Tag Archives: relationships

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.

Date Dreamer: Finding love in college

Dear Date Dreamer,

Starting college opens you up to so many opportunities to try new things and meet interesting people, so it can be quite an exciting time! The possibility of exploring a romantic relationship adds another layer of emotions and questions about what to expect in this new environment. Perhaps you are excited about opening yourself up to your first romantic relationship, or maybe you dated in high school and want to see what college has to offer. Whatever the case, when entering this opportunity-filled environment and thinking about all the new people you are going to meet, it’s understandable that you might think about meeting someone you could eventually marry. 

It’s great that you are taking some time to think about approaching relationships before entering one, because it gives you space to think about what you want. You may be coming in with a whole set of expectations for dating and finding a partner with whom you can have the perfect relationship (i.e., free of conflict and effortless, etc.). After all, these kinds of relationships are shown in TV shows, movies, and social media all the time. You may have even had your relatives ask about your love life and make assumptions about things. This can cause you to put some pressure on yourself and bring on feelings of anxiety on what your relationships should look like or might make you feel that looking for a partner and getting married should be your priority.

Unfortunately, it can also feel like if your first relationship in college isn’t perfect, then maybe you never will get your “happily ever after.” Realistically though, there are many ways and places to find a long-term partner, and college is just one possibility. 

That is not to say that you cannot find a long-term partner in college. Princeton and other colleges host a big concentration of people with common interests and future goals, and it is not unusual for people to marry their college partner. Some students use surveys like DataMatch and Marriage Pact, normally released in the spring semester, to connect with potential partners (or just make new friends!). However, the fact that it works for some people does not mean it has to be how you find your partner. It can be helpful to ask yourself what being single or in a relationship means to you, especially at this point in your life, and maybe even make a list of what qualities you look for in a partner. Spend some time reflecting upon where you got these ideas, and if they are in fact what you are looking for. Knowing what you want in a relationship helps improve communication and contributes to relationship satisfaction for all partners involved. 

It is equally important to think about and respect the wants and needs of your partner (or potential partner). Relationships, especially committed ones, are an investment and serious time commitment when on campus, and not everyone wants to or is ready to enter one. People may also be looking for different kinds of relationships — open vs. monogamous, casual vs. committed, sexual vs. non-sexual, romantic vs. aromantic. Whether you have figured out what you want or are still thinking it through, make sure you communicate your hopes and expectations clearly before entering the relationship, so that you can be on the same page as your partner. Check out the UMatter website to explore more elements of healthy relationships.

If you are looking for a relationship that involves sexual activity, you may want to seek out University Health Services with any questions you have or to learn about protecting your health and safety. You can make an appointment with a Sexual Health and Wellness (SHAW) provider through MyUHS. As a first-year student you will also have the opportunity to participate in the Safer Sexpo, a peer-facilitated interactive FYRE program on sexual and reproductive health and wellness in your residential college. You can also make an appointment for an individual counseling session with CPS on MyUHS if you would like to talk through your relationships, as well as your personal wants and needs.

Remember, college is a time of change for many people. It can become overwhelming to try to make friends, get acclimated academically, find social groups, and discover activities you like, while also trying to find a romantic partner. Trying to focus on these activities first can allow you to get to know yourself, so that there’s more space and time for relationships later. In your first year of college, try not to put pressure on a relationship. Instead, focus on finding things you can enjoy on your own, and let a relationship with a partner happen naturally.

— The Sexpert

Tentative: Previously had sex with an undergrad in a class I’m teaching

Dear Sexpert,

I am a grad student and I had sex once with an undergraduate student, but we never saw each other again. I am teaching a course in the fall and saw this student has enrolled in the class. What should I do?

– Tentative TA

Dear TA,

It shows good judgment that you are questioning whether these previous relations (albeit brief) may impact your teaching role, and are being proactive in managing the situation before interacting with the undergraduate student.

As discussed in this Sexpert, graduate student/undergraduate student relationships can create a power differential. Even though you are no longer involved with the undergraduate student, there may be a perceived or existing conflict of interest, not to mention a potential awkwardness in seeing one another.

Regarding what to do about the situation, the first place to start would be with policies of the institution. At Princeton, Rules and Procedures of the Faculty of Princeton (Ch.V. Sec.C.) Consensual Relations with Students states that “Relationships which pre-date either this policy or the role at the University which causes the conflict must also be disclosed promptly to the parties’ respective department chairs and to the Dean of the Faculty.” Additionally, these procedures recommend that “Any member of the University community who is uncertain about how a power asymmetry may impact a relationship or adversely affect the community should contact the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, or the Office of Human Resources.”

This indicates that you should speak with your department chair, and/or the Dean of the Faculty (depending on which you feel more comfortable starting with) about this potential conflict of interest. You need not go into the specifics of the relationship but just share generally that you have previously had sexual relations with a student who is enrolled in the class you are teaching this fall. There may be a number of ways to handle the situation, including swapping you to a different section of the class being offered.

Best wishes,

The Sexpert

Friends or More: Is the intimacy you have with a friend different than the intimacy you have with a romantic partner?

Dear Sexpert,

I wonder if you think that the emotional intimacy that you have with a friend versus a romantic partner is substantively different?

–Friends or More?

Continue reading Friends or More: Is the intimacy you have with a friend different than the intimacy you have with a romantic partner?

Expanding My Horizons: How do I tell my partner I’m ready for oral sex?

Two heads facing away from each other with question marks followed by two heads facing each other with heartsDear Sexpert,

My relationship with my partner has become pretty serious and we’re ready to be more intimate with each other. While I’m interested in experimenting with oral sex, I’m still not ready to do more than that. How do I explain this to my partner without offending them?

Expanding My Horizons

Continue reading Expanding My Horizons: How do I tell my partner I’m ready for oral sex?