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Sexual Health (young people)

First sexual experience: age and motivations

The legal age of sexual consent for men and women in the UK is 16. Issues like age, emotions, relationship status, a readiness to have sex and access to contraception all influence when a person has sex for the first time. 

Some people have their first sexual experience in a relationship that's caring and affectionate, when both partners are ready and willing. It's not unusual for both parties to be virgins

 

Talks warmly about her first sexual experience.

Talks warmly about her first sexual experience.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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Well my first, my first kiss I was thirteen and then I started going out with the best friend of my first kiss and went out with him for four years and he was my first sexual experience so it was all a bit weird.  Yeah I started having sex when I was fifteen and a half with my boyfriend and we'd been going out since we were thirteen so we waited a long time. 

 And then I kind of I wish I'd done it sooner really, I just used to read the girl magazines and they said that you should wait and so I did for ages and then I kind of realised that we were in love and we trusted each other and we'd kind of been doing everything else other than having sex, it was literally just the kind of sexual intercourse we'd been avoiding and it seemed a bit silly after a while because you know there was no reason not to.  

So yeah and like I said we used condoms and I was on the pill and then we stopped using condoms and I was just on the pill. 

What was your main motivation for having sex the first time?

Because I wanted to, I don't know, I just wanted to... I think, I mean at that age there's a real, there's a bit of a thing about you know, sex being something that boys want and girls have to kind of try and keep them away and you know for as long as you can. And I think that's kind of what stopped me having sex because I thought that was what was happening.  

Because my boyfriend didn't used to pressure me into it, but he was always like "Oh can we have sex, please can we have sex?" and I'd be like "No, no we mustn't we're not allowed to."  And then I kind of just, one day I realised that I wanted to as well and I didn't really know why I was saying no all this time, so we did and so it was nice and so we carried on doing it. So that was it really.

So in a way you discussed it first?

Yeah, yeah I mean we used to talk about it a lot, it wasn't, you know it wasn't something we didn't talk about.
 

Describes how her first sexual partner became a good friend.

Describes how her first sexual partner became a good friend.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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I think, in a way, I'm glad I did it, because ' it's like I've got two big firsts out of the way in one go, and because we were sensible enough to use a condom, we didn't really have to worry that much about pregnancy, really. And we were both virgins, so we both knew we didn't have anything to pass on to each other. 

So I wasn't ' I don't ' I don't really regret it, because we did become very good friends after that, and we still keep in touch, even though I haven't seen him for a couple of years since we've been to university.  

We still know that if I needed him ' it's like he broke down on the motorway and rang me, I was the first person he rang, even though I hadn't seen him for like six months, he still rang me, so I know he's still there for me. So I don't regret it in that way, because I've got a very good friend now.  

And I think ' in a way, I wish I had held out and had, you know, like a beautiful first time, but I think that's just all rubbish, I don't think that really happens, I think everybody's first time's a bit crap, because everything you do for the first time you're really crap at, it takes practice, so ' I don't really regret it, no.
These first experiences are often described as 'funny', 'a bit chaotic', or 'a bit crap' but not unpleasant, even if it took a few attempts. Even people who were in 'lust not in love', still felt they'd done it with the 'right person'. 
 

Says that her first sexual experience was very funny. (Actor)

Says that her first sexual experience was very funny. (Actor)

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I didn't really because we were both virgins and we'd tried to have sex a few times but we couldn't. It was a bit of mess and it was kind of a jokey situation, so I mean, it wasn't serious. Well, I mean it was serious but we both didn't really know what we were doing so we were just kind of learning from each other. So I wasn't at all nervous about my first time. But I think it was quite bad, quite funny. I mean, we'd tried a few times and it just wouldn't go in, so it was quite funny.

Did you talk about it afterwards?

Yes, we joked about it and then finally we managed to do it, so yeah.

However, some people regret their first experience, either at the time, or with hindsight. Usually regrets are linked to having sex when too young - 13 or 14 years of age - and not being ready emotionally. 

 

Explains that she was too young when she had her first sexual experience and that it happened in...

Explains that she was too young when she had her first sexual experience and that it happened in...

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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When I was younger I used to think, oh I know best, I'm older than I think and everything like that and now I wish I'd waited, its not all that its cracked up to be. But 'cos you just want to know what it's all about, what everybody's going on about and I just wish I hadn't done it so young.  

Why not?

I think 'cos I personally... I think I made the wrong choice of the person, the first person I went with, he ended up being not a very nice person and I just wish I'd waited until I'd found someone I was more committed to and he was committed to me and actually waited until our relationship had like progressed that far, but I'd only been seeing the bloke well a month or so and it just happened.

Do you think that there was any kind of peer pressure involved?

