Why do Girls Feel More Depressed after First Time Sex?

6thMay. × ’11

I lost my virginity at age 15, in a trailer. I remember his abs glowing under the black-light and the mood music–a Genuwine album on repeat. I had snuck out on a snowy school night, holding my shoes in my hand. I felt sort of frozen and surreal, somehow knowing this was the night, and barely noticing the fact that I was just wearing wet socks in his car.

There isn’t much to describing first time sex. I felt more like I was watching myself from above than experiencing it, thinking “oh my god, this is sex!” or “just move to Genuwine” Afterward, naked and side by side, I stared into his eyes, my heart feeling huge. My virginity had become a burden that past year and this was, surely, a turning point in my life. He suddenly locked eyes with mine and opened his mouth… I wanted to remember every second of this… “Want a Capri Sun?” He asked.

Yesterday, I blogged about some new studies showing that women feel more depressed and have lower self esteem after first time sex. This sits with me because after that momentous Capri Sun, I would feel depressed. And while lots of you guys felt happy and great afterwards, some were with me. I left it up to you to define what virginity meant. But, maybe we need to throw out the idea of virginity altogether. Maybe we need to toss away the idea that you “lose” something from a single act. First time sex is something you have again and again in so many different ways. Perhaps teaching this would help with those depression stats. At least I imagine if I could tell this to my 15 year old self, sipping the Capri Sun, it would have helped with mine.

Parts of this story are an excerpt–Read more about my first time sex at The Frisky

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  1. Posted 2011-05-6 at 09:26 | Permalink

    I enjoyed your post here, at the blog and at The Frisky. This stood out in particular: “Then there are the “Processors” who see virginity loss as a rite of passage and are more likely to plan out their virginity loss. Processors were the least likely to be depressed.”

    Interestingly, highly religious girls are more likely to wait longer for first intercourse, but they’re also less likely to use birth control if they do have sex. All birth control requires planning, and the thinking seems to be: “Sex is a sin, but it’s even more of a sin to *plan* for it than to just be swept away.”

    Ironically, the girls who feel the best later may be the ones who have been set free of guilt enough that they are able to plan.

  2. Posted 2011-05-6 at 09:38 | Permalink

    Thanks, Duana! Wow to the stat about religious girls, it’s both not surprising and yet shocking. It’s weird I feel like I was some strange in between: I planned but it was up to him to use condoms/have them/etc. I wanted to get rid of my virginity…but I wanted it to be special. It’s seems I had them all, and all of it left me feeling so many things: happy and proud, sensitive, sad, needy.

    Yesterday on the thread where readers submitted their stories, it was brought up that virginity is a huge emotional deal for everyone, because sex is a huge emotional deal and this makes sense to me. I wonder if you have any insight on what happens in our hormones when we have first time sex, this is actually something I haven’t read about so I have no idea if there are studies on it.

  3. Jess
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 09:47 | Permalink

    @Duana: I am the girl who was raised strictly religiously & had unprotected sex without even thinking to ask about STD’s etc, and then had a pregnancy scare, all after my 1st time having sex. And I still have hang-ups about owning what I want sexually, because I still want to be so aroused while resisting . . . because that seems less like I want sex so much because I’m a slut & hey I’m not married. Whew. Needless to say, I’m less than a fan & quite bitter about religions who preach against pre-marital sex, because I’ve spent a long time “undoing” all I was taught so I could enjoy sex.

    I think for me, I was disappointed with my first forays into sex because I wasn’t all that turned on . . . could be related to the above paragraph & religious suppressing, certainly. Does anyone else think maybe sex feels depressing for girls because they don’t know their bodies very well, which means they can’t convey anything to their partners, so they’re not very turned on? . . . That was it for me. My friend had stars in her eyes after a night with her boyfriend . . . I didn’t feel starry-eyed at all.

  4. Posted 2011-05-6 at 09:54 | Permalink

    Rachel, your story was very poignant. I so felt for that 15-year-old you. And she is still around today, embodied in many a vulnerable girl who feels ready–then gets blindsided by unforseen emotional attachment (hers) and detachment (his).

    Apparently, about 99% of what’s in a guy’s semen is not sperm, but drugs Of Human Bondage…for her.

    Here’s an article I wrote for Love Science that goes into it more: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/sex-the-happily-single-girl.html

    Upshot? Evolutionarily, My Dear, it appears that guys are protecting two procreative interests at once: a) their paternity interest (you’re hooked and the baby will be his since you won’t be sleeping with anyone else); and b) their spread-the-seed creed (men’s dopamine reward centers in the brain become *less* active after casual sex, meaning they can detach just as you’re attaching).

    To wit, Townsend found that 3/4 of young women were unable to avoid emotional attachment following casual sex–even when the women wanted to avoid attachment. But 3/4 of men kept their cool with ease.

    Of course, our mating psychology is unconscious, so men aren’t planning on this, any more than you were planning on longing after that first lover. In some ways, our mating minds are prepared for a world that no longer exists…leaving us unnecessarily sad and confused at a moment when we are vulnerable.

  5. Posted 2011-05-6 at 09:58 | Permalink

    Duana, Yes. This is what was missing in our discussion yesterday. I suppose, this phenomenon, like feeling vulnerable and emotional after sex, is not something one can really prepare for!

    Jess, you make a fantastic point!! Too often growing up women don’t know their own bodies, so how could they enjoy sex? When I had sex I was not actively masturbating, I was not having orgasms because I didn’t know how and that was seen as “gross” or somehow “wrong” among my friends. But you are right, masturbating, knowing what gets you off and what you like would be SO much more conducive to better sex!!!

  6. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:01 | Permalink

    @Jess, yes, great point: “Does anyone else think maybe sex feels depressing for girls because they don’t know their bodies very well, which means they can’t convey anything to their partners, so they’re not very turned on? . . . That was it for me. ”

    Most women must learn to have an orgasm, and learning the self-confidence to tell a partner what we need? Can take many years, especially for those of us raised in strict religious subcultures. (I just wrote about masturbation and its role in women’s sexuality as well; here’s that link: http://www.lovesciencemedia.com/love-science-media/masturbation-marriage.html)

    No wonder you weren’t starry-eyed. But I wish it could have been better for you. I believe with better sexual education at home, it could have been…and hopefully, for a lot of young women today, will be.

  7. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:03 | Permalink

    This is such a fascinating topic for me- as well as being a myth/narrative that I had never come across until a few months ago. I wonder if my insulation from it is due to it being a more USian thing, or because my first experiences were with women? I’m more inclined to think it’s the second, since it’s not like only USian women get stuck in a triple-bind! In that case, is it more because we were both women and both dealing with a lot of the same kinds of social pressures? Because there’s not one person socially defined as ‘getting some’ and another defined as ‘giving it away’? Or because there didn’t really feel like one Great Big Singular Loss Of Virginity Event? Since there’s so many different ways for women to define ‘losing their virginity’ with each other, there seems to be more space to just explore our sexualities with each other and do different things as we become more comfortable. So there’s room to feel like you’re losing little bits of virginities in stages, as opposed to one Big Event that eclipses the first time you do any other acts? So there can be more space to process things in bits and pieces.
    …or maybe we just had some awesome fun times and great chemistry, and I’m overanalysing this to pieces. That could be the case, too. Either way, thanks for some really interesting posts on this and I’m looking forward to looking back and seeing what everyone has to say. :)

  8. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:06 | Permalink

    Every post of yours that I read, I think “you’re so kind”.

  9. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:15 | Permalink

    Tea, very interesting about it being a US thing. Certainly the US promotes the purity myth with things like purity balls where girls promise their Dads they wont have sex till married or promise rings where they give Jeeesus the same oath. I was hoping a girl whose first sexual experiences were with girls would speak up. Certainly this makes it more clear how important the losing virginity bits by bits idea is because there is no ONE ULTIMATE END ALL BE ALL ACT. When it comes to virginity, I suppose I feel like you know it when you lose it. Having had first time sex with girls, what can you lend to that idea?

    Thanks Claire!

    & Duana, I know from my readers and from my own personal experience this is true. Thankfully now there is the Internet and I hope that helps. But I can remember being a teen and being SO CONFUSED about how to masturbate. Our virginity/hetero obsessed culture didn’t help me out with that. More vibrating toothbrush, less handle of a hairbrush, but teen me had no idea.

  10. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:26 | Permalink

    @Jess: I understand where you are coming from. I grew up highly religious, too, and it has been a huge adjustment for me. However, I don’t think it was necessarily because I was taught sex was bad or wrong. I think it came because that was the ONLY thing I was taught about sex. I had no idea about the emotional bond, the HUGE amount of communication necessary for good sex, or the vast vulnerability you face, and how terrifying that can be. I had no notions of how it would effect my body image (both positively and negatively), my relationships, and all of the absurd pressure I would feel to perform well. I think celibacy can be a great thing for a lot of people, but I think we do everyone a disservice by talking about sex in such limited terms, and not as the huge complicated thing it really is. I mean, those kids waiting to have sex once they are married will face these issues, too. We should prepare everyone better!
    Duana Welch: I think it’s true that women don’t know about their bodies, but I think maybe it has more to do with the fact that we don’t know how to communicate about our bodies. We are taught that are bodies are these awful, embarrassing things, and so we don’t know how to talk about our bodies positively, and how to speak about what our bodies like and don’t like. I also think we tell girls that it is just unpleasant the first couple of times, and so they just grin and bear it instead of asking for something better.

  11. Kkalin
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:29 | Permalink

    I believe that entirely. While the sex I had wasn’t penetrative it was mutual masturbation and it took place in a bed. He considered it sex and I, for my own reasons, didn’t want to. But there it was. An act of sex. In a bed. With a guy who I’d known for about two weeks. I wanted to be the vixen who plays it cool, and when he kept pressuring for penetration it was easy. No meant no – I could hardly take two of his fingers much less his penis. But when I got home, told my mom I was late from classes – she believed me. Later she warned me to be careful and not let my emotions get the better of me. But that little talk, where she wanted to dissuade me from having any sexy at all – made me feel incredibly guilty for just touching him, seeing him. I felt incredible guilt for enjoying what we did – and how fast we were going – when really it wasn’t any of her damned business. But I couldn’t help but feel I let her down with having sex – that my virginity was beholden to my mother and not me, and that by letting a man touch me I was devaluing myself.
    How can you not feel depressed when doing something that feels good apparently taints you?

