What to expect and how to prepare: first time vaginal penetration and sexual intercourse


A woman’s first time having penetrative sex or vaginal intercourse is often an experience filled with fear and anxiety, primarily due to the lack of quality information on what to expect and how to prepare for this important first. So, here’s some practical advice and knowledge on the subject to clear up some of the confusion.

First and foremost, give your decision to have intercourse some thought.

Choosing sexual intercourse with a partner is an important decision that should not be made lightly. If you are choosing to have intercourse because you feel social pressure to do so (from your partner, friends or anyone), this is not a good reason. The decision to have sexual intercourse (and all other kinds of sex play and touch, for that matter) should come from within you--from your desire to be intimate with someone who feels the same way about you. Trust yourself to know when the time is right. Your intuition is always the best indicator.

Before you engage in intercourse with a partner, explore your sexual anatomy and pleasure on your own.

Familiarity with your own anatomy and self-pleasuring give you important information on where and how you like to be touched. You can then bring this information to your partner and show them what you like best, increasing your overall pleasure and satisfaction.

First, we suggest looking at your vulva with a hand-held mirror. Find a private space where you can relax and recline in whatever position feels most comfortable to you. Next, behold the beauty of your vulva (the area consisting of the vagina, clitoris, labia and urethra). If you’ve never seen your vulva up close, you may feel funny, uncomfortable or awe-struck. Whatever your initial reaction, it’s perfectly normal to feel the way you’re feeling. Once you become accustomed to what your vulva and surrounding area looks like, notice how it feels when you touch its different parts.

Locate your vagina, urethra, inner and outer labia, clitoral head and hood, and anus. (See the image above.)

Notice that the clitoral shaft and legs run underneath and alongside the labia. Many women experience pleasure from stimulating this whole area. Try using circular motions or long sweeping motions on the inner and outer labia. Many women find that using a vibrator offers more consistent stimulation than their own fingers/hand allow. You may want to consider trying one out to see if it’s right for you. 

At this point in your exploration, you’ll notice that your vulva is changing in shape and color as you become more aroused. The clitoris may appear erect and be more sensitive to the touch or it may withdraw up under the hood that covers the head. When you feel aroused you may notice a fuller feeling or a sense of warmth in the vulva as blood travels to the area. You also may discover that you are lubricating a bit, which is normal as your level of arousal intensifies. If you’re not lubricating, it’s not necessarily an indicator of how aroused you are, as vaginal lubrication can be affected by a variety of factors, including the medications you take or where you are in your menstrual cycle.

A large part of arousal takes place in the mind as your brain interprets the sensations you experience, directs your body’s physical response, and determines desire to continue with stimulation. As your level of arousal increases, you will likely feel the desire to continue with pleasurable touch, possibly to the point of orgasm. Arousal may ebb and flow, and that is okay. Just focus on your pleasure and what feels best to you.

As arousal builds you may near orgasm (which can take anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour). Experiment with different strokes and pressure. You may even attempt to penetrate yourself vaginally, but do so slowly and cautiously. Start with one finger, then two, even three if you desire—as long as you do not experience any pain from penetration. 

You may still have questions about self-pleasuring techniques. You also may not be sure if you’re having an orgasm, and that’s completely normal. For more information on these topics, we recommend the Masturbation for Women  and Orgasms brochures.

Educate yourself!

We always recommend, whether you’ve had previous sexual partners or not, that you educate yourself on safer sex practices and how to prevent pregnancy and/or the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. As Dr. Myrtle so wisely affirms, worrying about whether you should have used a barrier can ruin an otherwise excellent sexual experience. Increase your sexual pleasure by protecting yourself from the start: Condoms and Barriers.

Talk, Talk, Talk.  Communication is key.

We are taught by the film industry that sex is something that happens spontaneously, romantically, and with little or no talking involved. But in real life, good sex comes from lots of talking--talking about your sexual histories, setting boundaries beforehand (what you will and will not try), what you like and don't like, and asking your partner if he or she has specific boundaries as well as what he or she does and does not like. Before you have intercourse, it's important to talk openly with your partner about any thoughts or concerns you may have, as well as any desires you wish to explore.  

What about during the sexual encounter? Being descriptive and letting your partner know that something in particular really turns you on not only helps your partner know what you enjoy, but also what you may enjoy later. Especially during that first time (or second, third, fourth….), it's important to communicate with your partner your varying levels of comfort (and possible discomfort) as you experience penetration with your partner for the first time.

