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Having sex for the first time, particularly penetrative sex, can be a huge deal, especially for young women living in a world where the value of our virginity has been driven into our brains from a young age. Sex can be awkward, messy, and even painful for some, leading to anxiety before and while it happens. Sex is a learning process, so whether you’re preparing to lose your virginity (or have sex with a new partner for the first time), try listening to sex-positive podcasts or following sex-positive TikTokers to get more comfortable with the idea. Either way at least a little discomfort is inevitable, but pain should not be on the agenda (unless you like it like that), so it’s important to know how to reduce pain during first-time penetration. 

“First-time penetrative sex does not have to be painful,” Suzannah Weiss, certified sexologist, sex educator, and sex/love coach, tells Her Campus. The idea that it does is just another patriarchial lie stemming from the days when women were considered the property of their husband, and their virginity considered proof of his ownership. The hymen, which Weiss says is also known as the vaginal corona, is not the same in every person born with one. “Some [people with vaginas] are born without one, some have hymenal tissue even after they’ve had sex, and some people’s hymens stretch or tear before they ever have sex,” she says. “It’s not a firm barrier, but a stretchable ring of tissue that covers the vagina only partially. So, the idea that someone needs to ‘pop your cherry’ before you experience penetration is outdated and wrong. Nothing needs to tear, break, or bleed. If you have hymenal tissue, it can be gently stretched to accommodate something inside it.” 

So, how can you properly prepare to sleep with your new partner, and reduce the amount of pain you feel? From masturbating on your own to learn what you like, proper lubrication, relaxing aromatherapy, making sure you’re on the same page as your partner, considering proactive painkillers, and more, here are nine tips for making sure you have a more pleasurable experience during your first time.

1. EXPERIMENT WITH YOURSELF TO LEARN WHAT YOU LIKE BEFOREHAND

Before getting into bed with someone else, take the time to experiment on your own and discover the things that are pleasurable for you. “Nobody knows your body, your preferences, your comfort levels, and your limitations like you do,” Weiss says. She recommends starting with just your own hands, first getting yourself aroused by rubbing your clitoris. “First, try penetrating yourself with a finger. You may enjoy stroking the upper wall of your vagina about two inches in, known as the G spot. Once you’ve been able to penetrate yourself with one finger, try two fingers,” she says. Lube – or coconut oil, if lube is not available to you – may help. It may take some time with one finger before two become comfortable, so take your time. “You can also try rubbing your clitoris while you penetrate yourself. Internally, you can also try different motions with your finger. Some enjoy stimulating the G spot with a come-hither motion, some enjoy moving their fingers in and out, and some enjoy more of a back-and-forth movement,” Weiss adds.

Once you’re comfortable with your fingers, try using a toy. Weiss suggests a thin, vibrating one, like the Lovehoney BASICS Powerful Mini Vibrator, the cicumference of which is about 1.25 inches smaller than the average erect penis. “It will go in most easily if you cover it in lube and also apply some lube directly at your vaginal opening,” Weiss says. If it becomes too intense, take a step back. Use it on your clit for a while, or set it down and do something else that turns you on, then come back to it when you’re ready. “Once you’re comfortable penetrating yourself with your fingers or a toy, penetration from a partner should be easier,” Weiss says. However, none of the above should make you feel like you’re breaking or tearing anything. “If there’s significant pain, stop what you’re doing and talk to an OBGYN.” 

2. ONCE YOU KNOW WHAT YOU LIKE, SET REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR YOURSELF.

Now that you know what makes you feel good, take some time and evaluate your own expectations for getting intimate with someone else. Be wary that popular culture often depicts intercourse as sensual and hot when, in reality, your first time is more likely to be sweaty and awkward. Don’t go into expecting to recreate your favorite film scene; unrealistic expectations (even if you don’t consciously realize you have them) can negatively impact your first experience. 

Go into the act with a clear mind and understand that what you’ll come to define as “good” sex is going to take time, practice, and patience to establish with your partner. That being said, you should absolutely have high expectations in terms of a caring partner and consent. You should never feel pressured by your partner, friends, or society into having sex, so make sure you’re absolutely sure that you’re emotionally ready.

3. Talk about sex with your partner.

Oftentimes, the pressure associated with sexual performance makes the experience more disappointing than it has to be. To combat such pressures, take the time to have a sex talk with your partner beforehand. You might feel like talking about the mechanics of sex will make things unromantic or just compound a further feeling of awkwardness, but it’s important to discuss your respective expectations, desires, and any off-limit activities. What makes you both feel good? What are your boundaries? It’s just as important to know that about your partner as it is to know it about yourself. 

Before you have sex, let them know what you’ve already discovered. “You can let them know what worked for you (perhaps going slowly, using lube, or providing simultaneous clitoral stimulation) and what didn’t (maybe you don’t love the in-and-out motion, for example),” Weiss says. Carry the conversation on when you have sex, too – if you don’t like the way something feels, speak up. If you do like the way something feels, be sure to let them know that, as well. 

Communicating with each other will make you both feel more excited about the experience and, in turn, reduce the chances of discomfort or pain.

4. DON’T RELY ON PAINKILLERS To Reduce Pain BEFORE LOSING YOUR VIRGINITY.

Erica Smith, a sex educator, doesn’t recommend using pain medications or numbing agents before sex. “If you need something like this to get through sex, that’s an indicator that there’s a problem and I’d recommend talking to your gynecologist,” she says. Instead, rely on what you’ve come to learn about your body and your communication with your partner. “[It’s important to] have a partner who is good at communicating and who respects your comfort level,” Smith adds. A receptive partner who adjusts to your needs is all of the reliance you should need. 

