Q&A: I’m Curious – What Does Sex Feel Like?

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QUESTION: I’ve never had sex before and I’m curious. What does it feel like?

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Given the lack of information about sex that is available to many young women and men, many people aren’t sure what to expect when it comes to sex – what to do during sex as well as what sex feels like. You’re wise to begin seeking out information about sex well before you even have sex so that, by the time you do have sex, your expectations will be fair and reasonable.

High Expectations

Unfortunately, due to romanticized depictions of sex in porn, Hollywood movies, on television shows, and in books, some people have unrealistically high expectations of sex. These expectations can set the bar so high that no one can live up to them.

Men may expect that erections will be easy to get or maintain, or that they will be able to last a long time before they ejaculate. Women may expect that sex will feel comfortable or that they will be able to orgasm easily, or from a certain position. Both women and men may have the expectation that sex will feel fantastic or, as is often said in magazines, “mind-blowing”.

Different For Different People

Any of these expectations can set the bar too high for sex. The reality is that sex feels different for people at different times. The first time that a couple has sex, it may feel a little bit awkward unless the two people have talked about sex, their feelings about having sex together, their concerns about pregnancy or infection, and what it means for their friendship or relationship.

Even after communicating about sex, going forward with it can still feel awkward. When sex is something that both people want, and they take their time going into it and check in with each other to make sure they both still want to do everything they are doing, then they have a better chance at having sex that feels pleasurable.

It’s when two people don’t talk to each other about their sexual choices, and go into sex without having thoughts about how it might affect them personally or as a couple, that there’s a higher likelihood of either having sex that feels unpleasurable, uncomfortable or even regrettable.

How sex feels can also be influenced by a person’s mood, their partner’s mood, how the relationship is going and whether one feels distracted by thinking about other things.

The Physical Feeling Of Sex

The way that sex feels, physically, depends on what type of sex it is. Since most people mean vaginal sex when they ask about “sex”, we’ll focus on that.

Vaginal sex can feel uncomfortable or painful for women the first few times that they have sex. Though part of this discomfort may be due to the tearing of a woman’s hymen, discomfort can also be caused when a woman feels nervous about sex or hasn’t spent much time in foreplay that would otherwise enhance her arousal.

Spending time doing things that feel sexually exciting to her, or using a lubricant, can make sex feel more comfortable and pleasurable for a woman and her partner.

Men, on the other hand, often describe vaginal sex as feeling warm and wet, and often a bit tight. If the fit of both bodies is uncomfortably tight, then, again, using a personal lubricant can help.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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