Sexplanations: It’s (NOT) Supposed to Hurt

“It’s supposed to hurt the first time.”

How many times have you heard that phrase? Maybe you heard it from friends or family or a teenage girl in a movie. 

However, it does not have to, nor should it, hurt the first time you have sex. This normalization of pain during penetrative sex, especially the first time, has led to many problems, myths, and shitty sexual experiences, especially for people with vaginas.

I spoke with my colleague Maggie Hamel-Smith Grassby, a sexual health educator at Sexual Health Options, Resources & Education (SHORE Centre), about educating young people. She said she hears the same myth over and over. 

“What we are talking about is the pervasive belief that penetrative sex is often painful and there is nothing that can be done about it. That is not true, there are many things we can do to prevent and alleviate painful sex,” Hamel-Smith Grassby said. 

“The first thing is to stop normalizing it. Stop telling folks that it is supposed to hurt the first time, and stop normalizing bleeding as a necessary and common sign that you are a virgin. This normalization of pain during sex contributes to a world where people don’t care if their partner is enjoying the experience.”

There are many reasons people have sex: for the intimacy, the control, to feel loved, to fit in, for money… but it is often because it feels good in some way. Unfortunately, we often withhold information about pleasure from young people, especially young people with vaginas. We also do not educate about all the ways sex can feel good and how, if it doesn’t, this can be changed. There are also people who derive pleasure from pain and like a little kink in their life, however, this pain is different from the un-pleasurable pain many people feel during sex.

Pain is not something to put up with or “play through.” Pain is our body’s way of telling us to stop, that something is not right. We should educate people to listen to their bodies, not ignore them for some ridiculous social norm. We should provide them with ways to decrease pain and increase pleasure. 

Perhaps the pain is due to anxiety about having sex, because communication and consent were not present. Perhaps the pain is due to tense pelvic floor muscles. Perhaps porn and the patriarchy are to blame for a lack of foreplay, leading to a lack of arousal and blood flow to the pelvic area. Perhaps there is not enough lubrication!

“We are actively in the community giving out free condoms and lube and people are constantly saying they don’t need lube,” Hamel-Smith Grassby said. 

“We provide the education about lube improving penetrative sex by reducing friction, improving the efficacy of safer sex barriers such as condoms and dams and increasing pleasure and sensation and people still don’t take it!” 

Many of us misunderstand the process of arousal and lubrication. Yes, many vaginas self-lubricate, but many do not lubricate enough or are not given enough time to do so. Anuses, though mucus membranes, do not lubricate in the same way. Therefore, need extra lube to increase pleasure by reducing pain and discomfort. 

I will leave you with an earth shattering idea: try lube, try communicating with your partner, and try thinking of sex as pleasurable for everyone involved.

Stacey Jacobs is the sexual health educational manager at SHORE.