All posts by The Sexpert

Distance Doubter: Long Distance Relationship Over Break

Dear Sexpert,

I’ve recently gotten into a relationship, but with winter break coming up soon, this is the first time my partner and I are going to be apart for more than a week. Fall break and Thanksgiving were fine since we were able to talk to each other nearly every day, but I’m worried that the longer duration of winter break might make things more difficult. How do I navigate a long-distance relationship?

-Distance Doubter

Dear Distance Doubter,

Heading into a long-distance relationship can change your typical dynamic slightly, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. In fact, you can learn a lot about yourself and your relationship from long distance. In terms of navigating long-distance relationships, the first thing to note is that communication truly is key. I would advise trying to start a conversation with your partner now about expectations for each other during your time apart. If you’re feeling nervous or anxious about this, you can bet they are too. Some potential things to talk about include: how frequently you plan on talking, both through text and on the phone; how you will juggle communicating during busier times (e.g., family or other obligations like Princeternships, volunteering, shadowing, etc.), on completely unavailable times/days, or when you’ll be spending time with friends; or how you’ll maintain intimacy. For example, you may want to discuss access to private spaces, and what you would both feel comfortable doing together. However, remember that things may change and people can change their minds. The options for virtual intimacy are endless, but it really depends on the specific dynamics of your relationship, and it’s important to remember that consent is still important. This means that you always want to check in with your partner; never send any unsolicited pictures, videos, or texts. Ease into things, and make sure you are mindful about the space you’re in (e.g., you’d never want a coworker to look over your shoulder and see private messages). 

It’s also important to know that it might not be realistic for you and your partner to talk every day, like you did during fall and Thanksgiving break, especially if you’re in different time zones. And that’s okay! But this might require both sides to intentionally make more time for each other in order to enable ease and frequency of communication. Virtual dates are a great way to do this. Some virtual date ideas could include: watching a movie or show together (there are several platforms that let you both watch the same thing remotely, some even have chats if you can’t be on call together), playing games together (find some virtual escape rooms or multiplayer online games!), sending each other a surprise meal through a delivery service and having a video dinner date, or taking online quizzes together during a call. Try to remain flexible with any changes as you both settle into your winter break schedules and routines.

Some of your fear may stem from how to deal with disagreements that might arise during a period of long distance, and that’s a valid fear to have. Disagreements over text can easily escalate because tone and messages can be easily misinterpreted. Sometimes a well-meaning text can be read as aggressive. A good way to combat miscommunication is to give your partner the benefit of the doubt and always assume that they have the best intentions at heart. If you’re ever in doubt, just ask them! You can also make sure you’re taking the time to listen intentionally to your partner and not multitasking while talking. When you’re not able to immediately participate in a discussion, let them know that you want to wait until you can fully dedicate yourself to listening to them. Additionally, when in a disagreement, make sure to communicate how you’re feeling and how you want the message to come across. It’s also important to remember to respond to situations rather than react. This can mean that sometimes you take a step back from a conversation or take some time before beginning a discussion or sending a response. The expectation for a relationship should not be to never have a disagreement, but to make sure that when one arises both of you are being heard, being respectful of each other’s feelings and opinions, and learning and growing from that specific moment.

Overall, long-distance relationships don’t have to be scary! You’ll probably miss your partner a lot, but setting up expectations before you leave for winter break and agreeing to have completely-open communication during your time apart are important steps. Some of these conversations might be difficult or even awkward to bring up, but once you begin one part of the conversation, the rest of the experience becomes a lot easier!

Sincerely,
The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by UMatterWell + GoodNPR, and Psych Central.

Flavorful Fluid: Addressing health concerns regarding oral sex

Dear Sexpert,

Things are getting kind of hot and heavy with this guy I’m seeing. We’ve only made out so far, but I have recently been thinking about trying oral sex. I’m worried about the taste of my bodily fluids. I’ve heard pineapple juice might help oral sex be more enjoyable for the giver: Is this true?

— Flavorful Fluid

Dear Flavorful Fluid,

Thank you for reaching out with your question! It’s completely normal to have questions and occasional insecurities about our bodies when it comes to sexual experiences, especially new ones. Regarding any type of sexual activity, including oral sex, it’s important to reflect on your personal wants and needs and to have open and respectful communication with your partner(s).

