Ah, so you’re ready to have sex for the first time. Let’s start with the basics: For one, it’s absolutely normal to feel a lil nervous or timid about your first time. You’re not alone in that feeling.
It happens to pretty much everyone because, hi, sex can be awkward—and unfortunately, that doesn’t really go away the more experienced you get.
Secondly, there’s no right or wrong way to have sex. That’s because sex is all about exploration and discovering your desires, which takes time. Maybe you won’t know right away what exactly you’re into—and that’s okay.
That said, it may help to explore some of your own needs and wants via a one-on-one session with yourself prior to engaging in partnered sex (more on that later).
But, basically: Relax, breathe, and take it all in stride. We’ve enlisted the help of amazing experts who will guide you as you navigate sex for the first time. You’ve got this.
1. Get familiar with your own pleasure first.
The best thing you can do before you have sex for the first time: masturbate. “Take time to explore your own body and find out what you really like when it comes to how you like being touched, what areas feel pleasurable to you, and what areas don’t,” says sex and relationship coach Azaria Menezes. This can be very empowering and make room for lots and lots of pleasure when it comes to time for partnered sex, she confirms.
2. Don’t worry about what you look like.
Whatever face you’re making or how your stomach looks in any particular position literally does! not! matter! Focus instead on what you’re experiencing, what feels good, and the sensations of how exactly your partner is touching you. “The best thing to do is to ditch the idea of performative sex so you can make room for what really turns you on,” says Menezes.
3. Don’t limit yourself with a time restraint.
Hopefully this goes without saying but no need to schedule this like an appointment. Allotting only a certain amount of minutes in your day for first-time sex sounds like an unnecessary stress you shouldn’t pang yourself with.
“Give yourself time and go slow,” says Menezes. Have sex when you know you don’t have any plans afterward to make room for not only the sex itself, but cuddling. You may want to engage in some pillow talk, too.
4. Always have a condom ready.
If there’s even the slightest possibility of sex potentially happening, you should already be prepared with a condom, suggests ob-gyn Tamika K. Cross, MD. Since condoms help prevent unwanted pregnancy and STIs, take responsibility into your own hands and don’t expect your partner to provide them. “Why put your faith in someone else’s preparedness?” says Dr. Cross.
5. Take the pressure off of orgasming.
The sole purpose of sex does not need to be experiencing an orgasm, says Astroglide’s resident health advisor Angela Jones, MD. Especially the first time you do it.
Sure, it’s great—and should be something both partners actively work toward as they become more familiar their own needs, but take the pressure off. Think about sex as a way to connect with your partner on a deeper level, via all its emotional and mental benefits. “An individual’s worth is not tied to whether or not they climax during sex,” says Dr. Angela.
6. … And while we’re on the subject, don’t fake an orgasm either.
I know pop culture has ingrained in us all the need to moan and writhe with pleasure at every single touch, but do yourself a favor down the line and don’t set the bar for an orgasm via kiss immediately. Psychotherapist Nicole Tammelleo says this is especially important the first time you have sex with a new partner. You don’t want to create any unrealistic standards, especially since many women don’t have orgasms the first time they have sex with a new partner.
“If you fake an orgasm or tell your partner you had one when you didn’t, it’s harder to communicate your needs in the future,” Tammelleo says. Plus, once you get into the habit of faking, it makes it that much harder to stop, take a step back, and be like, “Actually, what you’re doing doesn’t rock my world as much as you think, sorry.”
7. Communicate what you want.
Talking about sex with a new partner is a must.“In order to have good sex, you need to communicate your wants, needs, and desires to your partner,” says SKYN’s sex and intimacy expert, Gigi Engle. This includes talking about what this sexual encounter will mean to you, if you are in a casual or serious relationship, if you and/or your partner are planning on being monogamous, and whether or not you are sleeping with other people.
And don’t worry, you don’t have to bring up this convo the moment you match with someone on Tinder, but you should bring it up before you take that trip to pound town, says Engle.
8. Be comfortable asking questions.
Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time having sex, the worst thing you can do is go into it with the assumption that you know everything about what your partner wants. No amount of slumber party gossip about blow jobs and giving massive hickeys can prepare you for what your partner is actually gonna be into. The only way to find out is to ask them: Do they like oral sex, or would they rather leave that off the menu? Would they rather have the music on or off? Not only does asking questions show your partner that you care, but it may also encourage them to do the same—making the whole experience better for everyone.
9. Know that sex should never hurt.
“Many women believe that the first time they have sex it will be painful,” says Tammelleo. “While it might be a little uncomfortable and awkward, it really should not be painful.”
Tammelleo adds that “hundreds of women” have told her that, when they had penetrative sex for the first time, it felt like their partner was “hitting a brick wall.” Which is absolutely not what this should feel like. Lube is an absolute must-have (more on that later), but if that doesn’t help get things running smoothly, you should consult your doctor or a gynecologist to see if you may have a condition called vaginismus, which makes it really hard for anything to enter the vagina.
If your vagina is burning or itching or feels any sort of bad thing during or after sex, talk to your doctor, especially if the sensation quickly doesn’t go away on its own or gets worse over time.
