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The first time you have sex with someone — or sex at all — is a deeply individual experience. “Sex” means different things and comes with different emotions from person to person (and from hookup to hookup, TBH). That said, there are a handful of insights that can make your first time having vaginal sex comfier, more communicative, and more pleasurable, which are pretty universally great things for sex to be. Here are nine first-time pointers, with advice from sex therapist Vanessa Marin.

 

1. Being safe can actually relax you.

Nothing is more distracting than worrying about STIs and pregnancy during sex. Even if it feels awkward, it is so, so, so important to chat with your partner beforehand about what you’ll do to protect yourselves. Use a condom even if you’re on another form of birth control to protect you both from STIs unless you are both monogamous with each other and STI-free (check out local clinics like Planned Parenthood for free/affordable testing).

2. Enthusiastic consent is a prerequisite for everything you do.

“Make sure you enthusiastically consent to each and every thing the two of you do together,” Marin says. “‘Enthusiastic’ is a key part of that sentence. Don’t just go along with something; make sure you’re excited about it.” Remember that just because you start an activity — for example, intercourse — you don’t have to finish or continue it: You have the right to pause or stop whatever it is. No. Matter. What. Same goes for your partner, of course: Check in with each other as things progress to make sure you’re both enthusiastic about what you’re doing.

3. Remember to breathe.

A big part of enjoying sex is focusing on the sensations you’re feeling instead of, for example, your nervousness (which is totally common to feel your first time, even if you know you’re ready to have sex). “Deep breathing is a fantastic way to let go of distracting thoughts,” Marin points out. As you’re taking those deep breaths, focus on how different parts of your body are feeling and how your partner’s body feels against yours — not just the obvious part (penis in vagina) but their fingers in your hair, hands on your hips, whatever it is.

4. Foreplay, foreplay, foreplay. Did I mention foreplay?

The more aroused you are, the better sex is likely to feel, so don’t neglect foreplay — including oral sex, manual sex, and, yes, good, old-fashioned kissing. “You’re more likely to orgasm from oral sex or fingering,” Marin says, “so resist the temptation to think of these activities as the things you do before moving on to the ‘main event.’” Whether or not you do orgasm the first time you have sex, clitoral stimulation is the key to most women’s pleasure, and vaginal intercourse doesn’t usually provide very much of it.