Oddly, the issue of what to tell a young person who is about to have sexual intercourse for the first time came up twice in my practice this month. While there are unlikely to be many sexual virgins reading these essays, you may have someone in your life who will want this information or whom you feel may need to hear it whether she or he explicitly asks or not. This can apply to male or female, with an opposite or same sex experience. With the exception of birth control issues, everything else applies to all. So for the benefit of parents and mentors I will share what I have always told those approaching for the first time "The Great Mystery of Sex."

More than a half century ago when I asked my father how I would know when I was ready to have sex he said first be sure you trust your partner. Arrange for privacy and time, and take precautions. He also added a fourth provision: be sure you love the man enough to marry him. I can't fault his basic advice which was very progressive for a man of that time. As for the marrying part, well, one can't blame a father for editorializing. Substantively, my advice would be basically the same today. Points to consider:

(1) First, when contemplating sexual intimacy for the first time be sure you are doing this for the right reasons....for you. That could be because you love the other person and want to express it or it could be curiosity. What it ought not to be is because you are being pressured or that everybody else is doing it or you are afraid of withering on the vine and being the only living virgin of whatever your age is.

(2) Be sure you trust your partner to handle your body, your feelings and your reputation with care. It is soul-destroying to be laughed at or talked about when you are at your most vulnerable.

(3) Plan for the event. So many young people think it's romantic to be carried away by passion. What it is is foolhardy. If you know you are going to "go all the way" then go all the way. Think about the where and when. Discuss your plans with your partner. Arrange for time and privacy, comfort, sanitation. First intercourse can be a lot messier than romantic fantasies encourage one to believe, for both men and women. Making arrangements for the setting of the big event allows for second and third thoughts as well.

(4) Take precautions - not only about unintended pregnancy, if that is an issue, but about disease prevention. The only form of birth control that also protects against STDs is a condom. Every young man should have fresh ones available, not one that has been hopefully carried in his back pocket for a year or more. Saliva might do in a pinch, but a commercial lubricant is a really good thing to have available.

(5) Try to manage your expectations. An orchestra of violins is unlikely to appear as a soundtrack for the big event. Sex can be awkward. It can be painful. It can involve embarrassing noises and smells. It can be less than fulfilling the first few times. Take the occasion of first time intercourse for what it is - only the first time. It does get better as you learn how bodies work, yours in particular.

(6) Before, during, and afterward breathe and enjoy yourself. If ever there was a time to be in the moment this is it.

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