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Having sex for the first time can be a pretty big deal — and while losing your virginity may be the subject of a lot of excitement, it’s completely normal to feel a bit anxious, or even afraid. Mostly, though, it's hard to imagine what sex will actually be like when it happens — beyond what you learned in sex education class.
That's why we talked to 24 people to find out exactly what first time sex was like, and what they wished they'd known going in. Before we dive into their real-life experiences, let's set the record straight: Below are some of the most common questions people ask about virginity.
What is Virginity?
What does losing your virginity mean? “Virginity” is a concept created to talk about never having had sex — but that definition is tricky since people define sex in different ways. For many people, the idea of virginity is tied to penis-in-vagina intercourse. But that leaves out a whole group of people who aren't even interested in this type of sex. For others, especially those in the LGBTQ community, engaging in other types of sex (including oral sex or anal sex) would also equate to losing your virginity. All this makes the idea of virginity deeply personal — it's up to you to define it for yourself, and there is no wrong definition.
Most importantly, the concept of virginity is a social construct. It's not a medical condition, or anything that carries more meaning than you assign to it, though it’s often used by society as a measure of someone’s worth or virtue. That’s even clear in the language we use to talk about it: “Losing” your virginity implies it’s something taken or missed. In reality, we should have agency over our sexuality, and once we have sex for the first time we’re no different than we were before. It’s also critical to know that there's no medical way to prove virginity (for example, breaking a hymen can happen in many ways that have nothing to do with sex).
What Happens When You Lose Your Virginity?
First time sex is different for everyone, particularly because sex can mean so many different things. If we’re talking about penis-in-vagina sex, some people feel mild soreness after their first time, while others might experience bleeding. Others may notice more emotional changes rather than physical. They may feel closer to their partner, or more grown up. What won’t happen? Fireworks. Or dancing unicorns. Or everyone else magically knowing, even though it may seem like they will. But no matter how much first time sex means to you, the entire school won’t suddenly know you’ve had sex. So that’s at least a good thing.
One thing to be aware of, however, is that losing your virginity with your partner may introduce a new dynamic into your relationship. You’ll have to work out things like, will you always do it now? Will you do it every time you’re together, or was it a one-time thing? Even though it may be awkward, it’s good to have conversations about things like that so you’re both on the same page. It’s important to remember that just because you had sex one time doesn’t mean you have your partner’s permission to do it again — getting consent for each sexual act before each encounter is key.
Will I Have an Orgasm the First Time?
Again, that’s different for everyone, but rest assured you’re totally not alone if you don’t experience a first-time orgasm. In fact, most people don’t, simply thanks to all those nerves and anxiety you’ve probably built up about your first time.
How Can I Practice Safe Sex?
Having sex without protection, even for the first time, can lead to sexually transmitted infections. STIs are preventable, which is why practicing safe sex is so important. This means not being embarrassed about buying condoms, getting tested, or talking to your partner about their sexual history. For non-penetrative sex, things like dental dams or gloves can increase safety.
Dr. Jenny M. Jaque, co-division chief, general OBGYN division at University of Southern California reminds us that, "Some STIs are curable and others are not." This is why it is so, so important to be responsible when it comes to losing your virginity and having sex.
"Condoms help decrease the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease if they're used appropriately," she says. That's why condoms are the first step in safeguarding your health.
How Do You Prevent Pregnancy?
When used effectively, condoms can be super helpful in preventing pregnancy, but many people don’t use them correctly. That’s why Dr. Jaque suggests talking with your doctor about additional birth control options. There are many different kinds, from the Pill, to the NuvaRing, to an IUD. Your doctor will help you choose the right one for you based on your medical history, the kinds of periods you have (for example, certain birth control methods can help make them less painful or heavy), and your life (if your schedule makes it hard to take a pill at the same time every day, that's probably not your best option).
You can also talk to your physician about what happens when you have sex for the first time, whether it’s right for you right now, and any other questions you have about sex that you may be too embarrassed to talk about with a family member. Topics could include practicing safe sex; signs, symptoms and prevention of STIs; contraception; and what to expect in terms of whether losing your virginity is painful.
Does Losing Your Virginity Hurt?
Speaking of which, you might be nervous that you’ll feel some pain during your first time. For most people, this is mild and typically only lasts for a few times, according to Planned Parenthood. The best way to prevent pain during penetrative sex is to use plenty of lube made from natural ingredients to prevent irritation.
What People Wish They'd Known Before Having Sex for the First Time
When it comes to losing your virginity, there's plenty to talk about beyond safety. Here, 24 people share the candid truth about their sexual experiences, including what they wish they'd known before having sex for the first time.
1. That you probably won't orgasm at the same time as your partner, or experience a first-time orgasm at all.
"I wish I had known that it's uncommon and difficult to orgasm at the same time as your partner. I told my freshman year roommate that I felt embarrassed about that, and she told me it was pretty tough, and she had never finished at the same time as her boyfriend." —A
2. That it's OK to talk about losing your virginity.
"I wish I had known that talking about my virginity with the person I was sleeping with wouldn't have to be awkward if I didn't want it to be. I was the one feeling uncomfortable with my virginity, not the person I was sleeping with. Don't be scared, just be honest and it'll be fine." —D
3. That penis-in-vagina sex isn't the only way to lose your virginity.
"I wish I would've known that it wasn't necessary and that there are other ways to participate in sexy behavior without going all the way. I truly thought that was the only real 'representation' of sexuality when in reality there are SO many others." —A
