Welcome to Very Good Light’s first-ever Sex Week. We’re launching an entire week’s worth of sexual health content during this pandemic because it’s now more important than ever to learn about how to protect yourself. Along with the new sexual health brand, Champ, we’re giving you the best, informative, and useful tips for an empowered sex life. Because sex should be fun. It should be safe. And you should be informed.
OK, so you’re thinking about sex. Now you want to try it.
I’m guessing there’s someone (or several people) in your life who’ve ignited these thoughts. You might be dating this person, but you certainly don’t have to be. They might be a friend, acquaintance, classmate, or someone you’ve barely spoken to.
Are you ready to have sex? There’s no pressure to be, even if your friends have already started. You’re allowed to begin when you’re ready, and everyone moves at different speeds.
If you’re ready, you must express your sexual interests to someone and see if they’re interested back. When you’re new to sex, talking about it can feel awkward (don’t worry, it gets easier). A direct approach works best. Being honest about what you want is respectful to the other person, and it eliminates the possibility that they might feel misled when you finally do come out and say what’s on your mind. Directness also gives you power — you’re not relying on someone to “read between the lines.” They either want sex or they don’t. If they don’t want it, no sweat — be nice and move on.
Being direct makes it easy to verify consent. “Consent” is someone’s permission to do something to them or with them. You must always ask for someone’s consent before initiating any kind of sexual contact with them, regardless of their gender or orientation. This can be as simple as asking, “Hey, do you want to do this? There’s no pressure.”
I’m a sex writer and educator — I answer sex questions on my blog, Love, Beastly — and I’ve been a sex worker for several years. Sex has been the best adventure of my life and it can be the same for you, too. Unlike other adventures, this one never gets boring. It keeps going and changing, evolving continuously.
Don’t buy into the sex-negative language of “losing” your V-card (virginity). You don’t “lose” anything. You gain new pleasure, new experience, new responsibility, and a totally new sense of self. To help you get started, here are 14 pointers for your first time. It’s time to throw out that V-card!
1. You define what “sex” means.
If you asked ten random people what sex is, you would get ten different answers. We talk about virginity as a hard line between not having sex and having it, but this assumes there’s a single definition of “sex” — there’s not.
Is sex penetration? Some say so. Does oral sex count? Some say yes, others no. What about kissing?
Most people slide into sex gradually and take baby steps. You might start with cuddling and work up to naked foreplay. When you get more comfortable, you might try penetrative sex. It’s normal to go in stages as you feel comfortable.
At one point are you no longer a virgin? You decide that.
2. Your first time might be…not be great.
Let’s face facts — you don’t know what you’re doing. First-time sex can be uncomfortable, awkward, even unpleasant. You will experience new sensations that your body has not felt before, and they can be overwhelming. Discomfort, awkwardness, nervousness, and complicated emotions are all normal experiences in first-time sex.
Sex is a skill that develops over years of practice. I did not feel like I really enjoyed sex until four years after I started having it. That was around the point I started to feel “good” at sex. There is no universal standard of skill, so you’re only “good” at sex when you start to enjoy it. The marker of skill is your own pleasure — the more you like it, the “better” you’ve become.
3. Respect consent.
Remember: Ask, never assume. Ask your partner, “Do you want to be here? Do you want to do this?” If they say “yes,” you’re good to go! It’s good to check in regularly with someone during sex to make sure they want to continue, and if they want to stop or slow down, do that immediately — no questions asked.
Consent is sexy because it takes away the guesswork of having to interpret someone’s body language and facial expression. There’s nothing hotter than hearing someone say, “I want to have sex with you.”
4. Losing your virginity is not supposed to hurt.
While vaginal and oral sex can be uncomfortable, they should not be painful. Anal sex is trickier, but if you go slow and use lots of lube, it can be painless. If you have a vagina, you might think your first vaginal penetration will make you bleed because it “breaks your hymen.” This is total bullshit — a centuries-old myth.
Most vaginas — 99.9 percent, actually — already have a “broken” or perforated hymen. How else would blood get out during your period? Even still, it’s not a bad idea to lay down a towel, because other bodily fluids can appear in sex, and certain types of store-bought lube can stain bedsheets.
Also, condoms don’t have to suck. You may have heard that they are painful to wear. I go into more detail about safe sex below, but remember this: nothing you do to make sex safer and prevent pregnancy should be painful, and if you’re doing safe sex correctly, it won’t hurt.
5. Learn your body first.
Masturbation is great! It teaches you how to please yourself. After discovering what feels good to you, you can tell your partner how to please you. Self-pleasure can also prepare you for penetrative sex. Gently slide a finger or two in your vagina or anus to give yourself an idea of how a penis, someone else’s fingers, or an insertable sex toy might feel.
6. Don’t compare your sex to porn.
I’ve worked in porn studios and have seen the messes, mistakes, and do-overs that get edited out of the final movie. Do not base your expectations on porn. Porn is an unrealistic fantasy. Nobody has sex like that in real life — not even porn stars!
7. Slow down!
When people get nervous, they tend to talk fast. The same is true in sex. Go slow! If you want penetrative sex (anal or vaginal), you must go slow to minimize and prevent pain. The vaginal and anal muscles need time to relax and adjust to the feeling of being penetrated, which might be uncomfortable at first.
