Having sex with a new partner can be exciting, overwhelming, nerve-wracking, thrilling, and so much more. Eventually, though, you’ll start to learn what you both like in bed, and some of those jitters may begin to melt away. But sex with a new person can bring up those feelings all over again, regardless of how much experience you’ve had in the past.
According to the CDC, adults aged 25-49 will have on average anywhere from 4-6 partners in their life, so odds are you’re in for a few more “firsts.”
If you’re worried about how to explain the things you like, how to calm your anxieties, or what questions to ask about sexual health, there are tried and true methods that can help. Here, experts share 11 tips for sex with a new partner.
1. Talk About Any Anxiety You're Feeling
If you’re feeling some pre-sex nerves, letting your partner know can benefit you both. But honesty is like a muscle, and you need to practice. "I think you have to learn to be vulnerable more often," Angela Skurtu, M.Ed, LMFT, a St. Louis-based sex therapist tells Bustle. She suggests practicing your pre-sex conversation beforehand, or even having the conversation via text first if that helps. "Many times people can feel scared or awkward in person. You can use text to discuss some of these things without as much worry," Skurtu says. "The truth is you just have to learn to have the conversation. I might consider picking partners who are good at the conversation but leaving partners who make you feel bad or ashamed when you bring these things up," Skurtu says.
Lexx Brown-James, LMFT, agrees that some communication beforehand is often helpful, noting that these kinds of conversations don’t have to kill any spontaneity. If you’re struggling to find the words, Brown-James suggests asking yourself the question, “What is it that helps you feel taken care of in your anxiety?” and going from there. So it might be as simple as, “Hey, I haven’t done this in awhile and I’m a little nervous.” Or, you may need to ask for something more specific based on your needs, like, “Sometimes I have anxiety attacks and it’s helpful if you hold me while I breathe deeply.”
2. Try Some Mindfulness Exercises
If you’re looking to calm yourself and center your thoughts before having sex with a new person, Brown-James believes meditating or other mindfulness exercises can work well to relax when it comes to sex. This kind of work is often referred to as “grounding.”
“Grounding brings you into the moment,” she explains. “Anxiety tends to come from living in the future and catastrophizing, which is when you’re going through all the one thousand and one ways that things are going to be horrible. Instead, we ground and it brings us to the moment.” There are lots of grounding exercises out there, but Brown-James typically suggests finding five things around you can touch, like your feet touching the floor, your hands on a blanket, your clothes touching your skin, etc. “So you're bringing yourself back to this moment where you you're in a space that you have control over, and reminding yourself about that,” she says.
Brown-James also suggests trying rituals that remind you that your body is capable of pleasure, and it doesn’t have to be sexual pleasure, either. For example, you may get a lot of pleasure from a hand massage, so getting a leisurely manicure with a massage at the end might be an enjoyable ritual that centers your bodily pleasure before being intimate with someone else.
3. Adorn Your Body With Whatever Feels Best
Sticking to the theme of pleasure, what you put on your body before having sex with a new partner can contribute to your overall comfort level. Brown-James suggests going to the max when it comes to things that make you feel good. Use your favorite conditioner that makes your hair smell great; use whatever products make your skin feel soft and glowy. “Take part in all of the senses that you have access to. We're using all of those senses to remind yourself, ‘I'm capable of pleasure. And I get pleasure from a lot of different things,’” she says.
A quick note: some partners may be sensitive to particular smells, so it’s always good practice to check in with your partner about any concerns surrounding fragrance, Brown-James explains.
4. Bring Various Types of Protection
From a purely practical standpoint, bringing protection with you to any new encounter is a must. “Everybody's orgasm is their own responsibility, and everybody's reproductive health is their own responsibility,” Brown-James says. But whether you’re on the pill, have an IUD, or using a patch, bringing additional birth control methods with you never hurts. As much as you want to trust that someone is being responsible for themselves, you can’t guarantee it.
There are tons of barrier method birth control options out there, including condoms that come in different sizes and textures. Brown-James recommends stocking up on a variety of them. After all, it’s tough to anticipate what a new partner likes or needs. This way, if you realize the condom doesn’t fit properly in the moment, you’ve got another option to try.
Overall, she recommends trying to think ahead about what you might be using, and pack accordingly. For example, if you’ll be incorporating sex toys, keep in mind that water-based lubes are your best bet as they won’t break down silicone. And as a matter of good practice, check your expiration dates on both lube and contraceptives before you toss them into your bag for the night.
And one more point on lube. According to Brown-James, stress hormones tend to dry up vaginal canals, which makes having lubrication on hand doubly important, especially if you’re having any nerves about being with someone for the first time.
