How to Make First Time Sex Good (Even on Your Wedding Night)

Sex-positive tips from those who've come before you. Hah.

Waiting until your wedding night to have sex for the first time can be a sort of lonely spot. While choosing to be a virgin till marriage is a completely valid choice, it’s unfortunately one that’s often met with some judgment, some assumptions, and very little actually helpful information. Which is tough, because chances are you’ve got questions, concerns, and are just flat out curious. So I’ve rounded up some stories and quotes (anonymous, obviously) from ladies who waited to have sex, sharing what the experience was like for them. Having also waited till my wedding night, and being completely incapable of keeping my opinions to myself, I threw in my own two cents. Because first time sex is kind of a big deal! (But also isn’t, really.)

What every Virgin needs to know about first time sex

1. Sex does not change your identity.

Society tries to catalogue a woman based on how much sex she does or doesn’t have, in very black and white terms. Don’t buy into that. You haven’t had sex before; you’re having sex now. Nothing has changed about you at your core.

2. It’s also normal, healthy, and something your body is made to do.

You are not dirty. Sex is not wrong.

“In the lead-up to our wedding, I wasn’t particularly excited to have sex. Part of this might’ve been that we hadn’t been restraining from all sexual activity, and part of it was definitely that my upbringing had made me really worried about sex. In the back of my mind, it still seemed “wrong” somehow.

“But instead of analyzing these feelings and coming to terms with them, I just ignored them completely. In the crazy days leading up to the wedding, there were plenty of things to think about. And then on the morning of the wedding when my husband mentioned the fact that we’d be having sex that night, I panicked a little. I actually had to pull aside one of my bridesmaids at the end of the reception and tell her how freaked out I was. (She was no doubt totally bewildered by this attitude, but gave me a good pep talk anyway.)

“If I had it to do over again, I would definitely spend the week before the wedding psyching myself up for the first time we had sex. I would have spent a LOT of time telling myself that sex was good and positive and would be fun. I think that would’ve helped a lot.”

3. You are not “bad” at it. 

Regardless of what society says, there isn’t an objective measure of “bad” or “good.” Yeah, you can practice and perfect certain motions, but at its core, sex isn’t a skillset. Whether sex is enjoyable or not is a question of you, as a couple, working and fitting together, and that’s something that can change and improve and grow. Put another way, it’s not, “Am I doing this right?” so much as, “Do you like this?” and “Is this working for us?”

4. Sex is being intimate with one another.

That word “intimate” means private, personal, familiar, close. All of those things mean you and your partner, exposed and sharing. Intimacy isn’t false, isn’t mimicking what you’ve seen on TV. It’s parts of you bared (maybe some of them squishy or freckled). It’s possibly funny noises, maybe awkward laughter. It’s sharing yourself in a very personal way that isn’t possible if you’re putting on a show or trying to fit a specific mold.

5. Yes, it might be terrible that first time.

It might be awkward. It might not feel very good. It might even hurt. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong! It will get better. Doing anything for the first time is usually awkward, whether you’ve waited or not. (Be sure to go slowly and gently, communicating the whole time. If it’s too painful, move on to other things.)

“It helped that I didn’t have crazy expectations of unicorns and fireworks. I knew it would get better and we knew each other so well we were able to laugh off the awkward or painful parts. It didn’t take as long as I thought to get better. It was actually much harder to get back into the swing of things after having a baby than it was to adjust to newlywed life, so I felt like that period of waiting until marriage prepared us for other periods in life where sex is off the table.”

“Honestly, immediately afterward there were some disappointed tears on both our parts. Our first time wasn’t strictly awful—more like awkward in the extreme—but it was so not the big freakin’ deal everyone had made it out to be. The overall feeling was: “That’s all?” Fortunately, with time and practice, and a little less self-pressure and a little more self-confidence, things got much, much better—and just continue to get better! Now, nearly six years into marriage—and dealing with the added challenges of third-trimester pregnant body—I can happily say that our sex life is continuing to get better every time.”

“It wasn’t great. He was on top, and we’ve since learned that it works a lot better for me if I’m on top. However, we literally figured that out the next night. We had sex every day of our honeymoon, and I think that by the time we got back we’d really come a long way in figuring out what worked for us. So it wasn’t like we had terrible sex for months and months and our honeymoon sucked because of it. We were figuring out what worked! It was fun! And a treasured honeymoon memory will always be the morning we spent trying to figure out how to have sex in our tiny, tiny hotel shower.”

“It was great, painful, and really special. I was prepared for some uncomfortable-ness, but I was surprised to be sore for a couple days afterward. We had a three day honeymoon, and had sex two or three times total, I think, because I was so sore.”

“You can wait till your wedding night to have sex for the first time, or you can have the most physically perfect, Cosmo-style mind-blowing sex of your life on your wedding night, but I don’t think you can have both. First time sex is not going to be physically perfect, the kind of sex you dream about and read about in idealized erotica. It’s awkward figuring out where everything goes, and it’s usually at least a little painful for the woman. But physical perfection in sex often eludes even the most experienced couples. And it is not important. Like, not important at ALL. It doesn’t matter whether you both get off, or either of you. Awkwardness is not a big deal; this is supposed to be the person you’re most comfortable with in the world! Laugh it off (did I mention laughing is the sexiest thing you can do in bed? Yes, sexier than that). Focus on your emotional connection and the way this new physical closeness marks your new commitment. Perfection is a silly thing to chase, but I’d be lying if I said a moment of infinitely perfect emotional connection is impossible to achieve on your wedding night, regardless of your sexual experience.”

6. But it also might be awesome (who knows!).

Low expectations are one thing, but don’t go into this dreading it!

“The thing I was surprised by was what an incredibly bonding experience it was. There was something really special about having just experienced such a momentous public life event surrounded by our friends and family, and then undertaking a similarly momentous but very intimate life event between just the two of us. Afterward I absolutely did not want to stop touching my husband. I just felt very close to him. It was a totally unexpected but amazing benefit to waiting to have sex until the wedding night.”

“It was one of the most vulnerable, somewhat awkward, and emotional moments of my life. I knew I was with the right guy when my ridiculous crying/laughing afterward reaction didn’t faze him a bit. It was beautifully worth the wait, and now that I’m several months into marriage (with a wedding night on which we both immediately fell asleep, by the way—it was a long nights of dancing!) I can see the positive impact that the conversation elicited by my waiting has had on our relationship. I’ll never know how it would have been different otherwise, but am grateful every day that I trusted my gut for all those years.”

7. Talk about it before. 

There is sometimes this tip-toeing fear that if you’re committed to making waiting work, you’re always right on the precipice of finding yourself accidentally having sex if you mention the word “sex” or kiss someone too roughly, or who knows. But, beginning communication about sex is important. Yes, yes, you’ll be doing it for the first time on your wedding night (or, you know, the next day if you’re really tired), but that shouldn’t be the first time you start communicating about it. Talk about a load of transitions for just one little evening. Instead, start discussing sex now.

“I had always planned to wait until marriage so sex and our expectations around it was actually something we talked about early and often in our relationship. All that boundary setting, are we okay with this but not that, stuff is good practice for future conversations after marriage about meeting each others needs, frequency, how crazy are we comfortable with, etc. We did talk much more in depth about sex and intimacy during our engagement and it was part of our premarital counseling sessions as well, which was helpful.”

“We tend to take the Hermione approach to a problem—we go to the library/Internet and read up on it. So we found a book that explained the anatomical process and common issues and problems in a respectful way but in more detail than any sex-ed class ever had and read it together. One thing that the book pointed out that should’ve been obvious is that while the first time can be painful for the woman, she needs to keep in mind that hurting her is the last thing her new husband wants to do. Keeping that in mind can help mentally to make it more relaxing.”

8. …And talk about it during.

Lots. Like lots and lots. What’s working, what’s not, how you’re feeling. Stick to the topic at hand, of course. (I once made the mistake of, during sex, asking what my husband would wear to dinner, and have yet to live it down. I’m a multitasker!) But, if you’re just starting to have sex together for the first time, you’ll need to communicate about it a lot in the beginning. Eventually you’ll both be better at picking up subtle cues, reading signals, and intuitively knowing what your partner enjoys. Just don’t expect that to come naturally without some talking.

“It can take some time to figure out how to ask for sex, how to gently turn your partner down, how to communicate about sex. I think it took us both by surprise that we didn’t feel sexy-pants all the time, and learning to talk about it took time.”

9. Differences in your experience might be an unexpected hang-up.

Hint: talk about it.

