Now that we’re a month into the school year, it seems like my friends have been hooking up or having sex more frequently than I am. I feel insecure about my lack of sexual experiences and I would like to lose my virginity. How should I go about having sex for the first time?
Hi first-year virgin,
Sexual debut can be a source of stress for many. Sometimes, it may seem like everyone else is engaging in more sexual activity than us. Surveys of Princeton undergraduates tell us that about 61% of current Princeton undergrads have one or more sexual partners in the past year, while 39% have had none. Despite what your peers are doing, though, it is important to note that the decisions of when, how, and with whom to have sex are extremely personal ones. Whatever you choose, make sure it feels right for you!
The concept of virginity is a social construct (and a heteronormative one, too) that tends to place unnecessary pressure on those who abstain from engaging in sexual activities or those who abstain from sexual activity other than penile-vaginal intercourse. Often, losing one’s virginity is considered to be a uniform, landmark event in one’s life; however, a first sexual experience can encompass a multitude of different forms and personal, cultural, or religious significance. For some, the loss of virginity might include engaging in any form of sexual activity involving the genitals, engaging in new sexual experiences or activities with a current partner, engaging in sexual activities with a new partner, or having an orgasm. That being said, on your quest to expand your sexual experiences, I would encourage you to first think about and define what virginity means to you.
In thinking about how you might find a potential sexual partner, many students meet people anywhere from their classes and organizations to parties, to dating apps like Tinder or Grindr, or through mutual friends. When engaging in any sexual activity for the first time, it is important to be aware of boundaries and practice open communication with your partner because first sexual experiences may be nerve-wracking or uncomfortable. For example, people with vaginas who wish to engage in penetrative sex may experience discomfort upon penetration due to insufficient lubrication and increased friction, stretching of the vaginal walls, or the breakage of the hymen, a membrane covering the opening of the vagina. (Note: breaking of the hymen can occur through other non-sexual activities [e.g., using tampons, exercise] and also may not occur during penetrative sex). That said, using sufficient lubrication and focusing on foreplay to increase arousal can help ease physical discomfort. Nerves or anxiety, which may be associated with first sexual encounters, can affect the sexual functions of penises and vaginas alike. For people with penises, nerves may make it hard to achieve or maintain a full erection. For people with vaginas, nerves can prevent natural lubrication of the vagina. Constant communication is another way to prevent nervousness or discomfort before and during sexual activity.
Before engaging in sexual activity for the first time, make sure that you are taking care of your health and safety. Using barrier methods can lower risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STI) and, if relevant, contraceptive methods to prevent pregnancy (if you will be engaging in penile-vaginal sex). It is important to talk to your partner. If the sexual activity of your choice involves penile penetration (of the vagina, anus or mouth), it is important to use an external (male) condom or internal (female) condom to prevent STI transmission. If fingers will be used to stimulate the genital areas, a finger cot or condom can be used as a barrier. If you wish to learn more about barrier methods or have further questions about sexual health, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.
I hope this article has reinforced that choices regarding sex are personal, and sexual experiences need not be restricted to a timeline. Whether you choose to explore sexual experiences with a partner immediately or far in the future, your choices are valid.