10. And also that you might (or might not!) bleed.
The (incorrect, pretty problematic) myth that everyone with a vagina bleeds the first time they have penetrative sex is, as is turns out, very much not true!
Yes, some people do bleed the first time, and that bleeding is usually caused by the stretching of your hymen—a thin, delicate piece of tissue located just a couple inches inside the vagina. But more than 50 percent of people don’t bleed their first time, because the hymen can be stretched during regular, non-sex activities like jumping on a trampoline, riding a bike, or running around.
Also, bleeding after sex can happen any time in your life—not just the first time. Once again: lube is your new BFF.
11. Remember not to compare your experience with anyone else’s.
Not only should you temper your expectations going into it, but also keep in mind that when you’re looking back on the experience later, not to beat yourself up about it. If you waited to have sex for the first time with a long term partner only to break up in the future, don’t feel bad for sharing that experience with that person as long as you had consensual, enthusiastic fun in the moment.
12. You don’t have to tell someone it’s your first time, but you might want to.
No new partner deserves a full report of your sexual history. Whether you’ve slept with 50 people or zero, that’s your business. I repeat: no one is entitled to your “number.” However, getting intimate for the first time can be… well, intimate. It you feel like you’re withholding something important to you, it could negatively affect your overall comfort level and ~vibe~.
If you tell someone you’ve never had sex before and they freak, then they’re probably not someone you wanted to be with anyway. They should take that as their cue to be even more communicative with you.
13. Being safe can actually relax you.
Nothing is more distracting than worrying about STIs and pregnancy during sex. Even if it feels awkward, it is so, so, so important to chat with your partner beforehand about what you’ll do to protect yourselves. Use a condom even if you’re on another form of birth control to protect you both from STIs (check out local clinics like Planned Parenthood for free/affordable testing).
14. Enthusiastic consent is a prerequisite for everything you do.
“Make sure you enthusiastically consent to each and every thing the two of you do together,” says sex therapist Vanessa Marin. “‘Enthusiastic’ is a key part of that sentence. Don’t just go along with something—make sure you’re excited about it.”
Remember that just because you start an activity—for example, sex—you don’t have to finish or continue it: You have the right to pause or stop whatever it is. No. Matter. What. Same goes for your partner, of course: Check in with each other as things progress to make sure you’re both enthusiastic about what you’re doing.
15. Remember to breathe.
A big part of enjoying sex is focusing on the sensations you’re feeling instead of, for example, your nervousness (which is totally common to feel your first time, even if you know you’re ready to have sex). “Deep breathing is a fantastic way to let go of distracting thoughts,” Marin points out. As you’re taking those deep breaths, focus on how different parts of your body are feeling and how your partner’s body feels against yours—not just the obvious part, but their fingers in your hair, hands on your hips, whatever it is.
16. Foreplay, foreplay, foreplay. Did I mention foreplay?
The more aroused you are, the better sex is likely to feel, so don’t neglect foreplay — including oral sex, manual sex, and, yes, good, old-fashioned kissing. “Resist the temptation to think of these activities as the things you do before moving on to the ‘main event,’” says Marin. Whether or not you do orgasm the first time you have sex, clitoral stimulation is the key to most women’s pleasure, and vaginal intercourse doesn’t usually provide very much of it.
17. Caring about your partner’s pleasure matters more than your technique.
It’s natural to worry that you won’t be “good” in bed your first time, but trust, what matters most is that you are invested in how your partner feels and vice versa, and that you two are communicating about it.
“A lot of people get anxious about sexual performance, but perhaps the best quality in a lover is enthusiasm,” Marin says. If you’re genuinely enjoying giving your partner pleasure, they’ll notice it, and have more fun, she says. Need some guidance to get you started? Simple questions like, “How does that feel?” and, “Do you like when I [fill in the blank]?” give your partner a chance to express appreciation for what you’re doing or (gently) ask for something a little different.
18. Feedback is not the same as criticism, so don’t hesitate to give it.
A common concern is that if you tell your partner something doesn’t feel good — or something else would feel better—they’ll feel attacked. But if they care about your pleasure, they’ll be happy to hear how to help you feel it. In the moment, it can be hard to figure out what exactly you want, so it can be helpful to talk after the fact about what you enjoyed, what you could do without, and what you’d like to try next time.
19. Lube is your friend.
Using lube sometimes gets a bad rap as a sign that you’re not turned on enough, but even if you and your body are saying “OK, let’s do this!” a little lube can make sex so much more pleasurable. Another benefit of using a water– or silicone-based lube with a condom (avoid oil-based lube, which can degrade latex) is that less friction means the condom is less likely to tear.
20. Temper your expectations.
Teen movies and TV shows sold us a pretty unrealistic vision of what having sex for the first time looks like. It’s always perfectly choreographed and mood-lit and romantic, and ends in an implied simultaneous orgasm. As if.
Don’t expect fireworks the first time you have sex—sex is messy and human and flawed and often awkward, no matter how many times you’ve done it. It’s the practice and the exploration that make sex fun.