“I learned early on that the gift of the first time was not something we would be equally exchanging. No matter how many times I told myself to let his past be his past and focus on us, I couldn’t help but think of those other women. Of how unfair it was that he could know, without a doubt, he was the first person to be trusted with that part of me, while I had to wrestle with the competition of his distant past. This reaction shocked me, since I’d intellectually accepted I would probably not be marrying another virgin years before, and was typically pretty live-and-let-live when it came to people I cared about. But there it was. My gut had warned me this was going to be emotional. So we kept waiting. We argued a bit. We decided that open and honest communication was the only way to move forward through this and agreed that waiting necessitated that we continue to talk about each of our feelings on this journey. And boy did we talk. He, fortunately, understood and supported me and my gut. I, over time, made peace with his past choices (and my own internal shock that they bothered me).”

10. Pack some lube. (And quite possibly some birth control.)

Surprisingly, you should consider them together. Needing lube is totally normal (not even just for the first time), but picking one can be tricky because, for example, not all lube works with condoms. (Here’s a little more on how to pick lube.) If you just want something easy, and condoms aren’t an issue, we hear great things about coconut oil.

Other logistical things you might want to consider: drinking alcohol can make you numb, making it hard to finish the job (or even start it). Be aware of your cycle, and do some research about birth control options. You don’t want to pop your first pill the night-of, and it might not be the right time to be fumbling with a condom (they work most reliably if you know what you’re doing). Make sure you pee after sex (otherwise you can get a UTI). And if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, the lady gets to finish, too (a very small percentage of women climax from intercourse alone, which means extracurricular activities for fairness, guys).

11. Don’t put too much pressure on the wedding night.

Set expectations with your partner to start slow and just see where you end up. In fact, you might just be too dang tired.

“The other thing that people tell you but that I didn’t really understand until it happened to me was how incredibly TIRED I was the night of our wedding. Had we had sex before, we absolutely would not have that night. I was utterly exhausted. Combined with the fact that I was already a little freaked out about doing it, being so completely tired made me absolutely NOT want to have sex that night. My husband had definitely been looking forward to it a lot more than me, but he was really patient and understanding and told me we didn’t have to do it if I didn’t want to. But we ended up taking a shower together, which relaxed me a lot, and then I put on some lingerie and we got to it.”

“If you end up not able to have sex before falling asleep on your wedding night, it’s not the end of the world. You can sleep in each others’ arms and then have morning sex on the first day of your marriage (maybe after a shower). Especially if this is your first time having so much physical contact, or sleeping in the same bed with your partner, you might be content to enjoy each others’ nakedness and just let your hands explore that first night. There’s no need to rush right to sex without taking the time to fully enjoy all of the intermediate steps on the way there. What most people call foreplay, these activities deserve to be the main event for a while. They’re fun for their own sake, not just as a precursor to intercourse. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time.”

12. And try to remember: sex is not some separate-from-your-relationship, amorphous thing.

Don’t freak out about Doing Sex. You’re just being with your partner, enjoying your partner, doing stuff with your partner. That’s way less intimidating, yeah?

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  • CK


  • Lisa

    How timely. I haven’t even finished reading the whole article yet, but I can already tell I’ll be forwarding it on to my friend whose wedding I’m in Saturday!

  • anonymous

    Can I just say, as someone who waited a really long time to have sex, that the sex might not be great. Not the first time, or the second, or for a really long time after that. And that’s OK.

    Particularly if you’re waiting for religious/moral reasons, it can be really really hard to switch your brain to the setting where you can feel good about having sex. And if you find that sex just doesn’t feel good for you as a result, it’s OK. It can be really frustrating if your emotions are out of sync with your rational thinking. It can suck, but it’s OK. You’re allowed to find it physically uncomfortable/emotionally difficult.

    If penetration doesn’t feel good for you, you should definitely communicate lots with your partner about that. But you might also benefit from working on it by yourself, too. After spending most of my life believing that sex was *wrong* (outside of marriage), when I finally started having penetrative sex it hurt a lot. And it didn’t stop hurting for quite some time. But I worked on getting comfortable with penetration over time.

    (Pro tip: If you find yourself uncomfortable with penetration and you want to get comfortable with it, start with your fingers. Use lube. Why did I think that I would be comfortable with putting something as large as a penis in there when I hadn’t ever even put a single finger up there!? Once you’re comfortable with your fingers, move on to a small vibrator. Use lube. If you’re game for it, in the meantime, there are lots of ways to have awesome sex with your partner without doing the penetration thing, and many of them require considerably less physical coordination.)

    As for the emotionally difficult component, well, cuddling helps. A lot. Cuddling releases hormones that make you feel good about things, so cuddling before and after orgasms can help make you feel good about sex.

    When I’m feeling emotionally vulnerable I still have days where penetration hurts, or days where I know that having sex will make me feel guilty. But the good news is that penetrative sex is just. so. awesome. for me these days. That time that I spent alone with my own body was worth every minute.

    So if you find yourself in a similar position to me, what I’m saying is: It’s OK to feel the way you feel. Breathe. Work on it, slowly. Crappy sex now doesn’t mean you should stop being optimistic that you can have awesome sex one day. I promise, it’s great.

    • Our wedding night sex definitely wasn’t great, but it was the best sex we’d ever had. And it definitely got a whole lot better after that.

    • joanna b.n.

      Oh my god, I cannot imagine going straight past fingers… yeah, word to the wise, take it one step at a time!!

  • Mary Jo TC

    Thanks so much for this, APW. I think one of the most important parts of being sex-positive is affirming people who are making the sexual choices that are right for them, even if that choice is not to have sex. Supporting people who wait for sex until marriage is important, especially when the broader (over-sexed) culture tells us that this is foolish. Everyone, from college roommates to advice columnists (Dear Prudie) tells you it’s important to “take a test drive” but I think that’s BS. You can learn everything you need to know about your sexual connection and libidos with a few months of serious dry humping. If you’re up for it, oral and manual sex can teach you how each others’ bodies work in a very intimate way. You can get all the info you need to make a lifelong commitment without having intercourse. Even if you do discover you’re sexually mismatched in some way, if you love each other and you’re both committed to working on it and talking about it without shame, I can’t imagine how it won’t get better.

    I had always wanted to wait for marriage for sex, but it didn’t happen for us. (We did wait for almost 5 years, though. What was important to me was a lifelong commitment, more so than marriage.) One thing that made me want to wait was how romantic it seemed, as described in #6. The things we did to simulate that experience without being virgins were 1) only ever have sex with a condom before the wedding, so the wedding night was the first time with nothing at all between us, and 2) stopped having sex about 4 months before the wedding, so we were both really eager to reconnect that way.

    Definitely agree with the first quote in #5: recovering sexually from childbirth was a bazillion times harder than getting the hang of sex for the first time. And waiting for sex was a great preparation for that.

    On #10: If you realize at the very last minute you idiotically forgot the lube, lotion can save your wedding night (true story).

    • Bronwyn

      “You can learn everything you need to know about your sexual connection and libidos with a few months of serious dry humping. If you’re up for it, oral and manual sex can teach you how each others’ bodies work in a very intimate way.”

      That sounds like a pretty thorough test drive to me, which I think is a good thing.

    • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

      I think it is wonderful that people wait until marriage. But, if you’re having oral or manual sex, you’re not waiting til marriage. That’s sex!

  • anonforthis

    Pack lube, and try different amounts, because too much results in no sensation for either of you and too little can hurt, a lot. It turned out that I’m a lady that requires lube every single time and it still took months before sex stopped hurting. Part of that was lube technique, part was positioning/enough foreplay, and part was I just needed to stretch down there. Now that I’m pregnant I’m learning about perineal massage… This might have helped before our honeymoon.

    I don’t consider either one of us particularly naive; we both had very comprehensive positive sex education, and I’m pretty well educated about my body, but we were still surprised at how complicated the mechanics of sex can be. Going into it, we thought that mismatched desire would be our biggest problem, but it actually turned out to be mild ED.

    Sex for us is sometimes a struggle, but it’s also pleasurable and fulfilling. I know that sounds like a contradiction. ED makes a guy vulnerable though, and being patient with each other makes our marriage better. I don’t wish I’d practiced beforehand with him or anyone else, either. This experience and our connection because of it is so powerful that I could not imagine it more than once in a lifetime.

  • anon today

    I had always wanted to wait for marriage for sex, but it didn’t happen for us. (We did wait for almost 5 years, though. What was important to me was a lifelong commitment, more so than marriage.) One thing that made me want to wait was how romantic it seemed, as described in #6. The things we did to simulate that experience without being virgins were 1) only ever have sex with a condom before the wedding, so the wedding night was the first time with nothing at all between us, and 2) stopped having sex about 4 months before the wedding, so we were both really eager to reconnect that way.

