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First Intercourse 101

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If you're thinking aboutpenis-in-vagina intercourse (PIV) with an opposite sex partner, and you've got everything you need: in terms of your relationship, materially and emotionally, you're probably reading this because you want to know how to make it all work your first time. Or maybe you're here reading this because it was something you've tried that hasn't seemed to 'work" in one way or another, or at all.

The bulk of questions we get asked about first intercourse -- and we get asked about these every single day -- are: Will it hurt? Will I bleed? Will I hate it? I'm so scared, what do I do? Why isn't my boyfriend talking to me now that we've had sex? Why didn't I orgasm? Why didn't it feel like anything?

Let's start here. Imagine that you're standing on the edge of a diving board, a hundred feet above the pool. If you're ready to try diving, you know how, and you really want to do it, your mind and your body will cooperate and let you. You may not execute it perfectly the first time, but you'll feel good about trying, and you won't kill yourself either. On the other hand, if you're not ready, you don't know how, or you don't want to, your body and your mind just aren't going to let you do it. Your feet will keep inching back from the edge, your heart will race, your head will say "No, no, no," a thousand times over, and you just won't be able to jump.

That's a good thing: it's the way our bodies and minds work together to keep us safe.

The same goes with sexual intercourse. To begin with, if you or your partner both really aren't or don't feel prepared, ready, or both completely wanting to have intercourse, it just isn't likely to go very well, it may very well hurt, you won't be as likely to enjoy yourselves, and no one will probably have a wonderful time and mutually beneficial sex.

Even if you think you're ready now, reading this, and you get there and change your mind, it is always okay to stop, wait for another time or switch to a sexual activity you know you feel ready for and are comfortable with. One of the biggest parts of sexual maturity is knowing our own limits, and being able to clearly and freely voice them and act upon them. A lot of young couples plan to have intercourse on a specific date, so if you're doing that, be sure you're both leaving room for one or both of you to find that on that date, you just might not be in the mood that day.

If you can't do that, or don't feel comfortable doing that, you need to learn to do so before you get into bed with anyone. Sexuality is something that is with you your whole life, so if you want to wait, the nice thing is that it will too, and your sexual life goes by the pace YOU set, not the other way 'round.

Intercourse 101

That all given, the first step in any sort of enjoyable sex is for it to feel fairly natural and organic, like the way you dance alone in your bedroom, rather than the way you'd dance in a televised dance contest.


Feel like you've already passed the 101 course? Want a more advanced approach to intercourse and other kinds of sexual entry? Then you might want to take a look at this: Let's Get Metaphysical: The Etiquette of Entry. Are you reading this piece because you're preparing for a first time with intercourse? An Immodest Proposal might also be a fine source of inspiration.

No kind of sex is like an algebra test: you can't just start in classroom 203 when the bell goes off, and go through the motions to get a passing grade, and expect it to be phenomenal. Ultimately, there should be a comfortable progression to intercourse, and you should feel comfortable. If you've been having other kinds of sexual and intimate activity beforehand with someone you care about and trust, and have already established good patterns of communication about sex specifically, you can move (or not, depending on your own limits) into intercourse without it feeling forced or alien.

Foreplay is a term some people use to describe other sexual activities which can be engaged in before, during and/or after intercourse (or all on their own, so it's not the greatest term ever), and which most people need to have enjoyable intercourse the first time and thereafter. It can include things like:

  • talking or other kinds of communication
  • kissing, hugging and cuddling
  • touching, sensation play, massage or caressing
  • manual sex ("fingering")
  • mutual masturbation
  • oral sex
  • sexual talk, role play and other kinds of stimulation.

Relaxation and Arousal

Though it's normal to be nervous, if you're with someone you trust, enjoy other kinds of sex with, and with whom you feel safe, you should be pretty relaxed. (Though it's normal to feel excited and antsy at the same time.) If you aren't, be sure and take stock. You may just be nervous because you're doing something new, but it's also possible you or your partner aren't ready, you don't want to, or you aren't really with someone you trust or feel safe with. Trust your gut feelings, and be sure your heart and your head have good communication, too.