Oral sex encompasses a range of activities: cunnilingus, the oral stimulation of the vulva; fellatio, the oral stimulation of a penis; or anilingus, colloquially called “rimming”, oral stimulation of the anus. It’s common for the person giving oral sex to encounter various tastes and sensations as every body has its own unique flavor profile, and it can change depending on many variables — including diet, hydration, supplements or medications, hygiene, or infection. As for your question about pineapple juice, there’s a belief that consuming pineapple juice may make penile and vaginal secretions taste “better” — less bitter —, though it’s important to understand that many factors contribute to these tastes. Penile secretions are slightly alkaline, with a pH ranging between 7.1 and 8, which can lead to a slightly bitter taste. On the other hand, vaginal secretions are slightly acidic, with a pH between 3.8 and 4.5, resulting in a tangy taste. Your diet plays a significant role in the flavor of any bodily fluid, whether it be saliva, sweat, urine, seminal, or vaginal fluid.  For example, foods such as garlic, onions, dairy, red meat, smoking, and alcohol can contribute to a more “bitter” taste. In the case of penile secretions, sugary liquids or foods, such as pineapple juice, can alter the fructose and glucose content, making them less alkaline and potentially less “bitter.” The taste of vaginal secretions is also strongly affected by the menstrual cycle. During menstruation, the presence of blood may give a “metallic” taste, while during ovulation, the release of cervical mucus can result in a “muskier” taste. In addition to diet, being on medications, such as antibiotics, or having an infection affect your pH levels, and impact your natural smell and taste. 

Let’s also address this message that bodies and bodily secretions should taste or smell like something other than what they are. This strategy, used to sell products that promise to mask your natural scent or unique flavor, contributes to feelings of shame or insecurity about our naturally-existing bodies. Practicing general hygiene, like taking regular showers, wiping after using the bathroom, and wearing proper-fitting, breathable, clean underwear should ensure that your unique taste is natural. If your partner(s) makes comments about not liking your taste or uses it as an excuse to not give oral sex, a conversation might be in order. Together, with open communication, you can hopefully come up with creative and mutually-pleasing solutions.

It is also important to note that engaging in oral sex comes with risk for sexually transmitted infections (STI), like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes, etc. To reduce risk, use a dental dam — a sheet of latex or polyurethane placed over the anus or vulva — to prevent skin-to-skin contact during cunnilingus or anilingus, or an external condom during fellatio. Condoms, dental dams, and water-based lube can come in different flavors, which can make things more exciting —chocolate mint, anyone? — and cover the taste of latex while simultaneously reducing risks. Many STIs are asymptomatic, meaning you can spread an STI without knowing it, so the best option is for you to use barrier methods, and/or get screened for STIs with your partner(s) and s hare your results with one another. You can do self-directed STI testing through UHS, since you are asymptomatic, or you can make an appointment with Sexual Health and Wellness at UHS through your MyUHS online portal.

Ultimately, personal preferences and sexual experiences can vary widely. Open and honest communication with your partner, respect for each other’s boundaries, and consent in all activities are most important. If your partner notices a change and brings it up in a considerate manner, it’s an opportunity to have a conversation about your well-being. However, if you find yourself in a situation where your partner constantly makes disparaging comments or uses this as an excuse to avoid certain activities, it’s important to prioritize your own self-respect and comfort. Partners should approach these topics with empathy and respect for each other. 

Warm regards,
The Sexpert

Information obtained from Healthline, National Library of Medicine, Men’s Health, University Health Services, and Mayo Clinic.

Distant Date: Maintaining your mental health and sex life

Dear Sexpert,

I have a history of struggling with my mental health, namely depression. I recently changed my medication and have been feeling different ever since. The biggest problem is I’ve felt really disconnected from my partner, and I’m never in the mood to have sex. I don’t want my partner to think I’m not attracted to them anymore, but I’m not sure how to fix this. 