    Definitely agree with the first quote in #5: recovering sexually from childbirth was a bazillion times harder than getting the hang of sex for the first time. And waiting for sex was a great preparation for that.

    On #10: If you realize at the very last minute you idiotically forgot the lube, lotion can save your wedding night (true story).

    • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

      You should absolutely, positively NEVER use anything beside food grade oil or lubricant designed for sexual activity during sex.

  • “Intimacy isn’t false, isn’t mimicking what you’ve seen on TV.”

    When we got to the hotel the second night after our wedding and were walking from the parking lot to the door we could hear out of a window at the hotel a couple having sex. She was mimicking what she’d heard on TV and in movies and it was very much a forced sound. The poor desk clerk winced every time someone opened the door and she could hear it again. We still laugh about that.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      I’m curious, how would you know she was mimicking what she had heard and that the sounds she made weren’t authentic?

      • Amy March

        Or that this couple doesn’t enjoy mimicking sounds together? Let’s try not to laugh about other people’s sex lives.

        • A.

          Yes, there’s nothing wrong with sex being performative if it is exciting or enticing to the couple. A big part of being sex positive is being accepting of the fact that many people enjoy many different acts and expressions (even if you don’t personally partake).

        • Maddie Eisenhart

          “Let’s try not to laugh about other people’s sex lives.” Indeed. I think we’re stumbling into an interesting conversation here, but that said, I would also like to be careful of not attacking Giggles for having a reaction to something. (Lord knows I love a good noisy romp, but I also get giggly and awkward when I hear other people having sex in a hotel room near me.)

          (Not that you specifically are attacking her; I just don’t want this conversation thread to go down that rabbit hole.)

      • I’m not against making noises during sex. Certainly. But there was a definite quality to it that sounded forced, like she’d seen people making noises during sex in the movies and so she was doing exactly that because that’s how it sounds when you do it right. It sounded extremely rehearsed.

        Maybe she really was the type that naturally makes those sounds, but the noises didn’t have that feel to them.

        • jubeee

          They could also get off on knowing other people can hear them. Even if the noises were forced, there are reasons one might enjoy that.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          I will be honest. I find your comments bizarre bc I just don’t know how you could even conclude this woman was mimicking unless you knew her. There are so many assumptions that have be made about what is presumably a total stranger to you to make the leap from hearing a couple have sex to oh they’re mimicking what they’ve seen on in movies. I don’t get it.

        • Kayla

          I don’t think I’d laugh about it, myself, but I get what you’re saying. The exaggerated porn moan is a totally a thing, and it totally does sound forced/awkward.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            I think we’re toeing the line here guys. Let’s not assume anyone’s intentions during sex. The point Liz was making was that you shouldn’t feel like you HAVE to make wild sex noises during sex, or that first time sex needs to be the kind of sex that elicits those noises.

            That said, sex is obviously very personal to each of us, and for some of us, making a lot of noise is an authentic way to have a good time and express pleasure.

            There are a lot of interesting and useful things being said here, but I don’t want this to turn into a “This is what real looks like and this is what fake looks like” back and forth. Real and fake are things that exist for us individually; there’s no barometer.

          • Kayla

            Whoa. I don’t know what made it seem like I was assuming anyone’s intentions or judging anyone in any way. I guess it was the word awkward? But I certainly didn’t intend that to be disparaging. I’m plenty awkward. I am also staunchly pro any kind of (consensual) sex.

            But I do think it’s a good thing to recognize that there’s sex that’s more performative (see: 99% of porn), and that it’s okay if that sex (or any other kind!) makes other people laugh. As long as it’s not rude, in-someone’s-face laughter, I think that’s just fine to have yourself a chuckle.

            And I really do think it’s healthy to identify that sex noises are different. Sometimes we make noises because something feels SO GOOD we can’t help it, and sometimes we make noises because we’re with someone who likes those noises, and sometimes we’re in a hotel and we have an exhibitionist streak. Those are all totally okay, but they’re also different, and I think it’s healthy and reasonable to recognize that difference.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            Sorry was responding to your comment, but addressing the thread at large!

          • Kayla


            I do think this is interesting territory. With the state of sex ed in most of the country, you end up with a lot of kids getting their sex ed through porn, and porn that is often just horribly misogynistic and does not give them accurate sense of what female pleasure looks like. So in that context, addressing what’s real vs. fake can be really important to healthy sexual development.

            But at the same time, I completely agree that it’s harmful to dictate real vs. fake or good vs. bad when it comes to sexuality.

            So. I appreciate you trying to keep us on the right side of a really fuzzy line. :)

          • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

            I once did one and my bf at the time said I sounded like a whiny Asian girl. Eeeesh. Never again.

        • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

          Maybe she was making a p*rn? I guess you’re an expert on sex though, eh?

  • Kara

    We waited until we were married to have sex, and on our wedding night, we had sex. There was a definitely learning curve as to how things fit….comfortably. We’d been familiar with each others bodies for several years enjoying intimacy in other activities that didn’t include penetration.

    Without getting too graphic…the first few days, well, my husband wouldn’t fit all the way in. It took about 4 days (and after I had several glasses of wine) for him to be able to break “through”. This wasn’t actually painful (thanks to slow going and wine), but seeing “blood” was definitely shocking. I knew this was possible, but not always something that would happen.

    I won’t lie about 6 months after getting married I had a phase where my libido took a nose dive and things just didn’t “fit”. There were definitely times of tears and fears of inadquacy on my part, but my husband was always gentle and understanding. Many times we’d just cuddle. After that spell, things definitely got better. The more we communicated the better.

    Now, after about 5.5 years, we’re having the best sex of our lives (thanks to toys and great communication!). Yay!

  • anonymous for this

    We did not wait until our wedding night, but we did wait until about 2 years into our relationship and we were each other’s first sexual partners. Our first time was a little awkward, but actually pretty great. One thing that I attribute this to is that we had spent some time getting, erm, familiar with each other’s bodies before we actually had intercourse. We did a fair amount of touching, groping, etc., and it just meant that we were more comfortable being intimate with each other when it actually came to having intercourse.
    One more thing – masturbate. Get to know your own body, what feels good, what gets you off, and it will be way easier to coach someone else when the time comes. It will also just make you more comfortable with your own sexuality, which will also make the first time a little less awkward.

    • anon too

      “everything but” FTW

    • april

      I’m really glad someone brought up masturbation here, since I think it’s a really important aspect of #2 on Liz’s list. In general, I feel like society sort of tacitly condones male masturbation while remaining sort of “squicky” about female masturbation.

    • Bronwyn

      “One more thing – masturbate. Get to know your own body, what feels good, what gets you off, and it will be way easier to coach someone else when the time comes. It will also just make you more comfortable with your own sexuality, which will also make the first time a little less awkward.”

      No kidding. How is your new husband going to get you off (#10) if you can’t tell him and show him what gets you off.

      • Hiphopannonymous

        “How is your new husband going to get you off if you can’t tell him and show him what gets you off.” Basically, there is more than one way to get off. And an orgasm through masturbation can look very different than one through intercourse. Not discounting that masturbating is important, but it’s not the only way to figure out how to have an orgasm.

        • Bronwyn

          With the majority of women unable to orgasm from penetrative sex (i.e. they need clitoral stimulation), I’m thinking that’s it’s super important that women virgins who want their partners to get them off have a pretty darn good handle on which one (clitoral or penetrative) works for them. I’m also going to put it out there that penetrative masturbation is a thing.

          • Hiphopannonymous

            Sure, just saying, how I orgasm with my husband (penetration that involves incidental clitoral stimulation) looks nothing at all like how I orgasm with masturbation, and that’s fine too. When you said “How can this be done?” I’d respond: through trial and error, practice, and communication as much as (if not in addition to or even in lieu of) with experience masturbating. There’s a way to be positive about masturbating without saying that’s the only way to learn how to have good sex with your partner.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            I’m a big proponent of masturbation as well, but I think it’s unfair to offer prescriptive advice about what may or may not get someone off. I also think it’s unfair to suggest that you might never have an orgasm if you can’t figure it out on your own. I think for a lot of people, orgasm (if even possible) results from communication, both with one’s own body and with one’s partner. Masturbation can be an important part of that, but it’s certainly not the *most* important part for everyone.

          • Anon

            Well put, Maddie.

        • Lucky

          As a non-masturbating-great-sex-haver, I second that notion. Never masturbated before having sex the first time. I’m also in the minority of climaxing via penetration, so perhaps it’s physiological? I tend to just thank my lucky stars I have such a great partner, since so much turned out fine for me, even after not following the very wise “know thyself- biblically” advice.

  • Amy

    Thank you so much for this article. A major part of my personal feminism is supporting peoples independent decisions about their own bodies. At many of the weddings I’ve attended talk about the wedding night have has made me feel icky all over because it’s every one else making assumptions and setting expectations for the bride mostly, but the groom too. Its like their statues as people were less important than the fact that there about to have sex (allegedly). I’m getting married next year and I don’t know how to prevent this at my own wedding. I’m hoping that the fact we will have been together for five years and lived together for 1 1/2 will cause people to assume we already know what were doing. My fiance was the first person I had penetrative sex with, about two weeks after we started dating. Its difficult for alot of my friends when they ask me to explain that it was so easy, not I wasn’t scared or worried, I just made the decision to do it and did it (phrasing!) At least in my conservative area of the country it isn’t seen as very feminine to not be scared and fretful. I didn’t know he would be the person I would spent the rest of my life with at the time, but his attitude about sex and consent is probably one the the things that made me think he could be.

    • Mary Jo TC

      I hate those gross innuendos too. Yuck. To me one of the most embarrassing things about getting married was the idea that pretty much everyone looking at us might have had the thought in their head, “They’re going to be doin’ it in a couple hours.”

      • sarah

        Ew, did people actually say this to you?

        • Mary Jo TC

          No, that was just what I thought they might have been thinking. My projection of self-consciousness about sex. Marriage is kind of a public declaration that you have sex with this person.

          • sarah

            Oh, interesting. I don’t really agree that a wedding is a public declaration about sex, but maybe that’s just my experience.

          • Sarah E

            I think it’s one of those weird thoughts that can just get stuck in your head. Kind of like picturing people in their underwear, and not being able to rid yourself of the image.

          • Kris

            Hehe, just wait until you get pregnant (assuming you one day do). Or even better (ie worse), when your MIL starts asking your husband about baby making. “So…have you started trying?” Ahh!

    • Anon4thispost

      I like your reference to your personal feminism. Something I’m sort of conflicted about in my own personal feminism is not being judgmental of the choice to wait until marriage (the legal or religious binding aspect, I don’t mean just a serious comitment) for reasons other than religious beliefs. It’s hard for me to understand why someone would not want to exercise the liberty that so many women have been and are continuously killed for – premarital sex. If you don’t believe that God will frown on your sexual activity or that you’ll be acting against your spiritual framework, I don’t understand why you need to have a legal contract in order to trust someone enough to have protected sex (outside of anyone who has been affected by sexual trauma– i have no judgment whatsoever on the choices made by survivors). I really don’t mean this to be accusatory or demeaning, but it’s something I’ve been struggling with since reading this post earlier today.

      • a waiter explains

        The vulnerability involved in sex is incredible, and the only way to overcome that is trust. Some people have a higher threshold for trust than others. For some people 3 dates of knowing and trusting someone is enough for sex, for others, they need a lifelong commitment. A lifelong commitment doesn’t have to be marriage but some people define it that way. I don’t think it’s necessarily about the legal contract, because that can’t protect you from emotional vulnerability anyway.

        I knew someone once who said she wanted to wait for a lifelong commitment for sex because she only wanted to have sex with one man her entire life. One reason for that was that she was terrified of going through a breakup if she’d had sex with the guy for the first time. She wasn’t willing to risk that devastation unless she felt as sure as it is possible to be that this was THE guy. I think as long as she didn’t think a guy was worth risking a hard breakup, he wasn’t worth having sex with anyway.

        Someone else on the thread talked about how she wanted to feel secure during sex and not feel like she was auditioning and her relationship depended on her performance. So she wanted a lifelong commitment first (marriage for her).

        Others here have talked about how first-time sex can make the wedding night extra special, a private moment to match the public one.

        Women have fought for the right to have premarital sex, but they’ve also fought for the right to say no to sex, which is at least equally important.

        Maybe one of the things that’s making it hard for you to get is the gap between lifelong commitment and marriage. Some people treat them as synonymous, others don’t, and some say they’re the same in some situations and not others. Who’s to say which of them are wrong?

        Do any of these reasons make sense to you?

        • a few more

          And also:

          Some may not see waiting for sex as a problem or a particular sacrifice at all. Maybe:
          -they have a low libido
          -as virgins, they don’t really know what they’re missing
          -they’re thoroughly enjoying “foreplay” activities and feel no need to progress to PIV intercourse anytime soon
          -they define intimacy differently
          -premarital sex is not normal in their culture so they don’t expect it

          Or there may be logistical issues that will resolve upon the marriage, such as:
          -health insurance (may be necessary for birth control)
          -long distance relationship (especially with immigration)
          -having a private place to do it

          On the lifelong commitment vs marriage idea, consider this situation: a woman has been living happily with her boyfriend for 5 years, but she feels he’s not fully committed to her because he hasn’t or won’t proposed. She’s having sex, but she feels her relationship is not fully committed without getting married (or perhaps at least engaged with a date chosen and paid for). Why might people who aren’t having sex not feel similarly about marriage and commitment, and base their decision of when to have sex on that?

          • Elsie

            Another positive thing I’ll add that has kept me committed to chastity in my current relationship: by saving the sex for marriage, we really have taken the time to get to know each other emotionally and intellectually. Time that in past relationships was spent cuddling in bed, learning about each other’s bodies (before I knew how the guy would react to a pregnancy scare, has anybody else realized they were in love with a manchild when their period was late?) was in a way a sacrifice – in my current chaste relationship, all that time together was spent learning who my boyfriend is on other levels. I say this not in judgment but in personal experience. My past relationships that involved sex were not bad, but I do regret the sex part of it. Even though I always waited until we were in love before we progressed to sex, the emotional intimacy was STILL not on par with what I have found in this relationship – and the physical intimacy moved much faster. Someone else said this already, but I think it’s good for the three types of intimacy – physical, emotional and intellectual – to progress at a relatively even rate. I want to know, with certainty, that you would either support me choosing abortion or be an amazing lifelong father, before I engage in sex with you. I don’t want hormones clouding my judgment about your character. When you spend your time talking, exploring the world – out and about instead of always in bed – it’s a different way of getting to know each other. For me personally, it has been a much better, deeper, more holistic way of getting to know someone. That’s a perk for which I’m willing to give up what I want for a little while.

            (I hope I haven’t offended anyone – I don’t judge anyone who does life differently than me.)

        • Anon4thispost

          Thank you for the thorough explanation. I definitely agree that the right to say no is an equally (likely more) important aspect of hard-won feminist rights. Maybe part of my internal struggle with really empathizing with the choice to wait for non-religious reasons comes from the fear that those who wait feel like my decision not to wait is less valid than theirs, that somehow I had moral failure. And that is likely part of a larger struggle I have– accepting that there’s more than one way to do things and that my way is not always right!! fwiw, I’m very pro abstinence — there are enough unwanted pregnancies and STDs out there as it is!

  • NatalieN

    It is so nice to see the choice to wait not only affirmed, but talk about the logistics of how you get down to it once you have waited.

    We waited. And it was awkward that first night (and quite a few more times after). I wound up crying at one point from just the emotions of the day and the stress of feeling like “now we flip a switch and need to be awesome at this”. My husband was so understanding and supportive and it’s gotten so much better in just a couple months… but yeah. If I were to do it all over again I would have given myself permission to take it slower that first night, and to maybe wait until the next morning.

  • jubeee

    I will not be a virgin on my wedding night (that ship sailed about 16 years ago) but I do wonder about people who are very religious and wait even for their first kiss. The idea of waiting for so long and everything happening in one day really make me anxious. So my advice from someone whose done it plenty-do it when it feels right to you. It might not be your wedding night and that’s OK.

    Also communicate with your partner, if he is male and also waited, he might be clueless and you are just as responsible for your sexual pleasure as he is.

    • Elsie

      As a Christian who is chaste in this relationship, but never was in previous ones, I, too, share your wondering at hte people who don’t kiss before marriage. My boyfriend knows at least one couple that did it that way! I have leaned heavily on the support of friends and mentors who also are/have waited until marriage (people who are waiting, please, find your supports! Find at least one friend you can vent to. Tell them what you need from them. I told one friend, “I need you to tell me we can survive another year of this and it will be worth it.” And she was able to tell me those exact words with sincerity, and it was such a relief, even if it didn’t make chastity a breeze.).