Skurtu suggests taking this preparation step a bit further and discussing with your new partner when each of you were last tested for STIs. "Talk about safety, birth control, and condom usage and the last time you both were checked for STIs," Skurtu says.
If you’re struggling with how to bring this up, Brown-James recommends volunteering the last time you were tested and what you status is, then asking them when they were last tested. You can also try asking, “What's your status and policy around testing?” Either way, volunteering the information on your end first can help the conversation feel less accusatory.
5. Slow Things Down
Rushing into any kind of sex act before you’re ready is unlikely to feel as good as it could, but it’s especially important with a new partner because you don’t know each other’s bodies as well yet. Brown-James explains that sex with someone new (particularly if you’re nervous) might look a little different, and slowing things down can help. You might need to warm up a bit on your own first, or engage in some solo fantasy play, she explains. But you’ve got lots of options to try with your partner, too.
“So maybe this means we start with essential body massage,” she explains. “Maybe this means we do what I call body worship, where each part of your body gets some gratitude expressed to it in a physical form. This might mean slow dancing. It might be watching a funny comedy before you start to engage in sexual action. So that sexual action isn't just expected as soon as you walk in the door.” she says.
And a quick note on what people often call foreplay. Brown-James takes issue with the term because it can imply that there’s all this “less important” stuff you’re supposed to do before intercourse. “That's not necessarily true; sex can be defined between the people who are doing it, and can be limited to whatever those people who are doing those behaviors decide them to be. So making out heavily, rubbing genitals against each other — that can be your sex, and that can be fine,” she says. As she tells her clients, sex does not begin and end with a hard penis. Try nixing the idea of foreplay, and making all of your intimate activity what you consider sex.
Also, don’t be afraid to take breaks from whatever action you’ve decided on. If things are getting hot and heavy and you notice yourself feeling a bit distracted and out of the moment, you can ask to take a break and start up again later.
Additionally, Skurtu suggests talking and cuddling both before and after sex.
6. Don't Be Afraid To Speak Up
Skurtu tells Bustle she encourages both verbal and nonverbal communication during sex. "Verbally ask, 'Do you like this?' or 'How do you enjoy being touched[?]' or 'Show me on my nipple how you would want me to suck on your clitoris.'" Skurtu says she suggests the nipple because it's similar in size to the clit and it's close enough to the face to visually see what's going on. "It's also kind of a [...] flirtation," she says. She also says you shouldn't assume you know how to give oral sex for every new partner. "The reality is that everyone likes something different. Try a few strokes and see how a partner responds, ask if they enjoy this, if it's too rough, soft enough, etc." Skurtu says.
So if your partner is doing something you don't like, tell them. If they're doing something you really like, tell them. If you're worried they don't like what you're doing to them, ask them! Also, pay attention to body language and nonverbal cues.
As Brown-James says, “You can always say no. No matter what, when, where or how, consent is revokable.”
7. Share What’s Worked For You In The Past
If you’re someone who struggles with giving direction in bed, turning to your past is a good place to start generating the right words to use. "Talk about what you have enjoyed from previous partners and ways you can learn and grow together," Skurtu says.
But sharing general ground rules is important, too. "Talk before you have sex about what you want to do with each other. Share your yeses, nos, and maybes," Skurtu says.
Brown-James agrees that sharing those boundaries is crucial. Maybe you hate being called names in bed, and that’s something they should know. “You’ll actually have a clearer picture of what you're both into and what you're both looking for for that first time,” she explains.
You can certainly talk about what you like in bed without talking about who you've liked in bed — and you should. Your new partner will appreciate it, and there are ways to do so while remaining sensitive to your new partner's feelings.
Brown-James agrees that it’s general best practice not to bring up past parters and what you used to do together. “Keep that out ex of it be like, ‘I really like this pressure here.’ Or, ‘It's really hot when you use your tongue flat like that,’” she says. Focusing on the sensations, rather than the partner who used to give them to you, is important. Otherwise, she explains, that person is going to feel like they’re being compared, and they might be wondering if they measure up.
8. Don't Be Afraid To Laugh
Sometimes, sex is funny. When this is the case, Skurtu says it's OK to laugh. "Don't laugh at each other, but make a silly statement like, 'Don't you love sex noises?' and say it with a big smile so you also nonverbally communicate to your partner you are being genuine and playful," Skurtu says. She says she even gets in the habit of pointing out the awkward moments and either joking about them or saying it's normal. "Like after a queef I might say, 'She said hello, and I'm enjoying your company!' I say it with a big smile and maybe a quick kiss," Skurtu explains. She says awkward moments can become flirtatious moments when we let go of the expectation that sex has to be perfect. "It's silly, messy, and wild," Skurtu says.