Best,
Distant Date

Dear Distant Date,

What you’re feeling is completely valid! Many factors such as depression, anxiety, stress, and exhaustion can affect your sex drive and emotional availability in a relationship. These factors can overwhelm your emotions, making you unmotivated to participate in sexual activity or any other emotional connections, which is separate from your attraction to your partner. If you are taking medication to treat your depression, there are side effects that can also affect how you develop relationships with other people. Note that it might take some time to get used to these effects. 

Both depression itself and many antidepressant treatments are known to cause low libido and lack of sexual motivation, so it might be hard to know which one is the cause in your situation. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are many different ways depression can impact sexual dysfunction including low self-esteem, inability to experience pleasure (e.g., limited arousal, inability to orgasm), low energy levels, loss of interest in activities, and mood swings. So, if you are facing any of these symptoms, just know that this is due to the many chemical processes taking place in your body!

When someone is experiencing depression, oxytocin levels in the brain decrease. Oxytocin is an important chemical that regulates sex drive and desire, which explains how depression can affect libido. Oxytocin is also considered the bonding chemical, which increases a sense of trust and connection, particularly through touch; low oxytocin levels due to depression might explain your feeling of disconnection from your partner. Stress can also be a huge factor in low libido! According to VHC Health, chronic stress, or chronic high levels of cortisol, can suppress sex hormones and cause a low sex drive. All of these factors are also mentally-taxing and can cause extreme fatigue and low energy, which will also impact sex drive. Chances are that the more stressed out you are about all this, the less “in the mood” you’ll feel.

Antidepressant medication can also help ease depression through spiking levels of serotonin in your body. However, this spike in serotonin can make it difficult for your brain to communicate with your body and can decrease sex drive. Despite these effects, it is important not to just stop taking your medication, but to instead explore other solutions. Sometimes there is an adjustment period and side effects lessen over time. Some antidepressant medications focus on chemicals other than serotonin in your brain, such as dopamine or norepinephrine, and usually have fewer sexual side effects. It is also possible that a combination of medications could offset some of the side effects, without reducing the effectiveness of your antidepressant. Therefore, it may be helpful to discuss these options with your prescribing provider, or connect with a psychiatrist at McCosh Health Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to discuss possible changes in medication or discuss next steps in prioritizing your mental health.

In the meantime, it’s important to communicate what you’ve been feeling and struggling with to your partner. There can be a stigma associated with mental illness, which may impact when and how people disclose their mental health challenges to others. Your partner may not know about the common sexual side effects of depression, anxiety, and stress, so educating and sharing your experience with them allows them to better understand how you are feeling. Begin a conversation and try to communicate what you are comfortable with regarding intimacy in the relationship at the moment. Plan a time where you can sit down and have this discussion with your partner in a comfortable, relaxed environment, so you both can plan out boundaries and next steps. 

If you’re having trouble beginning this conversation or knowing what to do next, you can always schedule a Wellness Chat with a Peer Health Adviser to navigate options. It’s important to remember that it’s not your fault and that this can be remedied with open communication and by consulting with healthcare providers to find solutions that support your mental health, while minimizing these unwanted side effects.

Sincerely,
The Sexpert

Information for this article provided by Harvard Health, Cleveland Clinic, and VHC Health.

Uncertain Underclassmen: Approaching hook-up culture on campus

Dear Sexpert,

Throughout my first few weeks on campus, it seems like everyone is focused on hooking up during nights out. I’ve never done anything like that before, but I feel kind of pressured to start. Hooking up wasn’t really big among my friends back home and my health class only discussed abstinence. Plus, my parents usually just avoided any sex-related conversations altogether. I don’t want my new friends to think that I’m weird or anything for staying on the sidelines though. Should I just go for it already? 

— Uncertain Underclassman

Dear Uncertain Underclassman,

Your worries are completely valid — and more common than you might think. Adjusting to the new social environment on campus, even for upperclassmen/returning students, can be overwhelming. Before jumping to any conclusions about what others are doing, you might want to ask what your friends really mean by “hooking up.” The term can mean anything from making out to engaging in vaginal or anal sex. Try not to let social pressures — even from your new friends — cloud your judgment on intimate matters. Of course, separating yourself from the perceived norms on campus is no easy task. Still, regardless of what your friends or peers are doing, the decision to start exploring physical intimacy — i.e., any form of sensuous contact — ultimately resides with you.

