There’s a widespread myth that everyone with a vagina bleeds the first time they have sex.

It’s common — and totally normal — to bleed the first time you have penetrative sex, but many people don’t bleed at all.

If you have a vagina, you might bleed because the penetration tears the hymen. The hymen is a membrane near the opening of your vagina.

People often believe that having sex “pops” the hymen, causing it to break open and bleed.

Your hymen may already have a hole in it by the time you have sex for the first time. Think about it: How else would period blood come out?

If your hymen is totally closed, you have a rare condition called an imperforate hymen. This is usually treated with surgery.

However, having sex for the first time — especially if it’s rough — can sometimes tear the hymen, causing it to bleed.

Everybody has a different definition of sex.

Some people might only call it sex if it involves a penis penetrating a vagina. Other people might consider it sex if it involves oral sex.

Others might include using sex toys and fingers in their definition of sex.

It’s really a personal thing — there is no right or wrong way to have or define sex.

Because sex is different for everyone, everyone’s “first time” is different.

If you’re going to try vaginal or anal penetration for the first time, there are a few ways you can reduce your chances of bleeding.

This can also help you avoid pain.

While not everyone experiences pain the first time they have sex, it can be painful if you don’t take the proper precautions.

Masturbate

Getting familiar with your body before you have sex is a good idea.

This will help you get used to the feeling of being penetrated and give you an opportunity to figure out what you enjoy sexually.

If you have a vagina, penetrative masturbation can also help you avoid suddenly tearing your hymen. Instead, it will gently stretch over time.

Go gently and slowly

If you’re hoping to have penis-in-vagina (PIV) or penis-in-anus (PIA) sex, it might help if you’re first penetrated with something smaller, like a finger or small dildo.

No matter what you’re being penetrated with, it’s a good idea to go gently.

Use lube

If you’re having vaginal sex, your body will usually produce its own natural lubrication, reducing friction and discomfort.

However, the vagina often needs a little help — especially the first time around.

If you’re engaging in anal play or having anal sex, using lube is especially important. That’s because the anus doesn’t produce its own lubrication.

Lube can be applied to your entrance and to whatever is penetrating you.

Cut your fingernails

If your partner is going to finger you — or if you plan on touching your partner — cutting your nails is essential.

What may seem like a nice manicure can cause a lot of bleeding. Be sure to get those pesky hangnails, too.

Be gentle

Fingering and hand jobs can seem fairly straightforward, but it’s a good idea to be gentle and slow at first — particularly if a foreskin is involved.

If you pull foreskin too far back, it can be pretty painful. It could even tear, causing bleeding.

Watch your teeth

When you’re on the giving end of oral sex, pay careful attention to your teeth. Teeth can scrape against genitals, causing discomfort and bleeding.

Beyond the hymen, tissue inside the vaginal walls can tear and bleed.

If you’re going to have vaginal sex, take care to avoid anything that could scrape the inner walls.

Get in the mood

One of the best ways to reduce your chances of discomfort and bleeding is to ensure that there’s enough lubrication.

Your vagina will naturally produce its own lubrication when you’re aroused, so try to get in the mood a while before you’re penetrated.

Clitoral stimulation can help with this.

Use lube

Whether or not your vagina is producing enough natural lubrication, it might be a good idea to use lube anyway.

Using lube can reduce friction and scraping inside the vagina.

If your anus is going to be penetrated, whether it’s with fingers, a toy, or a penis, it’s important to be extra careful.

Anal tissue is even more delicate than vaginal tissue, and unlike the vagina, the anus doesn’t produce its own lubrication.

Because of this, anal sex can lead to bleeding and pain if you aren’t careful.

Prepare

You might want to prepare for anal sex by using an enema, which cleans the lower part of your rectum.

It’s not totally necessary to use one, but it cleans out the rectum and reduces your chance of getting, well, poop on your partner or toy.

Enemas can provide peace of mind, which is important because the next rule of anal sex is to relax.

Relax

Your anal sphincter is a muscle that tightens and loosens when you have a bowel movement.

If you aren’t relaxed, anal sex can be difficult as this muscle might be tight. This could make it difficult to penetrate, which can cause pain and bleeding.

Communicate with your partner and give yourself enough time to get aroused. This will help you relax.

Use lube

As mentioned earlier, your anus doesn’t produce its own lubricant — so lube is essential for anal sex. It’s best to use a water-based lube, as this won’t damage condoms or other barrier methods.

Go slowly

In every sense of the word, go slowly. Take time with foreplay. You might want to try analingus — that’s oral sex on the anus — before penetration.

If you’d like to be penetrated by a penis or toy, it could be helpful to try small butt plugs and work your way up to larger toys or fingers over time.

It’s important to go slowly. Pushing something in quickly — regardless of what it is — can be painful.

Go in increments, and don’t expect to fit the entire thing in the first time around.

STIs are possible the first time

Another pervasive sex myth is that you can’t contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) the first time you have sex.

It’s possible to get an STI any time you have sexual contact with another human, no matter whether it’s your first time or your thousandth time.

To minimize your risk, you can do the following:

  • Use condoms. Condoms aren’t just for penises. They can be added to sex toys to prevent spreading an infection from one person’s genitals to the other. You can also use condoms for manual and oral sex on penises. And be sure to use the condom correctly.
  • Use dental dams or finger cots. If you’re fingering a vagina or anus, use finger cots or gloves. If you’re performing oral sex on a vagina or anus, use dental dams. You can make a dental dam by cutting a condom into a square.
  • Get tested for STIs regularly. Getting tested is important, whether you go with a partner or not.

If you’re having PIV, pregnancy is possible, too

If you’re having penis-in-vagina sex, it’s possible to become pregnant — even if it’s your first time.

If you want to avoid pregnancy, talk to a doctor or other healthcare provider about your contraceptive options.

Sometimes, blood and pain during sex can be a sign of an underlying condition.

This may include:

Look out for symptoms like:

  • excessive bleeding, even after sex has stopped
  • pain, even after the first time you’ve had sex
  • itching and burning in or around your genitals
  • abdominal or lower back pain
  • unusual discharge
  • pain during urination

If you have any of these symptoms, or if you’re concerned about your health, make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare provider.

Excessive bleeding after sex can also be caused by STIs. Certain STIs could cause inflammation in your genitals, which can lead to bleeding.

Common STI symptoms include:

  • unusual discharge
  • change in urine color
  • warts, bumps, or sores
  • rash
  • pelvic and abdominal pain
  • fever

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to an STI, see a healthcare provider.

While some people bleed the first time they have sex, not everybody does —and there are ways to reduce the chances of bleeding and pain.

If you bleed excessively during sex, or if you bleed every time you have sex, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider.


Sian Ferguson is a freelance writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing covers issues relating to social justice, cannabis, and health. You can reach out to her on Twitter.