screen grab from the film lady bird after two characters have sex

A Comprehensive Guide To Having Sex For The First Time, By The Experts (& Us)

So, you’ve binged Sex Education, done a bit of Googling, consulted with your friends and remembered some v uninspiring sexual health lessons in PDHPE.

While this can all help prepare us for having sex for the first time (truly, bless Gillian Anderson), it’s often still a moment that’s wrapped up in nervousness, anxiety and excitement which means you might be keen for some straight-up advice and/or info. In which case, we got you.

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First, a pause. You might even have had sex already. I don’t want to alarm you, but it’s 2020 and what we consider sex is no longer only some form of penetration between two consenting people. 

Romancing yourself by candlelight after a bath? This can be sex. Enthusiastic kissing and touching while most of your clothes are still on? Can also be considered sex. Nipple play and using toys on a partner? Also sex. 

Like people, sex is infinitely variable, so when it comes to having sex for the first time, especially with a partner, there is no one size fits all advice.

Whether you’re starting to get freaky at sixteen or sixty, if you’re in a relationship or not, if you’re cis or trans or straight or queer or disabled (or a lit combo of many), if you’ve been working up to it if for months or you just see a honey at a party and decide the time is now, the first time you have sex with someone else is going to look different for everyone. 

We sat down with We-Vibe ambassador and sex educator Georgia Grace (@gspot._) and psychosexual therapist Christine Rafe to chat all things first times. 

So, (Oprah voice) what is the truth, what is sex?

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Sex, as a descriptor, can be used pretty fast and loose. 

“Sex encompasses everything from erotic kissing to over the clothes touching to nipple play, through to touching genitals, oral sex to penetration to any or all holes,” explains Rafe. It can also refer to sex with yourself AKA masturbation. It sometimes leads to an orgasm or an ejaculation—but not necessarily always: sex isn’t just a race to an orgasm, there’s a whole world to explore before, during and after that point.

That said, when it’s thrown around as term in pop culture or among friends, sex usually refers to penetrative sex or something in that realm, usually with someone else. For the purposes of this article, we’re gonna assume that is close to what you’re thinking of when you’re looking for advice.

I think I wanna have sex with someone, what do I do and where do I start?

Sick, you wanna have sex, love that for you. Here are a few jumping-off points:

Figure out ur body

The first thing you can do to prepare for having sex with someone else is actually getting comfy with yourself. “Really feeling and comfortable on your own is what I would say is probably the first step, before you even consider sex with a partner or partners,” advises Rafe, “Thinking about what you know about your genitals, what do you know about your arousal?”

If you’re reading this, you probably have a tiny computer in your hand right now and there are a tonne of resources out there that help with getting to know your own anatomy. We would suggest partaking in some light reading. 

Grace adds that there’s also a lot of information around different ways you can stimulate your bod to feel really good and pleasurable, so get Googling. 

*Feel* around your body

The other thing to try is physically exploring yourself. “If you feel comfortable, get some lubricant or bodily fluids and explore and touch and be curious about your own body and what it feels like, what feels good and what doesn’t feel so good,” says Rafe. 

If you’re quite early in your sexual career, Rafe suggests maybe starting with a bit of massage oil (you can use coconut oil or whatever you have on hand) and giving yourself a massage, even just on your calves. “Then maybe if you feel like it, you might move up your legs and your thighs.” Keep curiosity and noticing in mind when you’re doing this. 

“Building up comfortability with yourself helps in developing boundaries and also then being able to communicate with a partner or partners. What you like, what you maybe don’t feel comfortable with, communication is the most important.”

Get comfy using your words

Literally no one is taught how to talk about sex. And nobody is taught how to actively ask for pleasure. Like… why are you teaching us how to put on a condom, but not at all how to make someone feel happy and comfy and sexy and get a really good nut? It’s absurd. 

“Many of my adult clients have no idea and feel completely uncomfortable talking about sex, whether it’s with friends or a partner,” says Rafe, and my god I am not letting that happen to you. 

Normalise talking about sex, “pick up a book, have a google listen to a podcast (shout outs to Bobo and Flex), the more that you hear, and the more that you read, the more it becomes just another conversation or another topic, and less like a secret topic that you’re not allowed to speak to anyone about.”

Grace agrees communication is key: “If you are having sex with someone else for the first time, it is really important to speak openly about it to communicate. How are you going to have sex? What are your dos and don’ts? What excites you? What are you nervous about? How are you going to practice safe sex? Are you on contraception? All these are really important conversations.”

Make sure you have consent and that you consent

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Don’t have sex with someone unless you both are extremely and enthusiastically consenting to what you’re about to do.

Consent is both a simple and extremely complicated issue. It should be easy to check in with someone before you get intimate, but we know from the research that people are still out there having “consensual” sex that they describe as “kind of rape-y” or “or hurtful, or not very enjoyable for one person, or sometimes even for both.”

So much of our culture assumes that certain situations, like being alone in a room at a party together or sleeping over or being in a relationship with someone are indicators that you’re alright with having sex with someone. People often don’t explicitly ask for consent because in these situations because they think it’ll be awkward, but trust us when we say the ramifications of not truly listening and seeing someone else could be so much worse than just momentary awkwardness (for everyone involved).

