Let's talk about sex.
(c)Universal Pictures/Everett Collection.
Your first time having sex can be a tricky, scary and confusing thing. And it doesn’t help that as of now, only 24 states in the U.S. require schools to have sex education programs, leaving most people with a lot of questions and no answers. For starters, people define "sex" in different ways. It can include vaginal, oral, anal sex, and other activities, but today we're focusing on vaginal sex, which refers to penis-in-vagina intercourse.
Maybe you've already learned about sex in school, from friends, from parents, or somewhere online, and maybe you're not ready to have sex yet — which is totally normal. Maybe you have a partner you are comfortable with, and you've gone through the steps of deciding that you're ready for sex. Regardless, whether you're totally ready or totally not, even if you've never kissed anyone and you're just curious, whether you want to have this information or not is completely up to you.
We turned to the experts and asked them some of the most top-of-mind questions when it comes to your first time: New York City sex therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder, M.D., sex educator and writer Gigi Engle, obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Rebecca Brightman, M.D., psychotherapist Jennifer Freed, Ph.D., and sex therapist Amy Levine.
Will I bleed?
Gigi Engle: The short answer is, probably. There likely won't be a lot of blood, so don't freak out. Some people bleed, others don't. You're more likely to bleed if your hymen hasn't been broken. For some people with vaginas, they break their hymen doing very normal things like riding a bike, doing gymnastics, or riding a horse. You have to remember that you're putting something inside you that had never been inside you before, so the stretching can cause some very minor tearing. The best way to avoid bleeding is by using a water-based lube and a well-lubricated condom.
Stephen Snyder: You might, or you might not. It's probably best to put a towel down the first time, just in case.
Amy Levine: It's possible that you can bleed and the reason is that penetration can cause the hymen to break. However, most girls break their hymen doing non-sex related activities like riding a bike, horseback riding, gymnastics, or when you were a kid climbing to the counter and falling on an open cabinet door — ouch!
What's the best position to do it in for the first time?
Rebecca Brightman: Whatever position you find to be the most comfortable. If you are too tense and things are really uncomfortable, sometimes it helps to get on top and that way you can control entry.
GE: For first timers, I'd recommend sticking to missionary. It's the easiest, most natural position — the penis is curved in the same position as the vagina. Be sure you talk to your partner beforehand and tell your partner to take it slow and steady.
SS: OK, this is important. The best position is the one where YOU feel the most comfortable. An advantage of lying on your back is that your body weight is fully supported by the bed, so you can relax more fully. An advantage of you on top is that you get to control everything. Why not tell your partner you want to try it both ways? See which one you like better. Remember, your pleasure and comfort are the top priorities here.
AL: Missionary is a good first position to start in as it allows you to gaze into each other's easy, connect and kiss. Be sure to get a great organic lube like Yes, as wetter feels better and eases penetration so it doesn't hurt. Know the amount of natural lubrication is not an indication of how aroused you are, as it can change.
JF: Experiment openly with your partner to see what feels best. There is no "best" position for everyone. Only you can determine with the help of a loving partner what feels most connected and pleasurable. The most important thing about your first experience is that you are sober — you are clearly making a positive choice — and that you feel safe and close with the person you are choosing.
Will it hurt less if I don't use a condom?
GE: No. Condoms make no difference. Be sure the condom you use is lubricated and use some extra lube if possible. Remember that even if you're on the pill or have an IUD, this does not protect from STIs. You need to use condoms.
RB: Perhaps, but you always should protect yourself against STDs. So wear a condom that contains spermicide and also is lubricated. Have some lubrication available as well. And don't be embarrassed to use it. While there may be more friction and discomfort with using a condom, it's important to protect yourself and safety comes first.
SS: No. In fact, a lubricated condom can make it easier. Make sure he wears one. It's not negotiable.
AL: A lubricated latex condom can help ease any possible discomfort. However, adding lubrication like Sustain will make the in-and-out more pleasurable. Remember if you're using latex condoms, you only want to use water-based lube.
Should I be on birth control when I have sex for the first time?
GE: It's certainly recommended, but condoms are 98% effective if used correctly. If you're not in a monogamous, stable relationship and both of you have not been screened for STIs, you should use condoms whether or not you're on an alternative form of birth control.
JF: Always have protection and always be comfortable enough to make sure you have a frank discussion about protection before you make a decision to have sex with someone. Your choice of birth control is a very personal choice and it is important that you talk to a medical practitioner about what type of birth control is best for you.