  12. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:36 | Permalink

    Eliza, I am with you. My parents (and my mom especially) were fairly liberal about sex. But they didn’t go much beyond sex-ed at my school (which was located in the bible belt, so you can imagine.) While religion has a huge place I think it’s also true that without comprehensive sex-ed, no matter what, kids are going to feel confused and probably bad.

    I would also add to the thread about masturbation that it wasn’t just communication, it wasn’t just that I didn’t know HOW. It was that girl culture, amongst my friends masturbation was seen as BAD, WEIRD, WRONG. Something you just don’t do.

    Khalin, you bring up such a great point in how our parent’s attitudes factor into our stories. Most people did not touch on this but I think it’s a piece for everyone. I hid my virginity loss from my parents, as I felt I would be in trouble.

  13. Posted 2011-05-6 at 10:55 | Permalink

    Hrrrm. This one’s a bit difficult to talk about without going into details, and I tend to prefer to keep details of my sex life reasonably private. But I’ll give it a go :)
    I agree that there is definitely a particular event that I look back on and think “yep, that was It”, more than any other time. While I still had a whoooooole bunch of different acts yet to try out, that was the first time that there was me, there was her, there was a complete absence of underpants, and there was an awful lot of utterly delightful sexiness and orgasms (none of which were self-induced!). There was a certain kind of intimacy, of connection, of… something that I can’t quite name… there that I hadn’t ever experienced before.
    Anything else that happened after that? Felt like trying new things, but in a different kind of way. Like there was a qualitative difference between what happened before and after that day. That’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of things that were exciting and nerve-wracking and all of that good stuff- particularly when I started being sexual with men as well. But that was a variation on the “new exciting person to explore” thing, with some interestingly different plumbing to discover.
    So, yeah. There was definitely a day, during a whole lot of incrementally discovering and sharing new ways to express my sexuality, that I felt that I wasn’t a virgin any more. And I was incredibly lucky that I spent that day (Day? Week, more like!) in a kind of giddy bubble of delightedness.

  14. Posted 2011-05-6 at 12:19 | Permalink

    I think that’s a great way of looking at it. And as far as my first time sex experiences as a teen there were definitely a handful of those moments–a few losses or some sort of virginity that stand out in my mind :) And into my twenties, entirely new first times too. It’s interesting looking at it this way and getting curious about the ones I felt depressed over and the ones I didn’t!

  15. Posted 2011-05-6 at 13:55 | Permalink

    Wow, Hinshaw’s “Triple Bind” theory is perfectly stated! It resonates so deeply with me … On one hand, I want to be a classy lady and traditionally feminine; on the other, I feel that modern woman should strive to be equal with men, which means conquering so many of the traditionally masculine traits; then on a third appendage, it’s all about merging the two without breaking a sweat, because hot girls don’t sweat after all – they glow in all their sexy perfection. It’s no wonder so many women deal with a host of psychological troubles. We’re groomed with a gnawing desire to Be It All, without looking like it required a single ounce of struggle. =P

    When it comes to virginity, I fit pretty neatly into Carpenter’s “Processors” category, and was lucky to not deal with depression or exacerbated body issues after my first time. (I already had enough of those as it was!) But I can absolutely relate with how women struggle with the emotional after effects of sex – loss of virginity or no. I still feel a tinge of shame at the guy who brushed his teeth after giving me oral sex, or the dude who praised my ass when he was taking me from behind – only to tell me afterwards that I should lose weight. I think sexual intimacy is probably a woman’s most vulnerable state of being, and I used to agonize over every little comment, every askance look, every perceived slight that went on during those times. But it helps to realize that sometimes men are clueless, or have unrealistic expectations, or are still thinking about the ex who broke their heart. Remembering that every douchey thing a guy has ever said or done hasn’t really – at the heart of it – been about ME after all, has made all the difference in the world.

  16. Jess
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 14:14 | Permalink

    @Eliza – you really nailed it. I had no idea how to communicate & didn’t want to appear unsexy by saying something didn’t feel good to me, so I grinned & willed it to be over more times than I care to remember. Thankfully, lots of reading & blogs & chatting with friends helped wake me up.

    @Tea Cosy – Thanks for sharing your story – it’s absolutely beautiful.

  17. Posted 2011-05-6 at 14:34 | Permalink

    Scarlett, yes the triple bind hits all too close to home for me as well! And I would say I feel this come up uniquely in relationships in that I feel I have to be the traditional virginal girlfriend, all lovey and wifey type. But I also have to be one of the guys and interesting and cool. AND I have to be a sex goddess with more ways to give a blowjob than a stack of Cosmos. AND OF COURSE I DON’T SWEAT WHILE DOING THIS!

    I also feel you on the over-analyzing the sex stuff. Sometimes, to this day, it is hard for me to fully enjoy sex because I am SO worried about how I look naked. Or I feel uncomfortable receiving UNLESS I am going into “performer, pornstar” mode.

    And that guy who brushed his teeth would have irked me too. And don’t EVEN get me started on the weight thing. I once had a guy on a first date tell me he wouldn’t be attracted to me if I gained a pound. I looked at him sharply then asked if he had any food. I proceeded to eat all of his girl scout cookies then made him drive me back to a friend’s house, a friend I then had sex with as part of my weird-craz-girl revenge. But the friend was super hot, so win for me.