Rape culture and patriarchal social structures both minimise and actively harm people because of these assumptions, usually women, and knowing this we should do everything we can to avoid hurting someone. Even if you’re 99% sure the other person wants to have sex, just ask. You never know what’s happening inside someone else’s head and people can get nervous and feel pressure for all sorts of reasons. And if you’re not entirely sober? Same deal goes, it’s perhaps even more important to get consent in these situations because you both might be a little less sharp than usual.

You can change your mind at any time and you can always say no. Anyone who tries to pressure you into sex? Yeet them into the fucking bin.

How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?

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There is no easy iPhone notification for when you’re ready. Again, this is gonna be different for everyone, but some rough guidelines from our experts:

“If you feel that you’ve been able to communicate about sex with someone. If you’re showing curiosity about yourself or about wanting to be sexually intimate, they might be signs that you’re feeling ready,” says Rafe. 

“Readiness certainly can change,” she adds, “You could feel ready with one person or one circumstance and then feel completely different in another situation and that’s okay. Readiness certainly isn’t related to how many friends in your group have done it or have not done it.”

If you’re literally on the bed (or car or roof or air mattress—whatever, be safe love u), then Grace suggests checking in with yourself for a hot second. “You know you’re ready to have sex when you’re really excited about it. You know when you feel that it’s pleasurable, you’re having sex with someone that you want to. It feels good and you feel safe to stop, you feel heard, and you feel like you can trust this person that you’re having sex with.”

How do I have sex?

“So this depends on the type of sex you’re having,” says Grace. “How I educate and support people is not really through talking about positions anymore because they are so linear and they leave out a lot of people who don’t enjoy them.”

So no, unfortunately, we can’t just tell you the one patented move that works for us, because it might not work for you. What should you do instead? “You explore,” says Grace. “Explore each other’s bodies. Ask questions like ‘How do you want to be touched? What could make this touch better? How do you want to touch me?’ Asking questions and being descriptive is so that you get the type of stimulation you want is how you have sex.”

Is having sex for the first time painful?

If there is any unwanted pain, stop,” says Grace, and oneeee more time for the people in the back: ”Sex is not about pain, sex should not be painful.” 

Your first time might involve a little discomfort, or a really new strange feeling (your body is probably doing and feeling something that’s literally never happened to it before), but you shouldn’t ever feel like it’s torture.

“If you feel pain, stop and slow down,” advises Grace. “This may be that you’re not aroused enough. It may be that you’re not using enough lube, it may be that you’re doing something that your body doesn’t want to do, but do not push through the pain. That is a really dangerous belief that we’ve been fed that sex should be painful for the first few times it should not be. Sex is about pleasure.”

Regarding bleeding, it’s both normal to bleed and normal not to. Peep some facts in our guide to hymens. If you’re a vagina owner and bleeding continues for an extended period of time, then you should probably pause and see what’s going on. Extensive bleeding isn’t so ordinary and probably calls for seeing a doc.

How do you have good sex?

First off, try and take a little pressure off yourself. People are not masters the very first time they do something, and while we hope your first time is fun and fancy-free, it’s not going to the “best” sex you ever have in your life. Like… that would be a shame.

“The best way to have good sex is to be able to communicate about it,” says Rafe. You could have everything set up and planned, but if you can’t talk to whoever you’re with about what they want you to do, you’re gonna have a hard time.

Partners cannot read your mind! “Every genitalia is different,” says Rafe, “Even though they may look similar, each person has their own likes, dislikes. Especially with vagina owners, we just have such variation around what feels good. You know: speed, pressure, consistency, location of the simulation, even different types of penises in certain vaginas will feel different.”

The exact same goes if you’re getting involved with someone who has the same genitalia as you. Sure, trying what you know you like on yourself might be a good starting point, but never assume your partner’s vagina wants to get freaky in the same way as yours. 

As discussed, self-exploration is always helpful, says Rafe: “Know and understand what feels good for you. Figure out what you define as good sex or good sexual touch and let them know. And also use lots of lubrication.” 

Buckets of lube, folks. 

Does it need to feel “special”?

“Frankly, no,” says Rafe. Now before you accuse us of killing romance, let’s caveat that with, no it doesn’t, but sure it’s nice if it does. 

“It’s nice it feels like the moment is right, and there are candles and rose petals and all those sorts of things, but the reality is that for a lot of people it’s not that way. And those people are no different from the ones who have planned and prepped and done everything they could to make it special.”

“It doesn’t have to be with a person that you’re in a relationship with. It doesn’t have to be this magical experience where everything is perfect because the reality is, life isn’t perfect. Sometimes things don’t happen the way that we expect them to happen. As long as we are consenting and we are feeling comfortable with that person then it doesn’t need to be ‘special’.”

Having sex for the first time can be as big or small deal as you want, the most important thing is safety first and then teamwork and communication. As long as you feel comfortable in your body, with your partner and in the space you’re in, your first time having sex will be great. 

You got this.

Monisha is a writer with a background in publishing and digital media. A chronic Pisces, she’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.

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