SS: It's a great idea to see your gynecologist before having sex for the first time, so you can discuss all your birth control options. At the very least, you should make sure [your partner is] wearing a condom — both for contraception and for disease prevention.
AL: Using a latex condom consistently and correctly is effective to prevent pregnancy and also reduce the risk of STDs if someone is infected.
Is it possible that a penis won't fit all the way into my vagina?
GE: You'd be very surprised how much a vagina actually can handle. Think about it, one day you might push a 7-pound baby out of your vagina. If you use lube and have proper foreplay, you'll be able to handle it. If it really hurts, take a break and try again.
RB: Take your time and try to be relaxed. It's normal when women anticipate pain and discomfort that they clench the pelvic floor muscles and feel as though their partner can't achieve full penetration. Again, using a lubricant really helps in this case. However if things are too painful and it feels like things "don't fit," you may want to see an OB/GYN and get evaluated.
SS: The only part of your vagina that offers any real resistance to penetration is the outermost portion. So once you've taken them a few inches inside you, there's usually not much problem with deeper penetration. But if for any reason you don't feel comfortable with deeper penetration, just tell them.
How long should it last?
GE: There is no definitive answer for this. The average guy lasts about 3 to 7 minutes.
RB: It really depends. It can last from less than a minute to several minutes. Many young men experience premature ejaculation (early orgasm), particularly if they are newly sexually active themselves.
SS: There's an enormous range, usually limited by how long the man can go before ejaculating. Some men naturally have good control, but many don't.
Do I have to orgasm for it to count?
GE: No, for straight, cisgender boy/girl couples, if there is penetration during sex, it counts. That being said, you should strive to have an orgasm! For two out of three women, clitoral stimulation is needed to have an orgasm — which is easiest through cunnilingus. Your first time having sex can be uncomfortable as it's new and your vaginal muscles aren't used to penetration, so don't be shocked or disappointed if you don't have an orgasm — you are totally normal!
RB: NO. In fact, most women don't have an orgasm during their first sexual encounter. Unlike guys, women need to be super relaxed and it can take time for some women to actually experience an orgasm.
SS: No. It's especially unlikely to happen if it's your first time. Your first time, you're really only exploring. Don't set any goals besides that. Let the experience be whatever it's going to be.
AL: No, and if you don't know your body well, your orgasm may be elusive. Every person defines "sex" differently. To some, having sex typically means that the penis was in the vagina. To others it may include oral or anal sex.
Does my partner have to orgasm for sex to count?
RB: No! Not everyone has an orgasm during sex. Guys can be stressed and may not ejaculate as a result.
SS: Of course not. Why set goals like that? It's silly.
Will it hurt?
GE: Having sex for the first will be more uncomfortable than it is painful. Just use lots of lube for easy penetration and you'll be alright.
RB: Not necessarily. Everyone's body is different. It really depends on the anatomy of the hymen, which in some is no longer intact because of prior physical activities.
SS: Many, but not all, women report there's some pain the first time. Most describe it as not a huge deal. If you find that it hurts a lot, ask your gynecologist. Don't do it if it hurts a lot.
Can I l have sex while I'm on my period?
GE: Yes, being on your period doesn't affect whether or not you can have sex.
SS: Yes. Just remember to put a towel underneath you.
RB: Absolutely! And again, just because you have your period, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be protecting yourself against STDs and pregnancy.
AL: Yes. Remember you can get pregnant even though you have your period. So be sure to use latex condoms.
Do I tell my partner it’s my first time?
GE: I think it's important to be open and honest with someone you're sleeping with. The first time is often an emotional experience — we can feel vulnerable afterwards. So, I'd advise that you have the conversation about your experience beforehand.
JF: You are not ready to have sex until you can be truthful and vulnerable with your partner.
SS: It's a good idea to be honest about it. That way, you won't be burdened with wondering whether they know or suspect. And you'll be able to let them know what you need in order to feel comfortable.
Who initiates it/how do you initiate it?
GE: This is pretty subjective. You can initiate sex with kissing and foreplay before moving to the main event. Always be sure you have protection on hand before getting into the sex. If you want to have the "I'm ready" conversation with your partner, just tell them you're ready to take the relationship to the next level.
RB: It doesn't matter who initiates it. I don't think one should have intercourse for the sake of having intercourse. If you are really in the mood and want to be intimate, it is OK to initiate it by asking them, but if your partner doesn't give enthusiastic consent, you need to respect that.
Should it feel special?
