People often use the phrase “loss of virginity” to refer to a person’s first time having sex. Although virginity has varied meanings, it is important to be both physically and mentally prepared for early sexual experiences.

“Virginity” and “sex” mean different things to different people. Whatever definition a person uses, many people feel anxious about having sex for the first time.

This is a usual concern, and rumors and myths that circulate among friends and on the internet can create unnecessary fears. Understanding what may happen before, during, and after sex can help ease any worries and make a person feel prepared.

This article looks at what might happen — both physically and emotionally — when a person loses their virginity. We also tackle some common myths about virginity and sex and discuss how people can prepare for their first time having sex.

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Defining virginity is not straightforward — sex and virginity can mean many various things to different individuals.

Historically, people have used the term “virgin” to describe someone who has not had penetrative, penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex with another person. However, more recent conversations about sex and sexuality have led to a broader understanding of virginity.

PIV is just one of many forms of sex. A more inclusive definition of virginity and sex includes various types of oral sex, anal sex, sex using fingers, and sex using toys or objects.

Some people feel they have lost their virginity multiple times by having different types of sex. It is important that individuals feel empowered to define their own virginity experiences and, if they choose to, reject the notion of virginity altogether.

While having sex, people usually experience physical changes such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure.

Before and during sex, the body releases hormones. These increase the amount of fluid in the vagina or increase blood flow to the penis, causing an erection. A person may also feel their heart rate quicken, and their body become more sensitive during sex.

Sex feels good because of both mental and physical factors. The brain releases hormones that support sexual pleasure, and there are thousands of nerve endings in the genitals that can feel good when stimulated.

Learn more about why sex is pleasurable here.

First sexual contact may feel strange as it is an unfamiliar sensation. That said, sex — including the first time — should not be painful.

To avoid discomfort, people should openly communicate with a partner(s) before and during sex. If it is a person’s first time, it can be difficult to know what does and does not work for them, so it is important to take things slow and discuss freely with a partner. If sex is painful, stop and take a break or try something different.

To maximize pleasure and minimize the chance of discomfort, people should spend plenty of time on foreplay. This can mean kissing, caressing, teasing, or exploring. The foreplay will enhance arousal and prepare a person and their partner for a more enjoyable experience.

However, even though foreplay and a state of arousal can help the vagina and penis self-lubricate, many people may still need to use additional lubrication. This can prevent friction and make penetrative sex more comfortable.

Adding lube is a must during anal sex, as the rectum does not produce its own lubrication. It can also be useful for PIV sex.

One of the biggest myths about first-time vaginal sex is that a female’s hymen — a thin, elastic membrane that lines the opening of the vagina — will break, causing bleeding and pain. People sometimes call this “popping the cherry.”

During sex, the hymen can tear and cause minor bleeding. This is more likely to happen if the hymen is less elastic or has a smaller opening. It can also tear if a penis or other object is thrust strongly against the hymen. The bleeding is usually minimal.

However, the hymen may not tear during sex. It is flexible and does not usually cover the entire vaginal opening. If it did, menstrual blood and other types of vaginal discharge would have no way of leaving the body.

In many cases, a person’s hymen has torn before they have had sex. Some strenuous activities, such as sports, can cause minor tears in the hymen. Some people are born without a hymen and have nothing to tear.

Some people believe that a broken hymen is an irreversible sign of virginity loss. However, it is impossible to tell whether a person has had sex just by examining their hymen, and it should not be a marker of virginity.

The authors of a 2019 paper said that healthcare professionals should never rely on physical examinations of the hymen to assess whether a person has become sexually active.

Some people with penises are worried that the frenulum — the short band of tissue connecting the foreskin and head of an uncircumcised penis — can tear during first-time penetrative sex. This is sometimes known as “snapping the banjo string.”

This frenulum is very fragile and can tear during sex or other strenuous activities. However, having penetrative sex does not mean the frenulum will snap.

A torn frenulum can be painful and cause a small amount of bleeding, but this injury will heal on its own, just like any other minor cut or tear. If this happens, a person should carefully wash the area and gently pat it dry with a clean towel. They should also avoid activities that could cause the wound to open again until it has healed.

People can think there is a “right age” to have sex or feel pressure from peers. However, many people take their time in deciding when — or even if — they want to become sexually active.

Although many teens may feel like all of their friends are having sex, this is not true. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), data collected in 2017, about 47.8% of high school students in the United States had never had any kind of sexual contact.

There is no right or wrong time to become sexually active. The right time is when it feels right for each individual — that is, when they feel an enthusiastic desire to explore that part of themselves.

Every time a person has sexual contact, they risk contracting an STI. People can significantly lower this risk by using barrier contraception — such as condoms — but there is always a chance of STI transmission.

Some STIs produce no symptoms, so a person may not know they have one. Before having sex with a new partner — including oral sex or anal sex — a person should have a sexual health screening. People should also discuss sexual history and STIs with a potential partner(s) before having sex.

It is important to note that while people should aim to avoid STIs, they are relatively common, and most are treatable.

According to the American Sexual Health Association, there are around 20 million new cases of STIs each year, and about half of these are in people aged 15–24.

The most common STIs include:

Learn about the safest condoms and tips for their use here, and how to choose the right condom size here.

If a person is having PIV sex, they can get pregnant.

There are rumors that females cannot get pregnant when they lose their virginity, but this is not true. Some options for avoiding pregnancy include using condoms, taking contraceptive pills, receiving a regular contraceptive shot, and having a doctor insert an IUD. Some forms of birth control are more effective than others.

Learn more about different types of birth control.

Consent means that each person involved in sexual activity has agreed to participate. If one partner is unsure whether they would like to have sex or if they change their mind during sex, they should feel able to express this and stop without any repercussions. It is also important to note that any person under the influence of a substance, such as alcohol, may not be in a position to consent.

For an enjoyable first-time experience, partners should feel emotionally and physically safe. If a person does not feel comfortable during sex, they can stop anytime.

People sometimes feel that losing their virginity will be a life changing experience. Each person’s experience is different — some may feel happy, emotional, relieved, or anxious, or they may have no particular emotional response.

There is no right or wrong reaction to having sex for the first time. How someone feels could depend on their expectations or personality, for example.

Some people feel that having sex changes their relationship. The change can take on many forms, which is usual.

Additionally, some people feel overwhelmed during or after sex. Remember that one sexual experience is just that — a single experience as part of a greater context, and it does not have to shape your identity or life course.

Future sexual experiences will all be different, depending on your growing experience of your body and sexual needs.

The following are the answers to some common questions about sex and virginity.

Do you bleed when you lose your virginity?

Some people bleed after having penetrative sex, but not all people bleed after their first sexual experience. People with vaginas can bleed if they tear their hymen during sex.

Are there physical signs of lost virginity?

There are no physical signs that a person has had sex for the first time. Although some people claim that a torn hymen is a sign of “lost virginity,” this is not true. Many people tear their hymen before having penetrative sex, and others never tear theirs.

Do guys feel pain when losing their virginity?

Although some men experience pain when having sex for the first time, not all do. Some people with penises experience pain if they damage or snap their frenulum.

Losing your virginity does not need to be a stressful event. Understanding what to expect and what might happen can help a person prepare, both physically and emotionally, for having sex in any way that is right for them.

Finally, consent is crucial when having sex for the first time or any time. In addition, people should communicate what feels pleasurable and use adequate protection to avoid unwanted pregnancy and STIs.