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First-time sex with a friend: is that wrong?

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Elizabeth asks:

Hi. I'm 18 years old (female) and I've been talking about having sex with a guy friend of mine. I'm very inexperienced and so I'm pretty nervous about this. I don't want to do it and then regret it later. So I have couple questions i was hoping you could help me out with. First of all, if it's going to be my first time but not his should i have him get a STI test(and should i get one)? I feel a bit awkward asking him to because we're not in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship - if you have any ideas on how i could bring this up to him that would be great. I don't think he has an STI or anything but obviously i can't be sure. Secondly, since I'm inexperienced in the sex department and I'm a naturally shy person anyway how can i make myself more comfortable during any kind of sex? Thirdly, am I going to bleed all over the place since it is going to be my first time? On your site you have said that the bleeding is pretty light buy I am just wondering. Lastly, is it wrong to have sex with someone you're not in a relationship with? I feel comfortable with him and I know if we had sex it would be because we both wanted to - not because anyone was feeling pressure. Thanks so much for answering my questions! I really love your site - it has such great information!

Heather Corinna replies:

Let's start with the biggest question: is it wrong to have sex with someone you're not in a capital-R or romantic relationship?

You know, all this wrong and right stuff is arbitrary and very personal. I'm sure there are some things for me in my sex and general life that are right as rain for me, but which would be wrong for you and vice-versa. So, in one sense, I can't tell anyone else what is wrong or right with most things when it comes to sex because there are few unilaterals: wrong and right when it comes to sex tends to be very individual.

If you are asking if I think it's wrong, I can tell you that no, I do not. Earnestly, one thing I have a real problem with are people privliging relationships not based on the quality of those relationships, but by what type they are. To say that romantic relationships take all -- that no other kind of relationship is as meaningful or as important -- is a pretty grave error as far as I'm concerned, and one that has a whole lot more to do with enabling systems of power and privilege than it does actual people, actual lives and actual relationships. Most of us will have all kinds of meaningful relationships in our lives, of all types, and what makes them meaningful is the interpersonal dynamics we have with the other people in them, and how much we care for one another, not just in what WAY we care for one another. A friendship IS a relationship.

And when it all boils down to it, the cornerstone of every great, enriching and positive relationship is friendship, whether those relationships are platonic friendships, sexual relationships, romantic relationships, familial relationships, mentorships, marriages. Plenty of romantic relationships stink, and more often than not, those that are so stinky are because the people in them aren't real friends to each other. Plenty of people in romantic relationships don't have healthy sex lives, or sex with each other that is positive, mutual and which feels good physically and emotionally. We've got absolutely nothing to prove that sex within romantic relationships is better, more healthy, or more positive than sex in other kinds of relationships, and plenty of evidence to show how flawed the idea that romance equals the healthiest sexuality is.

How does this feel for you? Does it feel wrong, or does it feel like just the right thing? Do you feel like you'd feel better with sex in the context of romance, or is that something that isn't important to you? In the sexual dealings you've had up until now with your friend, what has the dynamic been like? How have things felt for you emotionally? How is your friendship doing with a sexual element?

In the case that you can't answer those questions yet, then by all means, leaping right into vaginal intercourse would certainly be hasty. Do be sure and take some more gradual steps to developing a sexual relationship together, just to see if it really is something that works for you both and fits into your friendship before getting to intercourse. Not only should that not ever be the only kind of sex you're having -- especially since physiologically speaking, it's one of the least likely kinds to be very satisfying for you as a woman -- going there before you explore others things, like making out, petting, manual sex, is putting the horse before the cart, big time.

As far as your other questions go, really, if this is a great friendship, and you do feel close, then talking about safer sex as well as dealing with something like some spotting shouldn't be that big a deal.

As far as STI screenings and safer sex goes, before you start to get sexually involved with any kind of genital sex, you can just open the conversation with something like, "Can we talk about safer sex and protecting ourselves? As well as using condoms, are you up-to-date with your STI screens? I haven't yet been at all sexually active, so I don't really need them yet, but would you feel more comfortable if I got a current one, too?" If you haven't been in any way sexually active with anyone, you don't really need one, but if you haven't started getting your general reproductive health care women should have every year -- like bimanual exams and pap smears -- starting that before sexual activity is great, and if you wanted an STI screening, you could get it done during that exam. Can that conversation be awkward, especially the first few times you have it? Sure, but then much of sex with a partner is awkward, especially with a new partner. Being okay with things being awkward is part of being really ready for sex with someone else.

In terms of bleeding if and when vaginal intercourse (or another activity where you might spot, like deeper, insertive manual sex) is an issue, yes, you may spot some, but there should not be a lot of bleeding when you are very sexually aroused beforehand, relaxed and your partner is being responsive, patient and gentle. Sex is something where body fluids of all sorts are usually an issue, so a little blood truly shouldn't be any bigger of a deal than some semen. But if you're worried about this, it's something to bring up with a potential partner: sometimes just knowing they're cool with it is all you need to know to let go of those worries.

You've asked how to be as comfortable and relaxed as you can be, and that's a bigger question than the last two. In general, if you're comfortable with yourself -- including your own sexuality and masturbation -- and you're comfortable with your partner, then you'll be pretty comfy already, and usually, over time, you'll become more so. Taking those gradual steps I talked about is another way to get more comfortable over time, before you go to intercourse, as is having conversations together about safer sex and birth control, about your expectations, about both of your wants and needs. (And if talking about it, pretty openly, isn't something you feel ready for then it's a very good sign sex isn't something you're ready for, either.)

I'm going to toss you a few links here that speak more to that last issue, and should also help you suss more of this out. Do just know that you should take as much time as you want or need to make up your mind with this. If you feel like you have to have sex because of being a certain age, or some other reason that really isn't about you and what's the best possible choice for you, dump those unhelpful ideas: just stick to your guts -- in league with your brain and heart -- and make the choices that are about what's great, not just okay, for you, not anyone else.

written 29 Nov 2007 . updated 31 Jan 2014

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