without consent.’ This is rape, not sex.”
If you say no, even if you’re not physically forced–or if you’re too drunk, high or otherwise incapacitated to give consent, that’s rape. Wiers explains, “Both sex and rape have similar components but do not mean the same thing. Penis in a vagina happens in rape. Penis in a vagina happens in sex. Both of these scenarios have the same components, but I’m sure you would agree they are different acts altogether.” She adds, “Take it a step further. If someone came up to you and said the following about a friend of yours who was raped” ‘I heard (your friends name) had sex with (the rapists name)’ my guess is something about that comment would not sit well with you. Innately, you know it isn’t sex.”
Now that you know what sex is …
How do you know you’re ready for sex?
One way to know you’re ready for sex? You’re not wondering whether you’re ready for sex. I know, you’re probably like, “Thanks for nothing, Sager, I need more than that!” But it’s true. Still, here are more ways to tell.
Women’s psychologist Jessica (awesome name) Cashman broke it down beautifully. “You know you’re ready to have sex when you can handle the physical and emotional responsibilities of having sex, meaning that you have been to the doctor and had a physical exam, spoken with them about your desire to have sex, consulted on the best form of birth control, and the best way to avoid STDs.”
But wait! There’s a lot more than preparing yourself physically for sex. Cashman continued, “Emotionally, it is a little more difficult to define. First and foremost, you have to make sure that your partner is mature enough to also handle having intercourse. This can be done by having an open discussion with your partner.”
But it takes two to tango–and to, well, you know. Some things to consider, per Cashman, as the emotional repercussions of getting intimate with someone else. Spoiler alert: They can get intense.
“Without stereotyping or generalizing too much women after sex usually feel more vulnerable, close and attached to the person they had sex with. If your partner is not interested in this, it can be difficult to deal with the potential rejection, especially for your first time,” Cashman advises. “I work with grown women who have had many partners that after having sex with a new partner for the first time are crushed when the partner does not want to be with them again. They wonder if it was something they did, if they were bad in bed, said something wrong, were too needy–and these are mature women who are having these reactions!”
But don’t be dismayed! Really. Cashman put it so well that I couldn’t have said it better myself: “If your partner does not want to be with you after having sex, good riddance. Move on! They don’t deserve you. Someone will come along that does.” Preach!
How can you prepare to have sex for the first time?
Before you have sex for the first time, you need to have conversations with yourself. We’re not saying to walk around muttering like I do when I want people on the subway to leave me alone. We’re talking a heart-to-heart with yourself about your motivations for having sex.
Ask yourself: Do you really want to have sex for the sake of having sex? Or do you think having sex is a way to get guys to like you or your current crush to stick around? Do you feel peer pressured because you’re the only virgin left of your friends? You need to make sure this is something you want for you and that your expectations are realistic. (More on that later!)
You need to talk to a few other people, too.
How can I talk to my partner about having sex for the first time?
This may be the most important conversation you have, because talking about sex with your partner can help you determine whether or not you even want to go through with it. If you don’t think you can talk to you partner about sex, you probably shouldn’t be having sex with this person.
You may not want to divulge that this is your first time having sex. That’s your prerogative–but again, if you don’t think you can trust your partner to not judge you based on your experience or inexperience, they probably won’t be good in bed.
Being honest with your partner about having sex for the first time will empower you both. You’ll have a weight lifted off your chest, and he or she will probably be gentler, more accommodating and more understanding. And that, in turn, will make sure you’re both a lot more satisfied than if you just went through the motions and tried picking up on everything as you went along. (That is, if he or she is someone worth sleeping with at all.)
Aside from talking about sex in general, you need to make sure your partner gets tested. To make sure he or she doesn’t think you’re judging him, offer to go together. Bond over it. You’ll both be able to relax and enjoy sex when you know you won’t be at risk for an STD.
How do you talk to your doctor about sex?
You’re probably a little freaked about talking to your doctor about sex, because, well, she or he is your doctor. They don’t know your life! But they should, because they can help make sure you’re having safe sex–and safe sex is the best sex, because it’s really hard to relax and enjoy sex if you’re freaking out over getting your Eggo preggo or waking up with a weird bump down there. (I know. I know. That’s why it’s important!)
