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Sexual Health (young people)

First sexual experience: concerns

Here we talk about people's expectations and worries about having sex for the first time. You can also hear people's stories about the first time they had sex and their age and reasons for having sex the first time. 

Both men and women worry about sexual performance, but guys are more concerned about 'doing it right', and girls are more worried about their bodies. 

There is pressure from friends, to be sexually active and knowledgeable, and to brag about sex, so men find it hard to admit if they don't know much about sex. Most men worry about their performance the first time they have sex, although most girls don't feel this pressure

 

Explains that teenage males find it very difficult to talk about sex and describes a conversation...

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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Blokes go 'yeah, yeah like I lasted seven hours last night' do you know what I mean.  He said a mate said to him 'oh I was going on for ages,' and everything and I said 'don't worry about it you can only do what you can do.'  I said 'You can't push nothing on, like you can't make yourself last that long.'  

I said 'You can only last as long as you last.'  I went, because like a lot of his mates like, 'cos he's a lot like I was, he hangs around with people older than him, see he gets a lot of pressure like from the older lot.

So like they're like a lot more experienced, they'll have done... I said to him 'You can only get better with experience mate,' I went 'you can't just jump into bed with your girlfriend and like do a lot of stuff, you can't do that mate.'  

I went 'you just get better with experience and if you stay with the same girl,' which like I think he is because he's really locked in for about eighteen months, I said 'Stay with the same girl,' I went 'like you'll get the hang of it.'  I went 'You might be all right first of all.'  I said 'You might be able to do it first of all because I didn't.'  I went 'I was a nervous wreck when I first done it ' I can't remember much about it 'cos like I tried to blank it out of me mind as much as I could, that first time I done it, I was like oh no, forget about that time.

But no its, I said to him like I explained to him about the first time because I didn't remember much bits about it and I said 'You can only do what you do, just try your best. Don't let no one put pressure on you, just take it as it comes.'

But no, it is very, very hard especially as you get older, I don't know it is very, very hard for blokes to talk about like experiences or anything like that. Apart from when like they've had a beer or whatever they try and start bragging.  

But it is hard from the age of say, some people start at the age of 15, some people start younger, but 15 to 21 the kids don't like speaking much about it. But you get some, some blokes from upwards they don't care, they'll speak to anyone.
 

Describes the concerns he had at the time of his first sexual experience.

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Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I was worried and I gave, 'Look' I said, you know, 'Did I mess up?' and she said, 'No'.  And it was, it was OK. So, yeah, I got the reassurance then and there but it does stick in your mind, you know, 'Was I alright?'  You know, 'Did I rush it?  Did I say the right things?  Did I do the right thing?'  You know.

So, this is very much sort of a young man's kind of '

And it affects how, you know, how the rest of your relationships, you know come along.
 

Talks about how he felt the first time he had sex and how guys are concerned with their...

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Age at interview: 19
Sex: Male
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(The accompanying video and audio clips are played by an actor)

It wasn't something we really rushed in to. It was, I guess on the one hand I was sort of, confident in one sense and a bit apprehensive in the other, just because I think there's quite a lot of pressure and expectation placed on sort of sexual performance and things like that. And obviously it's your first time, and it's a bit I guess, like driving a car or doing anything, you never quite know what's going to happen. 

So I was quite anxious but that's part of the excitement as well, so I suppose, I think I was fairly confident, probably as confident as could be expected, given the situation.

I mean I think, certainly amongst guys and I guess probably with girls as well, I think there's a lot of conversation whereby if you do sleep with someone and sort of make it known to people, then the first questions are always sort of, 'How was it, was it good'.  

And so I suppose there's that sense that if you do sleep with someone and people find out, are they going to be sort of passing it round amongst friends and sort of wondering were you any good and that sort of thing and so I think there's a sort of emphasis placed on that.
 

A couple talk about their first sexual experiences regarding the feelings and pressures involved.

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Sex: Male
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G' Quite, yeah, very comfortable and confident because it was in a relationship with someone I had known for a very long time. Before that we had been very close friends for a number of years before that. So it was very easy and we talked about it before and it was something that we both wanted to do so I didn't feel any pressure or stressed about it.

And you?

B' I was a bit apprehensive, I'd been with girls before but not in that situation or not to that extent I guess. And yeah I was, I was nervous.  

Do you think there are sort of extra pressures on boys with regard to sex?