When your body relaxes, your muscles get a little looser, your breathing gets a little deeper, and then you're more likely to get and stay sexually aroused. When you are aroused (excited), your body will usually act in kind, lubricating itself, loosening the muscles and tendons in your whole pelvic area, and becoming much more sensitive to sensation and touch, with that touch more likely to feel pleasurable, not painful.

Doing the Deed

When and if you feel ready to attempt intercourse, before you do anything else, have your partner put on a condom, or, if you're the partner with the penis, put the condom on. You should not be trying a condom for the first time and first intercourse: make sure you both know how to use one well before. Be sure to use extra latex-safe lubricant with the condom, and put a generous amount of lube on and around the entire vulva. Either or both of you can massage the vaginal opening and clitoris with the lube, and be sure it's really slippery, andbe sure to add more lube throughout as needed. Suffice it to say, that extra "massaging" should hardly feel like a chore.

The vaginal opening is where the penis is inserted into, and one partner will usually need to (with all intercourse, not just the first time) use a hand to slide the inner labia apart and guide the head of the penis into the vaginal opening. If one or both of you are uncertain as to where that is, take some time -- be that minutes or weeks -- to better explore the vulva, with fingers and your eyes, to be more familiar with what's what. There is no need to worry about penetrating the urethra by accident, because that simply isn't possible: it's much, much too tiny. Same goes for the cervix. Sometimes, however, a male partner may "miss" the vagina and start to enter into the anus, so if that happens, just speak up.

While it's your call, it can be ideal for your partner to know it's your first time (for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that healthy sex requires honesty). It can be helpful to be clear that you need he or she to be patient, and communicate with you as you go, as you will with them. This isn't the time to be shy, or get silent, so if you have a problem talking about sex, you shouldn't be quite this far along. These are also things we'll ideally want to have going on with all kinds of sex, whether it's our 1st time or our 301st time.

What About Virginity?

A lot of us have grown up with the idea that virginity is something tangible, that it's highly valuable, and that it's something we give to someone or take from someone else. Let's unpack this a little.

Virginity is a cultural or personal concept. We can't tell, just by looking at someone, whether or not they're a virgin. The idea of cherry popping as something physical or anatomical is also a myth. And any kind of sex between people isn't really about giving, getting or taking: it's about sharing something together or creating something together. In other words, when people engage in sex together, they're adding something, not taking something away: it's addition, not subtraction.

You can take a look at where the ideas of virginity really come from here.


While first intercourse can be less worrisome in some respects for the person with the penis -- it's not you who is going to get pregnant, and you're unlikely to experience any pain or bleeding -- plenty of guys DO have their own sets of worries about first intercourse: performance anxiety, worry about getting a partner pregnant, STI concerns, worries about hurting a partner, or fears that you just won't do things right.

Most positions for intercourse will work out fine for you, but you're still most likely to be able to figure things out with either the missionary position -- you on top -- or with your female partner on top. That way, you both have a better view of what is down there, as well as better control over moving into intercourse gradually, and as is most comfortable for both partners. Know that even long-time intercourse-havers usually do have to guide the penis to the vagina with hands, so don't worry that your penis has to have some sort of radar that allows it to find its own way. Throughout, talk to your partner: ask her what's working for her and what isn't, ask if what feels good for you is feeling good for her, and do be sure to remember that intercourse alone may satisfy many men, but it satisfies fewer women, so even with first-time intercourse, you probably don't want that to be the only sexual activity you're doing.

If you get nervous, it's OKAY. Even if that means losing an erection: again, sex isn't just about your penis, and while it's less visible with people with vulvas instead of penises, nervousness keeps women from becoming fully aroused and functional for intercourse, too. So, don't sweat it too badly, and try and keep things down-to-earth: if you're just feeling too nervous, just SAY so -- being able to be honest with partners is so important, even when you feel like a heel. if you ejaculate quicker than you'd like, no big whoop: if your partner still wants to have more sex, do another activity with her.

