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Bad first-time sex can make for mediocre future encounters

Updated: February 26, 2013 2:09PM

What was your first time like? Awkward, pleasurable, maybe a little scary?

Losing one’s virginity can feel like a life-changing experience when you are growing up, and a new study has found that it actually might be. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Mississippi surveyed male and female undergrads on their first-time experiences. The undergrads chose from descriptions such as “anxiety,” “connection” or “negativity,” and they talked about whether they felt in control of the situation and if they felt safe.

The researchers then followed the students for the next two weeks. They asked them to keep a diary regarding all of their sexual encounters and to note how they felt during and after the act. The findings were quite clear: The men and women who had positive first-times were more likely to report positive and pleasurable sexual experiences, whereas the students who had negative first-times were more likely to report lower sexual satisfaction and lower sexual functioning.

In other words, the students who had negative first times were more likely to continue having negative sexual experiences, whereas students who enjoyed positive first times, were more likely to continue enjoying positive sexual experiences.

This could be true for many reasons. For one thing, the law of attraction can be a powerful thing. If we have negative thoughts and negative expectations, we usually find that negative things happen to us. Those who have a poor first time (or a coerced or forced first time) might have low self-esteem and low sexual expectations. They might not be comfortable with their body or their sexual response, and all of that will continue to come up in the bedroom. They might even attract partners who will actually encourage them to feel that way — partners who are selfish or even abusive. (This doesn’t mean that it is the person’s fault that they are struggling to feel safe or loved in the bedroom, but it could help to explain why the issue keeps arising long after the negative first experience is over).

It also could be that the students who had positive first times had been encouraged to think positively about their bodies and sexuality from a early age. People who lost their virginity in a pleasurable way probably did so because they postponed sex until they were truly ready (rather than out of peer pressure or partner pressure), did so with forethought and preparation (rather than in the back seat of a car at prom, for instance), and were aware of what to expect and how to navigate any possible issues.

In other words, they were given the tools and the resources they needed to practice safer sex as well as good self-care. So perhaps it is not just that the first time can dictate our feelings about sex for years to come, but that sex education is what helps to ensure that the first time and all the times after are positive and loving.

Studies like these help to drive home the importance of comprehensive sex education. Teens who aren’t given the information they need to protect themselves and practice healthy sexuality are not only going to be at a greater risk of STDs, they are going to be at a greater risk of feeling scared, intimidated and anxious in the bedroom, meaning that they might give up control to their partner or that they might have sex before they are truly ready. All of this can impact their self-esteem as well as their sexual pleasure far down the road.

It’s important parents remember to talk to teens not just about the mechanics of safer sex and STD prevention, but also about the emotional side of things — how to wait until they are ready, negotiate for condom use, how to say “no” even if things have progressed, how it’s OK to say “no” to sex even if you have said yes in the past. The more information and resources we can give them, the more empowered and careful teens will be, and that’s good news for both the present and the future.

Dr. Berman is the host of “In the Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman,” which airs at 9 p.m. Tuesdays on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

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