    I think it is definitely the triple bind though that has us quadruple-checking ourselves and running those mean words from dudes over and over in our heads. It’s a trigger for a rumination about us being perfect, a trigger for depression/poor body image. I am not sure if dudes really know this.

    Jess, yeah :) if only communication were a part of 15 year old rabbit’s sex education. That would have helped a lot too.

  18. Pixie
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 14:45 | Permalink

    Hi Rachel!
    I’m another girl who lost her virginity to a girl, and agree with Tea Cosy that with a girl it can be a lot more vague as to when exactly someone is no longer a virgin. But I don’t even remember having a particular time that seemed like “it”. Things just seemed to move slightly further every time we were together, until one time I said “so, I guess we’re having sex now!” But I think that took away any kind of pressure – there was no “this is it” moment.
    The odd thing is, now she’s got a boyfriend and, despite us sleeping together for nearly three years, she feels like she lost her “proper” virginity to him. I understand there is a certain difference, but find it difficult to understand why fingers/mouths/tongues are somehow a lesser kind of sex compared to PIV. I certainly don’t consider myself a virgin having only slept with a girl, and have no wish to sleep with a guy, so I guess virginity is a very personal thing. But then she considers herself essentially straight, so maybe that’s got a lot to do with it.
    It’s so interesting reading everyone else’s experiences here. Can’t say I particularly relate to any of the three categories though – we just wanted to take each other’s clothes off and didn’t really think about the virginity issue! But we were already incredibly close friends, and everything was just so comfortable and intimate and lovely :) So it saddens me that so many girls end up feeling negatively about their first times.
    Sorry, long rambling comment!

  19. MB
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 16:49 | Permalink

    Well, I originally didn’t intend to participate in this conversation for two reasons:
    1. Due to the private nature of this subject and
    2. Because my story felt somewhat banal in comparison to most of the others.
    However, now that you have begun to discuss the issue of virginity in particular, I would like to contribute a story that does not really fall into any of these categories.

    My first attempt at sex was with my long-term boyfriend, who was just as inexperienced and clueless as I was. We’d heard everyone talking about it, and after waiting for me to feel more comfortable with the idea, we decided to go ahead and try it. Alas, our attempt failed miserably. Both of us were uncomfortable and overly aware of the mechanical nature of the act, didn’t receive any sort of pleasure, and were unable to see the benefit over other acts of a sexual nature. We were just left with the impression that sex wasn’t all that it was made out to be, and while we were both no longer virgins, nothing felt particularly different. We had a true friendship and sense of humor/comfort about one another, which I think helped it to be no big deal.

    Of course, we finally DID figure it out, but it required several more attempts. One could say that perhaps this physical relationship DID affect me, seeing as I am still in love with the guy after an enormous number of complications (and don’t find myself especially attracted to anyone else, even though we only meet “as friends”), but we WERE together for nearly 3 years, after all. Anyhow, that’s another story.

  20. Emily
    Posted 2011-05-6 at 18:25 | Permalink

    I don’t feel that I really attached much significance to virginity, even when I was a teenager (I’m currently 21). I can’t even tell you when I lost my (PiV) virginity, though I guess I could go back and figure it out, because it was unimportant to me and because it seemed a natural extension of all the other fun things to do with people I found attractive. As for telling my parents, I think they assume I have sex now, but I have never blatantly told them about it. I also felt no need to tell my parents about when I started menstruating. I bought my own pads and had had my period for a few months before my mom asked about it. As for masturbation… Well, I grew up with two brothers and the three of us all got yelled at for downloading porn that brought viruses with it onto the family computer. That made it kind of hard to hide. XD

    Re: getting depressed, it used to be that way a lot more, especially when guys wanted to pursue what I wanted to be a purely physical relationship. I’d get angry at them for wanting (or expecting) more from me romantically/emotionally than I ever intended to give (does this sound backward?) and then angry at myself for not more clearly stating what I expected from a fuck fling. I also used to get annoyed with having sex in high school/ college because it made leaving a lot more awkward and I didn’t like sleeping in other people’s places.

    And I definitely do feel like there’s this expectation, especially since I generally don’t date, that I’m going to be some sort of all star at sex, which I am not and have little interest in being. The guys who have made me feel the best about myself, post-sexy times, were the ones who loved on my quirks, rather than my ‘skills’, and whom I trusted to not discuss my ‘abilities’ with others (or to at least be discreet about it).

  21. Posted 2011-05-6 at 21:25 | Permalink

    Planning allows you to prepare yourself for something that will only happen just once in your life, losing your virginity.

  22. Posted 2011-05-6 at 21:30 | Permalink

    Emily: I wonder where this expectation comes from, to be sex all stars, because I think all of us feel it. That even if we still feel loved in our inadequacies, we secretly want to be the best sex they have ever had. I wonder if men have these same feelings, because I don’t think I’ve heard them really talk about it in the same way.
    Scarlett: I’m always amazed when I hear guys being so hard on women, or when they talk so blatantly about the women they have sex with and all the weird things they do in bed. I feel like it’s one of the most oppressive things you can do to another person, to sleep with them and then ridicule them for it. I think that would make any girl depressed, because it is an entirely hurtful act.
    Rachel: there is definitely a strong stigma about women and masturbation. I always have to laugh when girls talk about how much guys masturbate, as if we all don’t do it ourselves. It’s true that actually communicating with a man about what you like reveals that you actually know what you like, and aren’t just a passive child waiting for him to show you the ropes. There is still this idea that masturbating isn’t girly, and only something the boys do.

