Get Real! What Does Sex Feel Like?


Curious asks:

I have
never had sex before, and before I do I want to really know what it is
like from other people. I want to know what it feels like.

Heather replies:

We get asked this question a lot.

A whole lot.

The trouble is, there’s just no way to give you and others the sort
of answer I suspect you are looking for. But I certainly can tell you
why I can’t do that.

Sex — of any kind, whether we’re talking about intercourse, oral
sex, manual sex, masturbation, or any other sex — not only doesn’t
feel the same way for all people, it often doesn’t even feel the same
way for one person from day to day, partner to partner, or activity to
activity.

Oral sex tends to feel different than vaginal or anal intercourse.
Masturbation can tend to feel different than partnered sex, even when a
partner is doing exactly what we do when we masturbate. Manual sex with
this partner can feel very different from manual sex with a different
partner. One kind of sex, with one given partner, can feel different
for us on Tuesday than it did on Friday, or different when we’re 18
than it does when we’re 45. The sex that I might have — even if you’re
doing the exact same thing as I am, even if you’re doing it with the
partner I did it with, no less — can feel really different for you
than it can for me, based on the differences in our personalities,
levels of arousal and attraction, how we feel about that partner, how
we feel about ourselves, the mood we’re in, what our health is like at
a given time, where we’re at in our fertility cycles, how relaxed our
bodies and muscles are, what our life experience has been in our
bodies, how our bodies differ uniquely when it comes to areas of both
physical, biochemical and emotional sensitivity, even in what physical
place we’re having sex, how much sleep we got the night before or what
different things we ate in a given day.

In some ways, what you’re asking me is akin to asking me to tell you
how a piece of cake tastes. I can say it tastes sweet, that I taste
vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom and perhaps a wee bit of carrot, that it has
a moist texture, feels a little crumbly on my tongue, whatever, but
when it all boils down to it, we all have different palates and are
different people. So, even with my saying all that, you may put the
same bite of cake in your mouth and have a totally different
experience, or find that that cake I thought was so delicious tastes
like total crap to you. You may have a bad memory of eating cake which
colors all your present experiences while I may not, and that changes
how we each experience the same thing. You or I may come to cake with
different expectations, which changes how we experience things, too.

We can absolutely say that there is something unique about sexual
experiences, period. Sex does tend to feel different — how different
varies — than other things we do with our hearts, bodies and minds.
However, it does have things in common with other experiences we have.

On a physical level, it can feel a like a really great workout (or
not), a long, hot bath (or not), eating everything in your fridge when
you just worked up the biggest appetite on the planet (or not), taking
a well-deserved nap (or not), a great massage (or not), sitting
seriously bored in class for too long (or not), scratching an itch (or
not), like a big, bear hug that goes all through your body (or not) or
like warming our hands on a fire (or not). Emotionally and
psychologically it can be like one of those intense all-night
conversations you can have with someone you really connect with (or
not), like being put in a blender (or not), like seeing a movie that
just grabs your guts and makes you laugh or cry so hard you worry you
won’t be able to stop (or not), like you’re just going through the
motions of something you thought you wanted to do, but then just didn’t
find all that interesting once you did it (or not), like being
connected to someone else to the degree you can’t figure out where you
end and they start (or not), like being with someone else during
something incredibly personal or important, like dying or birth (or
not), like finding a long-lost friend you never thought you’d see again
(or not) or like seeing yourself in a mirror (or not). Sex of any kind
might feel like all, any or none of those things.

Bear in mind, too, that because of what’s all going on in the whole
of our bodies and selves during sex, it can sometimes be difficult to
express what sex felt like — other than, say, "great" or "so-so" –
right after we’ve had a sexual experience or even when we’re smack-dab
in the middle of one. The experience of sex, when we’re seriously into
it, can tend to feel a bit like being in a state of trance, where when
we’re present in those moments, we’re just feeling how we feel without
really thinking much about it, so afterward, it can be tough to
describe or sum up with words. Like love, people have tried all through
history to express that feeling with words, music, paint, movement,
sculpture, theater, film and I think we can agree that despite
thousands of years of those attempts, some by people who are the most
accomplished artists of our time, we have yet to either find one
expression of what it feels like that just takes all or that we can all
agree on.

