What's a "first time," anyway?

A study on virginity loss raises questions about how we define sex -- so we talk to people about their "first"

Published February 2, 2013 11:00PM (EST)

    (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-333277p1.html'>krivenko</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(krivenko via Shutterstock)

The story that I typically tell of my “first time” takes place in a hotel room with my longtime high school boyfriend and involves an enthusiastic romp through the entire goddamn Kama Sutra. But months before we had made several attempts at sex: It’s just, he was nervous, I was tense, and so we didn’t get all that far. This may sound crude, but how far in does a penis have to go for it to count as a “first time”? How many thrusts, exactly? What if there is no penis involved -- or no vagina? And more to the point: What the hell is virginity?

Those are the thoughts that came to mind earlier this week when a study started making the rounds alleging that our “first time” influences the rest of our sex lives. Positive first-times correlated with greater carnal bliss later on, while negative experiences were associated with sexual dissatisfaction. In addition to the study's limitations -- including that the participants were undergrads, many of whom only just recently started having sex -- there is the issue of how, exactly, to define virginity. It's a tricky question that certainly applies beyond the exclusively heterosexual sample that the study looked at.

In the collective pop culture brain, the “first time” looks very particular: A guy and a girl in the missionary position. But in real life, it’s not so uniform -- so I decided to talk to people about defining...

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By Tracy Clark-Flory

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