What to expect the first time you have sex

Most of us have had some exposure to sex prior to our first experience of intercourse, be it the feverish, softly-lit passion portrayed in movies, the dry mechanics in your high school health class, and even the extremes of more explicit content available online; the only problem with them is it can leave out critical details. If you’re worried about your first time you can prepare to take the next step in your relationship by understanding these three dimensions of sex.

Emotional/Mental

People come to physical intimacy with a lot of fears and expectations. Communicate with your partner well in advance of sex to avoid major missteps. Expect awkwardness; one or both of you are new to this, and like all new things, it’s not going to be easy and will probably be uncomfortable at the start.

Arousal can be at odds with good emotional intelligence when it comes to sex; try to slow things down so you can confirm that your partner is happy to go ahead and is prepared to take the next step emotionally, mentally, physically and yes, logistically. Sex can make you feel very vulnerable and can trigger surprising emotional reactions, so be aware that you may need to pause or reschedule to accommodate you or your partner’s emotional needs. Respect yourself and your partner by going into your first sexual encounter with the mindset that it’s never too late to take a step back. Under no circumstances and at no point do you ever owe anyone the right to have sex with you.

A significant part of arousal is mental; if you’re afraid, nervous, uncomfortable or unsure, your body may not produce adequate lubrication. Rather than rushing to “get it over with”, a better approach is to slow things down, consider your concerns or your partner’s concerns, and to reengage when ready.

Sex triggers some biological reactions that can affect you during and after intercourse such as dopamine release. Many couples report a sense of emotional or spiritual connection after sex referred to as “afterglow”. After your first time, you are likely to experience a stronger feeling of connection with your partner.

Physical

“Go slow” is good advice from a physical perspective as well. Everyone’s different, and men and women can vary in how quickly they reach arousal and climax. For your first time having sex, adjust your expectations away from cinematic ideals.

For some men, obtaining and maintaining a continuous erection can be a challenge. For women, the hymen, thin folds of tissue just inside the vagina, can be stretched or torn in the course of penetration. Results vary widely in individuals; some women experience more pain and bleeding, while others don’t notice any. Arousal and lubrication can help to reduce pain and tearing, and again, the mental/emotional sense of being “ready” can help. A more relaxed and aroused person is more likely to experience pleasure and less likely to encounter discomfort the first time. Orgasm and ejaculation may or may not occur so it can help not to view your first time as performative but as a chance to get to know each other intimately.

Something the steamy romances tend not to portray: there are fluids involved – lubrication, semen and/or blood the first time. Plan accordingly. We’re not talking gallons here, but laying down a towel and keeping some tissue within reach or having a bathroom nearby for cleanup afterward is always a good call. Also, be prepared for some soreness the day after. It shouldn’t be debilitating, so see a medical professional if it’s at a level that you’d need painkillers for, but depending on pace, lubrication and individual resiliency, you may feel out of sorts for up to a couple of days after having sexual intercourse.

Medical/Logistical

Part of preparing for your first time having sex is understanding the risks and taking precautions to make sure both partners are safe, comfortable, healthy and informed. Women will need some form of birth control, and both partners should be aware that all forms of birth control have a (generally very small) failure rate. Using a condom is important to avoid an unplanned pregnancy and guard against sexually transmitted infections (STI/STDs), and can be helpful in slowing sex down and providing a natural “check-in” point for communication. Other preparations include having supplementary materials on hand such as a safe lubricant, towel or tissues, change of clothes, etc.

While careful preparation is important, if you do have sex without being prepared, it’s best to take action as soon as possible to guard against any issues. The “morning after” pill is an effective birth control option that does come with some side effects. For STDs, the sooner they’re diagnosed and treated, the less damage and discomfort you will experience. Genital sores are not something you want to experience, particularly if you’re hoping to repeat your newfound sexual experience in the foreseeable future. STI/STDs may not surface right away, but you can still carry and communicate them to other people, so be sure to get checked for STDs after having sex for the first time or with a new partner. For Midwesterners, in particular, look into STD testing in Indianapolis or see a local general practitioner to be tested preemptively.

Sex can be a wonderful experience when you’re fully relaxed and properly prepared. Examine your emotions and the stability and health of your relationship, and communicate with your partner to move toward sex together in a way that can be enjoyable and affirming. Ensure your own, and your partner’s health and wellbeing are protected by being prepared with contraceptive protection and other supplies.

Know that your first time will be a learning experience, and that you will work toward a more intimate, connected future together by understanding the emotional responses and physical processes involved in sex. Go at a pace both you and your partner are comfortable with to ensure the best experience for both of you.

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