It’s important to understand that what you may see or hear about sex on campus is likely not an accurate representation of what’s “normal.” Those who are not engaging in sexual activity tend to be less vocal about that choice than their sexually active peers are. Our data suggest that the percentage of students not engaging in oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse is higher than those who do. Only 27.4% of current freshmen arriving on campus have ever had sex, according to The Daily Princetonian’s 2026 frosh survey. Based on the ACHA-NCHA III Spring 2023 survey of undergraduate students in the United States, 39 percent have never engaged in oral sex, 44 percent have never engaged% in vaginal, and 84 percent have never engaged% in anal. Therefore, whether or not you choose to participate in sexual activity, your behavior will certainly not be outside of the norm. 

Oftentimes, you’ll hear that you should wait to engage in physical intimacy until “the time is right.” Unfortunately, that timing can be very difficult to discern and is influenced by many factors. Luckily, you’ve already gotten off to a great start by simply taking the time to think about whether “the time is right” for you. Reflecting on what you’re comfortable with and setting personal boundaries while level-headed can help prevent getting swept up in the moment — especially when under the influence or caught up in the excitement of a night out. It’s easier to make a decision about engaging in physical intimacy when you can rationally weigh the options, rather than going on an impulse or giving in to social pressure. 

The start of college is a great time to iron out your values as an individual — and that goes for your sexual life too. When deciding whether or not you’d like to engage in physical intimacy, try to separate how you actually feel from all of the external forces in your life. Consider yourself in relation to your familial upbringing, cultural norms, and spiritual values — all of which can play an important role in your decision. If relevant, the chaplains at the Office of Religious Life can serve as  helpful resources for navigating your sex life from a religious perspective. For more support in exploring sexual identity, you can also connect with staff or peer educators at the Gender + Sexuality Resource Center. At the end of the day, whatever decision you make about choosing to engage in sexual activity is not binding in any way; it’s simply a way to take stock of your boundaries and expectations as you start this new chapter.

Once you sort out where you stand among these diverse influences, the next step is communication. You should always be upfront with potential romantic or sexual partners about your boundaries and goals for intimacy, and respect theirs. A helpful tool is the “How I Like It” Inventory. You can fill it out to explore for yourself, and/or have your partner fill it out; comparing results can help you to find what you want to do together. Making your expectations well known and communicating with your partner about your level of experience in sex, ahead of time, can prevent misunderstandings and feeling pressured down the line. Moreover, make sure to continue having these discussions throughout your interactions because boundaries and desires can easily fluctuate. 

Finally, if you do decide to begin exploring physical intimacy, make sure you do so safely. Use an appropriate barrier method such as a condom (external or internal), dental dam, or finger cot to prevent sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If engaging in penile-vaginal sex, use a reliable contraception method to prevent any unwanted pregnancies. Condoms, birth control, STI testing, and sexual health appointments are all available through Sexual Health and Wellness at University Health Services. Ultimately, your first semester at college can be an exciting time of self and sexual discovery,  so make sure you stay safe and healthy while exploring your boundaries.

Best of luck! 

— The Sexpert

Information for this article is provided by the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III, Daily Princetonian, and University Health Services.

Tentative Top: Dealing with Large Genitalia

Dear Sexpert,

I’m a male with an above-average-sized penis (length and girth), and I find it difficult to become intimate with men because they’re afraid of the pain of getting involved with a penis of that size. It makes me feel wrong during intercourse because it seems like I’m physically harming them. Even though they say they like it, it still feels odd to me. Should I feel this way? I would appreciate any advice.

— Tentative Top

Dear Tentative Top,

Thank you for writing in! It’s good to hear that you are attentive to and considerate of how your partners may be feeling during sex, both emotionally and physically. It’s also really important that you are reflecting upon your own feelings and how it impacts your comfort level. There’s no correct or incorrect way for you to feel about any given sexual act, so if something feels “wrong” to you, exploring modifications and communicating openly with your partners are great ideas. 