B' I don't know about extra pressures. I guess there's like performance anxiety but I don't know, I think all boys are the same anyway so it's... there's no real magician in bed at 15 or 16 so I don't know. I don't think it really matters. But when you look back at it, yeah I think there was a bit of pressure to, I don't know, make a good impression.

What is the role of the peer group on that pressure?

B' Well it's like everybody's doing it, you know. You... this was what, 7 years ago? So, all young kids were doing it at that time and there's, you know, privy, it was like joining a club I guess. And once you're a part of that club I don't know, it doesn't really change anything but, you know, it just seems that the pressure is off a bit and'

What do you think about it, the idea that sort of boys have to do sex well and do you think there is that expectation?

B' I think there is yeah, I think, I don't really know how to explain it, but, yeah, I think there, I think there is an expectation for boys to do well because, you know, there's lots of television on now and you know, we know what women expect from a man and there's lots of magazines that explain this and yeah, I think there is a bit of pressure to do well and I don't know, sometimes it just doesn't work out too well because of all that pressure. I don't know.

And for you, what are the pressures from the girls' side?

G' I don't know... When, I didn't really feel any pressure. I mean, my, when I started having sex it was something that was just very private between me and my boyfriend at the time and really didn't discuss it with any of my friends or any of our peer group.  Most of my friends at that time were also in relationships, so it was something that was very privately going on just within the relationship. So I don't think I felt any pressure really.

Even though teenage girls are less likely to 'brag' about their sexual performance, other forms of competition took place, for example who knew more about sex, who had already done it, or had an older boyfriend. 

As one woman we spoke to explained "With my first boyfriend the most important thing was that he was older and he was good-looking and that I would have sex and then I'd be able to talk to about it with my friends. Sort of far more Brownie points if they were older".  

Girls may also lie about sex in order not to seem 'frigid' or inexperienced

 

Talks about lying to her friends regarding a fictitious 'snog'. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I mean when we was younger, we'd talk about it all the time and its like the main topic of conversation and its almost like a competition isn't there, and you think you're like in competition with your mates and who's done it and who with and then, I mean in my case you kind of end up lying and bending the truth and making up stories. 

 

I mean I hadn't even kissed anyone and I didn't want anyone to think I was a freak or frigid and so I made up this whole story about this boy that I'd kissed and I'd snogged him and all that but it's just rubbish but at the time it felt right and I had to say something because you just feel silly.

Like guys, most girls said that they felt scared and nervous the first time they had sex. They're not under pressure to perform, but some still feel they should. Body image (the way people feel about the way their body looks) was more of an issue for the girls we spoke to - one said she wouldn't eat for 8 hours before sex so that her tummy didn't look big. 

 

Indicates that teenage boys and girls experience anxieties and concerns about performance and...

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Age at interview: 21
Sex: Female
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I was very scared. I was quiet and I didn't move and I was nervous. So, I think that's what it's like for everybody, people said like, people say the more sexual partners you have the better you get at it, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I think the more you practice maybe with the same partner you'll get better at it. 

You don't have to sleep with 10, 15 different people to be an expert in bed. And if you can, if you know how to have, your body likes things, if you know how to... you know within yourself how you like things while you're having sex, it's easier for you to show someone else, like your partner, so you can experience things together, learn things together as a couple .

Yeah definitely, they 'cos they don't want a woman to say that they were crap or they didn't last long, so yeah. Of course, that's why a lot of, that's why apparently a lot of boys drink and then take drugs to prolong their, their, before they ejaculate. So they, they'll try and make their performance a lot better, so at a lot of the time they'll say,  'Oh it was 'cos I was drunk', they've got excuses for if they have sex and while they do it and I think that.

Boys are under a lot of pressure to last long in bed. But it not about lasting long, it's how you make the person feel but obviously they're conscience about that and they're always conscience about their body and the size of their penis. But that's, that's for girls as well, girls worry about their breasts, about their bum, about their thighs, I think it works both ways.  
 

Explains that boys feel more under pressure to perform well.

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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I don't think so, not in the same way that boys do because I think for girls everyone knows that for a girl it's going to be difficult and it's going to hurt so if you are in a situation with boys and girls and it's their first time for both of them, then the boy is the one who is going to feel the pressure because he feels like you know, he's got to make this happen and he's got to make it easier for the girl. 