Brown-James agrees, adding, “You can laugh. Your body's gonna make noises. You might feel out of control with pleasure. That's okay. Go with it.”
9. If You’re Insecure About Your Appearance, Remember That You’re Wanted
Brown-James deals with a lot of patients struggling with body image. Some, she says, won’t even attempt certain positions because of insecurities about how they look. The key to engaging with these worries more positively might be a simple perspective shift. “Remember, this person chose you for what your body looked like in clothes before. They know that you, your boobs might be slightly longer, for example, they’re aware,” she says. Reminding yourself above all else that you are wanted as you are can help ease those concerns.
Brown-James continues, adding, “Typically, stretch marks mean one of two things: you were big and you got small, or you were small, and you got big. Either way, they're with you right now because they want to have sex with you.”
If your anxieties are overwhelming you, she also suggests bringing it up with your partner. Something as simple as, “Hey, I’m sensitive about this spot, please don’t grab it,” can work.
If you want to delve further, Brown-James explains that you can go out of your way to make sure a partner pays special attention to the parts of your body you’re insecure about. “We forget that people haven't explored like, your butt folds. When was the last time you got kisses on that? What is that going to feel? What does the back of your knee feel like if it's nibbled on? Or the inside of your arm? We try and avoid all of these places because they can be so uncomfortable, because we think that they're unsightly. Those are myths we've been told by society that is fat phobic.”
You could be denying yourself a lot of pleasure you didn’t even know you were capable of. “The more skin you have, the more skin that you've grown over time, is also the more skin to tantalize for arousal,” she adds.
Plus, there could be benefits to working on loving your body more. According to the findings of a recent scientific research review, there appears to be a positive link between body image and sexual well-being. According to this review, people — and women in particular — who feel good about their bodies typically report having more positive sexual experiences.
10. Don't Put Too Much Pressure On Your Orgasm, Or Your Partner's
According to Brown-James, there’s a lot of benefit in not making an orgasm the end goal of sex, and instead focusing on what feels good for both you. If you’re worrying about a climax, it can feel like a burden. As she puts it, de-centering the orgasm can lead to “an increase in pleasure and a decrease in pressure.”
She also explains that it’s no one’s job to give you an orgasm; it’s your job to help facilitate your own pleasure. Plus, not everyone orgasms all the time, so focusing on whether or not you’re making each other feel good is a much more attainable goal.
In fact, some people with vaginas suffer from anorgasmia — a condition that makes it difficult to orgasm, even after lots of foreplay.
Further, A U.S. study that was published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy in 2017 — in which 1,055 American women from the ages of 18 to 94 took a confidential survey via the internet — found that only 18.4% of women are able to orgasm through vaginal penetration alone, while approximately 36.6% require clitoral stimulation. And for people with penises, everything from performance anxiety to daily worries can release stress hormones that narrow blood vessels, which makes it more difficult to become erect, much less ejaculate. And some people with penises suffer from delayed ejaculation — a condition that causes some to require a much longer time than average to reach orgasm and ejaculate, while others with the condition can't ejaculate at all.
Of course orgasms feel good, but they’re not the be-all, end-all of sex.
11. Don't Forget About Aftercare
"We all need a little aftercare once we finish sex," Skurtu says. "I would touch each other gently, leave a hand rested on a penis (if one is involved) and just caress each other." Skurtu also suggests talking about things you appreciated about the night or the experience. "Share something you did that was new. 'I've never had someone pull my hair like that or kiss me like that. That was really sexy, different, fun, etc.'" she says. Above all, Skurtu tells Bustle to be real and honest. "You don't have to say the perfect thing or be the perfect lover. You just need to be coachable and willing to share what you like as you go along," Skurtu says.
Ultimately, if you’re open and honest about how you’re feeling, having sex with a new partner doesn’t need to be overwhelming. In fact, it might even become an exciting new chance to learn more about your intimate wants and needs.
Debby Herbenick, Tsung-Chieh (Jane) Fu, Jennifer Arter, Stephanie A. Sanders & Brian Dodge (2018) Women's Experiences With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm: Results From a U.S. Probability Sample of Women Ages 18 to 94, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 44:2,201-212, DOI: 10.1080/0092623X.2017.1346530 Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0092623X.2017.1346530.
Gillen, M. M., & Markey, C. H. (2018, December 21). A review of research linking body image and sexual well-being. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1740144518304030.
Angela Skurtu, M.Ed, LMFT, Missouri Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Nationally (AASECT) Certified Sex Therapist. http://www.therapistinstlouis.com/
Lexx Brown-James, LMFT
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