Please note that some women do not have vaginas, which can include trans and intersex women. We encourage people to use the terms they choose for their own bodies and appreciate the continual discussion around making our language more inclusive. For many years, one of my jobs was answering anonymous sex questions for a teen website. And when I did, I was reminded just how common it is for people to either worry that first sex will be painful, or to actually have painful first sex.
Typical questions looked like this: When he put it in, it hurt really bad. Is their any way for it not to hurt? And if we do, why? As a result, this type of experience seems totally normal, becomes expected, and then goes unquestioned. So what is to blame for this situation? Well, a few things actually. Some of this is based on confusion about anatomy. Some is the result of an inability to communicate about sex.
But while some people will never be able to experience pain-free vaginal penetration , possibly due to underlying medical situations, issues related to gender confirmation surgeries, or past experiences with pain or sexual assault for cis women who are not coming from these places, the notion that pain is an expected part of penetration is really off base. Here are four myths that allow this situation to continue. Losing Virginity Should Involve Breaking the Hymen Yes, people still buy into this one and the fact that we live in a world where there is a market for hymen reconstruction tells us something about how much emphasis can be put on an awfully small piece of skin.
But this emphasis, and a lot of what people think they know about the hymen , is really off base. The hymen is a thin membrane that stretches over the opening of most vaginas at birth. Far from being an almost impenetrable steel drum, the hymen has natural openings in it. A big one is that like many other parts of the body, the hymen begins to change shape during puberty, and as the result of increased estrogen in the body, it also becomes more elastic. There is also the fact that many active people with hymens have stretched theirs gradually over the course of daily life long before they ever have vaginal sex.
This can happen by riding bikes, doing gymnastics, using tampons, or just plain old living. How to Deal With an Intact Hymen There are, of course, plenty of people who still have a lot of hymen tissue when they first have sex.
If this is the case for you, the helpful folks at Go Ask Alice have some advice: Place a finger into your vagina you can slick it up first with lube and apply pressure on the vaginal entrance by pressing downward toward the anus.
Keep the pressure on for a few minutes, and then release it. Repeat this procedure several times, each time with a little more pressure.
Then insert two fingers and apply pressure to the sides of the vaginal entrance, in addition to the downward stretching. You can repeat this process over several days in order to help reduce any discomfort during your first vaginal intercourse. Sounds a lot better than trying to force your way in! In this situation, a doctor can prescribe a topical estrogen cream to apply to the hymen to help it stretch. People normally discover this at puberty when menstrual fluid is unable to leave the body, and they experience abdominal pain.
There are also a number of medical procedures to treat this. But while these medical situations can arise, the much more common reason for pain and bleeding related to the hymen is the idea that one simply has to force their way past this barrier, and the resulting discomfort and bleeding is to be expected. For teens, a lot of these messages are reinforced by abstinence-only until marriage school programs, which teach that a heterosexual marriage is the only acceptable place for someone to have sex.
Studies have found that kids who get abstinence-only education are no less likely to have sex than are kids who get comprehensive sexuality education. The main difference, however? And then there are the virginity pledge components.
Proven not to delay intercourse until marriage , these pledges have been taken by millions of American teens since they emerged in the early s. What they have been demonstrated to do, however, is increase guilt and shame. But even for those pledgers who do wait to have sex until marriage, the outcome can be poor. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. Going too fast, not using lube, an intact hymen, and an infection or injury can all be culprits. Luckily, there are a lot of things we can be telling people about sex and their bodies that can help them avoid having their first sexual experiences marked by pain.
People need to learn that they can ease their way in. They should think about penetration as a slow process that may or may not continue during that particular session, and they should know that it can take a number of times before vaginal penetration feels like it should move forward. Here are some really solid tips for first-time vaginal penetration from sexuality educator Cory Silverberg: If you only hold negative ideas about sex, it can get in the way of your enjoying having it.
Mentally prepare for first intercourse: When you imagine having intercourse, how do you think it will make you feel? Practice on your own: Masturbating will let you know a bit about how your body responds to touch and sexual stimulation.
Experimenting with penetration on your own is also a great way to prepare yourself for the experience of allowing someone to penetrate you. Being on top will allow you to control the depth of penetration, the angle, the speed, and most of the movement. Avoid drugs and alcohol: Taking the time to consider how the experience can be enhanced, not only in a rose-petals-on-the-hotel-bed way, can actually be the most important part of making the experience enjoyable.
I mentioned that I tell my health classes that unless there is a medical or physical situation, vaginal penetration should never hurt — not even the first time. The woman was skeptical. She recalled the first time she had vaginal sex during her freshman year of college.
I could never use tampons comfortably, and always bled a bit when we fooled around. So I got really drunk. And thank god I did because it was excruciating! Then I bled on and off for days. That was exactly what I was telling her. Partly that is because this woman has now gone on to have a few decades of pleasurable sex since then. So I suggested that she consider what could have happened had she and her partner taken it slower, not set herself up for one first time, and instead saw losing her virginity as a process.
There is no way for her to go back in time for her to have a redo. But I stand by my assessment. However, while the focus on the one time nature of virginity is a huge issue, so too is something else: According to Therese Shechter, there is a system that perpetuates the idea that first-time sex will be painful. Found this article helpful? Help us keep publishing more like it by becoming a member!
Currently, Ellen runs a middle and high school health education program and teaches human sexuality at Brooklyn College. Articles , Posts Tagged With: