Thanks to subpar sex ed, false anecdotal history, and stigma, a lot of us have sex before we know anything about sexuality. Thinking back, I would have liked my 17-year-old self to know something about human sexuality and empowerment before getting down to work on my boyfriend's couch in his basement while Animal House blared in the background. Without having all the information, we tend to get wrapped up in our own anxieties and don't even enjoy the sex.
Here's what I would go back and say to the panic-stricken teen on that couch:
You're not "losing" anything — and we need to change the way we talk about virginity
Oftentimes, the language we use to talk about sex does more to shame sexually active people (particularly women) than to describe what's actually happening. When we talk about people "losing" virginity or "purity," we're contributing to a culture of devaluing people, usually women, who have had sex. Another common metaphor for virginity is a "gift that can only be given once." Virginity is, in all honesty, a social construct. It is not a scientific/ medical term — it is simply something we have turned into a moral issue unnecessarily. So I shouldn't have left that basement feeling like I lost a part of myself.
There are lots of different birth control options
Condoms are always a good idea and the ideal first line of defense, but it's important to be well-versed in other birth control options for backup. There are a number hormonal and non-hormonal birth control options available to you — taking some time to research what option works best is important. I'm pretty sure I thought IUDs were the explosive devices you would hear about on TV.
Don't believe the myths about the hymen
As I stared up at that basement ceiling, the cringeworthy expression "popping the cherry" circled around in my mind. While this sounds cute (to some people... I think it's gross), it's a misleading metaphor. Nothing needs to "pop" or "tear" during sex. The hymen is simply small folds of elastic mucous tissue that partially cover the opening of the vagina. These folds can sometimes tear when stretched, but this is not always the case.
Porn lied about some stuff
This came as a shock to me, somehow: porn lies. The more, um, intricate positions are done by seasoned professionals, so the first time in the sack isn't going to look like that. Also, note that these cinematic masterpieces involve acting, so the sound effects aren't... sincere. And finally, porn stars allegedly put makeup on their assholes. If that's not deception, then I don't know what is.
It shouldn't involve excruciating pain
I remember popping two ibuprofen and bracing myself, my friend's words ringing in my ears: "It's going to hurt but it won't last that long." One of the most unfortunate myths surrounding women's virginity is that the experience is unavoidably painful. If penetration is involved, pressure and a little pain are normal. We really shouldn't experience a ton of pain, though, so we should stop if it gets bad. Trying more foreplay and lubrication could make a big difference.
Lube is great (and it's for everyone)
...and I'm not just saying this because Astroglide follows me on Twitter (although this is my crowning accomplishment). "Personal lubricants" as they call them in the commercials, make foreplay a lot more fun. Unfortunately, people are sometimes self-conscious about using them. Lube helps everything to work smoothly (nothing ruins the mood like friction. And knowing his parents are upstairs, but I digress) and it's definitely sexier than some other ways to moisten things up (like spit). Not to mention lube comes in a lot of flavors. Nothing like adding strawberry flavor to sex.
All baking requires preheating the oven
Our bodies aren't "good to go" all the time — you can't run a 10k without stretching (well maybe you can... I don't do exercise metaphors). Foreplay is a necessity before penetrative sex. Studies also show that the more sexual behaviors you engage in before penetration, the more likely both partners are to orgasm. Maybe we could've taken some time to... stretch.
It helps to know your own body first
Pretty sure the closest I ever got to real masturbation at that time was when my phone rang in my lap during English class. It would have been important to take some time to explore the goods a little before using them. Masturbation is good for you to figure out what you like and need in bed. Not to mention being comfortable in your own body will make your first go-around more fun. You won't spend the entire time wondering if your nether region "looks normal."
There are always risks involved — but you probably won't die so don't freak out
If you even had sex ed, it was likely a lecture about infections, complete with horrific photos that made you consider abstinence for life. I think I technically had a health class where we ordered notecards with sexual behaviors written on them from "most intimate" to "least intimate." The next hour was spent arguing about blowjobs.
These lessons are important — you can't ignore the importance of maintaining sexual health or knowing the range of sexual behaviors out there. However, these classes rarely took a comprehensive look at sex. You didn't learn about pleasure at all (which is kind of the point since not all sex is procreative, obviously). So be cautious, but have fun. You're not going to die (in all likelihood).
Orgasms can happen really fast or not at all. Don't beat yourself up about either scenario
Men are likely to orgasm relatively quickly during their first time — women are unlikely to orgasm at all during their first time. Try to enjoy it and focus on what's happening rather than thinking about math and sweaty old people to delay an orgasm. Conversely, don't panic and try to fake an orgasm if it isn't happening. Somehow, I don't think my added sound effects convinced anyone.
You're not tied to your partner for life just because you had your first sexual experience together
As we discussed before, describing virginity as a "gift that can't be re-gifted" adds unnecessary stigma and emotional distress to sexually active people. As a result, some people feel like sex has to bond two people together for life. But realistically, your "first" is someone you might look back on wistfully or someone you laugh about over a bottle of wine. Or, if you're really lucky, an acquaintance you high-five when you occasionally run into each other at CVS or something.
Consent is mandatory
Luckily, I understood this, as did my partner. But it's pretty common to see people describe consent as "confusing" or as having a "grey area." Let's clear up any confusion: consent is sober and enthusiastically given. Pressuring someone into a verbal "yes" does not count as consent. And just a pro tip: if you're at all unsure and stuck in a "grey area," STOP. Ask. Then you'll know. Glad we had this talk.
You'll get the hang of it eventually
So maybe I didn't know how to be on top and didn't rock anyone's world during that first go-around, but technique is definitely something that improves with practice. With hard work an dedication, it's possible to have orgasms that look like Meg Ryan's.