I like to talk to people about sex — be it alone or with a partner
– as primarily being about free personal expression in the moment,
just like the way we may tend to dance or experience dance is about
free personal expression in the moment. What we do, the way we do it,
how we feel about it, how it feels, what we like and dislike: all of
these things are going to tend to vary based on the unique person we
are at any given time, and how freely we are able to and do express
ourselves (and when a partner is involved, how free that person is in
their expression as well). In many ways, asking what sex feels like is
asking what life feels like: these are just incredibly diverse and
unique experiences.

Ultimately, it’s just one of those things where you are going to
have some vague idea of what to expect walking in, and often may find
yourself surprised, and not just the first time, either. I’ve been with
my current partner for over three years now, and to some degree, while
we have had many kinds of sex many times at this point, I could not
honestly say that I can predict what sex is going to feel like for me
the next time we have a sexual experience together.

It’s impossible to be perfectly prepared for what sex — any kind of
sex, at any time, with any given person — is going to feel like for
you, and that element of surprise or discovery tends to be one of the
things that makes sex so compelling to so many people. I know that it
can feel really precarious to consider going into something not really
knowing what’s in store in some ways, and that’s one of the reasons we
provide material here like our Sex Readiness Checklist
to help prepare people in terms of the kinds of things many people find
they need to have sex be both physically, emotionally and
interpersonally safest for them as well as enjoyable.

If you are interested in seriously considering or having sex, I’d
encourage you to take a look at that checklist. You can also take a
look through the index for this area or at our message boards to get a
sense of some people’s personal experiences with sex. You’ll see a
whole lot of diversity, but you’ll also see some common threads. I’d
also suggest taking a look at our piece on the human sexual response cycle to get a good idea about what the process of people becoming sexually aroused and then having sex can tend to feel like.

By all means, your own masturbation can also tell you a whole lot about what sex feels like. That is
sex, in and of itself, and even though a sexual partner certainly adds
some things to the mix — physically and absolutely emotionally and
socially — which make partnered sex different, you can get a pretty
good idea about what sex essentially feels like all by yourself with
your own two hands. I encourage young people to experiment with their
own masturbation first before taking sex with partners for
a host of reasons, and this is one of them. I’d also say that some
other experiences can give you a pretty good idea about what sex can
feel like: a professional massage or other kinds of deep bodywork can
illuminate some of this, as well. Sleeping (the kind where you’re not
awake) with someone else can give you some ideas about what to expect,
and even just things that don’t seem like sex to some, like a long
kissing session, tell you a lot about what sex can be like.

If you’ve masturbated and enjoy those feelings and activities, and
are considering sex with a partner, then you have some other things to
consider which are also mentioned in the checklist I linked you to. Do
you want to explore feeling that way with someone else? Do they with
you? Do you want to be very intimate, vulnerable and close with that
person? Do you feel able, with that person, to talk pretty openly
together about sex and everything around it, and to feel comfortable in
your own skin? Are you okay with experimenting with that person,
knowing that there will be surprises and discoveries, some great, some
ho-hum, some maybe even not-so-great at all? Can you deal with not
knowing 100% what to expect? Looking at that checklist, did you feel
like you had most of what was on it?

I’d say that so long as you’re prepared with the practical and other
basic issues you and someone else need to deal with to manage the risks
sex presents, you don’t need to know exactly what sex feels like to
know if it’s something you want to do or try, and that even when you do
have an idea about what it can feel like, that, in and of itself, is
not going to be something you wholly base your sexual decisions on. I
have a pretty good idea at my age and level of sexual experience about
what all kinds of sex feel like, but that still doesn’t tell me all I
need to know about whether or not I want to have sex with someone else.
I have to ask myself things like if I want to deal with the risks and
have what I need in order to do that, how I feel about the person I’m
considering for a partner, how they’re feeling, how I feel about myself
at the time, if I even have time for sex, or if that’s really the thing
I even want at the time (maybe I just want a snuggle, maybe I really
want to talk, maybe I just need some sleep, maybe I would prefer to
masturbate).

But I have to tell you that personally, I really have always loved
and embraced that element of surprise that tends to come with any kind
of sex. For sure, in order to feel okay about that and enjoy it, I have
to have other things taken care of first — like a desire to have sex
in the first place, the privacy and time to enjoy it, trust in my
partner and myself, comfort with my body, to have needed birth control
and safer sex taken care of and negotiated — but when all my basic
ducks are in a row with my general preparedness for sex, that surprise
tends to be an adventure, an often unexpected discovery, much like
taking a vacation somewhere familiar, but discovering a new street or
hidden beach I never noticed or found before.