In a way, yeah, but I used to hang around with people who were a lot older than myself. They'd be like several years older than me and a couple of them like already had got children, they were in their late twenties and I was still only a little teenager, just. So in a way I did feel a bit like well they keep going on about it so why not just try it.
Some women we interviewed who had sex said that they gave in to their boyfriend because they were scared he'd leave if they didn't say yes. Sometimes people just had sex to 'get it over with', or felt they'd rushed into having sex. Some women report that sex isn't quite as it seems in the movies, and may be an anti-climax or even painful.  
 

Talks about how much she regrets having sex at a young age. (Actor)

Talks about how much she regrets having sex at a young age. (Actor)

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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Regarding your own experience of having sex at thirteen, I mean do you have any regrets or do you think it was'? Tell me about it.

Well I'd been with my boyfriend, not that long actually and he was a very bad influence on me, a really bad influence. I was a really good girl until I met him, did everything I was told, was really respectful to my parents.  

As soon as I got with him, all that went downhill and I was drinking at thirteen, started smoking and everything and he was persuading me and persuading me to have sex with him and eventually I kind of, gave in basically. 

I couldn't be dealing with his hassling any more so I had sex with him and a week later he had sex with my best friend and we broke up, we got back together in the end but not for long I don't know, and then afterwards I met somebody else who I got on really well with, who I really liked and I just felt really embarrassed that I'd had sex with somebody else because I didn't get with my next proper boyfriend for a long time afterwards. 

It's quite embarrassing and now if people go out and say 'oh I've got friends who are still virgins' who are eighteen, and they go 'oh it's so embarrassing, I'm still a virgin' and I think I'd be so proud if I still was at eighteen, and then people go 'how old were you when you first had sex' which is really embarrassing, and I always lie to my friends, most of my friends think I was sixteen when I first had sex because I'm embarrassed about it and I mean I'm not in touch with him anymore, I can't stand that bloke anymore, I really don't like him at all.

So, it seems to me that he put pressure on you?

Yeah, which is what we have to teach kids in 'A Pause' not to accept that kind of pressure and from first hand knowledge it is, and you do regret it afterwards. I've got one friend who lost her virginity when she was fourteen and she hasn't got any regrets about it at all but I was quite young I think and I don't think I was mentally ready for it or physically ready for it really at thirteen, and then obviously anything could have happened.  

I started my periods when I was nine so I could have quite easily have got pregnant at thirteen. I didn't realise that obviously, but as I've got older I've realised that it was really quite risky to be having sex with somebody else, quite a lot older than me as well - he was eighteen, and that's a big difference when you're only thirteen and you know it's kinda like somebody to look up to, because he had a really nice job and had a nice car and obviously wasn't properly mentally with it, otherwise he would have gone out with someone his own age I suppose. 

But yeah, I really regret it because I just wasn't ready for it at all and I realise that now, at the time I thought I was a bit cool kind of thing because I had this secret that no one else knew but now I just think it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life, it was really awful.

Was there curiosity or just...?

Not really, to be honest at thirteen I was more interested in, I was more interested in school, in my school work - although that went downhill when I was with him. Things that kids do, looking after my little sister or going round my Nan's for dinner, that kind of thing - the thought of sex hadn't even crossed my mind, and then I didn't really even know what he was on about at first. 

Well I went on holiday with a load of guys and it was the whole, you know, 'Go on, go on' egging each other on and, you know, it was my first time there, and my first time away, you know, on holiday, that wasn't back to my home country you know with, without family, without anyone that knew me there. It was just, you know, a lads' holiday where you went out, had a laugh, did whatever and came back and said, yeah that was that done.   

You know, growing up in a, in a strict Bengali family it's taboo to talk about sex, taboo to talk about pregnancy, STIs, anything. And, you know, now, you know, in modern culture you're meant to talk to your mum or, you know, your dad has a word with you about the birds and the bees and you know, about partners and girlfriends and that, but within my family I couldn't. And I've got an older brother and I couldn't talk to him about it.

At the time I was all right. Now looking back on it I regret it. If I could change it, I would.  I think I felt like I rushed into it and I should have been more prepared and more aware of, you know, what was, you know, what could have gone, you know, the bad way where I could have contracted an STI, and it would have affected me for the rest of my life.  

It was, you know, to be done and you know you have to do that, you have to do it, you know, do something 'cos everyone else is doing it. And you, you grow up through school, you know, with all that. My school's big, you know, it was turned into a mixed school while I was in the middle years and all my friends were going ahead and doing it and I just felt, 'No I don't want to do anything, you know, too hasty 'cos I might regret it'.
 

She says that trust is important in a first sexual experience.

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She says that trust is important in a first sexual experience.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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I think you need to trust the person you are with because if it is going to hurt you need to know that they are going to be gentle with you. It was very, very problematic because it hurt me and him and ended in tears, basically. We did it but then we sort of drifted apart and a couple of months later we broke up. We only did it that time. I wasn't disappointed but I was a bit upset by it. I don't think it was anyone's fault. The boy that I went out with first as a proper relationship, he was just, he wasn't serious about, it was just a bit of fun to him and I was quite upset when we broke up. So I think that girls tend to take things more seriously.
For those who experienced urinary tract infections, which are common in women after first sexual intercourse, or thrush, this can detract from the enjoyment of sex.

