I’ve heard a lot of different things about what to expect when you have sex for the first time. One friend told me that I’ll definitely bleed and that it will hurt, and someone else told me the exact opposite! I’m just confused—which is it?? I’m not planning on having sex right now, but I’d still like to know what to expect! Will I bleed the first time I have sex?

Such a good question! People have a lot of different experiences with sex, so I can’t really tell you what exactly to expect. However, I CAN reassure you that the first time you have PIV (penis in vagina) sex does NOT have to be painful, or involve blood. The key is to have lots of foreplay, go slow, communicate with your partner, and use lube.

There are two main reasons that people with vaginas have a painful or bloody “first time.”

The most common reason is because they’re nervous or skip foreplay. This means that your body doesn’t have a chance to get all warmed up. When you get turned on (or “aroused”), your body does a few different (and very important!) things to get you ready for sex. Your clitoris and labia may get a bit puffier and more sensitive, and your vagina will actually expand. Your vagina also releases a clear lubrication, or “gets wet.” This lube is really important, because it makes sex comfortable and more pleasurable for both you and your partner.

If you’re nervous, or don’t incorporate enough foreplay, your body may not go through this process—even if you really want to have sex! If you’re dry (meaning your vagina hasn’t produced enough lube), having sex can be very uncomfortable, and create enough vaginal friction to make you bleed. This is the most common reason that people may bleed during sex. If you’re nervous, you may also unknowingly clench your pelvic muscles, which can make PIV sex painful.

The good news is that this problem is easy to prevent!

Make sure you take sex slow, especially during your sexual debut. Let your partner know if anything is uncomfortable, or if you want them to go slower. Lube is your best friend—don’t be afraid to use it! Sex should NOT be painful, so if it is, stop. Go back to doing something that feels good to you, whether that’s oral sex, fingering, or just making out.

It’s possible you could also bleed from minor tears in your hymen, but this is much less common (despite what many people think).

Many people think that the hymen is a thin piece of skin that covers the whole vaginal opening, and that it gets broken through when you have sex the first time. This is very much not the case (except in a few rare cases). If this were true, blood wouldn’t be able to escape your vagina during your period!

In reality, most people have half-moon or petal shaped hymens that cover a very small part of the vaginal opening. You may be able to feel yours about 1-2 centimeters inside your vagina (just wash your hands first!).

Hymens are stretchy, kind of like an elastic hair tie. Your hymen can stretch from fingers, toys, or tampons—not just a penis. Some people may feel uncomfortable the first time they have PIV sex because they feel their hymen stretching. Whether this is true for you will depend on your unique hymen: is it super thin, or a little thicker? Does it cover more or less of your vaginal opening? How much has it already been stretched?

Also keep in mind that PIV sex isn’t the only type of sex!

Sex also includes oral sex, fingering, masturbation and many other activities. It’s great that you know you’re not ready for PIV sex right now—that means that you’re in touch with how you feel and what you want. When you do decide you want to have sex (of any kind), make sure you take care of yourself. Use a condom and communicate with your partner. We talked about what it means to be sexually healthy here and debunked some misconceptions about consent here. Stay safe, have fun, and keep checking in with yourself!

A version of this post was originally published in February, 2017.