Real Talk: “Does the ‘first time’ always suck?”

Dear Sarah,

The other night, I was talking to one of my male friends about what it’s like to have sex for the first time.  I am twenty years old, a junior in college, and currently single (oh yeah, and I’m a virgin).  He, as someone who lost his virginity at a considerably young age, told me my first time is going to suck regardless of my expectations. I replied that I didn’t think this could be right, as it would depend on my feelings for the person, how much I trusted them, etc., but he remained adamant.  He told me that my perception and gut feelings on this subject were in no comparison to his actual experience.

I’m waiting to find someone I trust and deeply care about before deciding to have intercourse. While part of me believes that he’s just being an idiot, another part of me can’t help but wonder if he’s actually right. A lot of people I’ve talked to about the “first time” seem to agree with him. Many of my female friends (including my mother) have all said the same thing: your first sexual experience will be awful, no matter what.

I know it’s impossible for you or anyone to predict if my first time is going to be terrible.  However, I would really love some insight regarding this.  Is it possible to have a pleasurable and exciting “first time,” or is the idea itself truly dead on arrival?

—Nervous Virgin in Massachusetts

Dear Nervous,

Hello, smart college girl. In brief: you are right and he is wrong. Why should your well thought-out-reasoning be any less valid than his one-time individual experience? You say he was very young when he had sex, well, that’s typically a major reason that the first time is a bummer. I’m not going to pinpoint a specific age when one is “ready” because people grow up at their own pace, but there is a vast difference in a 14 year old’s physical and emotional maturity compared to, say, a 20 year old’s. While it’s true that lots of other people also have janky first times, it can be for reasons that were actually related to their individual circumstances.

I think you are right to wait until you are in a relationship where you feel intimacy and trust. In my humble opinion, sex with someone you love and feel safe with is 100 times better than a casual hook up. Many people bumble into their first time without any forethought (or foreplay, for that matter) or end up doing it with someone they feel meh about just to get it out of the way. No wonder the sex stinks. Great sex doesn’t just magically happen, especially if you are inexperienced. It takes getting know your own body and someone else’s and having your partner learn all about yours as well. For your first time, make sure to have plenty of time, a private place you feel super comfortable in, and have discussed your fears and expectations as well as practical issues like STDs and birth control, well in advance. What’s not a great idea is to tumble into bed with no planning after a night of partying.

On the one hand, we put losing one’s virginity on a pedestal, on the other, we see it as a kind of burden to lose or get rid of. No wonder lots of people have confused and conflicted feelings about the whole thing. Keep in mind that intercourse (gah! can’t we come up with another word for it? so awkward. . .) is on a spectrum of sexuality. Yes, that particular act is significant but it’s also part of a big sexy stew and maybe we’d all be better off and more satisfied if we didn’t make such a huge deal about “it.” So, educate yourself—the classic Our Bodies, Ourselves is an excellent place to start and loaded with all sorts of useful info related to women’s sexually and health—and don’t let other people’s negative experiences infect your own attitudes. As the scientist L.E. Lamb once said, “The most important important sexual organ is the brain.”

Love, Sarah

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