Heather Corinna replies:
Having read several of your articles concerning "first time" sex, I understand that it may not (and probably won't be?) everything I'm expecting, and that you're "first time" isn't as big a deal as society makes it seem. But I would really like my first time to be special. Not necessarily perfect, but an event in my life I can look back on fondly. Is there anything I can do/should know that would make it more special?
By the way, I think this site and what you do here is awesome, and I am so so grateful that this resource is available. Keep it up!
That all depends on what having it be special really means to you.
I know that might sound trite, but we're all just so different, and what's meaningful to us varies so much that not knowing anything at all about you before now, what might be special to you isn't something I can speak to with any authority. That'd be your area of expertise.
For many folks, that'd be about it just being with the person they want to be with at the time, or with someone who has demonstrated some real care with whom you also feel a strong sexual attraction. For some, it might mean only in the context of a certain relationship or relationship benchmark of some kind. For others, it might mean having it be part of a larger day where they do something both partners have a shared love for, like camping, or creating art, or volunteering, or sharing a long walk. For others still, what makes sex of any kind for the first time special may just be the spontaneity of it all and two people wanting the same thing at the same time, and taking that risk to go for it. You might want to be in a special place, you might want to make things more casual than formal, or vice-versa, saying something meaningful to each other first. For some people, making some kind of commitment before that first-time sex is a big deal, whether we're talking about marriage, about monogamy or about a spoken intent to see that first time as starting a journey or to commit to a lifelong friendship or bond of some kind. For others, first-time sex is special because it happened unexpectedly, without plans, and in a relationship that was fleeting.
Of course, you can only plan so much of this stuff. Two people might plan a whole day or weekend around having sex for the first time, then find that it rains on a day where outdoor things are planned, or that when it comes time for the sex, it just doesn't feel right to one or both on that day, after all. As well, while sex can bring people together, sometimes adding sex to the mix drives people apart, too, so one has to bear in mind that there's just only so much when it comes to these things that any given person can actually control. Most of what you can control when it comes to this is what you agree to with someone else and what attitudes and intentions you bring to the table.
But if you have some ideas about what might make it special in the way that you'd like, by all means, talk to your potential partner about that.
Brainstorm together: ask him or her what they might want to make things special for them. Be creative. Express yourselves and your relationship uniquely. You could write each other a letter in advance to each read after sex together, for example, and start letter-writing between you about your sex life after it begins. You could try and plan first-time sex for a time when you can also spend the night sleeping in the same bed, or for after you can sleep together. Or, maybe you could have a special and original code-word or phrase you could both say for when the time comes that one of you feels the time is finally there that the other repeats if they feel the same way. You might bring each other a gift for that day to celebrate the start of your sexual relationship and represent what you want it to be. Have fun with it: sex being meaningful doesn't mean it can't be fun, after all. (I do, however, think it's sage to draw a line somewhere. The idea of used condom scrapbooking, for instance, strikes me as seriously pushing it.)
It's probably obvious, but having the bare basics at play is usually going to be ground zero for sex being special as well as healthy. I'm talking about both of you really feeling sexual desire and only agreeing to sex when it is a mutual want, being in a relationship where you both feel cared for and respected, having both of your bodies and minds addressed with sex, as well as having what you need -- and both knowing how to use those things -- to manage the risks involved with partnered sex, and feeling like sex is the right thing for you. Other aspects of that readiness include things like knowing enough about your own body and the basics of your partner's body -- and same goes for them -- that you're both going to experience something that is physically pleasurable, being sure you both have realistic expectations and that you both feel ready, overall.
You're right: most people's expectations about sex aren't realistic. But one thing to remember is that doesn't mean that expectations are only off in terms of thinking something will be better than it really is and finding out it's worse or not as good. It can mean it's just different than we expect, and it can also mean the whole thing is a lot better and more enriching than we thought it would be. When you're trying to prepare yourself for something not meeting your expectations, what I'd advise is just being prepared to be surprised: not to have something be better or worse as much as trying to go into it with as few expectations as possible, and an openness to your experience being whatever it is, unique as it is.
Overall, though, whether it's your first time or your 201st time, if the sex that you're having is really about you and your partner alike -- if it's an expression of who you both are, sexually and otherwise, what your relationship is, and how you feel about each other -- if it's what you both want and feel ready for, and if it is shared within a healthy relationship, it's special. By all means, sex, like everything else in life, varies from day to day and experience to experience. It's not always firecrackers: sometimes it's more like eating a bowl of ice cream when you're feeling down. Sometimes it's romantic and flowery, and other times it might be more animalistic or plain. And sometimes, it's just nothing to write home about at all in some respects. All of that variation is okay, and even on those days that will happen now and then where any two people may even stop sex in the middle because it's just not working out so well that day, that doesn't mean it's any less important. It just means it's human.
If we're bringing ourselves openly to it, as is our partner, then we really don't need to do a whole lot to make sex special. Any two people wanting something from each other at the same time that requires some trust and vulnerability, seeking shared pleasure and joy together, and interested in and drawn enough to each other to want to literally dive inside one another is something pretty darn cool and rare all by itself.
Glad we've been able to be of help to you so far!