So, while I can assure you that I am absolutely not, right now,
withholding any information from you because sex really just is that
unique and that surprising, I’ve got to tell you that even if I somehow
could tell you exactly what sex would feel like for you, I’d be pretty
reluctant to do so. Taking those discoveries and those surprises away
from someone would, in my mind, rob them of some of what can make sex
so wonderful, enjoyable and compelling, and that’s never something I’d
want to cheat anyone of.

And that’s about all I can tell you about what sex feels like. But I
can also leave you with some additional links I think you might find
useful:


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  • brentrjones

    Sex is wonderful and feels good, but I encourage you not to have sex unless you are married. Part of growing up is being responsible for your life and your body and future. There are many things that are harmful about sex outside of marriage. I do encourage you to talk adults that you can trust. Try to get more than one point of view.

     

    I have a wonderful wife and three lovely grown daughters. All of them are happy about having sex only when married. They tell me that they are glad that they did not experiment before marriage. And they want sex to be a happy loving part of being with a life partner.

     

    Brent in Oak Park, IL

  • betty-brown

    hmmmm?  just why exactly are people such as yourself so obsessed with marriage and sex?  you do realize that marriage does not insure a person is 100% safe from risks involved with sex, right?  first of all, being married doesn’t mean every pregnancy that happens during a marriage is a wanted pregnancy.  secondly, there are people who get STDs from their spouse who cheated on them.  and thirdly, even wanted pregnancy does not equal a perfect situation – like my biological father packing his bags and disappearing when i was 11.  the reality is, is that marriage is not some perfect union fantasyland where absolutely none of the risks of sex exist.

    i’m glad your beliefs turned out well for you and your children, but i don’t think your beliefs are right for every one else.  i would choose to inform my children that sex outside marriage is NOT something terrible, nor something evil, nor a sin…and that it really comes down to self-respect, and deciding for yourself what it means to you, and how to be safe regardless of the depth of the relationship and commitment.  

     

     

    truth?  is truth unchanging law?  we both have truths, are mine the same as yours?

  • heather-corinna

    I feel the need, per usual, to point out that,

     

    a)  We have no way of knowing what the marital status of this person is, nor did this person ask me about marriage, or sex before, without or within marriage. I get these kinds of questions from unmarried, soon-to-be-married and married people alike.

     

    b) We have no way of knowing what the sexual orientation of this person is: unless you’re getting seriously behind efforts to make marriage available for same-sex partners, lecturing about sex and marriage and how one must wait is iffy, at best, and totally exclusionary/dismissive at worst.

     

    c) We have to bear in mind that not everyone WANTS to get married or has the option of getting married, and

     

    d) There really is yet no data which shows that sex within or outside of marriage poses any difference when it comes to health or emotional risks.  If you have some you’re referencing, I’d love to see it.

     

    I think it’s absolutely great, Brent, that thus far, your three girls havea sexual ethos they feel good about and is working for them.  I also don’t think that waiting until marriage — for those who can and want to — is a bad thing, or somehow a worse choice than not waiting.  But if we know anything about human sexuality and relationships, we know that there are a variety of different choices and ethos which can and do result in sound physical and emotional health, as well as sexual satisfaction, and stating any one to be universally better than another, especially when we know that not to be true, or an option even avilable to or wanted by everyone not only always excludes a lot of people, it also denies the reality of many people, married and unmarried.

     

    I’m also a big proponent of doing what I can to assure that anyone making these choices feels they really own them, so you’re never going to see me push a cultural mandate for anyone to have any one given kind of relationship.  I feel that if and when we do that, even if a given person makes whatever choice we personally feel is best or right (for those of us who feel there is such a thing), we’re potentially robbing them of the ownership of that positive choice, which really detracts from the positivity of the thing.

  • invalid-0

    How is waiting for marriage to have sex responsible? What about people who can’t legally be married? What about people who aren’t interested in that institution? I think using birth control and measures to prevent STIs and waiting until you’re ready, regardless of your marital status, is far more responsible then “wait until you’re married.”

    What’s harmful about having sex outside of marriage anyway?