Get plenty of quality external stimulation before penetration.

So, you find yourself kissing and touching that someone special. What comes next? Before your partner attempts penetration of any kind, you need to make sure you are sufficiently aroused first.  At this stage, hopefully you are well aware of what type(s) of stimulation you enjoy and the importance of communicating your desires to your partner. (Remember: All of the fun touching and teasing that comes before intercourse is not only pleasurable but also very necessary to ensure that you are physically prepared for penetration.) This is the perfect opportunity to show your partner how to please you. Or if you feel comfortable enough with your sexuality, you can self-pleasure in front of your partner. This is not only instructive, but can be arousing for you both.  Take your time and remember that the journey is as important (if not more) than the destination.

Use a good lubricant. 

Many women think that they will produce enough lubrication themselves to keep things wet and slippery enough to last the entire sexual encounter. In most situations, this is simply not the case. You may be more nervous than sexually excited and may not become very lubricated at all. Especially your first time, use a good water or silicone-based lubricant (Liquid Silk, Uberlube) to increase sensitivity and decrease the amount of friction between you and your partner. When applying it, put an ample amount on yourself first, on your inner and outer labia as well as inside your vagina. If your partner is male-bodied, squirt a little dab of lube in the end of the condom before putting the condom on your partner, roll the condom on his penis, then put lube all over his condom-covered penis. If your partner is female-bodied and/or you're using fingers, a toy, or a strap-on (dildo & harness) you will want to make sure whatever you're inserting in the vagina is well-lubricated. (Remember, lube is a wonderful thing and can be used continuously during the sexual encounter. While silicone lubes have some staying power, a water-based lubricant may absorb into the skin over time. You can reconstitute your water-based lube with some water or saliva to revive its slickness, or simply add some more.)

You may or may not experience vaginal bleeding during intercourse.

You may have heard that your first penetration may hurt or cause bleeding due to the tearing of the hymen. But what is the hymen, exactly? It's a thin skin membrane within the vaginal opening that forms early in fetal development. It can be thin or thick, partially open to allow for penetration or not at all. Some women have no hymen. This membrane may be broken accidently without any penetration, such as by a fall during dance, athletics or other types of physical activity. Some women have already torn their hymen by accidentally landing on something (like a bicycle seat) too hard. In these cases, penetration may not by accompanied by any bleeding because the hymen is no longer intact and all that remains is the hymenal ring.

If your hymen has not previously torn or stretched, it is possible that you may experience some pain and vaginal bleeding. There may be a little blood or a lot. Whatever the probability, you may choose to lay a dark-colored towel down just in case. If you experience pain or tenderness afterwards or in the days following penetration, you can use cold pack to bring down any swelling and pain.

Building arousal, self-pleasuring, and starting penetration with fingers as described in the previous section can reduce the likelihood of discomfort. Remember, it's okay to stop penetration if you want to and continue again another time. You are in control of the experience, and doing only what you want to do will ensure that it's positive experience for both you and your partner.

A Note in Closing:

Your first time can be a nerve-wracking experience, but it doesn't have to be. If you embrace this knowledge and apply it to your situation, chances are you'll enjoy your first time having intercourse.  It's most important to remember, though, to respect your body and your limits. Simply put, don't be afraid to say no if the time is not right; and when it is the right time, always insist that you use barriers.

Have fun and play safe!

The Sex Counselor

Resources on Self-Pleasure, Orgasm and Mutual Masturbation


Sex for One by Betty Dodson

The Elusive Orgasm by Vivienne Cass, PhD

I Heart Female Orgasm by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller

Getting Off: A Guide to Female Masturbation by Jamye Waxman


101Masturbation Secrets for LoversThis DVD includes nice information on self-pleasure as well as mutual masturbation with a partner.

Sexuality Guides with Information on First Sexual Experiences


Our Bodies, Ourselves by Our Bodies Ourselves (originally called the Boston Women's Health Book Collective)

This book contains information on health and wellness, sexuality, reproductive choices and more. This book emphasizes women's health, but also includes information on men’s and transgender health as well.

Good Vibrations Guide to Sex by Cathy Winks and Anne Semans
This is a comprehensive sexuality guide with information on a variety of different types of sex play and sexual expression. Contains information on products such as toys and lubricants, self-pleasure, sexual positions and more.