Having sex for the first time can be scary – first time with a new partner, first time doing something new, or the first time ever. The way people who have had sex talk about their sexual experiences is intimidating and pervasive, especially on college campuses.

Sex is such a sensitive topic that people don’t often casually joke about their embarrassing experiences the way they might joke about how they tripped and fell on their face in front of Wilson Commons the other day. That puts a lot of pressure on new sexual partners – experienced or not – to “do it right.”

But anyone who has had sex probably knows that awkwardness in sex is unavoidable. In established relationships, the awkwardness will go away with time as partners become more comfortable with each other. But the first time with someone new or doing something new, you’ll probably end up embarrassed about something.

That embarrassment, though, is a symptom of the vulnerability that comes along with sexual experiences, and it is part of the beauty of sex. A shared experience of significant vulnerability with another person creates a powerful bond.

Some of the anxiety before and embarrassment during sex goes away when you accept that awkwardness is inevitable, but more important is the understanding that your partner knows that it’s inevitable, too. Closeness and developed communication skills go a long way here.

If you’re nervous, talk with your partner about all the things that you’re scared will go wrong. Girls may wonder, “Will you still find me sexy if I queef?”

Guys may fear, “What if I can’t get it up?” Addressing your insecurities before they become a reality is hugely powerful.

Still, there are some questions you might not even know to ask, particularly if it’s your very first time. Because of how conservative we tend to be when talking about sex, it often feels like we’re supposed to just already know all the answers before even experiencing it.

It can be even harder for those of us who still identify as ‘“virgins”. (I use quotes because I don’t particularly like that word, but that’s another topic.) On a college campus, people talk about the fact that they have sex – all the time – to the extent that people who haven’t sometimes feel isolated or ashamed.

In reality, it’s perfectly normal not to have had sex yet – even to not want to have sex – and lots of us haven’t gotten that far, especially those of us who aren’t interested in hook-up culture.

As hard as it may be, it’s very important to try to overcome all the anxiety around having sex with someone for the first time.

Anxiety, while to some degree inevitable, ends up being the biggest obstacle to having good sex. Even if you can work through enough of it to agree to have sex with someone new, anxiety can make sex a literal pain.

For girls, nervousness can keep you from lubricating yourself well, and sex without lube will be more difficult and potentially painful. Artificial lube can help with that, and I seriously encourage its use. Anxiety for girls can also keep certain pelvic muscles tense so that penetration hurts or isn’t even possible. Of course, penetration isn’t the only way to have sex, so try focusing somewhere else for your first seriously intimate experience with your partner, and see if it helps you relax next time.

For guys, anxiety around sex can make it difficult to get or keep an erection.

Try focusing on your partner – oral sex is a great way to pleasure your partner, which will help ease your anxiety.

Sex with someone new is always nerve-wracking to some degree, but in spite of that it can be a beautiful, meaningful experience. Acknowledge your anxiety, and respect that it’s there for a reason. Discuss it with your partner, and you’ll find a lot of it will go away.

And then go have some great, distraction-free, potentially adventurous sex.

Armstrong is a member of the class of 2016.

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