It sounds like you have already established a pattern of good communication with your partners, which has allowed you to understand that they’re worried about pain from a large penis. That’s an excellent starting point! Continuing this conversation could be a good opportunity to tell them that you’ve heard their concerns or observed their hesitation or discomfort and that you’re interested in developing a solution together. Letting your partners know that you’re worried about hurting them can help you make a game plan for the next time you have sex; likewise, discussing your own and your partners’ ideas and desires at a time that’s not particularly charged — so not when you’re in bed together — can also aid with communication prior to sex. When you are having sex, starting out slowly and using verbal communication (e.g. asking if you should go faster or slower, or asking if something is comfortable) can ensure you and your partners are on the same page. Communicating your preferred adjustments during sex could also help them feel like they can be straightforward with their thoughts. 

Concerns around penis size are common, especially when it comes to sexual compatibility. A brief anatomy lesson: the average flaccid (not erect) penis is 3.6 inches long and about 3.7 inches in circumference. When erect, the average length is 5.1 inches and average circumference is 4.5 inches. While size can impact comfort during sex, there are many opportunities to be creative with sex to make things more comfortable and pleasurable for all parties involved. For example, there are positions that allow a partner to have more control over depth and pace of penetration, and oral sex could allow a partner to use a hand or a toy to stimulate the shaft of the penis rather than relying on the mouth alone. For anal sex, a partner could use a toy (with a flared base) before penile penetration, which could allow their body to acclimate. Also, the use of a lube can help things go smoothly, and is especially important for anal sex. Since the anus doesn’t self-lubricate, adding lube prevents friction-induced tears and damage, decreasing risk of sexually transmitted infections. However, lube doesn’t preclude the need for a condom; using both together can make for a lower-risk and more pleasurable experience.

Last but not least, know that your concern or discomfort around hurting your partners can impact your ability to enjoy being intimate. If you communicate openly with your partner and try modifications, but are still feeling anxious or distracted during sex, you may want to talk through your concerns with a professional. Whether it is a clinician at Sexual Health and Wellness at UHS, a CPS counselor, or someone off-campus, talking through your concerns can help relieve some anxiety and make things more pleasurable for you. 

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from University Health Services, Condomania, Sexual Medicine Society of North America, and Healthline.

Bloody Wary: Non-menstrual Vaginal Bleeding

Dear Sexpert,

My boyfriend and I have never had sex, but we do a lot of other stuff, and one such act is fingering. Though he had just used his one finger most of the time, on one occasion he tried using two fingers, and just after a few seconds I saw that his finger was covered with blood. We stopped right there, but there was a very minute level of bleeding along with vaginal discharge, which was clear and liquidy. I am scared as I have no idea what happened, and why I was bleeding.

—Bloody Wary

Dear Bloody Wary, 

Thank you for reaching out! It is great that you and your partner are experimenting with new methods of sexual pleasure. It sounds like there is a good amount of communication, consent, and respect between the two of you, and it’s good to hear that when something unexpected happened, you stopped activities. 

It is natural to be concerned when you notice blood or unusual discharge, as sometimes it can be a sign of an issue. That said, this sounds like nothing to worry about! Vaginal discharge is a natural part of the bodily response in people with a vagina, and it serves a variety of purposes, including lubrication and self-cleaning, which protects against infections. It is common to see discharge during sexual activity as a response to sexual arousal. Abnormal discharge or signs of a potential infection include a strong or foul smell, a thick, chunky consistency, or coloring that is green or yellow. 

Though startling, minute-level bleeding after penetration — either from toys/objects, fingers, or a penis — does not indicate a critical health concern. Blood that appears after fingering is, according to Healthline, “likely normal and the result of minor scratches or cuts in the vagina.” This kind of bleeding, during penetration or afterward, can also be caused by friction due to dryness. Blood can also result from the stretching, wearing, or tearing of the hymen, a thin tissue that frames the vagina. Quick note: Though people sometimes associate hymen tears with sexual penetration or losing one’s virginity, the hymen is worn down over time and can be stretched or torn by non-sexual things like exercise and tampon insertion. For many people, sexual penetration won’t even have an effect on their hymen, and any bleeding is likely the result of one of the other causes mentioned above. 