Men are less likely to regret having sex, and most of those we interviewed enjoyed the experience, although some did feel under pressure from their mates to 'do it'.
 

Explains that at fourteen he was thinking about sex but wasn't ready to do it and how his mates...

Explains that at fourteen he was thinking about sex but wasn't ready to do it and how his mates...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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How old were you when you had your first experience?

Because I've an older brother, I would say about going on fourteen.

Well yes and no. Really at the time I mean I was thinking about them things but I mean I didn't really want to do it with that person you know I mean I was not really, really liked but I mean, hey I mean when I did that and I told my friends, my friends were like "Yeah you're the man, that's the way, I like your brother, your brother is the man, you're the man."  

I mean you get a lot of, I mean for young boys it's different, I mean it's like a buzz, it's like you're the king, you're the king when you do this, I mean I don't know I mean I just thought well hey let it be you know what I mean, I went to school I told them you know my brother had some chick round and she was telling me blah, blah, blah and I did blah, blah and they're like "Yeah that's great." So yeah.

Yeah I mean it's really the society you live in you know, I mean, I mean it was, it was crazy man I mean I didn't know whether to feel good or bad about myself at that time because I mean it's like it was meant to be a good thing, so I just thought well, because I just knew about it you know.

Most of the people we interviewed used contraceptives the first time they had sex to avoid pregnancy. They were less aware that they also needed to use contraceptives like condoms to avoid STIs.  

 

Talks of how little information and education teenagers have around the time they start having sex.

Talks of how little information and education teenagers have around the time they start having sex.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Female
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I don't think we really discussed it seriously because like you said we were both so young, I mean he said that, but most blokes say that, 'but oh I'd stand by you if anything was wrong' but I don't think we really really discussed what we'd do if anything like that happened - we just didn't think it would, so a bit na've.

 

Do you think you have had sufficient information about sexual health in general for instance about safe sex, prevention of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections.

 

Again not at a young age, not when it's really crucial, around fifteen, sixteen, when people start to have sex quite a lot, there wasn't much information about condoms, how to use them and things like that and about, especially about STD's they weren't really brought up at all at school so, we didn't really know about them, like you wouldn't have been told that Chlamydia makes women infertile and things like that, you wouldn't really know the real dangers of them.

 

Explains that for her, the use of condoms is not an issue but something natural.

Explains that for her, the use of condoms is not an issue but something natural.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Female
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We did use contraception, we used condoms because I think in Denmark that's something that is you know, people do, it's, there's no question about it you know men and women.

Yeah.

Yeah, well from where I was anyway, you know from when I was fourteen, fifteen, there was no question, that is what you did, you know you used contraception if you were going to have sex and that's it you know.

Who gives you that information.

They have people coming round the school actually. I remember when I was thirteen, fourteen they had people coming round the school and giving talks and handing out condoms and you know, really giving you lots of information and they were quite open and quite, yeah, quite willing to talk about it, more so than here I think, so I don't really remember it as being much of an issue it was just something there was.

For you it was natural that from the moment you started your sexual life, you were going to use condoms. And the boys do?

Yeah.

So they have no problem using condoms in Denmark?

No, I mean from my experience no, I mean I don't know generally, but from my experience that was it you know, he had condoms on him and he was going to use it and that was, that was the way it was, yeah.
Others we talked to would never have considered having sex without a condom - one Afro Caribbean woman said 'As far as I'm concerned if there's no condoms, there's no nookie'. Some though did get 'carried away in the heat of the moment' and have sex without protection, while others just didn't know how to get hold of contraception in their communities.
 

Explains why she didn't use contraception the first time she had sex. (Actor)

Explains why she didn't use contraception the first time she had sex. (Actor)

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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OK, and did you use any form of contraception?

First time we didn't and also because I didn't really know. I knew about condoms but where do you get them?  You're just, you're 16 and when I did, I'd turned 16 just before I took, because I'd turned 16 in March, and I sort of did it during May and also at that age where my doctor's is, it's in my mum's estate, and well my doctor's the same doctor as my mum's. I know they won't breach confidentiality I just didn't feel comfortable knowing that you know, I'm going there to get condoms.  

Did you know that you could go to other clinics outside your area?

No, not at the time because obviously I wasn't very sexually active, the fact that I'd only just done it that one time, I wasn't very aware that I, you know there's other places we can go. Because boys can actually walk into a shop and buy condoms its, its much easier for a bloke to do it than it is for a female, especially a female whose from an Asian community and you have to go' everywhere you go you bump into an Asian person you know.  

And then it's all about being discrete. You know you don't wanna walk out with a packet of condoms and you've got a huge amount of people standing outside going oh my gosh,  even with married people it happens.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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