Dr. Erica Zelfand, who specializes in young women’s health, has good news for you if you’re scared your doc will spill to your parents, or if you think you can’t find a doctor to chat with about your sexual health. “Your family doctor can be a great resource for you,” Zelfand said. “Depending on your age and the state you’re in, your doctor is obligated to keep what you say private. (Except for a few exceptions, like if they suspect cases of domestic violence.)” Hopefully you’re not dealing with that–and if you are, that’s a whole other essay. You can get help for domestic violence here.
Other resources Zelfand recommends? “Clinics like Planned Parenthood are also incredible, and you can often get in for free thanks to all the men and women who donate money to keep their doors open.”
Okay, but how do I tell my parents I’m having sex?
Listen, I get why you don’t want to do this. I still like to think my parents believe my live-in boyfriend and I just paint each other’s toenails and braid one another’s hair. But there are a few problems with that, least of which being that I honestly don’t even know how to braid hair. They would totally know I’m lying.
Sex Is Not For Sissies (more on that here) founder Valda Ford has some advice for talking to your folks, especially if they may be a little more high-strung and strait-laced than the average mama and papa bear: Set an appointment and let them know what to expect. Say, “Mom, I’ve got strong feelings for [partner's name] and I’m becoming interested in sex. I want to talk to you about everything before I make any decisions, because I trust that you won’t judge me and will help me do what’s best for me and my relationship.” That said, your folks may still balk. Ford says, “Expect that they are not going to be happy or accepting of the idea of their baby being sexually active. Be patient and expect to have several conversations. Be prepared to offer evidence that you are sure of what you want and you are mature enough to deal with the consequences. They will surely tell you, and rightly so, that young love is often fleeting and will suggest that you not give yourself away like a door prize.”
Does this mean you shouldn’t have sex just because they don’t like the idea of it? No, it doesn’t. But if they know–or at least have an inkling–of what you’re up to, they’ll also be more likely to help you out with getting protection or if something goes wrong, whether it be a pregnancy scare or a broken heart.
Okay, okay, that’s great–now how do I get protection for my first time having sex?
If your parents are finally cool with the idea of their little girl getting laid, they may insist on going with you to buy protection. As awkward as it is, trust me on this: Just do it. If you fight them on this, they may not think you’re mature enough to have sex in the first place. And if you’ve read this far, chances are that’s not the outcome you want, right? (Plus, they may pay for it. That’s pretty sweet if your babysitting money is running low and you don’t want any babies of your own right away.)
If they don’t want to have any part of it? You’re not out of options, and you may actually be a little relieved. Ford recommends a few different avenues to get what you need. “Generally speaking you can and should speak with your doctor or nurse practitioner about your plans and have them involved.” Most doctors are required to keep what you tell them private if you’re 13 or above, but some doctors, especially if you’ve been seeing them for a while, may not want to break your parents’ trust. For those cases, you still have choices. Dr. Zelfand says, “Clinics like Planned Parenthood are also incredible, and you can often get in for free thanks to all the men and women who donate money to keep their doors open. Planned Parenthood gives out condoms by the bag full and has resources galore to offer. You can also stroll into any pharmacy in this country and buy condoms, so if you really don’t have anybody you feel safe talking to, you can at least buy basic protection for pretty cheap.”
And if for some reason those fail you? No excuses. Ford recommends an alternative. “The vending machine in the restaurant bathroom. And certainly there is the internet!”
Another thing you may want to pick up? Dr. Zelfand recommends a hypo-allergenic lube to make things more comfortable. Check the ingredients–you don’t want anything with Nonoxnyl 9.
Also, don’t forget that your partner should be responsible in picking up condoms and protection, too. You’re not going to be having sex with yourself. (Or maybe you are, in which case, girl, you have fine taste! But, you need to read this!)
What can you expect your first time having sex?
I hate to be the one to break this to you, but if it’s your first time and your partner’s first time–or if he’s just not that experienced–it’s probably not going to be too pleasurable if you rush through the motions. Chances are there will be some awkwardness, because, well, that’s four elbows and four knees in one bed. (I once accidentally kneed a guy in the groin in bed. I felt really bad. He felt much worse.) It can be messy depending on where your partner finishes and how he disposes of the condom. (Hint: Ever roll over onto a used one? More than once? Don’t call that guy back.). But hey, don’t shoot the messenger!
It can also be a little emotionally exhausting. You may hype it up in your head as this magical experience, when really it can be sort of lackluster or not even that memorable … or it can be pretty crummy if your partner ends up being a jackass.
Psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman put it slightly scarier terms. “Losing one’s virginity can be very traumatic, especially if they pick the wrong boy and the wrong time and place,” she said. “Girls need to realize that they only get to give the gift of their virginity once, so they need to make sure that the occasion is special.”
What’s more, you may feel pressured to stay with the dude just because you slept with him. Part of that is societal pressure: if I dump a guy after I sleep with him, does that make me a slut? (Uh, no, it doesn’t. It means he wasn’t up to your standards.) And part of it is just due to some chemical reactions that happen in our brain after we have sex: we release oxytocin, which makes us want to cuddle. And sometimes cling.
Licensed therapist Laurel Wiers says, “That fantasy thinking convinces girls that because they lost their virginity to this guy, there’s a possibility that they are going to be with him forever. They don’t have the understanding that for the guy it was more about the experience and not the relationship at all.”
And that’s the thing: just because you think it’s special doesn’t mean your partner does. He might! And he should, obviously–and really, you’re pretty awesome, so he’s lucky just to even get a shot at being with you. But if you’re expecting candlelight, roses, simultaneous orgasms and good lighting, you’ll probably be disappointed to find that it’s probably a fluorescent bulb, dandelions, slight discomfort (or not even knowing it’s in) and unflattering angles.
Valda Ford put it simply. “You should expect different things depending on the age and experience of the partner,” Ford said. “If both parties are young and inexperienced and uneducated about anatomy and sexual safety, there will probable be a lot of fumbling and little satisfaction, especially for the girl.” Gosh, guys have it so easy.
All that said: Or it can be awesome! It really varies on a case-by-case basis. If you want to hedge your bets on making it feel good? Don’t rush to the main event. Take your time. Foreplay has the word “play” in it because it’s fun.
Will it hurt to have sex for the first time?
This is another one with a solid answer of “It depends.” On what? Well, one factor is your pain tolerance. For example, mine is absurdly high–I could probably give birth to a kid with horns and be like, “Oh, that tickles!” Whereas my best friend thinks paper cuts are brutal. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this.
A lot of why people think sex is painful and bloody the first time is because of the hymen breaking–or, as you may have heard it put, the cherry popping. (Sounds kinda vulgar, but also makes me crave a Shirley Temple. I may need help.) In any case, Dr. Zelfand has some words about that!
“The term ‘cherry’ refers to the hymen, which is actually just a thin ring of tissue near the opening of the vagina. In some females, the tissue obstructs more of the opening than in others, but it’s nevertheless a ring of tissue with an opening in it, so a penis or dildo should still be able to be introduced into the vagina without injury or discomfort,” Zelfand said. “Nevertheless, this tissue can become torn during vaginal penetration if it doesn’t adequately stretch.”
How can you stretch it out? Some ways are more fun than others, Zelfand notes. “Masturbating with fingers and dildos and using tampons can help stretch the hymen. During sex, making sure you’re fully aroused (hooray for foreplay!), going slowly, and using enough lubrication can all make vaginal penetration more enjoyable and make the hymen more likely to stretch and less likely to tear. Your hymen isn’t something that gets popped, broken, or ‘taken away from you.’ It’s yours, and will forever be a part of your body.”
That said, she adds, “It doesn’t have to hurt or bleed the first time, but it often does. The teenage boy isn’t exactly the archetype of the smoothest lover, after all.”
Want more hymen scoop? Check this out:
What if it hurts–like, it really hurts?
The first time having sex ever may not be comfy. That’s pretty normal. But, Dr. Zelfand says, “If the pain persists after having vaginal penetration a few times and you’ve tried going slowly, getting fully aroused before penetration (don’t forget the clitoral stimulation! Most women need it to orgasm!) and using a hypo-allergenic lube, it may be time to go see a doctor. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s anything tragically wrong with you. Something as simple as a mild yeast infection can make sex more painful than it needs to be.” And those are super easy to treat with a doctor’s prescription!
What if it doesn’t hurt but doesn’t feel good?
It takes time, and it may take practice–with or without a partner–to figure out what turns you on and gets you off, but it does get better. If your partner is worth his or her salt, they’ll make sure you’re enjoying yourself before they finish. And if they don’t? On to the next one … As long as he’s tested an wearing a condom.
Want to learn more about getting ready to have sex for the first time?
Check out these links for more help on safe sex and dealing with your body and your emotions when you lose your virginity:
Are you nervous about having sex for the first time? What was your first time having sex like? Do you think losing your virginity is a big deal? Tell us in the comments!