  23. Posted 2011-05-7 at 11:45 | Permalink

    As a male with little actual experience of sex there are many aspects of this issue I can’t give much insight into, but my perspective from the other side of the gender divide might add something.

    One thing I think should be taken into account is that any study of depression tends to be based on individuals reporting feeling depressed. Males in general are far less willing to do this, hence the fact that the suicide rate amongst males is so much higher than that amongst women. Mental health professionals have a hard time persuading men to seek help for emotional distress.

    I still think it is quite likely that women are more likely to feel depressed after losing their virginity than men. A large part of sex for men, and a large part of almost all activities in which men engage, is the ego win. Whether he seduced the woman or she came onto him, he is liable to interpret it as confirmation of his value as a man. The question of whether the sex was good sex and whether a meaningful ongoing emotional relationship might eventuate is probably less important to him that it would be to the woman.

    I’m not as pessimistic as the man who once told me that men only even talk to women for one of three reasons :

    1. They are being polite.

    2. They feel sorry for them.

    3. They want to have sex with them.

    I know that is not true for me and also not true for some of my male friends, but I think it is true for many men. There is definitely a huge emotional divide between men and women which I think we often try to deny because acknowledging it can be very depressing.

    One thing which I think can be hard for guys is reconciling sexual desire with compassionate behaviour. Positive role models for women may sometimes seem scarce, but as a male I have to deal with the fact that most of those who hurt other individuals through their expression of their sexual desires are males. I’m sure there are women who use other individuals to get a sexual thrill and then cast them aside with no concern about the emotional damage inflicted, but it is easy for a guy to end up feeling like one of the bad guys because lust and love rarely coincide in his emotional life.

    I suffered a great deal from depression during adolescence, but didn’t lose my virginity then. But guilt over masturbation played a significant role in my depression. Since I grew up in a largely sex positive family, I could only come up with three theories about how this occurred :

    1. I was brought up to be very honest and to not be ashamed or hide things. But, clearly, masturbation is something which is only considered proper in private and is only referred to publicly usually in an embarrassed jokey fashion. So perhaps I felt that masturbation conflicted with the values of openness and honesty that meant so much to me.

    2. Perhaps the intense pleasure of masturbation was such a contrast to the troubled world of my adolescence that it was a bit like a drug, where the down of real life follows the high.

    3. Or maybe, considering that sex with another person is the desire, I interpreted falling back onto my own devices as an admission of shameful defeat.

    I think with depression generally, it is rooted in self-criticism. When something happens in our life which we are not happy with, we may place the blame outside ourselves and express anger or we may blame and criticise ourselves. The degree to which an insufficiency or bad choice on our part was the deciding factor in the experience being an unpleasant one needn’t always be reflected in whether we blame ourselves. While constructive self-criticism can be helpful to us by acknowledging potential areas for growth, any form of self-critism which weakens us, and especially anything that leads to us holding expression of our frustrations with life inside, is very harmful and can lead to depression. If we become too much of a slave to self-criticism then we also become a person who can be easily manipulated by others.

    Body image is a good example of how frustration or anger turned inwards rather than outwards can do so much damage. It seems as if women tend to be more critical of their own bodies than men are of their own bodies or of women’s bodies. Not that there isn’t a huge amount of power that can come to a woman simply because of her looks. But, feeling the need to conform to some kind of expectation in this area or any other, can be something very oppressive, which is why I always recommend cultivating the “Who gives a fuck?” attitude. Be who you want to be and if anyone has a problem with that then it’s their problem. And I think this is important when it comes to relationships too. The most damaging relationships, I think, are those in which one or other party depends on the love of the other as an indicator of their own worth. Truly healthy relationships with others can only exist when we have overcome feelings of insecurity by learning to totally accept ourselves as we are.

    I hope I haven’t strayed too far off-topic.

  24. Posted 2011-05-8 at 12:12 | Permalink

    Wow, what a post. This really spoke to me – I wrote on the same topic a while ago at my blog: http://sparklesandcrumbs.blogspot.com/2010/12/too-much-of-good-thing-can-be-wonderful.html
    I do think sex is completely tied up with our self-worth and self-image – and, sadly, in this culture with all its other pressures, that’s a lot more so for girls. You’ve done a great piece on this! xx

  25. Xakudo
    Posted 2011-05-9 at 05:49 | Permalink


    I still feel a tinge of shame at the guy who brushed his teeth after giving me oral sex, or the dude who praised my ass when he was taking me from behind – only to tell me afterwards that I should lose weight. I think sexual intimacy is probably a woman’s most vulnerable state of being, and I used to agonize over every little comment, every askance look, every perceived slight that went on during those times.