5. Find A PEACEFUL SPACE AND TAKE IT SLOW.

Everyone is anxious prior to having sex for the first time, so the last thing you need is for the process to be disrupted by outside noises. It’s extremely important to feel comfortable physically, mentally, and emotionally if you want to maximize pleasure. Create an environment where you and your partner can feel safe and open, and where you’re sure no one will accidentally barge in.

It’s normal to have nerves during sex, whether you’ve been sexually active for years or not. If you’re nervous or anxious, your pelvic floor may tighten making penetration potentially painful, and anxiety may also affect your lubrication production,” says Natasha Marie, a sexual wellness expert at MysteryVibe.

If you’re having trouble relaxing, try using aromatherapy to help calm your nerves and get in the mood. You could also try playing mood music, focusing on your breathing, or simply laughing with your partner. There’s no timeline you have to start and finish having sex within, so ease into things and be patient with each other. 

6. START WITH FOREPLAY, TO HELP ENSURE PROPER LUBRICATION, So That Penetration Doesn’t Hurt.

For sex to be enjoyable, you have to be turned on. If you aren’t lubricated (either naturally or with some extra help), it’s going to hurt. Foreplay is a great and extremely fun way to get things started but may look different for different couples. “The main reason for women to engage in foreplay is not only mental stimulation (getting more in the mood) but for biological reasons (to get wet),” sex coach Laura-Anne Rowell tells Her Campus. “When a woman is turned on and wet, this makes sex more enjoyable and easier for penetration (less painful).” Just keep in mind that not all women get turned on by the same things. “Some women get turned on just by kissing and that’s enough foreplay for them to have sex,” Rowell says. “Others take longer and want oral play, breast play, and soft (or rough, depending on your style) caresses before wanting sex.”

Marie suggests bringing toys into your foreplay, too. One option is MysteryVibe’s Crescendo, a bendable vibrator that’s easily personalizable to your anatomy. The vibration design may encourage tense muscles in the pelvis to relax as well as increased sensation and lubrication production. Plus, you can program your preferred patterns and control it from your phone. 

Jackie Golob, a sex therapist at Shameless Therapy, emphasizes how important it is not to rush foreplay. “Slowing down and being present with sensual touch builds mindfulness in the moment, which can enhance overall pleasure,” she tells Her Campus. If your partner feels ready to move on to the next step and you do not, talk to them about extending the foreplay. 

When people experience pain during sex, it’s often because of inadequate arousal, discomfort, or muscle tension – not the hymen, according to Weiss. Having an orgasm before penetration can help relax the muscles, making the act more comfortable. She suggests starting foreplay even earlier than you might think by taking a bath together, massaging one another, or cuddling. “The most important thing is to make sure you’re feeling relaxed, safe, happy, and confident,” she says. If you’re feeling uncomfortable for any reason, take a step back to reopen your conversation and talk about what you’re feeling. There’s no shame in putting a pin in the evening’s activities and trying again later, or cutting off your partner if they don’t respect your boundaries.

7. AND THEN USE SOME MORE LUBE.

Some women may naturally produce enough lubricant that you don’t need to add more, but Smith reminds those that need more not to be embarrassed by the use of lube.  

Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physical therapy and owner of Femina Physical Therapy, recommends using additional lubrication the first time you have penetrative sex. Water and silicone-based lubricants are compatible with condoms, while oil-based lubricants are not. “Silicone tends to last the longest and is great if there are any issues with vaginal dryness,” she says. “Water-based lubricants that are glycerin-free are what to look for if you are prone to yeast infections.”

8. EXPERIMENT WITH DIFFERENT POSITIONS.

Once sex is underway, don’t be afraid to experiment with your body positioning. Just because one thing doesn’t feel good doesn’t mean everything won’t feel good. Switch things up (within your comfort zone, of course) and find what makes the experience most pleasurable for both you and your partner.

According to Rowell, there are three basic positions for starters that provide the most pleasure to people with a vagina: missionary, girl on top, or doggie style. “Depending on if you want clitoral stimulation (girl on top) or if you want to feel more relaxed and find it better for g-spot (missionary) or if you want deep penetration (doggie),” she says. “In all these positions, you’re able to control and communicate with your partner easily.”

Rowell adds that, while there is no right or wrong first position, missionary is a good starting place. If you feel discomfort, try placing a pillow under your hips to help with the angle. Meanwhile, Weiss suggests it may be best to try girl on top so that you can set the pace while you get used to it. 

If you feel that your partner is penetrating you too deeply, Marie suggests a product like Ohnut, a penetration buffer that can prevent pain due to friction or depth. 

9. TRY AGAIN LATER.

It’s not unexpected for your first time to be less than extraordinary. If you’re struggling to get lubricated, your partner can’t maintain an erection, or neither of you are reaching orgasm, take a break. You can – and should – try again later! The most important thing to do is laugh off the experience and learn from it.

If you find that things are painful during your first time, take a step back and evaluate why. Take the time to discover what you enjoy sexually, don’t put pressure on yourself, and try again when you feel ready. After all, practice makes perfect, and you should never think you have to just suck it up or get it over with. 

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Taylor is a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in English. Taylor is a member of Delta Zeta and she hopes to work for a magazine after college. Some of Taylor's favorite things include fashion, fitness, Harry Potter, Chipotle and Instagram. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @Tay_Carson!
Sammi is the Lifestyle Editor at HerCampus.com, assisting with content strategy across sections. She's been a member of Her Campus since her Social Media Manager and Senior Editor days at Her Campus at Siena, where she graduated with a degree in Biology of all things. She moonlights as an EMT, and in her free time, she can be found playing post-apocalyptic video games, organizing her unreasonably large lipstick collection, learning "All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor's Version) (From The Vault)" on her guitar, or planning her next trip to Broadway.
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