Is it normal to feel nervous about sex or nervous about your wedding night?
This week on To Love, Honor and Vacuum we’ve been tackling questions that single people send me. And one young woman is wondering if it’s okay that the idea of sex makes her nervous:
Is it normal for young Christian women (or men) who are committed to saving sex for marriage to feel nervous about having it one day? I think because sex is so little talked about in young adult, single Christian circles, it’s easy to think that “maybe something is wrong with me because this can seem scary or just plain unknown.” There are so many concerns at once… not knowing completely how it works or what you’re supposed to do, being so vulnerable with someone for the first time, feeling like your body has to look a certain way, not knowing exactly what his body looks like, and the pressure to do well at something you’ve never, ever done before. I don’t know if something is wrong with me that I have these thoughts and concerns, or if others have them, too.
That’s a great question, and I want to try to tackle it today!
She lists in this email several things that she’s nervous about, and I want to go over them and then tackle what I do think people should know!
- not knowing how sex works
- not knowing what you’re supposed to do
- not knowing what his body looks like
- being vulnerable with someone for the first time
- feeling self-conscious about your body
- feeling pressure to do something new
It’s natural to be nervous about something we’ve never experienced. But that nervousness should stem from excitement about it being the first time and about doing something totally new; it should not stem from a lack of information.
What I see too often is that women are nervous because when they try to picture it, they honestly have no idea what to expect! Early on when I was writing this blog I had an email chain going with a woman who, after three months, had not been able to consummate her marriage yet. She didn’t even know how to explain to me what was happening. After several emails, it finally turned out that her husband wasn’t having an erection. She didn’t know the penis was supposed to get hard, and I guess he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with it, so they were both in the dark. They knew something wasn’t working, but they didn’t know WHAT wasn’t working.
That’s simply not okay.
Some of this letter writer’s issues sound pretty natural, but some I’m actually concerned about. And I don’t want her to end up like this poor couple! So let’s divide her fears into three board categories and tackle them: being ignorant of what sex is; feeling vulnerable and exposed; and feeling pressure to perform.
Being nervous about sex because you feel vulnerable and exposed
Likely this one will go away on its own once you meet the person you’ll marry and once you fall in love. Before I met Keith, it was hard to picture ever being naked with someone else. But once we got close, that fear honestly dissipated. But I couldn’t picture it dissipating UNTIL I met Keith. It’s one of those things you just can’t feel until you experience it yourself. But it is real.
And serious red flag: If you’re about to marry someone, and you’re still scared about them seeing you naked on your wedding night, then there’s likely a problem. Either you have some insecurities that need to be dealt with, or he has been critical about you and has made you feel like you’re not good enough. So I’d deal with that first! Do not marry someone who makes you feel ugly or belittles how you look.
Being nervous about having sex because you feel pressure to perform
We grow up with the idea, “you need to say no to any boy who wants you to something you don’t want to do!” We learn about how to be “gatekeepers”. We’re primed to say no, to ward off men, to hold ourselves back.
But when you’re married, all of a sudden you’re not really supposed to say no anymore (obviously we can when we don’t want to make love that minute, but I hope we’re still making love frequently!), but especially on the wedding night, you’re not really supposed to push him away.
That’s a huge mind shift. And that can be a lot of pressure.
I know I felt it. I remember a month before my wedding, reading a book about sex once you’re married, and getting this cold feeling come over me. I had grown up feeling like I had control over my body, and now I was going to HAVE to do something.
Now, this was actually something I wanted to do. But that switch that said that I no longer had control over my body (obviously we still have some choice; just that it was expected that I would have sex) felt a little like coercion. I did get over it, and a lot of it was due to from hurt in my past. But I remember how that felt.
What I wish I had done, in retrospect, was focus on what sex was really for. I think I was looking so much at the physical side of it that I missed out on the emotional and spiritual elements that go into real intimacy. If I had focused on real love, and if I had focused on how much I loved Keith, a lot of those problems would have dissipated. Instead, I just focused on the pure mechanics of it, that I was going to have to “let someone do that to me”, and it felt threatening.
So I would say–I understand this fear. I do. But I wrote The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex to tell young women (and even veteran wives!) what God designed sex for. It’s the book I wish I had been given before I got married, because then I wouldn’t have felt so coerced. Read that, because it will help you see God’s intention for real intimacy, and the beauty of real intimacy, and it will help you stop feeling such pressure.