    Just FYI (and not meant as a challenge, but rather as an additional data-point), the “most vulnerable state of being” bit is not specific to women. It just tends to be about different things with men. The so-called “fragile male ego”, and all the weird sexual stuff surrounding that, does not come out of a void.

    The teeth-brushing thing sucks, yeah. And his behavior seems strange to me, especially since giving oral is one of my favorite sexual acts. I would chalk it up to the guy, and possibly to past experiences of his you are unaware of, rather than to anything about you. Similar to my ex who refused to go down on me, pretty much ever. Did not exactly make me feel like my penis was a positive thing. So I can relate, a bit. My sympathies.

    As for the larger topic, I cannot speak at all authoritatively, of course, but I feel like the differing depression rates may be in part due to the slut/stud and corresponding pure-virgin/loser dichotomies in our culture. In which case guys would be experiencing depression as well, but before rather than after (I’m super-simplifying, but you get the gist). It would be interesting to see studies that cover this with a broader outlook like that.

    I have also heard from some of my female friends that they experience a strong emotional bonding after sex, even the first time. Whereas in my experience as a guy, at least, that kind of bonding is more of a long-term thing that grows more slowly over multiple sexual encounters with a person. Not sure if that is true of the larger population, or what the causes of that are. But it is interesting in any case, and seems relevant.

  26. Posted 2011-05-9 at 07:54 | Permalink

    Pixie, yeah that makes a lot of sense. For me losing my girl virginity, I had this idea of what “sex” would be. It was totally made up in my own mind, but once I went there it was like that invisible barrier crossed. Thanks for adding your voice, I do think this is important. I am also curious about the gay male experience. What I know from my gay friends is that they have a broader idea of sex than most straight people I know, so things like mutual masturbation, touching, oral counts. I don’t know if this is actually true or just from my friends, but I am with them!

    Emily, Wow you hid menstruation! Props & empathizing to teenage you that can be hard to do. & lol on the leaving thing. It’s about maintaining power in that game for me. Do I have more power if we stay at my place, or at theirs?

    Aussie & Xakudo

    Super interesting comments. Aussie, I think you are spot on about a self reporting bias about depression because men don’t admit to these things as easily. Certainly some men do get depressed after first time sex. Virginity is something that carries a lot of gender stereotypes. The messages from our culture tell us girls want to hold onto their precious flower but boys are constantly trying to get rid of their virginity. I don’t think this is true overall and studies back that up. Carpenter found in her study about being gifters-processors that there really is no difference between the guys and the girls. A report by teen specialist Dr. Jennifer Austin Leigh found that after losing their virginity to someone that they felt didn’t value it, 30% of teen guys were depressed or anxious, some reporting self mutilation.

    And further, Xakudo & Scarlett: I really think women can be very hurtful about male body image. I was thinking about this in regards to this thread yesterday– I was remembering guys I dated who said I made them feel bad about their body image. I feel like girls aren’t taught that it’s okay or normal to gush over a guy’s body to like it, to praise it. Honestly, my husband is the first man I’ve felt comfortable doing that with. But in turn I could see how it would lead to negative body image.

  27. Drop Out Boogie
    Posted 2011-05-9 at 11:59 | Permalink

    I am late entering this conversation, but I see it is still going on. (ps. I really enjoy this blog & admire your work!!!) I wanted to contribute because I’m also a girl whose first time was with a girl, but it was a different experience from Tea’s.

    I did not know this girl well, but we were dating. I was 16. This girl (actually I think she identifies as genderqueer now) was 18 and VERY cool, she was sexy, fat and kinda butch and punk and lived on her own, and she was friends with People in Bands.

    I had told my friends a couple months earlier that I wanted to lose my virginity by the time we graduated. It was autumn of my Junior year in high school. I was NOT expecting it to happen when it did. I told my parents I was going to a football game, but went to her house instead. I thought we were just going to hang out but we went into her room and started making out and she took off my shirt and pretty soon I could tell where it was headed. We both performed digital penetration [note: it was so hard to decide whether to write that or "finger bang," one sounds clinical and the other sounds dirty, there is no in between, how fucked up is that?]. She had an orgasm and I was so amazed that I could do that, although I’m sure now that it had as much if not more to do with her knowledge of her own body than my performance. When she was fucking me she said something like “You’re not finished”, so sweetly, and I was like “Well, I don’t know, I’ve never had sex before!” and she was like “Never?” and I was like “No, this is my first time” (later my BFF said that was a really lousy thing to say in the middle of sex. I didn’t think anything of it, I was just being honest!). She was like “what about masturbation?” and I was like “Never” because I hadn’t! The next day I made this freshman boy who was my friend smell my fingers hahaha.

    The third time (of 4; she was about to move across the country to go to school) we had sex it was oral and I did orgasm, which I have since learned are very good odds for a 16 year old girl having sex for only the third time!

    Everything about my experience made me feel powerful, grown up, introspective – watching myself, being self aware that I creating a part of my life-story. I don’t remember thinking about my appearance at all.

  28. Xakudo
    Posted 2011-05-10 at 01:44 | Permalink


    I feel like girls aren’t taught that it’s okay or normal to gush over a guy’s body to like it, to praise it. Honestly, my husband is the first man I’ve felt comfortable doing that with. But in turn I could see how it would lead to negative body image.