My tip: Don’t rush foreplay (touching, kissing, and so on). If you have a penis, you might get hard during foreplay, and if you have a vagina, you might get “wet” (this happens when your vagina secretes a liquid that acts as a natural lubricant during sex). If these things happen, it doesn’t mean you have to have sex right away! Don’t rush it — rushed sex is almost always unenjoyable.
8. It’s good to talk during sex.
Real people talk during sex. It’s not like movies or porn where the music starts to play and everyone just knows what to do. Ask your partner what feels good. It’s OK to laugh during sex — in fact, I recommend it!
You can say things like, “Do you like this?” “Are you comfortable?” and “Are you enjoying this?” If you have feelings of nervousness, share them. If you ever feel uncomfortable and want to stop or slow down, say something.
9. Make informed decisions about safe sex.
Sex gives you new responsibilities and requires you to make decisions about your health. You can get pregnant the first time you have sex. If pregnancy is a concern, consider birth control. There are many contraceptives available, including oral contraception, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and condoms. Discuss these options with a sex-positive doctor or your local Planned Parenthood.
You can get a sexually transmitted infection the first time you have sex. All ages, genders, and sexual orientations are susceptible to sexually transmitted infections or STIs. Condoms and dental dams can be effective at preventing some of them, and if you’re a trans woman or a man who has sex with men, you should talk to your doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP — a daily pill that prevents HIV.
Regardless of your orientation or gender, it’s a good idea to be tested regularly for STIs — including HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. This is especially true if you want to have sex with multiple partners. There’s no shame in wanting lots of sex with lots of people — in fact, it’s normal to be super horny, especially in the beginning — but you still have to take care of yourself.
Don’t panic over STIs. A lot of people do. Most sexually active adults will get an STI at some point. Common STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are treatable, and others without specific treatments, like herpes (oral and genital) and human papillomavirus, or HPV (not HIV — two different things), are usually asymptomatic in both men and women, meaning you may never experience symptoms.
Everyone (all genders) should get the Gardasil vaccine, which protects you from strains of HPV that can cause ovarian and rectal cancer. There isn’t a test for HPV, and in most cases, the infection goes away on its own. With HPV and herpes, most people simply treat symptoms (like genital warts) if they appear.
Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, still get tested on a regular basis. You can have HIV, for example, for several months without having symptoms. Although condoms and dental dams can reduce risk, they aren’t totally percent effective against all STIs, so regular testing is very important. Be an ethical slut and keep yourself and your partners safe.
“Safety” doesn’t just mean safe sex. It also means having an exit strategy if things go downhill or get weird. If you’re meeting someone IRL after chatting on an app, meet in a public place and tell a friend where you’re going — even better, ask your friend to call you at a certain time just to make sure things are going OK.
10. There’s no such thing as “too much sex.”
Don’t buy into sex shame. Sex is fun and you’re allowed to want and enjoy lots of it. It’s not irresponsible to have lots of sex — it’s only irresponsible to do so without knowing risks, getting tested, and taking steps to protect yourself. Enjoying sex doesn’t make you a “slut,” “whore,” or any other word people use to shame sexuality.
11. Lots of lube.
All penetrative sex — vaginal and anal — requires lube, which you can buy at pharmacies, grocery stores, sex shops, and other places. If you’re planning to use condoms, avoid oil-based lubes, which can erode latex condoms, making them completely useless. In anal sex, lube is a must! Unlike the vagina, the anus does not produce natural sex lubricant, and anal sex can be painful without store-bought lube. And many people agree that vaginal sex is much more comfortable with lube, so grab some!
12. Give yourself time to get ready.
It’s good to shower beforehand, and if you want to try anal sex, it’s a good idea to poop beforehand, then take a shower to make sure at least the outside is clean. You might also want to douche a little bit.
Douching is the process of gently squirting a small amount of water into your anus with an enema, which you can buy at most pharmacies. You can also buy a handheld bulb specifically designed for douching at sex shops or online. Go slowly and do not use too much water. Make sure the water is warm but not hot — think “lukewarm”. Some people say you should only use filtered water or sterilized saline water specifically made for douching. While this is a good idea, it’s not always possible (I certainly don’t do this every time).
Before sex, try to relax, breathe, and give yourself some calming space. Plan so that you have plenty of time and don’t feel rushed.
13. Worry less about sex positions.
Sex positions receive a lot of attention in sex media, but they aren’t that important. This may sound strange, but your body knows what to do. You will want to face someone and touch them and you’ll probably be on a sofa or a bed. Leave the rest to discovery.
Sex isn’t a coordinated action — you don’t have to “get in the right position” in order for it to happen. Start with the basics — touching, kissing — and figure out the rest on your own. Many people learn that they like some positions over others, and the only way to learn this is by trying all of them.
14. Emotions can get weird after sex.
A lot of people don’t talk about the emotions that come with sex. Many people experience beginner sex with complicated feelings — guilt, attachment, anxiety, excitement. In time, you’ll be able to separate sex from these emotions, and that gets easier with experience.
It’s good to have a friend you can talk to about sex. Whether or not you believe this, your sex partners are probably feeling the same things. We’re all in this together.