Lastly, be sure and play your part in sexual responsibility when it comes to safer sex and birth control: not only is that vital to everyone's health, not worrying about pregnancy and infections makes it a lot easier for both of you to be relaxed.


People tend to report that the two easiest positions for new intercourse are either the missionary position (where the person with the penis is on top), or a position where the person with the vulva is on top. The latter may be a little easier because that person, who is more likely to have issues with discomfort, can control how deeply a penis is going into a vagina and at what pace. When you begin vaginal entry, go slow. Start by just setting the tip of the penis against the vaginal opening. You can learn a thing or two here from an eastern tantric tradition: if you simply set the penis at the vaginal opening, and either of you gently put your weight on the other and press down slowly as you both relax, the vaginal opening and canal will open to entry more naturally.

It should be up to the insertive partner (the one who someone else's body part is going inside of) to say how deep to go, and how fast to move. That person is the one most likely to experience pain if anyone gets too hasty, after all. Don't do anything that feels horribly uncomfortable for either of you: pain is the way the body tells us not to do something. It may only feel good to have an inch of entry, and then move very slowly. On the other hand, it may feel just fine to enter more deeply for both partners, and move more rapidly. Much of the time, how aroused the insertive partner is makes a very big difference in this regard. Just tell each other as you go what feels good, and what doesn't -- this is no time to be shy! -- and be prepared to be patient with each other.

Most of all, breathe. Look at the instructions given to a woman in labor, silly as that might sound. Though intercourse isn't anything even remotely close to as painful or intensive for your body as labor, the best thing for both of you to do is to breathe. Take nice deep breaths, and keep 'em steady. Bringing oxygen into your body and releasing it keeps your muscles relaxed, your head clear, and your heart steady and calm.

Pain and Bleeding

You may find that first intercourse does hurt. How much it hurts -- or if it does at all -- varies a good deal from person to person, experience to experience. However, most of the time, when people are all very aroused, relaxed and feel ready and comfortable and going about intercourse soundly, people feel good, rather than being in pain. Even the first time.

Sometimes the corona (hymen) may likely not be worn away a lot yet, and even if it has been somewhat, what remains of it may not have been stretched as much before as it is being stretched now.

But most commonly, pain or bleeding isn't about the hymen at all. Instead, it is more commonly about about feeling nervous, rushed, unsafe or scared, not aroused enough or having a partner be too hasty. Not communicating that something hurts, and keeping on in silence is another common culprit with pain during intercourse.

Again, go at a pace that feels right to you. If it hurts, stop; take a couple minutes again where the penis is just pressed against the vaginal opening, perhaps stimulate the clitoris a little, or take a big break to talk or snuggle. When and if you're both ready, try again. You may find you have to do this any number of times, and since it should still be enjoyable and intimate, there is absolutely no need to apologize for it. Any sort of sex isn't a one-shot deal -- it's a lifelong experience. Anyone in a hurry to "get it over with," is completely missing the boat.

We all also have different personal pain thresholds. For some people who have pain, first intercourse pain is a hiccup, and for others they feel a good deal of pain and discomfort. If it hurts a lot for you, you aren't a wuss, or weak, and if it doesn't hurt at all, that doesn't mean you weren't a virgin, or that something is wrong with you, either. First intercourse pain is usually, when it happens at all, fairly mild and short pain if you are aroused, relaxed, properly lubricated, and have a sensitive and patient partner.

There are a very small number of people whose coronas (hymens) are simply very resistant to eroding at all, and these people will usually feel tremendous pain at attempting intercourse. If you're one of them, you have probably found you cannot use tampons either, nor insert a finger into your vaginal opening. No matter how you try and break down a gate like this, it just isn't going to open, so you'll need to go and see a doctor or gynecologist to deal with it. Sex aside, it's not really healthy or comfortable to go through life with that sort of hymen, so you may need a surgeon or doctor to make an incision before you can do any of these things. Your doctor will talk to you about your options. As well, if pain during intercourse continues and helps like these don't fix things, check in with your doctor: certain health conditions or issues -- like an infection, a cyst, vulvar vestibulitis and the like -- can also be culprits

While most people don't bleed with intercourse, some do have bleeding during first intercourse or the first few times. Like pain, this is usually about things like not being aroused or relaxed enough, not using lubricant as needed and/or having a partner who is being too hasty. If you're well lubricated, and your partner goes slow, bleeding will likely be minimal or may not happen at all. Nothing is wrong if bleeding does not happen: some people have some bleeding or spotting with first intercourse or other kinds of vaginal entry, while others do not.