    Yeah, absolutely. Hugo Schwyzer wrote an article about that over at the Good Men Project, and I strongly identify with his experiences in it: http://goodmenproject.com/ethics-values/the-male-body-repulsive-or-beautiful/

    It was not until I dated an older woman that I actually felt attractive and sexy, because she actually tells me that she finds me sexy, and behaves in ways that are consistent with that.

    Anecdotally, I’ve had women at work tell me I should lose weight (I’m not fat by any stretch, 170lb 5’11″), tell me I should shave differently, dress differently, etc.
    While watching movies with friends, some (certainly not all) of my female friends seem to have no problem criticizing how ‘ugly’ certain male characters are (“eew, gross!”), including characters that don’t seem much different in attractiveness from me, or even who seem more attractive than me.
    And I remember one instance where a (straight!) woman I knew went on about how penises are “ugly, hairy shafts that squirt slime”.
    And if, as a guy, you complain, then you come across as insecure (which is unacceptable, and therefore your problem). (Even writing this comment, I fear coming across as an insecure “weak” guy.)

    Clearly this is not all women. Hell, it is a minority of the women I know. But it is enough that it is not an entirely infrequent experience for me. And combined with many similar messages from media and culture at large, and with pretty much zero counteracting positive messages, it gets to you after a while.

    On the other hand, I get plenty of compliments about me as a person rather than as a body. So it is a trade-off, I guess. I have a lot of confidence in myself as a generally good and valuable/useful sort of person because of that. Just not as a sexually valuable person that people would want to be intimate with.

  29. Posted 2011-05-10 at 08:05 | Permalink

    Xakudo, my mind is racing with this topic–thanks for sharing the Hugo Schwyzer article. I love your comment for it’s vulnerability and honesty, this is so needed from guys around this topic. If it weren’t for my partners being this honest with me, I don’t know that I would have realized what I was doing in harming them.

    For whatever reason, we are told it’s okay to deride a man for his looks, to chastise his body. I understand where Hugo is coming from, and I agree we need a society that allows women to own their desires and does not bash them for it. This is similar to the ideas behind my Lady Porn Day work–masturbation is finally okay for women, but porn is not–because porn gives our masturbation a desire.

    BUT, I think there is more at play here. Because it’s not just that women are neutral about men’s bodies…there seems to be an almost aggressive disgust there. Thoughts?

  30. Xakudo
    Posted 2011-05-12 at 02:22 | Permalink


    BUT, I think there is more at play here. Because it’s not just that women are neutral about men’s bodies…there seems to be an almost aggressive disgust there. Thoughts?

    I would actually be more interested in hearing women’s perspectives on this. Particularly women who have exhibited some of the external behaviors I referenced in my last comment. I’ve seen enough analysis of men’s behaviors jump to overly harsh conclusions to be wary of analysis without such input. There are a lot of things that make sense (or seem to, from one side), but aren’t necessarily true.

    But, tentatively, in the case of direct comments about my appearance specifically, I often get the impression that the women think they are being helpful, or that it is a “motivate him for his own good” sort of thing. Which can feel pretty patronizing at times, but is not necessarily intended that way. It does in some cases seem like they feel entitled to be a mother figure of sorts (mind you, I am talking about women similar age to me), but that is hard to verify just from their behavior.

    In the case of less personal, less directed comments (like commenting on characters when watching movies), I wonder if some of it actually stems from women feeling more empowered to own their desires and preferences. And that empowerment is not a bad thing at all. It is a good thing. But just as with men expressing their preferences, some sensitivity and awareness is in order, IMO, and perhaps even some deconstruction about where some of those preferences and attitudes come from.

    I do think there is some truth in men not taking these things as hard, because typically our culture teaches men that they have value beyond their looks, whereas women don’t get that message as often. But it still hurts none-the-less. Especially for guys who don’t have a lot of success with women to begin with.

    Lastly, if you haven’t seen this, it is pretty interesting:
    Men rating women’s looks tends to fall on a bell curve, as one would expect. On the other hand, women rating men’s looks results in 80% of men being rated below average. But then the messaging patterns (in both cases) don’t reflect that at all. All of which is… interesting. Of course, people on OKCupid are a self-selected group, etc., etc., so you cannot necessarily extrapolate to the world at large. But still interesting, and I wonder if or how much this relates to “nasty male body/toxic male sexuality”.

    In any case, this is tentative arm-chair-style talk, and I don’t want to derail this thread any further. It might be cool to see a post about this, even if just to allow for directed discussion? Hint hint. ;-)

  31. AWednesday
    Posted 2011-05-17 at 11:24 | Permalink

    This is such an interesting area. I’m so impressed by the depth and compassion with which people have considered this topic.

    I guess I’ve decided to add, belatedly, my own experience, because it doesn’t seem to reflect that of others- at least not emotionally. And because i think it will be quite challenging for me to outline my actions. Its taken me years to actually consider my experience/s. Emotionally I never felt anything much at the time. What feelings i define are with hindsight.

    When I was 17 my friends and I were released from the confines of our all girl catholic boarding school (Australian kids graduate around November). There had been little scope for all the interesting things boys/drugs/alcohol/sex so we very unwisely decided to attempt to embrace as many of the above as we could.