4. That not everyone bleeds.
"Movies and books made me think my sheets would look like the scene of a horror film afterwards, but I didn't bleed at all. I think if I'd known that beforehand, I would have been able to relax and enjoy it a little more." —J
5. That you might need to prepare with lube.
"You'll need lube, mama. Also anal sex, it might make you feel like you really gotta pee if his penis is pushing up against your bladder in a weird way!" —G
6. That sex won't necessarily feel super emotional.
"I thought I would feel changed, and then I didn't at all. The truth is that I was lucky—my first time happened with my first love, at 16, and it was lovely in a really cheesy way. But afterward I didn't feel closer to him. It wasn't until college that sex became a way to intimately connect on any level." —E
7. That sex isn’t always magical.
"It probably won’t be all that special. Sometimes when people talk about your first time or movies portray losing your virginity, it's this built-up magical moment with someone you’re deeply in love with. For me that was not the case at all. It was with someone I trusted and it was fine, but definitely not the start of a romantic comedy." —A
8. That even virgins can have sexually transmitted infections.
"I wish I'd known—like really, really known—that if the guy has ever hooked up with someone else, they should get tested way before we do anything together. I didn't catch anything when I lost my virginity, but I definitely could have. It can happen to you and it does change a lot about your life." —B
9. That sex doesn’t change you.
"I wasn't expecting it to be really good necessarily, but I remember lying there thinking, 'Oh, this is sex? This is it?' I was dating my first real boyfriend and I had built up sex in my mind for a long time, and then all of a sudden it happened and I was not a virgin anymore, but I didn't feel any different. I guess I was just expecting to feel more adult." —M
10. That I should have waited until I was sober.
"I wish I hadn't been drunk. I thought it would help me quiet the anxiety and just get it over with, but now I understand that needing to drink was actually a blaring signal that I was not ready, and that he was not the right person." —K
11. That sex would take a while before it actually felt good.
"Sex did not feel good/amazing/life-changing the first, second, or even fifth time I had it. It took seven times before I started to feel something remotely enjoyable. I'm glad I kept with it!" —J
12. That I shouldn't have worried about how old I was.
"I loved the way I lost my virginity. So I would have told myself to stop worrying that it hadn't happened yet. You'll be so glad you waited until you were obsessed with someone, someone you could trust and giggle and high-five through it." —B
13. That your partner is freaking out, too.
"You're not the only one worrying. The first two boys I slept with both had major performance anxiety and shared my pregnancy paranoia." —A
14. That I should have only told my inner circle of friends.
"Even if you're dying to talk about it, make sure you're telling people whom you trust, people who care about your best interest and not about spreading gossip. It's also OK to keep it between you and your partner, assuming it's a healthy relationship." —D
15. That sex isn't just about your partner.
"The whole baseball analogy is really focused on the guy's pleasure. I thought I had to hit every base first, with sex as the finale or something. Now I know that I can do a lot or a little with a partner, and it's completely up to me. I don't have to feel pressured to make sure he finishes." —A
16. That sex can hurt in a totally unexpected way.
"I was prepared for the worst, because you're told that he is actually tearing through you the first time. Terrifying. My first time did hurt, but in a way I couldn't have anticipated. I was super aware of this foreign object inside of me, poking into my internal organs…or so it felt. Now I know better about the anatomy of the situation, but it was all I could think about at the time." —K
17. That I could feel literally nothing during sex.
"It wasn't good, it wasn't bad. It felt like absolutely nothing to me, like someone touching my leg." —A
19. That no one would be able to tell you’ve lost your virginity.
"After we were done, my then-boyfriend and I met up with my friends at the diner where we always hung out. I was all smile-y and quiet and sharing looks with my BF, like 'Can people see we just had sex?'" —J
20. That having sex would bring us closer together.
"I lost my virginity to my serious boyfriend of three years. We talked about waiting until marriage, but one night, it just happened. I was completely at ease the entire time, and he made sure I felt comfortable and loved. Having sex actually brought us closer together as a couple. We shared an intimate moment neither one of us had experienced before, and he couldn't have been more considerate about my feelings. I now know I can trust him completely, and we're still very much in love." —C
21. That to my partner, vaginal sex was just a way to "seal the deal."
"I lost my virginity in the most cliche way possible: to my long-term boyfriend at our senior prom. I thought I was in love at the time, but everything changed after we had sex. He grew completely distant and didn't seem to care about maintaining our relationship. I found out he had bragged to all his friends about 'sealing the deal,' and we broke up shortly after." —L
22. That honesty is the best policy.
"I lost my virginity to my boyfriend halfway through our junior year of high school. We were completely honest with one another for the five months we dated before having sex—we shared secrets we hadn't told anyone else. We felt really connected to each other, so I knew the time was right, and we're still together now!" —A
23. That my boyfriend was using me.
"We had been dating a few months, and I felt it was right. I broke up with him a few weeks later because, as it turns out, he was in love with my best friend the whole time. I don't regret it because I was emotionally prepared for the experience, but I wish I had known he was using me to get to my friend before we had sex." —A
24. That I would feel regret.
"I was 17 when I lost my virginity to my ex-boyfriend. He had recently broken up with me, and I thought having sex would bring us back together. About a week later, his relationship status on Facebook changed from 'single' to 'in a relationship' with a girl I had never heard of before. I felt completely used, and immediately regretted my decision to sleep with a guy who clearly didn't care about me. Now I'm in a committed relationship, and I understand what real love should feel like." —M
This article has been updated to include the most current information.
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