Approaching Sex for the First Time

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Reader’s Question

I am 18 years old and I have a problem with my boyfriend (who is also 18 years old). We’ve been together for more than a year and we’ve been trying to have sex for most of that time. We both have zero experience and it was tough at first, as he had some problems with his erection.

Although this issue is solved, the problem now is that I have no desire to have sex with him. I’m attracted to him, I fantasize about him a lot and, actually, when I’m alone, I want to have sex with him, but when we get together in bed…I feel as if my subconscious is sabotaging me. I feel tired or not in the mood, or I suddenly start to feel bad about having sex with him (as if I am about to do something wrong). I started to think that I am just not ready, which is stupid because, after all, I want him and I have felt ‘ready’ for the past few months, but now…

I don’t know what to do. We have talked about this, but I don’t know what is wrong with me.

Psychologist’s Reply

First, please know that what you are experiencing is very normal and natural. Thinking about having sex for the first time can bring up many powerful and often conflicting emotions. Feelings can range from excitement, to confusion, to fear (very often, all within the same moment!). To complicate this, teenagers receive many conflicting messages about sex from popular culture, the internet, friends, parents, teachers, religious leaders, and many others in their lives. With so many competing voices, and the very natural urge and desire to have sex, it can be difficult to decide when the time is ‘right’ to begin having sex.

Sexual desire is not a switch that can be easily turned ‘on’ after it has been in the ‘off’ position for most of one’s teenage years. Hearing parents and others tell us not to have sex can make it very difficult to approach sex when we (and our partner) feel that we are ready. However, on the other hand, sometimes your body’s reluctance to have sex may be an indication to take a step back and ask some important questions that you and your boyfriend may still need to discuss. The Planned Parenthood website provides some helpful starting questions such as:

  • How do my personal values fit with having sex now (my religious beliefs, family beliefs, ideas about what the first time means)?
  • What physical risks am I willing to take (such as managing birth control, handling unintended pregnancy, dealing with sexually transmitted diseases)?
  • What do I want from my relationship with my partner (how will sex change the relationship, what will it mean for our relationship)?
  • What pressure do I feel (if any) from my group of friends (do I want to have sex because I’m the only one who hasn’t, do I want to ‘get it over with,’ etc.)?

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If you and your boyfriend have not discussed these questions, it might be helpful to set aside some time to talk about them together. Since you are both 18, you have the right to find a counselor or other mental health professional who could help you talk more about this issue. Your local Planned Parenthood location may be able to provide this service to the two of you (as well as help to answer any practical and physiological questions you may have).

However, if you and your boyfriend have discussed all of these issues to your (and his) satisfaction and have decided that you would like to take your relationship to the next level, then it is possible that the pressure to have sex may be interfering for both of you. If that is the case, I would encourage you to plan not to have sex when you are together. Instead, engage in whatever feels good for both of you without intercourse as a goal. Having said that, I would encourage you to have your birth control method available ‘just in case’ the two of you change your minds and both consent to trying sex. Also, give yourselves permission to change your mind — if you begin to move toward intercourse and it doesn’t feel right to either of you, have a signal or word ready that your partner knows means ‘stop for now.’ It may take more than one attempt to have full intercourse, which is perfectly okay. It is also perfectly okay to keep your relationship where it is (or perhaps even take a break from it, if other parts of it are not what either of you want right now).

Give yourselves time to talk more about what sex means for you and how it fits with your personal values and wishes. Enjoy your time together, be prepared for what might happen, but take the pressure off yourselves to make it happen.

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