Feeling nervous about sex because you’re ignorant about what sex is and how it works
This is the big one I want to tackle!
I do believe that God wants us to wait for marriage to have sex, for very good reasons.
However, just because you’re supposed to wait for marriage to have sex does not mean that you should remain ignorant about sex. Sex takes place with your body; if you’re not aware of how your body works, or how sex works, then you’re missing some vital information everyone should have, even single people. I know sex is awkward for parents to talk about (that’s why my daughters and I created The Whole Story course to help moms talk to their daughters about sex and puberty!), but we simply must do this well. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about understanding anatomy and how it works.
So let’s go through what I think you should know before you get married:
The Female Reproductive System
We have three main parts of our reproductive system–the ovaries, where the eggs are produced; the fallopian tubes, where the eggs travel every month; and the uterus, where the egg stays waiting to be fertilized. The uterus lines with blood and other materials every month to get ready for a baby. If the egg isn’t fertilized, then all is flushed out.
That time when the ovaries release the egg is called ovulation. It tends to happen 11-14 days from the start of your last period. The egg is only viable for a few days after ovulation, and sperm are only viable for a few days, so you only have about 5 days, on average, when you can actually get pregnant each month.
Here’s a good site to familiarize yourself with the female reproductive system.
We covered all of this in The Whole Story, our course for girls! It’s important that girls understand when they get their periods what exactly the period is for.
The Male Reproductive System
Men have two visible parts of their reproductive system: the penis and the testicles. Inside the testicles is where the sperm is produced and stored. The penis is the part of the body that is involved in intercourse, and that brings the most sexual pleasure when touched.
Here’s a good site to familiarize yourself with the male reproductive system and male anatomy.
We did cover this in The Whole Story as well, and in the older version for girls 13-15 we also explained what erections were and what their male friends were going through during puberty.
How Reproduction Actually Works
Intercourse is the act that gets the sperm to the egg. The male penis gets bigger and gets erect (it sort of sticks out, pointing slightly upwards) so as to allow him to move inside the woman’s vagina. The penis has to be hard or else he wouldn’t be able to enter her. He can do this in a variety of positions, but the one people generally start with, which is the easiest and often the most intimate, is when he’s on top of her and they’re face to face. After moving around for a bit (or thrusting), he’ll get very excited and release semen, a white, slightly sticky substance containing millions of sperm, that will then start “swimming” upwards, towards the uterus and the egg (if you’re fertile at that moment).
That moment when he “ejaculates”, or fires off the sperm, is also called a male orgasm, and it’s the height of sexual pleasure.
The Female Sexual Response Cycle
Just as men have sexual pleasure and release, so do women.
Women have different areas of their bodies that can be highly arousing when touched (that’s called an errogenous zone). The place on a woman’s body that feels the best is the clitoris, a little knob of flesh in front of the vagina, towards the front of your body. It has the most concentrated nerve endings in your body. There are other areas which are exciting when touched, and when you get married, you can figure out what those are (they aren’t necessarily the same for every woman).
When we get excited, we produce lubrication in our vagina and in our vulva (the outer part of our genitals, or the bigger folds in front of the vagina). This makes us feel slippery, or wet, and the purpose is to help the man be able to thrust into the vagina easily and without causing any pain.
We also are able to achieve orgasm. I’ve written more about orgasm here, but basically it’s the height of sexual pleasure, and once you’ve orgasmed you’ll feel a sense of release, euphoria, and satisfaction. Orgasm is also involved in reproduction, by the way. When we do orgasm, our hips tend to raise, allowing him easier access and the ability to go deeper, which also allows the sperm to be closer to its intended target when they are released.
We didn’t cover the female sexual response cycle in The Whole Story, although we hope to add a module for girls aged 16-18 next year where we will talk about all of this.
You don’t need to have experienced any of this before you marry. But it is important to know that women can orgasm; what an erection is and what happens during sex; how reproduction happens; and what sex will be like.
I’ve written before about things to know on your wedding night, and about what I’d want my daughter to know before she walks down the aisle. But I do think it’s vital that every woman, even every single woman, knows about her body and knows what sexual response is and how reproduction happens. I think we keep this information from people because we’re afraid that if they understand about orgasm they may experiment. But when we keep information, they also don’t understand what their body is doing. If they start to get aroused, they may not even understand what that is. And it makes preparing for marriage much more stressful.
So I hope that helps! And if anyone has anything else they want to add about what to tell a woman nervous about sex, please add it in the comments!