It’s finally happening. After weeks of careful planning to make sure the two of you will be uninterrupted for the next couple of hours, it’s here. The day you’re going to do it.
Sex is supposed to make your relationship with your partner even stronger, right? But will it really? Your sister says everyone at school will be able to tell you’re not a virgin anymore, and your best friend told you that there was blood everywhere after she lost her virginity. Then again, you heard some kids in the locker room whispering about their first time being amazing, but based on the pornography you’ve stumbled upon, it seems like just a lot of sounds and noises.
You fumble with your clothes and your partner’s attention turns away from you for a moment to attend to birth control, and suddenly all those expectations hit you like a ton of bricks. After thinking about all these confusing and contradictory messages from TV, pornography and your peers, are you even in the mood to have sex anymore?
Whether it’s how much it might hurt or how it will change your relationship with your partner, we oftentimes find ourselves agonizing over our projections of what sex will be like. Some of these unrealistic ideas come from TV shows geared towards teens that tend to oversimplify sex, cutting out all the messy parts. Others can come from pornography, where sex is usually depicted in extreme ways that often play on stereotypes. Our family and friends can influence our expectations of sex as well.
Sex, like anything else that’s new, is something you have to get comfortable and familiar with.
Physical Expectations of Sex
One of the first physical expectations that some teens have is that there is a lot of pain associated with the first time a girl has sex. Carly, 17, of Skokie, Illinois was positive that sex being painful was almost a given. “When I had sex for the first time, I thought it was going to be incredibly painful,” she says, “but it didn’t hurt nearly at all.”
Most of the time, this assumption comes from the idea that the tearing of a girl’s hymen will be a painful and bloody experience. But for some girls, their hymen is already only partially intact for a variety of reasons, such as sports or the use of tampons. For other girls, they might have been born without a hymen in the first place.
Another expectation surrounding your first time is the idea that male partners will last forever in bed. This expectation that guys have to maintain an erection during intercourse puts a lot of pressure on guys.
“Some would go so far as to say that men should automatically be good, performance-wise, at sex,” says Ryan, 17, of Charlotte, North Carolina.
However, nerves could easily get the best of any guy, and while being unable to maintain an erection is not unusual during sex, lasting for hours is just unrealistic and, Ryan says, is “sadly not the truth.”
The “it’ll never happen to me” attitude when it comes to becoming pregnant and getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD) is another expectation some teens have about sex.
“As teenagers, we always think we’re invincible because we’re young,” says Natalie, 17, of San Francisco. “We hate to entertain the idea that one slip-up could negatively impact the rest of our lives.”
But this idea that these consequences could never happen can actually lead to risky sexual behavior, such as not using birth control or not getting tested regularly. It’s exactly that kind of behavior that could lead to getting an STD or pregnancy, and as Natalie puts it, “Just one time can do it.”
As for all those other physical expectations, it’s important to just realize that sex isn’t necessarily going to be neat or perfect.
“You’ve got two people bent in angles you’d only be bent in if you were having sex. There are distracting, loud, squishy noises. There is fumbling and awkwardness. And really the whole ordeal can just be so funny,” says Rica, 17, from Boston.
You’ll never know what exactly will happen physically when you first have sex, but by always having some form of birth control on hand and practicing safer sex, you’ll have one less thing you and your partner will have to worry about.
Emotional Expectations of Sex
“One of the biggest expectations that I think teens have is that sex is a huge deal and that losing your virginity is life changing,” says Sabrina, 17, from Bend, Oregon. “It can be, maybe, but usually it’s not.”
People oftentimes have a lot of expectations about how having sex will suddenly change their relationship. Whether it is that sex will make a couple grow closer or end up ruining a relationship, lofty expectations about sex can lead to it being equated with love, when sex and love are not the same things.
“I don’t want to use sex as a means of falling in love, necessarily, but I do think it can bring people closer,” says Andy, 18, of Austin, Texas. “For me, I just want to know that I feel strongly for the girl before I decide to do anything like that.”
Having sex doesn’t necessarily mean you will instantly fall in love with your partner, nor will it necessarily make your partner like you more. But that doesn’t mean you should expect no emotions to come with sex, or that you’ll have to be emotionless.
Gendered Expectations of Sex
“From what the media depicts, women are supposed to be sultry and moan and gasp and all that stuff,” says Rica. “But that’s completely rubbish, because if you’re with the right person, sex shouldn’t demand anything.”
These assumptions about how we should “act” during sex are not only restricted to girls. Gendered expectations (expectations regarding how men and women are supposed to act specifically because of their gender) like this are not uncommon. When TV show characters, friends and porn are all you have to prepare you for sex, some of these expectations can end up being quite problematic. For instance, some might assume that sex is only for the pleasure and benefit of males or that sex is always what a guy wants in a heterosexual relationship, but this definitely is not the case.
Additionally, Andy says that society and friends often create worries about whether a guy will “do a good job.” “I think I have to perform well because it’s supposed to be romantic,” he says.
In the end, both partners should feel satisfied with their sexual relationship and shouldn’t let gendered expectations get in the way of them communicating before or during sex.
Managing Your Expectations of Sex
For some teens, these “sex-pectations” don’t really affect how they imagine losing their virginity will be. Angela, 17, from Acton, Massachusetts, says, “I never had the expectation that it was supposed to be clean and perfect. I mean, I’ve heard so many times that sex is just never what you expect it to be.”
However, for many, some of these unrealistic expectations can be overwhelming and seem very real. While it might seem like these notions about sex are nothing, the anxiety and confusion they cause can be downright unhealthy, especially if it keeps you from practicing safer sex and communicating with your partner. When you expect so much about sex and don’t meet these unrealistic standards, you might end up feeling inadequate and unsatisfied with both yourself and your partner.
Whether it’s about sex or something else, you can’t always assume that it will go perfectly, or that you can control everything, so start by focusing on the things you can control, like making sure you and your partner are ready to have sex and are using birth control. Sex, like anything else that’s new, is something you have to get comfortable and familiar with. In the end, even if your first time is not perfect, as Andy puts it, “if it doesn’t totally go as planned, that’s OK. There’ll be plenty of opportunities to make up for it later on.”
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