      One thing I’ve learned from my support system: the boundaries can evolve as your relationship does. My boyfriend was hesitant to kiss me at first, and waited several dates. Then it was awhile before he felt comfortable kissing me alone indoors. We’re long past that but still have never moved beyond kissing – it’s just that our definition of appropriate kissing changes. We make those changes after careful consideration, open and honest discussion, and prayer. Our religion does not offer us clear sets of exactly what we can and cannot do – I would even say there are grey areas on sex, but we have both heard and felt God calling us to wait so we are doing that. But the in between decisions, and the things we do to get us through that time (like setting a curfew on weeknight dates), are still up to us.

  • Selena

    My soon-to-be-fiancé is still a virgin, partially because of his religious beliefs, partially because he was just very picky about who he dated. I, however, am not a virgin and hadn’t been for some time before we got
    together. Most of the time you hear about both members of a couple going in together or if one partner is abstaining, it’s generally assumed to be the woman. Because we had been friends before we started dating, most of our friends knew each other- and knew the status of our V-cards.

    The fact that I was dating a guy who was a virgin really confused a lot of people. “Like, how does that work for you?” “You’re going to talk him out of that stance, right?” “Are you going crazy yet?” “I just don’t get it.”

    It was a challenge getting people to understand that just because I’ve had sex before, doesn’t mean I HAVE to have it all the damn time, that there really wasn’t anything wrong with him, and that because I love, care
    and respect him, that means I also respect his beliefs and care enough about him to work with him to make sure neither of us felt too put-upon. What has evolved is a healthy, non-penetrative, intimacy (including orgasms) that I do still have to explain that intimacy is more complicated than just having his penis in my vagina.

    I will be showing him this article because, even as much as we have grown together and he knows how relaxed I am, he still wants to ‘do well’ so to speak when the moment does come. Sometimes, you need someone else to tell you/them so they believe it.

    • anon SIL

      Good for you for sticking with your boyfriend and not pressuring him about sex. “Healthy, non-penetrative intimacy” can be awesome.

      I felt really uncomfortable when having a girls-only talk with my sisters and sisters-in-laws and one of them said that when she and my brother talked about having sex, he said he wanted to wait until marriage, citing vague religious reasons, and she summed up the situation, “yeah, that wasn’t going to happen” or something like that. If I’d heard one of my sisters’ boyfriends or husbands talk about their relationship like that I would have been really upset, and I don’t see why it should be different for reversed sex roles. Pressure for sex has no place in a healthy relationship, whether the pressure is coming from the guy or girl. As someone whose significant other waited YEARS to have sex with me, I know waiting is possible, and pressure feels like crap.

      Not having sex, or waiting a long time for sex, can be a dealbreaker for some people, but I have a hard time understanding how that can be communicated without creating sexual pressure: “Have sex with me or I’ll dump you.” The bottom line is that if you love someone, you’ll wait. The dilemma my significant other faced years ago was not knowing if he loved me yet, but liking me a lot and caring about me and being attracted to me, but really wanting to have sex and feeling like he “should” have sex. He ultimately decided that the chance to get to know me better was worth waiting a few months to have sex with someone else if it didn’t work out with me, and by then he was in love and waiting was easier then. If the situation was reversed in my brother’s relationship early on, and his girlfriend/now-wife gave him an ultimatum or something, that sucks.

      • Amy March

        Oh I so strongly disagree with the bottom line being “if you love someone you will wait.” You might, sure, but you might also decide that you love someone, but also are looking for a relationship that fills your sexual needs. Like you can love someone but leave them because you differ about kids, or religion, or where to live.

        I think you communicate that by being open and honest. “I love you. And I love having sex. And I’m concerned that our values around that don’t line up. Let’s talk about it.”

        It doesn’t make you a bad person to walk away from a relationship that doesn’t meet your needs, even if it causes someone else pain.

        • NatalieN

          I think the bottom line should be “if you love (or even just respect) someone, you’ll wait or you’ll move on.” Not pressure them. I married the first guy I ever dated and we were both on the same page about not having sex before marriage, so I never experienced having my boyfriend ask for more than I was able to give, but one of my best friends has. She’s dated several guys and has gotten to the point where she will straight up (sometimes on the first date) tell a guy that she’s waiting until marriage. If he decides that he’s not okay with that she never sees the point in taking the relationship any further.

          • Maddie Eisenhart

            “If you love (or even just respect) someone, you’ll wait or you’ll move on.” Mmm, I think this is a more nuanced way of saying what is actually being said above. I think “If you love someone you will wait” is a response to “YOU’LL NEVER MAKE IT” or implying that it’s an impossible task. I don’t think the anon SIL meant, “If you aren’t willing to wait, you don’t love that person.” I think it was more, “Waiting can be possible, because you love them, and because you want to do that for them.”

          • NatalieN

            Exactly. I was trying to agree with anon SIL – I don’t think the response to either party saying “I want to wait until marriage” should be “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.” The response should be “I want to understand this more” or “I will support you in this” or “I care for you, but I can’t do that, so I’m walking away”.

            I don’t think the person should stick around hoping they’re going to change the other person. (note, this is true for more than just sex).

            Somehow in our culture we tell people not to go into relationships hoping that another person will change – but time and time again I see on TV shows, books, movies etc, a relationship being portrayed where the inexperienced, maybe religious, virgin has sex eventually. (see April Kepner on Grey’s Anatomy). Sex is good, sex is fun, and sex is tempting, so yes, chances are if you stay in a relationship with someone who wants to wait, and keep pushing their limits just a little bit further, they will eventually cave. But that’s not (in my opinion) respectful of the reasons the person wanted to wait in the first place.

            Needless to say, this is all just my opinion and (thankfully) other people don’t have to adhere to it. :)

          • Amy March

            Ok total side note but she kissed him remember? And they weren’t in a relationship anyway! And that scene with April and Jackson in the bathroom is the hottest TV scene ever.

            And, on a more serious note, your rationale is an equally good argument for someone committed to waiting respecting their own choice by not getting into a relationship with someone who wants to have sex. I think TV portrays this because it’s reality- most people have sex eventually, and being in a relationship with someone who wants to have sex with you makes a pretty compelling case.

          • Liz

            I frankly think TV portrays this just cause it’s juicier.

            “One time a person wanted to wait, so she waited, the end” isn’t as interesting. Just like, “One time two people were completely incompatible and hated one another, so they just tolerated one another and never got close,” isn’t as juicy as, “THEN in the middle of an argument, they realized they actually WERE IN LOVE.” That second one isn’t more likely in real life, it’s just more interesting to watch.

          • NatalieN

            “THEN in the middle of an argument, they realized they actually WERE IN LOVE.” – I’ve literally seen this so often it made me laugh out loud. So true.

          • NatalieN

            Haha, yeah I remember. And I don’t blame her at all – I just was a little annoyed at the writers. I do agree that the scene was hott. But the point was still that your reasons for waiting go out the window when a hott guy makes sexy eyes at you. (Which, totally happens, but a successful waiting until marriage storyline every once in a while would be nice).

            And yeah, both people should walk away. But my point is, (hypothetically) if I say “I’m waiting”, and then the person I’m dating says “Okay” – then the person I’m dating needs to decide if sex is more important than dating me. Either way, no judgement, but I can’t make that call for the person I’m dating.

          • Eenie

            If I had a nickel for every time I was annoyed at the GA writers…

          • NatalieN

            … then we’d have enough money to write Derek back on the show? #amiright?

          • Maddie Eisenhart


          • Maddie Eisenhart

            Oh good, I needed someone to WK for April and Jackson. :) Also, she was so CONFLICTED afterwards. And I loved that. Like it wasn’t some crazy awakening. She had a legit hard time with it.

            Never speak ill of Grey’s ever should really be the lesson here.

        • sarah

          I totally agree Amy. If I started dating someone and they didn’t want to have sex, that would be a big deal for me and depending on our relationship, I’m not sure I would be ready to make that commitment. Same way he would perhaps not be ready to make the commitment to have sex (with me). I’m also uncomfortable with the implication that the person who wants to wait is somehow more “moral” than the person who’s ready to have sex. If a boyfriend implied that I was pressuring him by asking for sex, clearly things aren’t working.

        • MGP

          I feel the same way. Sex or no sex is something so important that it would be a deal-breaker for a lot of people, dare I say most young Americans anyway. Even for a short period of time, let alone “waiting until marriage” however long that might be. Plus, as the actress Emily Deschanel said as the character “Bones” on tv – “sex is a physical need, just like eating or sleeping.” People can choose to deny it to themselves for a period of time or for a lifetime, but for most (not all) people, it happens at some point in their life and most people seem to like it. There is nothing wrong with choosing to have sex or not have sex, it’s just personal, but as we can see from this discussion, it Is important to everyone.