Whereas the girl is sort of like you know, I kind of don't really have to do much, I mean, for me personally I didn't really feel under pressure to perform well at all, I was lucky as I was with someone I loved a lot and it just felt right and it didn't really matter.
 

Describes how important sexual performance was to her as a teenager. (Actor)

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Age at interview: 24
Sex: Female
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I suppose you sort of, you are obviously seeking pleasure in some form but I think at the beginning, especially when you're younger, you're really just trying to sort of tick boxes. I've done this, I've done that, I know how to do this, so I'm not going to look stupid if someone asks me to and I don't know what they're talking about. 

It's very much a kind of getting the textbook out and learning it all aspect, I think when you're 14, 15, 16, 17, everyone was like 'oh I've done such and such, do you know how to?'' 

And 'I read in a magazine the other day that it's a really good way to such and such' and reading magazines is a lot of pressure. It's indirect but they're saying oh, this month's top twenty ways to please your boyfriend or something like that' Like oh my God, I've got to learn them, and if I don't know a number 19 and this kind of thing.

Yes, and you must know all these things, yes.  And if you don't know all these things, I mean crikey, you must be... what's wrong with you?  Yes, you're clearly behind your friends. You haven't got enough experiences and you don't know how to do these 5 tricks that Cosmo came up with or something like that.

I think a lot of it was age.  And a lot of it personality as well and I used to be very obsessed about how I looked and my weight and that kind of thing. And I think that was then reflected in my sexual relationships; it was all about performance, looking good, doing the right things, performing very well. 

I came from an all girls' school, at senior school, and there was a lot of pressure to look good.

So I'm more comfortable with my body now whereas before I would always look like... I'd do stupid things like I wouldn't eat for 8 hours before in case my tummy looked big and things like that.  And you just think for God's sake, no-one really notices that. 
 

Explains that her and her friends concerns and anxieties had to do with body image rather than...

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Age at interview: 25
Sex: Female
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I do honestly think that you kind of just laid there and you just thought 'well, give it a couple of minutes, it'll be over'. You didn't really feel that you had to do anything. I think a lot of it you put down to 'is my bust big enough and have I got a fat bum and is he going to think that my stomach's flat enough?'  I think it is more body image with girls, if they're worried that they don't look right.

Or one thing when we were girls that came up and that was like 'do we all look the same down there?  It will be ugly down there and do we all look different and how much hair should we have down there and how much shouldn't we?'  I think with girls it's more body image than anything else.  

Yes, for me it was more, and for most of my friends, it was more the physical aspect.  'oh my god, someone's going to see me without my clothes on', It was shock, horror.  So that was more scary than anything else. We didn't feel that we had to do amazing things and perform.  

But I will say that when I lost my virginity, you'd seen sexual scenes on TV and you'd seen them in films, and you were like wow, this looks fantastic and it looks amazing.  And you have sex and you think, god that was really boring,  and where do all the noises come from, you know, who makes the noises?  And you're just too young to understand.

Another girl told us 'you're supposed to be having sex like a film star all the time, like a porn star'. Many found talking to their mates set their mind at rest.

 

Explains how media depiction of sex makes you think that it has to be amazing every time you do...

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Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I think girls feel like they have to have sex and do it well. Especially when you read magazines, then they make you feel like you to have sex like a film star, like a porn star almost, and it does put the pressure on, it doesn't always work like that. 

I mean you feel like sex has to be amazing all the time and that's just not the case, and you know it's not the case, and so I think when you talk to your friends about your experiences then it makes you feel that you're normal and that's how it is with other people too.

And let's face it, we laugh at the boys that we know and that kind of takes the pressure off us as well. 

So it is a learning experience like anything else?

Yeah I guess so, and it's fun if you can chat to your friends about it and you don't want to make anything too serious.

It's really good if you've got friends that you can talk to about it and I think most people do.

What about girls talking to their boyfriends about it?

Yeah, talking to your boyfriend is a bit more difficult because there's kind of pressure on both of you to do it well I guess. Especially if you say to a boy 'oh that wasn't so good', then I don't know, they might get defensive or' I guess it depends how close you feel to them really.

I think more sex can be great and often is but isn't always, and so it would probably be good if that message was put across a little bit more 

Some of the young men and women we interviewed felt more sexually confident the better they knew someone, and some believed being with one partner rather than lots of different people helped.

Last reviewed January 2016.

Last updated August 2012.

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