If you find that you've had intercourse many times and still are bleeding with it, and you've already tried things like adding extra lubrication or more non-intercourse activities, check in with your sexual healthcare provider. Bleeding and/or pain with intercourse can be a symptom of a sexually transmitted infection or other reproductive health issue.

Orgasm

Either of you may not reach orgasm during first intercourse, and it is common that many women won't (ever) from intercourse all by itself. Most women don't, and that's not usually just because a male partner isn't maintaining erection for long enough or because he's not doing the right things.

That doesn't mean it wasn't good, that anyone failed, or that anything is wrong. Even once you're an old hand at intercourse with a given partner, it is entirely possible -- and usual -- that it won't be what brings you to climax by itself, but that other forms of sex, like oral sex or clitoral stimulation combined with intercourse, will. In addition, it is also highly common that during first intercourse, the male partner's erection may not last very long, and he may reach orgasm very quickly, perhaps even more quickly than he wanted to. Again, that too is okay, and it doesn't mean anything is wrong with anyone. It just means that something so new and intense, and often a little nerve-wracking, has effects on your body (and also that young men, and men in general, often reach orgasm quickly, and in general, more quickly than women).

You Aren't Alone

It is likely that during this experience, both partners may need downtime or care. Bear in mind that first intercourse, while not usually physically painful for men, isn't always emotionally easy either, and the male partner may likely be just as nervous, scared or inexperienced as the gal is. He may, for instance, have trouble maintaining erection, and that's fine and good too -- if you still want to be sexually intimate, just move to another activity in which an erection isn't required. It's all okay, and if you've got a male partner who thinks it isn't, just remind him that it really is.

Don't forget that men often have burdens to bear with first intercourse, and many feel pretty serious pressure to do it "right" and make it good for everyone. Many caring young men are also very scared and nervous of hurting their female partners. Try and be sure and remember that women aren't the only ones with issues and fears, and give each other the same patience and sensitivity you want from your partner.

Finishing Safely

When you're done with intercourse, take off the condom -- away from the vulva -- slowly, knot it, and throw it away. When you're pulling the penis out of the vagina, you'll want to hold onto the base of the condom so it doesn't slip off before you're ready for it to come off. If the condom does slip off and get "lost" in the vagina during intercourse, reach into the vagina, and feel for the circular or ring end of the condom. Pinch it together, and pull it out carefully, to avoid spilling any semen. If that happens, you will want to be aware that you may have an STI or pregnancy risk to attend to.

Both folks should urinate after sex as a habit, especially people with vulvas. Because the vaginal opening is very close to the urinary opening, bacteria can easily get into that opening and create a urinary tract infection. In general, this can be easily avoided by making it a habit to urinate both before and after sexual intercourse.

Aftercare

You may find you have any number of different feelings after first intercourse. You might feel very excited, or glowy, or you might feel overexposed or confused. You might also feel somewhat underwhelmed. It is entirely likely you'll feel a lot of different things, just as you often do with other types of sex. The same holds true for your partner.

Give yourself what you need after any kind of sex, and ask your partner for what you need from them, and to voice their own needs. You may want to snuggle, talk, or go have lunch or take a walk together. You may instead want some time alone. It's up to each of you.


Some people have the idea that if they've started having intercourse, they can't go back to not having intercourse. But there are a lot of reasons why intercourse might be right for people one day or at one time, and not feel right or be what they want on another day or at another time, including pregnancy fears, physical discomfort, and just plain personal preference. It's always okay for anyone to say it's it's time to slow things back down, or that they don't want to engage in any given sexual activity, anytime, even if they've done that activity before.

