Have a great "first time," have a great future sex life? Not necessarily. But a new study claims that a satisfying loss-of-virginity experience could predict sexual satisfaction down the road.
Researchers at the University of Tennessee surveyed a sample of 331 undergraduate college students about the first time they had heterosexual intercourse and then about their subsequent sexual experiences over the course of two weeks. Any respondents whose first time experiences included physical force were not included in the final sample.
ScienceDaily summarized the researchers' conclusion:
A series of analyses revealed those who were most emotionally and physically satisfied the first time found their sex lives the most fulfilling. Those who reported higher levels of anxiety and negativity with the first time reported lower overall sexual functioning.
In other words, a great first time is connected to a great sex life later and a bad first time is connected to a worse sex life later on.
A few aspects of this study seem problematic:
1. It only surveyed undergraduate college students between the ages of 18 and 22. According to the Kinsey Institute, the average American boy loses his virginity at at 16.9 and the average girl at 17.4. This means that the "average" participant had between one and five years to develop the "sexual patterns" being examined. Though many of the students surveyed could fall far outside of these averages, that still leaves decades of later sexual experience out of the equation. And since college is often a time of sexual experimentation in itself, the behaviors that undergrads choose to engage in might look very different from the sexual choices they make once they graduate. All this study suggests is that a good first time can lead to good sex in your early 20s.
2. I question whether your first time having heterosexual intercourse influences your future sexual patterns more than any other romantic and/or sexual experience. For some people, losing their virginity might be a monumental, life-altering event. But for many others, it's merely a hurdle to get over, or something that seems fun to do, or a step toward further intimacy with a partner that they're excited about. And for heterosexual women, the "first time" is often short-lived, painful and doesn't include an orgasm. Yet, judging anecdotally, women whose first times aren't particularly emotionally or physically satisfying can go on to have sex lives that are satisfying on both counts.
3. The results of this study might be more about correlation than causation. Lead researcher Matthew Shaffer told ScienceDaily, "While this study doesn't prove that a better first time makes for a better sex life in general, a person's experience of losing their virginity may set the pattern for years to come." Though he stays away from directly claiming causation, his comment certainly implies it. When I asked Therese Shechter, director of the film "How To Lose Your Virginity," to comment on the study she shared my reaction. "The first time doesn't predict future sex, but rather the same factors can affect the outcome of both," she wrote in an email. "Good communication, accurate information, knowledge about one's body, a respectful and attentive partner, a shame-free attitude towards sex are predictive of positive experiences all around."
Maybe we need to spend less time worrying about what people's "first times" look like and more time worrying about what information about sex young people receive -- or don't. After all, as Shechter wrote: "There's enough pressure to do virginity loss 'correctly' without also being told it will somehow define the rest of your life." Amen.