However, if bleeding extends to a longer period of time, such as a few days, that is a cause for concern, and it would be wise to consult a healthcare professional, such as a Sexual Health and Wellness provider at UHS. They provide a wide range of resources from assisting with birth control options to answering any questions about issues including irregular bleeding and vaginal discharge.

There are some methods that you and your partner can practice to prevent bleeding in the future. For example, your partner could make sure that their fingernails are cut to prevent any cuts to or near the vagina. You can utilize water or silicone-based lubricant before penetration, in addition to waiting until you are sufficiently aroused to engage in penetrative activities. Also, continuing to express any type of discomfort to your partner — like if they hit your cervix or if there’s too much friction — makes sexual activities more enjoyable for the both of you. Overall, remember that sexual exploration should be a source of pleasure for both you and your partner. You can learn a lot about your boyfriend’s and your own preferences, even when things do not turn out the way you expected. If you or your partner experience any health-related worries after sexual activity, do not be afraid to reach out to a healthcare provider for medical advice. 

For future sexual health questions that could use a peer’s perspective, feel free to contact one of the PHAs, and we will be happy to answer your questions or help you get connected to other resources. 

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from University Health Services, NHS UK, and Healthline.

Excited Experimenter: Local Sex Shops

Dear Sexpert,

With exams coming up, I was reading about the benefits of sexual pleasure for stress relief. I am interested in getting an “accessory” to help me but am overwhelmed by all of the options out there. Are there any good sex shops near campus? It could really help to be able to narrow down what I am looking for.

– Excited Experimenter

Dear Excited Experimenter,

I am so glad your search included sexual pleasure as a stress relief strategy — it can be a great tool to add to your toolbox, if it works for you! Sexual pleasure, through solo or partnered activities, releases endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin, and it can reduce cortisol levels to get you feeling good and less stressed, on top of other benefits. While you do not need anything other than yourself to experience pleasure, sometimes toys, oils/lotions, or erotica can help things along.   

Finding decent sex shops can be a daunting task, especially if you aren’t familiar with places beyond campus. To alleviate the discomfort and pressure of exploring individually, below is a compiled list of sex shops around Princeton. It can help to explore factors such as the distance from campus to the store, pricing, the types of products the store sells, etc. to determine which one might be the best fit for you. Some of the stores may not be adult stores, but all sell items related to sexual wellness. One benefit of a store that is more specifically geared towards sexual wellness is they often have knowledgeable staff who can answer your questions and find products to help meet your needs.

  • Lace Silhouettes Lingerie
    • Address: 51 Palmer Square W, Princeton, NJ 08542
    • Distance from campus: 0.3 miles
  • Anthropologie
    • Address: 3535 US-1, Princeton, NJ 08540
    • Distance from campus: 3.8 miles
  • Spencer’s in Quaker Bridge Mall
    • Address: 3320 US-1, Lawrenceville, NJ 08648
    • Distance from campus: 4.6 miles
  • Love Stuff and More
    • Address: 1030 NJ-33, Hamilton Township, NJ 08690
    • Distance from campus: 11.8 miles

Although in-person stores are a great option, you may prefer online stores. Many folks use online stores over brick and mortar stores for a variety of reasons, including privacy, more time to do research on a product, or a wider range of items to choose from. You can order from stores such as Walmart or Amazon and get your item delivered through Frist Campus Center in discreet packaging. Prior to buying the items, it will be helpful to explore the types of products that might best suit you and/or your partner(s). Some additional online stores to purchase items related to sexual wellness include: BabelandLoveHoneyWe-VibeLelo, and PinkCherry.

I hope these resources helped to ease any anxiety or stress surrounding purchasing items for your sexual pleasure. Be sure to read up on how to take care of your new accessory — e.g., proper cleaning, type of lube to use, storage, etc. — based on its materials. 

If you have further questions or concerns, feel free to reach out to contact any of the Peer Health Advisers.

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from Scarleteen, Planned Parenthood and the International Academy of Sex Research.

