The thought of getting to know someone intimately can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, and many people might not know what to do when they’re about to have sex for the first time. While some simply enjoy the physical act itself, the right chemistry between two people can make the whole experience even better.

It doesn’t matter if the person you are planning to sleep with for the first time is someone you’ve known for a while, or someone you just met; it also doesn’t matter if the person you’re going to be intimate with is more experienced than yourself, or if they’re also new to the scene. There are certain things that both parties having sex should know, and a few misconceptions to clear up before jumping right into it.

The first misconception (stop me if you’ve heard this one) is that any kind of sex before marriage is wrong or immoral. There is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex before tying the knot with someone — but it’s also okay to wait until then, too.

What’s important is that you go at your own pace; the problem is presenting sex before marriage as a moral decision. There’s no need to feel ashamed about wanting to have sex with somebody. As long as you feel ready and you feel like you’re with the right person, sex is nothing to feel bad about at all.

The second misconception is that sex will hurt; there’ll be bleeding and it’ll just suck, overall. While it’s true that anyone’s first time won’t be all fireworks and magic, that doesn’t mean that it has to be completely unpleasant. People who plan on having vaginal intercourse for the first time might experience a bit of uncomfortableness or slight pain, but nothing should be too worrying.

The key to avoiding pain during sex is foreplay — and a lot of it. Some people might bleed, but it shouldn’t last long (if it does, seeing a doctor is usually recommended). It’s absurd to say that someone has to bleed during sex to prove they’re a virgin. The concept of “popping the cherry” refers to breaking one’s hymen during intercourse, which causes the bleeding, but what most people don’t know is that there are plenty of people who are born without one, and those who do have one don’t necessarily bleed during sex.

The third misconception is that sex is only between a man and a woman; this can be especially damaging for anyone attracted to the same sex. The idea of sex is no longer strictly confined to vaginal penetration by a man, and there are a wide range of activities for partners to partake in.

With so many misconceptions about sex, it’s important to be informed so that people can make better decisions regarding a topic that has been seen as taboo for too long. And now that that’s out of the way, here are five things to keep in mind when having sex for the first time:

1. Consent

Consent is key! Whether you’re having sex for the first or hundredth time, consent is essential in any kind of sexual activity. Planned Parenthood defines sexual consent as “an agreement to participate in a sexual activity. Before being sexual with someone, you need to know if they want to be sexual with you too.” It’s important to keep in mind that the parties involved can stop at any time; just because you’ve started having sex with someone doesn’t mean they have to go through with it. If, at any time, your partner says to stop, it’s time to stop. Planned Parenthood also says that, “Without consent, sexual activity (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) is sexual assault or rape.” One last crucial thing to keep in mind is that someone can’t properly consent to sex if drugs or alcohol are involved.

2. Communication

Communication is also important, because if you’re going to have a good time, you need to let your partner know what you like. Take the time to listen to one another; it not only shows your partner that you respect them, but also that you take their pleasure seriously and want them to enjoy themselves. Although it might feel a bit weird talking about it, remember that there is nothing wrong with letting your partner know what feels good and what doesn’t.

3. Safety

Whether your goal is to avoid sexually transmitted diseases or an unplanned pregnancy, it’s incredibly important to practice safe sex. Talk to your partner about different forms of protection, and if they refuse to use it, that can be a red flag; if they don’t take your safety and peace of mind into consideration, they’re probably not worth sleeping with. There are other forms of birth control that you can use outside of sex, such as an IUD, the pill, a shot or a ring, but while those methods are helpful at preventing pregnancy, they won’t protect you against everything. Using a condom or dental dam is the most effective way to prevent the spread of an STI.

4. Exploration

As mentioned earlier, foreplay is strongly encouraged. Keep your partner’s pleasure and comfort in mind, and take the time to explore each other’s bodies. Foreplay can go a long way, and it makes the whole experience (especially your first time) a lot better. If you’re not sure what to do, oral sex can be a good start — and above all, remember to keep checking in with your partner.

5. Relax

Last but not least: your partner is probably just as nervous as you are. Having sex for the first time can be scary, but it’s a good idea to sit down with your partner and talk things out to reduce nerves and tensions. Remember to relax and, most importantly, have fun!

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