        • anon SIL

          Ok, I can see how sex can be an issue in a relationship comparable to kids or religion, where it’s a question of compatibility rather than love. I guess I overstated it with the line about “the bottom line.” What Maddie says below is more like what I meant (she’s a brilliant mind-reader.)

          Obviously some of the lines you all are using as examples of how a non-pressuring conversation about sex might go are better than the one I wrote in my original post. But I think if I were the person who didn’t want to have sex and my serious boyfriend said those things to me, I would still feel pressured by those statements because their bottom line is that I have to make a choice between losing this person or going against my values or doing something that I’m not ready for. It basically comes down to an ultimatum, and I guess it does on the other side too: “Give up sex until I’m ready for it or we’re through.” But it’s not like that person (or anyone ever) is entitled to sex to begin with. Maybe that’s where I have trouble with this, with the idea of sexual entitlement. I don’t think the person who wants to wait is more moral than the person who wants sex, but I do think that in this mismatch there is more potential for hurt through sexual pressure to be inflicted upon the waiter by the one who doesn’t want to wait.

          Am I wrong about sexual pressure being equally bad for both sexes, though? Was I wrong to think that might have happened in my brother’s relationship, based on that one little line? For the record, my brother’s girlfriend got pregnant unexpectedly, soon after he graduated college and while she still had a year to go. It really derailed both of their lives for like 2 years, although now they’re back on track in their careers and financially and married and have an awesome 3 year old. So if there was pressure around sex in that relationship, it sure had consequences.

          • Amy March

            No. Pressure to have sex, if it happened, didn’t have consequences. Failure to use birth control properly did. I certainly think men and women can be pressuring or being pressured and that can be problematic both ways, but I think you’re reading too much into her comment.

            I don’t see it as an entitlement to have sex. It’s an entitlement to make you own decisions about what you need in a relationship without being told you can’t express that need without pressuring your partner.

          • anon SIL

            They told me they did use birth control. No birth control method is 100%, even used properly. Of course, maybe they were lying or mistaken. I hope I am reading too much into the comment too.

            Ok, so you are entitled to express your needs in a relationship without that necessarily constituting pressure, although those needs can be expressed in various ways that are nice and less nice. But how is saying you need sex in a relationship different from saying you feel entitled to sex in a relationship? Maybe that’s where I get confused.

          • Amy March

            To me, being entitled to sex would mean feeling like it’s ok to push your partner’s boundaries, pout when they say no, try and talk them into things etc.

            Needing sex as part of your adult intimate relationship would look more like having a conversation about your values and what sex means to you, and listening to what they say. And deciding if that’s a relationship you want to be in based on what you learn, just like you would any other issue.

          • EF

            aaaand this is why maintenance sex exists.

            because while ‘entitled’ may be not the right word here, if you want to get it on and your partner isn’t so enthusiastic, sometimes it’s helpful for the partner to be like, alright, fine, i’ll do this thing for you but this isn’t going to be some long mind-blowing session.

            and that’s fine too! with different work schedules, and life schedules, people aren’t always in the mood at the same time. but trying to be, if partner is, in order to make them happy? maintenance sex.

            also, dan savage says smart things on this topic.

          • jubeee

            Having your basic needs meant in not entitlement. Saying, “I need my partner to respect me” is not an entitlement, its a basic need. You might not see sex as a need so you are thinking its an entitlement.

            As for love and waiting/not waiting. I think its important to have values/morals/desires/needs discussions before you’ve fallen in love. There is way less heart break involved when you find out you aren’t a good match.

          • Anon4thispost

            I think there can be differences in what we think of as pressure. In our culture, young women are often not given societal acceptance to ask for sex or sex acts. I’m trying to navigate how to say this, so bear with me, but I think that pressure is a pretty normal part of even a very healthy relationship– for instance, pressuring someone to go to a family gathering that they don’t really care to go to but that they aren’t adament about not going. I think of it as part of the decision making and compromises that come with being in a relationship.
            Hear me out- in my experience when I was a college student, I knew that I didn’t want to wait until marriage for PIV sex and I didn’t ascribe any groundbreaking significance to it. I just wanted to do it and see what it was all about. BUT, as part of my personality, it likely wouldn’t have happened for a long time after it did had I been the one to initiate it. The guy I was casually dating made it clear he wanted to have sex and pressured me, not in any sort of violent or threatening me, but more of a “come on, why not?” way. That pressure allowed me to say yes (and I am very much an advocate for yes means yes) without asking for it. I’m just saying that inertia is a real thing– if no one tries to get something going, nothing will happen even if both parties desire it.

          • joanna b.n.

            I hear ya, if it were my brother I’d be pissed at her for dismissing his concerns about sex so quickly.

      • jubeee

        I also strongly disagree that if you love someone, you’ll wait. There is love and compatibility, we shouldn’t be expected to give something important, or be forced into something for love. Not wanting to wait is the same as wanting kids when the partner you love doesn’t. You are simply incompatible despite love. Some people might make it work but there isn’t compromise on these sorts of issues.

    • Eh

      My husband was a virgin when we met in our late-twenties but I was not. He hadn’t really dated before we were set up so he wasn’t waiting until marriage, more like the opportunity never came up before. We took things slowly which was not unusual for me in previous relationships (even when neither of us were virgins) since I need to have a connection and trust the person before having sex with them. There was never a point where I was “going crazy”. My husband had expected that we wouldn’t wait so long to have intercourse but we were having fun fooling around in other ways. I went off birth control a few months after we got married but before we were ready to start TTC and we forgot to buy condoms. We ended up fooling around and he made a comment about how it was like when we were just first dating all over again.

      One thing about our first time was that he was excited, nervous and frustrated (when things weren’t going smoothly) all at the same time. I was able to help him relax and we changed positions a few times until we found something that worked better (we actually found me on top worked the best the first couple times).

  • Stacey

    God, I wish this article had been around before I got married! My husband and I’s first time was on our wedding night. While it wasn’t his first rodeo, I had decided to wait until marriage to have sex. So even though we had done plenty of physical exploration and non-penatrative stuff beforehand, the physical act of sex was completely new to me. So why didn’t I try and talk to my future spouse about all of this beforehand?! I think I stupidly thought that if we discussed it, I’d just get nervous…and I figured that whatever happened would happen and that it wasn’t worth stressing over.

    I thought I had pretty realistic expectations of what would happen on our wedding night, but I had no idea how intimidating the experience would be. Because I hadn’t done any research and just didn’t think about it, we totally forgot to bring lube…which resulted in lots of struggle and frustration. Finally on the third try we were successful, but by that time I was feeling so insecure and self-conscious that I was just glad it was over. And my poor husband just didn’t know what to do/say.

    We’ve been married over a year now and while the sex has gotten slightly better, the experience most times is still painful. This has done a number on my confidence (“am I doing something wrong?”), and the discussions I’ve had with my S.O. haven’t gotten us any closer to solving the problem since, again, he just doesn’t know what to say. Those I’ve talked to about this keep saying “practice makes perfect”, but I’m having a hard time finding the gumption since sex just hasn’t been that positive or gratifying.

    I still don’t really know how to solve our communication problems surrounding sex, but after reading this (along with the comments) it’s really comforting to know I’m not alone.

    • Mary Jo TC

      Pelvic floor physical therapy? Consistently painful sex means something is physically wrong, and you might be able to get it fixed with some help. You owe it to yourself to get it checked out at least.

      • Bronwyn

        Absolutely. Stacey might benefit from googling vaginismus.

    • Anontoday

      I also had a lot of issues with painful sex when my husband and I first started dating. I talked to my gynecologist a lot about my issues and there was a lot of trial and error. Here are some things I tried that worked! — 1) Switch to non-fragrance body washes (like Dove). I’m allergic to fragrances and have always used Dove but my husband was using some men’s scented body wash when we first started dating. My OBGYN pointed this out and so he switched, helped a lot with irritation!
      2) Talk to your OBGYN about “dryness”. Apparently at one point I had the estrogen levels of a post-menopausal woman (at the age of 22), causing extreme dryness. We switched my birth control brand and I also used a prescribed estrogen cream for a short time – this had the most profound impact! To go along with this – lots and lots of lube!
      3) I did explore vaginismus as another commenter mentioned and used some of the suggested exercises. I don’t think this was really what I had, but worth exploring

    • Anon4thispost

      I really recommend getting an rx for liquid lidocaine from your doctor!! You soak a cotton ball in it before sex and then stick it up there for a few minutes. Be sure to take it out! It’s totally cheap and effective for pain in the vaginal opening.

      • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

        Virgin women may not know how/if they will orgasm. It is important to keep that in mind if using Lidocaine because it will numb you and inhibit penetrative orgasm.