GE: Some people want their first time to be special; others don't see it that way. You need to think about how YOU feel about it and what you want your experience to be. Do you want it to be with a long-term partner, surrounded by flowers? Do you want it to be a casual hookup? Or do you want it to be spontaneous? Remember, you are in control of your own experience. No one is allowed to dictate what you do with your body.
SS: What should feel special is that you've decided to explore how it feels to have intercourse, and that you've decided who you want to explore it with. Your partner should feel the same way. Some women right away love the sensation of having a man's penis inside them. For some, it's an acquired taste. Some never really find it that interesting. These are all normal responses.
What if it's awkward?
GE: Honestly, sex is kind of awkward. Don't psyche yourself out and expect some huge, teen-movie experience. That isn't likely to happen. Sex is not this serious thing. We make mistakes, embarrassing things happen. Don't beat yourself up if there are awkward silences or someone farts or sneezes. Sex should be fun.
RB: Sex for the first time is frequently awkward! Having sex for the first time is often idealized in the movies so don't let that fool you! Learning what you like and what your partner likes takes time.
JF: Awkward is normal. You can laugh about it together because you are that close. Awkward just means you are learning how two bodies fit together and it is an amusing puzzle. Part of the delight of making love is finding out how to move together in a way that feels comfortable and exciting for both of you. It is only truly awkward in a bad way if you are trying to play it cool and fake it. There is nothing wrong with not knowing what pleases you and your partner the first time. It is a journey of intense and promising curiosity. The best way to go into the first sexual experience is with no expectations of how it should go, but more a true desire to be closer to that person.
How do you properly put on a condom?
GE: To properly put on a condom; pinch the tip of the condom to leave a small amount of space at the top. To unroll it, slide it down the shaft of the penis.
RB: Practice on a banana. Place the condom on top of the banana. The length of the condom will be curled upwards and inwards and you will slide the edges down to cover the length of the banana.
SS: There are lots of videos on how physically to accomplish this. In my experience, the most important thing is to make sure you're both feeling excited first. Make sure the guy isn’t hurrying to put the condom on or hurrying to penetrate.
What makes a condom break?
GE: The space in the top is very important because otherwise, it can lead to breakage. Also, stay away from anything other than water-based lube, as it can corrode the latex and cause breakage. Store your condoms in a cool, dry place.
RB: Nothing is perfect and sometimes condoms tear during sex or slip off before a guy withdraws his penis. It is really important for your partner (or you) to hold the condom against the shaft of the penis when they withdraw. This prevents "spillage.”
AL: Air in the condom can cause it to burst. So, be sure to pinch the tip, roll it on correctly (don't flip it around if you realize it's rolling the wrong way — get a new one to keep yourself sexually healthy and not get pre-cum inside of you which can possibly get you pregnant if sperm are present in his urethra from the last ejaculation) and smooth the air out.
How do you reach orgasm?
GE: Two out of three women require clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm; this is difficult during straight-up P in the V sex. In order to have an orgasm, start with cunnilingus and once you start having sex, stick to positions where either you or your partner can reach the clitoris.
RB: Having an orgasm is a reflex that occurs when you are really "turned on" and stimulated. It doesn't happen all of the time and it's very normal for it not happen when you become newly sexually active. During foreplay and sex, the clitoris gets stimulated and when very stimulated may result in an orgasm.
SS: First, get good at reaching orgasm when you're by yourself. Then experiment with how to make this happen during partner sex. If you need help figuring out how to reach orgasm by yourself, there are wonderful resources online at OMGYes.
How will I know if I had an orgasm?
GE: Oh. You'll know. If you only think you had one, you didn't.
RB: You will know. There are phases to the female sexual response and having an orgasm is preceded by being really "turned on" and lubricated. When you have an orgasm, you will experience rhythmic tightening and relaxing of your vaginal muscles.
SS: First learn all about your orgasm by yourself. Then when you're with a partner you'll know how to spot one if it happens.
How will I know if my partner is enjoying it?
GE: Focus on what makes YOU feel comfortable. Don't stress yourself with them too much.
SS: Heck, why would you want to worry about that? Just make sure you're enjoying it!
RB: Oh, you will know!
Should I feel embarrassed if I'm not dating my partner?
GE: You should absolutely not be embarrassed if you choose to have sex with someone you're not dating. Just use protection, make sure YOU feel comfortable with what's happening, and have fun! Slut-shaming is so passé. Don't ever let someone feel bad for wanting to experience one of the most wonderful, basic things people can experience.
SS: That's your decision. Do whatever feels right for you.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN, End Rape on Campus, Know Your IX, and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.