Fearful First-Timer: Managing expectations of doing well in bed

Dear Sexpert,

I’m a virgin, and my new partner is very much not a virgin. I want to have sex with them, but I’m really worried about being a disappointment in bed, and I’m constantly apologizing when we’re together. How can I feel more comfortable and less worried when being physical with them?

— Fearful First-Timer

Dear Fearful First-Timer,

First, it’s important to acknowledge that virginity is a social (and often heteronormative) construct that is narrowly defined. Most colloquially, virginity refers to not having engaged in penetrative sex. But in practice, losing your virginity can mean anything, from engaging in activities involving the genitals for the first time to engaging in sexual activities with a new partner. 

Whatever virginity means to you, it is totally normal to go through feelings of nervousness or anxiety around engaging in something new. Sex is often portrayed idealistically in media, where each partner intuitively knows what to do and how to make their partner or partners feel good (without any communication), and everyone reaches a climax. Especially when one partner has more experience than the other, it is understandable this could create more nerves or pressure that there is some sort of expectation you need to live up to. The truth is, though, that sex is a learning experience, and with each person being different, it may take some experimentation to figure out what sorts of things your sexual partner or partners (and you) like. That is completely normal, and there is no need to apologize for it! 

Sometimes these sorts of anxious feelings or pressures to be perfect in bed can be rooted in the idea that everyone else in college is having sex or knows what they are doing. On Princeton’s campus, there are lots of folks who have not had sex. The ACHA-NCHA III survey conducted at Princeton in 2020 reported that 44 percent of undergraduates had never engaged in oral sex, 53 percent had never engaged in vaginal sex, and 88 percent had never engaged in anal sex. Similarly, according to the The Daily Princetonian’s annual frosh survey, only around 30 percent of incoming students the last three years reported having sex prior to coming to Princeton. You are not the only one going through these first-time experiences, and learning is completely okay!

Other times, worries can arise from uncertainty surrounding the physical experience of sex. Sex doesn’t always happen seamlessly: consider that penetrative vaginal sex may cause discomfort to people with vaginas due to disruption of the hymen. For people with penises, erections aren’t always maintained. And penetrative sex, both anal and vaginal, can also cause discomfort if the body is tense or if there is insufficient lubrication. These (and many other) physical experiences are common and manageable — e.g., plenty of foreplay and lube (if in combination with a condom, use a water based lube!) can help with vaginal or anal lubrication, and keeping tabs on nerves by working on communication can help with erection duration and a more relaxed physical body. Know that tons of people have had sexual experiences that didn’t go perfectly according to plan and have continued on to enjoy pleasurable and fulfilling sex lives. 

The most important thing to do to feel more at ease is to create a space where there is an open line of communication. This means a place where you feel comfortable voicing your feelings, talking through boundaries, etc. This line of communication is important for any sort of sexual activity, whether it’s your first time or your 100th. While having this conversation may sound intimidating, a respectful and supportive partner will be open to these sorts of talks and will want to make sure you feel open to expressing your desires and feelings as well. Have you talked through what your partner’s expectations, hopes, and desires are — and what yours are? Sometimes, when boundaries and feelings around sexual activities are not discussed, ambiguity can generate more nerves. Clearing up any ambiguity can help you feel more comfortable and can make sex more pleasurable. These conversations are best done during a time when you are hanging out and comfortable, rather than in the heat of the moment.

Before engaging in sexual activity, make sure you are looking out for your sexual and reproductive health. The risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) can be significantly lowered through the use of a barrier method (e.g., external condom, internal condom, dental dam). If getting pregnant is a possibility, be sure to use a contraceptive method as well (note: condoms are the only contraceptive method that reduce risk for STI and pregnancy). For more information on how to properly use any of these barrier methods, here are some tips from the CDC. If you have any other questions regarding sexual or reproductive health, you can make an appointment with a sexual health provider through MyUHS

I hope this helped ease some of the nervous feelings surrounding having sex for the first time. Remember that all sex is a learning experience, especially since each person has desires that differ from others’ and that can evolve over time — the learning never stops! The most important thing is to have honest conversations with sexual partners so you can create a space with an open line of communication.

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information for this article was obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Daily Princetonian’s Annual Frosh Survey, and Princeton’s implementation of the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment III.