Writing by Isa Denney Strother // Photographs by Irena Munteanu
Stories of the first time having sex are usually tales of bad experiences and have a bad reputation amongst teens and adults alike.
I think part of the bad reputation is due to lack of education and also because of the fear that adults try to instill in teens about sex in an attempt to delay it as long as possible. Adults are more scared about teens having sex than teens are! And then teens are too scared to talk honestly about it with the important adults in their lives, and often even with each other.
The truth is that yes, there are some terrible terrible first times; there are painful first times, and first times that end in breakup, and first times that end in tears or fights. There are first times where one or both parties feels like they let the other down, or like they’ve done something wrong which they will feel guilty for a long time over.
But these aren’t the only first time stories you should be hearing. You should hear about the beautiful ones too. About the awkward embrace of skin against skin, the sun flooded over each other, or the cool night holding you. There are first times filled with laughter and jokes as you both try to figure out all the pieces, try to find the movement. There are first times that are peaceful and quiet; friendly concentration as you look at each other, both happy to be where you are.
For all the bad first times, there are beautiful ones. There are beautiful ones that are never talked about because they do not have the same dramatic effect as the bad ones. They aren’t talked about because people think sex is dirty, and so the bad times are used as warnings. No one has interest in the good ones—no one but the people who those stories would affect most; the people who are going through their first times.
It’s important to know that sex can be beautiful. Sex can be gentle. Sex can be loving and enjoyable for both parties. Sex can feel amazing, and there is no shame in thinking it feels good.
There is a lot of shame associated with first times.
There is no shame in sex if you want to have sex; there is no shame in two bodies connecting in such a way. No shame in seeing someone you love or care about naked and vulnerable—and there is no shame in letting someone see you in that same position.
There can be beauty in vulnerability. In knowing that there is enough trust in a relationship to put yourself in the precarious position of revealing a new part of yourself to someone—a part with a stigma for both male and female.
First times can be enlightening. A moment when you feel the closest to your partner, like you’re a part of them and they’re a part of you. First times can be moments you both remember fondly, laughing at how awkward you were. First times can be a series of small beautiful gestures—motions unfamiliar to you until you find the ones that fit. First times are about learning to know a different side of someone—the same person but in a different position, a different dynamic maybe.
First times don’t have to be stressful because of misinformation or lack of protection; you don’t have to be scared of STDs and pregnancy and if you’ll regret it. Take it for what it is: a pleasurable experience, physical and mental, with necessary safety precautions—like a lot of other things people do for fun (like white water rafting, driving, or skating, for example). Sometimes the worry about getting pregnant can ruin the experience of a first time, making it stressful for one or both parties; it’s important to use protection.
Condoms are 98% effective and prevent both pregnancy and STDs when used correctly (they’re also fairly easy to use) and can reduce the stress factor for both parties. Female condoms are also available and will prevent STDs and can either be used for female/female relations or instead of a having the male wear a condom. It’s important that your condom does not have holes in it and is not expired, as the rubber can get brittle. Too much friction (such as carrying a condom around in a wallet for a while) can cause holes and therefore make it much less effective.
Birth control methods such as hormonal contraceptive pills, implants, uterine devices, vaginal rings, and injection all protect against pregnancy with good rates of success when used properly, but carry with them extra risks of messing with your mood and other bodily functions.
You can double up on most birth control methods and condoms for double protection against pregnancy, and to protect against STDs.
Even though there is a lot of weight put on first times in our culture, it’s important to remember even if the first time isn’t everything you ever wanted, there is always a second time if you want it.
Reducing the stress on both yourself and your partner can make first times, and sex in general, more enjoyable; without worrying too much about it, or about making it perfect, or the repercussions, you can enjoy the beauty of connecting to another human on a close level.
There is so much beauty in something that you have never done before; so much beauty in learning about yourself and your partner. In the different times of day and night you could do it in; the shades, how it reflects on bare skin, or how the darkness can hold you both in its safety. There is so much loving that can be done; so much room for breathless, whispered, moaned, “I love you” or “I like this” or “is this okay?”.
I think it’s important to start to remove the stigma of first times—and sex in general—and start to become comfortable with the idea (as a society) that teenagers are going to have sex, and that can’t be controlled by society as a whole. What society does have control over is how it feels about it—whether females feel like they’re allowed to enjoy it; whether males are allowed to show emotion and caring and reciprocation of pleasure without getting harassed (maybe by their own partner). As a society we could start to share not just the bad first time stories, but the good first time stories as well. Stories about power over your own body. Stories about being connected to another person. Stories about feeling good, and being proud of your choice.