Sometimes, having intercourse (and other types of sex, as well) can change a relationship temporarily or permanently, because both of you may have complex feelings about it, and it may take some time to process them by yourselves. It may be that it wasn't what you expected, or that it made you see a different side of your partner you're unfamiliar with or uncertain about. All of that is okay. Keep the channels of communication open, talk to your partner about your feelings, and be a good listener when your partner talks to you. If you do those things, even if the relationship changes in terms of what you are to one another (sexual partners, boyfriends and girlfriends, or just friends), you'll keep the integrity of what you had, and keep it good for both of you.

Who you tell about your experience is up to you. It is a good idea to tell some family member, even if they aren't your parents, simply to keep the channels open, and give them the information they need to take care of you best. You'll probably want to tell one or two of your friends, as well. Because people who don't know you well probably don't know the intricacies of your personal relationships, it's usually best not to tell the whole world, as they may make judgments about you based on only partial information that may make you feel uncomfortable. It's a good idea to talk to your partner about who you are both going to tell, just to be sure you both get the level of privacy that you need.


Leave some intellectual room for your second time to be even more important or better than your first. In other words, it's entirely possible -- and I'd even say more likely -- that second-time, third, fourth, twenty-fourth or two-hundred-and-fourth may be more meaningful or enjoyable than first.

Think about it like this: the very first time we do anything, while that may be memorable, it was a tryout. An, "Oh, that's what this is and this is what it feels like." The second time (and ever after), you come to something having at least some general idea, based in actual, physical and emotional experience, of what it is you're getting into and doing.

I hate to stoop to bicycle comparisons, but I can't help it. First time I rode a bike: memorable? Hell, yes. My grandfather yanked off my training wheels without warning, and I teetered down a steep hill and landed flat on my face. I had scabs for weeks. Won't be forgetting that soon. So, memorable, for sure. My best bike ride ever? Not hardly. But every time after - especially sans grandpa -- it got more awesome. When I ride my bike on trails in the morning now? It rocks.

Now, one hopes your first time having intercourse will not even remotely resemble my first time riding a bike. Point is, any kind of sex -- intercourse certainly included -- tends to get better as time goes by. You're unlikely to ever meet anyone who tells you the best sex they ever had was the first time they had it. So, if things are awkward, if you both feel clueless, if it ends way sooner than you wanted it to or didn't result in a world of pleasure or a big love-buzz, it's okay. And it may well be that it takes many times -- five, ten, twenty, even more -- until you and a partner really get to a point where it meets your expectations.

A less-than-ideal first time doesn't mean anyone made a mistake, that you're doomed to substandard sex evermore, or that had your first time been with someone else, in another time or place, that things would have been vastly different. It just means that just like with that first bike ride, even the good parts will probably get even better over time.

Lastly . . .

When you're sexually active -- intercourse or otherwise -- you need to get into a habit of tending to your sexual health, if you haven't already. Make an appointment at a sexual healthcare provider's office or clinic to get regularly tested for infections, and to discuss your birth control options. Though condoms used correctly (which you NEED to be using, regardless of your history or your partners) are excellent birth control, there are also other additional backup options, and the best person to talk about them with is a doctor.

Take some time to think about what new responsibilities this aspect of your life entails, because there are a lot of them. Review the checklist. Evaluate your own feelings. For instance, once some people have intercourse with a partner, they sometimes feel they are then always obligated to do so again, and that isn't so at all. Think about how you want to work this in your relationship, and in your life. Figure out what it means to you, to your partner, and to the relationship you have, and how you want to manage it.

Sexual intercourse isn't an end to anything, nor is it the doorway to the entirety of your adult life or sexual life, but it is most certainly an event that is important and pivotal for many heterosexual people, and is one of the passages of your life, of which there will be many. Above all else, celebrate it in whatever way feels best to you, and take a look at this step in your life with thought to what pace you want to take with it now.

written 15 Jun 2014 . updated 15 Jun 2014

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