    • emma

      I’ve had painful sex for 7 years…and been in PT for 18 months. No dramatic changes yet, but the painful locations are slowly getting smaller. Unfortunately we tried penetration a few months ago (after over a year without intercourse — yes i have a very patient husband!)…and it felt exactly the same, still painful :( anyway, all this to say BE KIND TO YOURSELF. It’s something I’m still working on myself, but IT’S NOT YOU!! Living with the pain for so many years totally messed up my view of sex which has been just has hard and long a road to redirect. Find a good pelvic pain physical therapist (keep looking if you’re not comfortable) and remember it will take time! I also appreciated listening to this podcast recently as it was the first time I heard another woman talk about painful sex and the mental thoughts associated. I also shared it with my husband as a way to say, I know you sometimes wonder what I’m thinking – it’s this! And open discussion about since I know it’s not easy for him either. Good luck!

  • Kayjayoh

    I am so glad for numbers 10 and 11 being on this list. As a former sex educator, I cannot sing the praises of finding and using the right lube enough. Sometimes you might not need it, but man, it can make such a huge difference in terms of comfort.

    And yes: you might be very, very tired by the time you hit the bed on your wedding night. Especially after a busy week and a long day… Nothing wrong at all with falling asleep and waking up refreshed and ready the next morning. :)

  • Gen

    Can we talk about how everyone seems to be defining “sex” as “penis-in-vagina”? Example: “We did everything else. We did other, non-penetrative forms of intimacy etc.” Really people? What this really seems to be about is waiting to have heterosexual intercourse until after you’re married- not waiting to have “sex.” I know most people who read APW are feminist/ at least marginally queer-friendly so I’m finding the blind spots with regard to the definition of sex here pretty confusing and disappointing.

    • Liz

      Hey, Gen- I specifically tried to write with that in mind. Could you point me to what areas of the post are problematic to you so they can be fixed?

      • Bronwyn

        I think Gen is referring to general societal semantics, not your post in particular.

      • gen

        I was mostly referring to the comments, not your post. I’m not going to call out anyone in particular, but multiple people have made references to how they waited to have THE SEX (i.e. PIV) but did “everything else” or “non-penetrative intimacy.” Everyone’s experience is their own, but when I read it was like…dang. There are so many problems with defining sex as only heterosexual penetration. For one, it seriously discounts and demeans the experiences of all queer people. It reeks of “if there’s no penis, how can you have had sex?” questions that lesbians always seem to get from straight people. Second, continuing to define sex as just that moment of penetration of vagina with penis discounts the true intimacy and pleasure that are gained through other sexual acts. This is particularly problematic for women who are not likely to experience penetration as the most pleasurable sexual act. Even if it is pleasurable, very few women will experience orgasm from it, and continuing to define it as the pinnacle of sex just contributes to many women being sexually unsatisfied. Anyway, I could go on and on. I respect anyone’s choices to do or not do anything they want. It’s your body, so have sex or don’t have sex. But maybe rethink how you are defining it.

        • emmers

          I totally understand this dichotomy. I grew up in a fairly conservative religious community, and there was a big emphasis on not having sex until you were married, but no one really broke down what sex is (i.e. that it can be sooo much more than just penis in vagina).

          When I dated people, for a long time I was really conflicted because I wasn’t sure what to believe about sex (i.e. is the line no penis in vagina? is it no petting? is it no sleeping in the same bed? where do I want to draw it if I want to have this belief?).

          I eventually made my own decisions about intimacy, but when I was trying to uphold my religious community’s standards, the gray areas were the worst. And I get how this is foreign for many. Having lived through it, I agree with you– sex is waaaay more than just p in v.

        • R

          “Even if it is pleasurable, very few women will experience orgasm from it, and continuing to define it as the pinnacle of sex just contributes to many women being sexually unsatisfied.”

          I think for many heterosexual woman (and of course I can’t speak for all, but for me and many women I know), it’s held to a different standard bc there is a HUGE difference between PIV and other sexual acts — the potential for pregnancy. It’s not about it being the pinnacle of sex, in my mind, but it’s the risks and consequences associated with it that put it into a different league. PIV was a bigger, somewhat scarier deal for me at the time than other types of sex, and it had nothing to do with it being held up on some pedestal as THE SEX – I certainly prefer other sexual acts. I understand that this isn’t inclusive, but it’s something that does make it different than other types of sex that can’t totally be discounted.

        • anon wondering

          I really don’t think talking about sex this way was meant to exclude anybody. Is it possible to talk about sex in the way you personally define it without excluding or ruling out the way others may define it? In casual discussions about people’s personal lives, that is the way they will use this word: according to their personal definition. This discussion doesn’t have to exclude anyone. Anyone can chime in and say how they define sex differently, and what that means to them. If they were writing a law, or setting something down on paper that would have consequences for a diverse group of people, they would probably use the word more deliberately and in a more inclusive way. Am I wrong or insensitive to think this?

          • Hiphopannonymous

            Thank you for voicing what’s in my head that I couldn’t figure out how to say. For me, penetrative intercourse provides a better orgasm and a higher level of intimacy than any other sex act does. Does that mean I’m excluding other people and their personal pinnacle of sex acts, just to state my own reality? That seems… a stretch.

          • CP2011

            I agree. I would say many of the excerpts were likely referring to sex as PIV, but honestly, there are linguistic implications of heteronormativity and privelege that just come out even if we are trying really hard to be super inclusive. And how clunky would this article and comments be if every single person had to define what exact act they were referring to by “sex?” I didn’t find it to be particularly exclusive. And anyways, I can’t help but assume that a great majority of people who wait until marriage to have sexual contact of any kind are in heterosexual relationships. I mean, look at how many states don’t even allow gay marriage still! I hope no one is waiting around for sex until their state government says they can get married!

        • NatalieN

          I agree with R below. While I can see the frustration with semantics, for me the difference between “Sex” and “Sexual Activities” is the face that “Sex” from a purely scientific, strict definition standpoint, has reproduction as a goal. (And no, I’m not saying every time you partake in sex you have to be trying to get pregnant, but just that there always is a risk that you can get pregnant, no matter how many contraceptives you use – there’s always a chance). There’s a failing of the English language here, but not necessarily a failure on the part of the people involved in this discussion.

      • kas

        Well, there’s just generally the idea of “waiting” usually seems to refer specifically to PIV sex.

        • Liz

          I disagree. I think many people use the term to mean waiting for all forms of sexual activity.

    • Juliet

      I think this is a totally interesting point, and I was thinking about this as well. That said, I think the language used here and in the comments speaks well to the specific topic of “waiting.” To be specific: how sex is (often but certainly not always) defined by the type of person who would choose to wait as heterosexual penetration.

      To be clear, defining sex as “penis-in-vagina” is problematic and inaccurate. I think a broader definition of “sex” is applicable to most populations of people, from queer teens to sexual assault victims to older men who want to be sexually active but are physically incapable of penetrative sex, and a lot of people in between. This broader definition of sex may not work for or apply to those who have chosen to “wait” though. I think it’s okay to let people, from a personal standpoint, define what they are waiting to do however they want to define it- if sex to them is penetrative, and that’s what they want to wait to do, then it’s okay to call that “sex” and anything else “other stuff.” Part of being sex positive is letting people decide what, to them, is sex.

      This gets really mucky though, right? Because then we have a word that means lots of different things and can be used against people instead of by them. And even on the micro level defining sex within a heterosexual relationship as only penetrative can cause some real tension. Long story short, this stuff is really tricky to talk about, huh?

      • Sarah E


    • Barbara J. Miller


    • Vixxin

      I consider sex genitalia on genitalia or whatever the person possesses or wants to use in that area that is done with consent. That way, it doesn’t matter the gender or what parts they possess.
      Oral and hand etc I personally see a little differently simply because it incorporates more than just either persons below the belt parts.

      That’s just my personal take on it.

  • Anon

    While this post isn’t aimed at me, I really, really loved hearing these perspectives. Seeing sex through the eyes of these women is a nice reminder of all that sex and intimacy is, and the spectrum is broad. I loved the part about enjoying sharing a bed, being naked together, and the woman who said she couldn’t stop touching her partner afterwards (this still happens to me sometimes!), so lovely. It really made me want to appreciate aspects of my sexual life that I had perhaps been taking for granted.
    To the women who shared their thoughts for this, thank you! And Liz, you are spot on.