    On New yrs i was enjoyably but naively drunk (quite new to alcohol and its effect on me). Not content with having snuck into a bar with my friends i got bored, chose a boy who i was not remotely attracted to ( i did not consider myself attractive at all ) and initiated my first sexual encounter… thankfully it was aborted due to beach/sand impracticality and his drunkenness. I then abandoned the boy and continued the party with my friends- i never mentioned anything to them.

    The next night i was at a party with the same friends and some boys- however i must have drunk a lot more. After an impromptu swim, for reasons unknown, I ended up in bed with a boy whereupon i lost my virginity. I don’t remember anything- not even pain- just enough to know that it must have happened.

    I can’t say that i felt depressed after- just embarrassed that my friends found out- confused that I had so little feeling about the experience.

    I knew that sex was nothing to be ashamed of. I never had been remotely religious.
    I also knew the biology/stds/ birth control side of things (despite the catholic school education).

    I knew that first experiences were something to be valued but i had never planned anything. That it should be mutually enjoyed or at that least something a bit special ought to pass between the people involved. Yet i made no attempts to make it so. Just something to to be done, a new extreme to test out.

    I’ve always been ashamed of my actions- but not cos i feel they were slutty or sinful.

    - but because i was drunk- not in control- vulnerable. I didn’t respect myself.
    -and because i wasted or rejected that moment- never felt that transition described by others in the posts above.
    I’m saddened by my 17/18/19yr old self.

    I never really did tell my friends anything much. Strange given that we shared almost everything.

    It took me so long to understand that sex needs to be with someone who you feel something for, respect or at the least, are attracted to. Why didn’t i figure that out much sooner?

    More than once I used sex as a means of discovering whether i was into someone or not. The answer was always negative. I lost some really sweet friends that way, my first male friends.

    I can relate to Emily’s frustration at boys thinking sex is condusive to a relationship. ( I guess this reflects the naivetee and social awkwardness of young Australian men). I felt so terrible for hurting their feelings- but so profoundly irritated at them for leaving themselves vulnerable. Despite it being my actions or lack of action that’d confused them so thoroughly in the first place. (At least i gave them some material for their horrible Bukowski-esque poems).

    There’s so much to respond to in the above posts and i wish i could do so with insight and eloquence. But in the meantime i thought i’d add one more story to the mix.

  32. Enantiomer
    Posted 2011-06-12 at 22:40 | Permalink

    Although it seems I’ve missed the boat by almost a month, I’d like to add my experience to these since it was a bit different than those already shared.

    I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty, but the specific occasion is still somewhat unclear in my mind. I had a sexual experience with another girl, but I was drunk at the time and barely remembered it the next day. For about a week afterwards, I racked my brain trying to decide if I was still a virgin. I justified a “yes” in that I would have had penetrative sex had I been with a guy… but a “no” since I hadn’t had an orgasm, I was somewhat ashamed, and the whole thing seemed trivial and meaningless. In the end I didn’t decide anything and just went back to normal life, pretending it hadn’t happened. I think that had something to do with my deciding I wasn’t gay after all, so that made it somehow less real.

    Fast-forward several months, and I’m in a relationship with the kindest guy I’ve ever known (incidentally, still going on!) We were both virgins and when we first tried having sex, he had a lot of trouble keeping an erection, which was un-fun and discouraging for both of us. We tried a bunch of times with varying degrees of success, and I guess at some point my virginity disappeared in the process. The time I associate with it most now was the first time he had an orgasm, which incidentally was also the first time I felt depressed afterwards.

    Unlike what previous commenters have been saying about their feelings of depression, I didn’t feel bad about my body, I just felt used. I’d been masturbating since middle school without any sense of shame (Possibly because I had mostly guy friends? We used to talk about it together and felt really cool and mature.) but knowing how to use your own hand is entirely different from having someone else’s penis in you. I considered myself to be fairly well-educated and positive about sex, thanks to the internet, but the reality was not at all what I had imagined. I wasn’t turned on at all, and I didn’t know what to do to make it better for him, so I was left pretty much a bystander to his first-time experience. All of a sudden, I felt all the history of women being oppressed and used by men weighing me down, and I was afraid that I would never enjoy sex and I would end up in a relationship where I would only do it because I loved him and he enjoyed it.

    Of course, that didn’t happen and we figured out how to do it in ways that we both enjoy, but that first experience was totally negative for me since I was completely unable to share in it by giving or receiving pleasure.

    I do sort of like the fuzziness involved in determining my first-time, because it means I can dismiss it as unimportant and concentrate on the better, more fulfilling sex I’ve had since. If the first time in particular weren’t such a big deal, perhaps people of both genders wouldn’t feel so depressed about it… I honestly don’t know what could’ve made mine better apart from things I couldn’t have known except through experience.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By love out loud: the first time on 2011-05-11 at 05:43

    [...] days ago, I read an article by the fantastic Rachel Rabbit White citing research from Dr Laura M. Carpenter that categorises the loss of virginity into three [...]

  2. [...] Why do Girls Feel More Depressed after First Time Sex? from Rachel Rabbit White. Well one reason is, we usually have some pretty inept lovers and have been entirely too pressured about the whole business. This is a great, thoughtful piece, and I encourage anyone to read it if you plan on further interacting with the human race. [...]