Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

I’m a Virgin. Will That Ruin My Relationship?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a virgin girl. I’m in a relationship with a boy I love very much and feel ready to take the next step and he is a virgin too. I browse a lot of stuff online (female oriented blogs mind you) and there was a topic of not having sex until marriage. Comments said that they wouldn’t ever marry someone if the sex was “bad” and that no sex until marriage was a bad idea because of this (but it’s not really applying to me). This scares me so, so much. I’m in love with this boy that I am with and DO NOT want to leave him. We just mesh so well together and he is everything I ever wanted in someone. The fact we are both virgins however really scares me now. We are compatible with our likes and stuff but since we are virgins..I can assume the sex won’t be mind blowing at first. Is “bad sex” really the death sentence for a relationship or am I overreacting?  Is there more to it that I don’t know about?

As a bonus question, I know you are neither female nor a doctor but my doctor could not do the finger test because it hurt me so bad. This scares me too that it’ll just cause more trouble sexually…


DEAR SCAREDANDCONFUSED: This is actually a fairly common concern – and not just among women. In fact, this has come up a few times over the course of both my column and my career.  A lot of people are worried that being “bad at sex” due to inexperience (or worse, being a virgin) will keep them from ever having a successful relationship… or from trying to initiate a relationship at all.

The problem is that you seem to be conflating sexual compatibility – what most people mean when they talk about whether the sex is “bad” or “good” –  for sexual experience. And there’s a rather decided difference between the two.

Sexual satisfaction is a critical part of a romantic relationship.s Sexual compatibility is one of the key components of keeping two people together; it’s the fear of being seen as “shallow” or “selfish” that frequently keeps two people together when the sex just isn’t working, whether it’s incompatible sexual needs, mismatched libidos or just plain old fashioned unrealistic expectations – and there doesn’t seem to be any way to fix things, including ethical non-monogamy.

Now to be fair: part of good sex is a matter of skill and practice. However, this doesn’t mean that a virgin is inherently a bad lover or is doomed to bad sex until he or she gets X number of years/partners/experience points under her belt. Nobody is born as a masterful lover, no matter what they may tell you. Everybody starts from the same place –  an absolute beginner – and moves on from there. It’s after that point that we all start to diverge.

Some people get an earlier start than others; they may hit puberty early on, they may discover masturbation at a younger age and get more familiar with how to make themselves feel good, they have their first sexual experience (which includes more than just genital-to-genital contact, thank you very much) with a partner before their peers do. Some people are just more relaxed with their bodies and their sexuality thanks to their upbringing and peer group. Some people come to sex at a later age or take longer to get comfortable with themselves. Others may not discover their sexual identity until much later in life.

All any of this means is that some people have a head start of sorts. Having sex or sexual experience earlier isn’t inherently good – in fact, the less mature (and there’s a decided difference between age and maturity) the people are, the less likely they are to grasp the full implications and responsibilities that come with sex. Coming to your sexual life later isn’t inherently bad either; being a virgin or having little experience sexually isn’t shameful nor is it a sign that there’s something wrong with you.

Sex is more than just “insert tab A into slot B, repeat as needed.” It’s also more than “I need to know X, Y and Z in order to make my lover feel good/orgasm/want to keep having sex with me.” It’s about being aware of your body, being comfortable with it and being familiar with what turns you on and what gets you off. After all, if you don’t know what you want or need, you won’t be able to ask for it.

Yes, I said “ask for it”. Good sex is also about communication. Having good sex – especially when you’re having sex for the first time you have with someone new – means being able to communicate clearly and guide him or her towards what you enjoy and how you enjoy it. Sometimes you’ll both luck into the right combo… but more often than not, you’re going to have to work together to establish the rhythm and flow. If he’s using his tongue but flicking about your clitoris like a lizard isn’t doing the trick, you want to be able to tell him what you need him to do instead. Similarly, if you’re going down on him or her but they need more friction, more suction, more tongue, less teeth, something, they need to be able to tell you as well. Don’t be afraid to (gently) let your partner know what you want them to do differently, and be sure to let him or her know (enthusiastically) what they’re doing right. The better you are able to communicate, the more you’ll both enjoy the experience.

Now, the fact that the two of you are virgins doesn’t mean that the sex is going to be bad. It will be a little awkward, maybe a little weird and uncomfortable, even possibly a bit silly… but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be wonderful either. You haven’t had actual penis-in-vagina action yet, but you don’t say what you have had… whether the two of you have gone down on each other, engaged in some mutual masturbation, frottage, anal play, what-have-you. If you haven’t progressed past making out and some hands-over-the-junk action, I would recommend that you take penetrative sex off the table for a while. Take some time – and by time I mean months – and get used to each other’s bodies. Learn the contours, learn the various tastes and textures and smells; sometimes they can be disconcerting and the last thing either of you wants is to interrupt the moment with a “woah, what is that” face because you encountered something you’re not familiar with. Get used to being naked together, rolling around together and getting off together before you dive straight into penetration. The more familiar and comfortable you are with each other, the better off you will be when you finally do move to the big moment. It won’t be some big mystery full of anxiety and tension; it’ll be the next, natural step in your relationship with your boyfriend.

Now as for your question about your gynecological exam: this’s a where I feel the need to remind folks that Dr. NerdLove is emphatically NOT a real doctor. Answering this actually required some Googling on my part because… well… the phrase “finger test” is somewhat archaic in these parts. In fact, it depends on whether we’re talking about part of a standard pelvic exam by a gynecologist or a check of one’s virginity.

(For the record, the “finger test” for virginity – that is, checking for proof of virginity by examining the presence of the hymen or vaginal laxity — and other virginity tests are actually considered violations of human rights and dignity by Amnesty International.)

So assuming that we’re talking about your standard gynecological exam: well, there could be a number of reasons for this. You may have been incredibly nervous and tense during the exam – rather understandable. You may have a narrow vaginal canal or less laxity in the vaginal muscles than average. You may have physical trauma from an accident. If this was a one-time issue and you’ve been able to insert, say, a tampon (or your fingers or a sex toy) without issue, then it could just be the stress of the moment. If this is a regular issue, then it’s decidedly something to talk to your doctor about – and again, Dr. NerdLove is emphatically not a real doctor.

But before you start hitting up Doctor Google instead, I’d focus on what your doc said at the time. If she wasn’t concerned about it, then I wouldn’t be concerned either if I were you. I’m willing to bet money that it comes down to: you’re a virgin and pelvic exams just aren’t fun under the best of circumstances.

Penetration for the first time can be somewhat uncomfortable; after all, you’re having an unfamiliar object inserted into an area where you haven’t had one before.

That having been said: it’s going to be a different sensation, not necessarily a painful one. If you still have your hymen, it MIGHT be a little painful at first… but it also might not. It’s easy to minimize your discomfort. Start with a great deal of foreplay — especially for you — to help get you relaxed and aroused and ready for penetration. You may want to use some extra lubricant to help things along — specifically a water-based lubricant like KY or Astroglide. You do NOT want petroleum jelly, saliva, butter, baby-oil or any other improvised lube; these will damage the condom – you ARE going to be using condoms –  and can cause irritation to the vaginal canal. When you do start penetration take things very slowly and gently until you feel ready to move a little faster or more vigorously.

The more the two of you communicate, focus on what feels good and take things at a pace you’re both comfortable with, the better your first time will be.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (; or to his email,