  • Jessica

    We waited to have sex until marriage, and I’m happy we did. While there was definitely a learning curve, I found it very freeing to be learning those things AFTER we had made permanent, lifelong vows. I think people have talked on apw before about how the tone of your fights as a couple sometimes changes after marriage, because the threat of ending the relationship just isn’t there (or isn’t there at the same level). For me, I’m super happy that I only had sex under those conditions…I never felt like the our relationship was depending on the quality of our sex, or specifically how I “performed.” I also didn’t have any trouble transitioning into having sex on a psychological level, although on a physiological level it did take awhile to get comfortable.

    I just wanted to add my two cents to the conversation, because there’s been a lot of talk about the mental shift necessary from “sex is wrong” to “sex is right,” and that wasn’t something that was difficult for me.

    I will say that throughout our relationship, we tried to have our level of physical intimacy match our level of emotional intimacy and external commitment, which is I think a helpful way of understanding a lot of the religious motivations for not having sex outside of marriage.

    • a fellow waiter

      I felt very similarly, and it was among the reasons I waited for a lifelong commitment for sex. I didn’t want sex to feel like an audition in any way. I needed a super high level of trust that only comes with a lifelong commitment. Like you, I look back on that decision and the way we managed our relationship around this issue with gratitude and pride and whatever the word is for the opposite of regret.

  • Basketcase

    We didn’t wait.
    But we had double “disasters” on the having sex front with our wedding.
    First that I spent all winter with a chest infection, and so tired easily. That meant all I wanted to do when we got back to the hotel was strip my dress off and sleep (after managing to stay at the party 3 hours later than when I first wanted to go home).
    Second that AF arrived the day before the wedding. Thank goodness not with endo pain and exceedingly heavy flows like normal on day two, but still sufficient that we didn’t “go there” until a solid 3 days into our honeymoon.
    So, just be aware, if you do wait, that things can get in the way at wedding time too.
    Good luck! :)

  • Anon2015

    I’m nervous about the wedding night. I’m not interested in masturbation—my sex drive is so linked to connecting with the person I love—and if I think too much about the sex I’m not having yet, I’ll lose my mind. We’ve scheduled a time to start talking about it (a few weeks before the wedding), and we’re good at working through problems together. But there are months between now and then, and not-thinking-about-it isn’t working all that well. I’m okay if it’s awkward-but-intimate-and-pleasant-and-encouraging, but I don’t want it to be a letdown.

    • anon waiter

      In my experience, the best way to avoid a letdown is to manage expectations. Awkward-but-intimate is not out of reach. What specifically would make it a letdown?
      I understand not being interested in masturbation. I’m not really either. Personally, I learned about my body’s sexual responses through my husband’s hands on me, not my own.
      Why does thinking about sex make you want to lose your mind? Just that much desire? That seems an extreme statement. Why is it so dangerous to think about sex? Because I’m not sure it’s possible to not think about it. It’s like telling someone ‘don’t think about an elephant.” Just hearing that, you can’t help thinking about an elephant. Talking about it might calm you down. Maybe if your honey is up for it you can move up that talk, since it’s causing you so much distress.

      • Anon2015

        I think you’re right, and he recently suggested we talk sooner about the emotional side of sex. We’ve talked a little about it, and always as a positive thing we’re looking forward to.

        Hmm, it would be a letdown if it were only painful, or if I didn’t feel contented and delicious afterwards. (I suspect it’ll take time to orgasm.) It would be a letdown if I dreaded the second time instead of wanting more, or if it felt boring or scary, or if I felt like my body wasn’t working the way I want it to.

        Not dangerous, just misdirected focus/energy. I don’t like when my desires are in charge of my mind. Metaphor time! I adore food & cooking, and I look forward to special meals—which is great as long as it’s balanced. If I’m not doing my job because I’m looking up recipes for hours (this has happened), or I’m complaining about not having my favorite cookies around, or I’m ungrateful about the boring food in my fridge, or my hunger or enjoyment starts to boss me around and I can no longer direct my own thoughts…then it turns a good thing (love of food) into gluttony, and the gluttony can’t actually be satisfied by food, because it’s a problem in my heart and not my stomach.

        With sex, it’s easy for me to slip into an unbalanced sort of distraction, where I’m begrudging what I don’t have instead of taking joy in what I do have, and I’m thinking more about my worries and appetite and insecurities and fantasies than is helpful for me. It’s not thinking-about-sex that I find problematic. It’s how, and how often, and how it affects the rest of my life.

        • Elsie

          My person and I started talking about it in the context of, let’s discuss why we are waiting, and then let’s discuss how – what are our boundaries? Is it ok to put my hands on your waist or does that rev you up too much? It’s something that can be varying levels of awkward, but I believe it’s super healthy, and teaches you to talk about sex – a skill you will need when you start having it!

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  • Raissomat

    This is VERY interesting to me, since it’s So far from how I’ve lived sexuality. My mom was very open to my questions since I was very precocious, she made sure I was well informed and took no risks. While I myself started having Sex early, I’ve had two partners with none to very little sexual experience, and their point of view is very interesting. Also, I was shocked reading about that lady being jealous of her new husbands ex sexual partners, but then, if I’m being honest, I love being the first for my soon to be husband. It TOTALLY freaked me out in the beginning that I would be his ONLY experience if we stayed together. I mean..I can only do it my way?! He was missing so many interesting bodies, smells, tastes..but after talking about it for years I made peace with the fact that if he wanted this, there was no need to worry for me. After 7years together, I feel confident that he’s really ok with this, since he wants to get married.
    Also: fuck lube,it’s chemical and irritating. I love almond oil. Never had an issue with tearing condoms ever, and try and stay away from latex the first time, you don’t know if you’re allergic, the first time ist the worst timing to find out. Go latex free condoms. Have fun, and no pressure!!

    • Raissomat

      Now re-reading it, it looks like I imply that we’re still waiting until marriage to have intercorse. We’re not. I just was his first ever experience, seven years ago and to this day. And we’re getting married in a month. Ok. Me clear now? :)

  • BDubs

    May I also suggest, don’t get stuck on one “how we have to do it the first time” mentality.
    My virginal hubs and my virginal self had to try three different positions in two different locations before the V was willing to cooperate with the P. Leg positioning, comfort of laying/sitting/etc, really make a difference. Missionary position was KILLER and didn’t work. Don’t just lie back and think of England. For me, personally, the spooning position was and continues to be the easiest and least painful way to achieve coitus.

    • Kara

      Yes!!! We call it Sporking hehehe…but that is by far the best “angle for the dangle” for us :). It took time to figure this out.

  • EF

    I think it’s really interesting that no one’s addressed the fact that sexual incompatibility exists. It’s certainly not always a ‘keep working on it, it’ll get better!’ thing — though that often happens, some people don’t work together. Some don’t ‘fit’, some have severely mismatched libidos, some have vanilla or kinky partners and are the opposite themselves.

    I can’t really reconcile in my mind why anyone would wait, knowing that incompatibility exists, but I suppose if you wait, you don’t really know that, and just sort of hope for the best. And I hope it generally works out, but I also don’t think there’s any shame in separating from someone because of sexual incompatibility.

    • OhNoThereGoesTokyo

      One person addressed it in the comments and seemed to think that if you love that person, you’ll work through it. Ugh. Not always possible!

    • Nora

      If both people wait, they may not know that one of them would prefer kink, having never tried it. In that case they’d perhaps be having what is objectively suboptimal sex, but for them, it being the only sex they’ve ever had, it could be just fine.

      Also consider that people who save sex for decades may be a self-selecting group. Someone who thinks finding the optimal sex partner is really important is not going to wait. The people who are still waiting by the time they get married often believe that good enough sex is just fine, and they’re just less likely to think they are incompatible in the first place.

    • Liz

      Most of my friends who have opened up to me about having these sorts of problems had not waited til marriage (anecdotal, sure, but there it is). So, yes, it’s possible to wait to have sex, only to find out there are issues. But it’s also possible that you can have a ton of sex before you get married, and still have some sexual differences that either don’t outweigh the emotional connection + whatever other reasons for getting married, or 2. don’t crop up until later.

  • joanna b.n.

    “There was something really special about having just experienced such a momentous public life event surrounded by our friends and family, and then undertaking a similarly momentous but very intimate life event between just the two of us.”

    This sounds amazing, like it might make your heart explode from the sheer awesomeness of it. I’m excited for everyone who waits/waited that gets to have this moment. (I didn’t, and I’m ok with it, though admittedly a tiny bit jealous about this piece!)

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  • Mmwebster

    I made the mistake of marrying a gay man. I think he just wasn’t ready to accept this about himself but he wasn’t attracted to women. I thought he would be attracted to me once we were married. He wasn’t. It’s been excruciatingly painful, especially as his preferences are still hidden from most of our mutual acquaintances. They tend to place the blame for obvious problems with our relationship on me.