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I'm 13, and want to have sex: will it hurt?

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Jamie asks:

I really want to have sex for the first time. But I am only thirteen. I know vaguely what to do and I know to use protection. But I was talking to my 17-year-old cousin (who has had sex before) if it hurt his girlfriend the first time. And he had said that she was screaming and she felt as if she wanted to die. This information scared me a little too much for comfort. I would like to know if it will hurt as much as he said it will or if he was just exaggerating. Thank you so much.

Heather Corinna replies:

Hey, Jamie.

First things first: there are all of two or three countries in the world where it's even lawful for you to have intercourse at your age, and in most places, many other kinds of sex. If you're writing in from the states, there is no state in which you're at the age of consent. However you may feel about these laws, they exist, and it's generally very unwise not to abide by them, especially given the cultural climate when it comes to teens and sex. If your partner is over the age of consent, or worse still a legal adult, he could be looking at some very serious criminal charges. So, personally, I'd advise you to wait on sex until you're legal. It also is often pretty difficult for someone your age to get things like the sexual healthcare you need and birth control, or abortion services or pre-natal care in the event of an accidental pregnancy, so until you're in a place and of an age where you can always get those basics when you need them, it's really best to hold off.

Same goes for having the kinds of interpersonal negotiation and communication skills that it usually takes most folks longer to get a handle on than in the first 13 years of their lives. Sex always keeps, and it's always better (emotionally, as well as just for our enjoyment) when we only have it when we've got all we need to have it safely and soundly.

Which isn't to say I'm not going to answer your questions.

Could someone be in so much pain from first intercourse that they're screaming? They could. Everyone's pain threshold is different, and there are a bunch of different conditions that could make first intercourse strongly painful. (Suffice it to say, if your cousin's girlfriend also really just didn't want to be having intercourse, it would be normal for her to be screaming.)

Here are some common reasons why that could happen:

  • Some women, especially younger women, but not always, have what are called resilient hymens: hymens which through various means, have not yet worn away much at all, and just are not going to at a given point, so when a partner keeps pushing against that hymen, it's going to pull the vaginal opening surrounding it, which can be very painful. Same goes for a woman with a hymen which is not resilient, but which a partner roughly tears because of not being very gradual in the kinds of sex they're having, and not STOPPING when a partner is in pain and checking in with her. The younger a woman is, the more likely she is to have an intact or partially intact hymen which can cause pain in this way.
  • If a woman has intercourse for the first time (or any time) and is very nervous, scared, unaroused and anticipating pain, her vagina won't change in the way it does when we're relaxed, aroused and anticipating pleasure. When we're feeling good and okay about intercourse, when we're aroused, our vaginal openings and canals loosen and lubricate, making intercourse (if we want that) pleasant, rather than painful. But if we are NOT, then the vagina is going to stay "tight" and dry and clamp down, so someone pushing something into it is going to hurt. And if we don't have a good history of masturbation and other, less invasive sexual activity to KNOW when we're aroused and our genitals are doing what they're supposed to for sex to feel good, that's more likely to happen.
  • If a woman and her partner don't communicate well about sex, don't have a good basis for that communication before, and/or her partner just isn't paying attention to her communication, and/or is being too forceful or impatient with intercourse, it can hurt. Suffice it to say, for women being raped, intercourse often hurts.
  • If a woman and her partner, especially the first few times, aren't taking PLENTY of time to engage in other sexual activities for her that are not intercourse -- things like a woman receiving oral sex, or clitoral stimulation with fingers or a toy, petting, "dry" humping, what have you -- right before intercourse, it's less likely to be pleasant. Too, trying intercourse without using plenty of latex-safe lubricant with your condom is more likely to create pain

Here is a link which goes into more about why intercourse or other vaginal entry can be painful and how to avoid that: From OW! to WOW! Demystifying Painful Intercourse. I'd also like you to read about why -- not just because of age or anything else, but just because of pleasure -- it can be a good idea to put off intercourse for some people: Yield for Pleasure.

You say you know vaguely what the deal is here, but legal and age issues aside, I'd love for you to be much more informed than that when making these choices for yourself: I'd love it if you could feel more like an expert before taking this step.

So, here is a nice pile of links I think will help round out the information you have, and give you a good foundation to get started with. With more information, you're better equipped to know what the right choice is -- whatever it is -- for you right now, and to have the right things in your pocket to talk to a partner about long before having sex with him.

written 26 Jul 2007 . updated 23 Jan 2014

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