Content note for this one. The reader asked about whether it is normal to feel sick after the first time, but you might find the question a bit upsetting.
“Is it normal to feel sick after your first time? I had sex for the first time a week ago. I’m 20 year old female and hooked up with a man I barely know. It was a painful experience and wanted to stop as soon as possible though I was crying too much to get the words out. I even gagged during it. Mind you, it was all consensual. I immediately regretted inviting the dude over but was afraid to say no. After we did it and he left, I immediately ran to vomit and haven’t been able to keep anything down since. I get sick just thinking about it. Is that type of reaction normal?”
Thanks for your question and thanks for trusting me enough to ask it. I hope I do a good job. This sounds really tough and I don’t know how you’ve been coping this week. What does it say about you that you’ve coped well enough to find some good resources and ask me about it? What qualities do you have that have got you through this week?
I’ve got lots to say about this but I think the most important thing at the moment is for you to be with your body. If you are still vomiting and not able to keep anything down for a week, it might be time to see a doctor. Your doctor might be able to prescribe something, or give you some advice, which may help prevent the vomiting.
How to get some help now
If you don’t feel able to tell them about the sex bit, that’s okay, just tell them about the vomiting bit. If you can tell them about the sex bit, even better. A lot of people don’t feel like they can tell their doctor, or partner, about painful sex (I’ll go into that later) so it’s understandable if you can’t, but maybe you might be able to be brave. If you were able to speak to them about this, they might be able to help you. Possibly with a referral to a therapist, or someone else to talk to, who can help you to process the sex parts of your story, and help you to understand what’s happening. There may also be a sexual health service near you that you could contact. This is how to find sexual health services in the UK and what they do.
Asking for help
Is there someone in your life that you can talk to about this? You don’t have to go into detail with them, but is there anyone you can trust. Someone you know well and who knows you well. A person who can give you the support you actually want, rather than the support they think you should have. Someone who can help you get some medical help or advice for the vomiting.
If you do have someone like that, can you grab them and ask them for help. If that sounds difficult right now, breathe out, blink, focus on something in the room. Bring to mind a moment in your past when you’ve been able to ask someone for help (and they gave you help), no matter how big or small. What words did you use? Did you text it or say it out loud?
Once you’ve been able to get some help with what’s going on in your body then come back to the rest of this.
Is it normal?
I can’t tell you whether your reaction to this is normal. But I wonder what kinds of questions you could ask yourself that might help you to understand what is happening. Are you worried? Does this feel really unpleasant? Do you want this to go away? There’s a lot of ‘is this normal’ about sex and relationships but that’s a very complex and usually not a helpful question. Let’s keep it simple. You don’t like this feeling and you don’t want it to happen again.
So instead of ‘is this normal’ ask, ‘what kinds of things would I like to feel before, during, and after sex?’ What kinds of sensations, feelings, and thoughts might you experience from really good sex? If on a scale o 0 – 10 where 10 is the best sex you could ever have, and 0 was the opposite, what might you feel from a 10? Where would you like to be, realistically, on that scale? If sex was as good as a 6, what might that feel like?
It was consensual
You say it was consensual. It’s not for me to doubt that. Sadly our culture is a bit basic when we talk about sex and consent. So the only question that we seem to ask is ‘was it consensual: y / n?’ I think a good question here would be, how can we make things more consensual? What are the kinds of things that we might do before, during, and after anything we do to increase everyone’s freedoms and choices?
Let’s say that you are having a mate over to watch TV (please, not Friends), What are the kinds of things that you would do to make sure they were feeling okay? What kinds of questions might you ask about what you want to watch? How would you ask them? Would you offer them anything to make them more comfortable? During it, how would you notice if they were enjoying it? If you knew they weren’t enjoying it, what might that look like?What would they do with you? We do things to make things more consensual all the time. This is the kind of thing we should all be aiming for in sex.
Stress and sex
I’m not a doctor, so I am not going to diagnose you. However, the kinds of things you are describing in your body, and from the sex you were having, sounds like the kinds of things that people talk about when they are really stressed. So this stress is something that (if you have spoken to a healthcare provider) they may be helping you to treat now. If we’re stressed it’s hard to enjoy things. Especially sex.
As I’ve written about in my article about painful sex, and how to have sex, and how to have good first time sex, you’ll see that I talk about stress a lot. If we are stressed, even a little bit, then it has an affect on our bodies, particularly our genitals. A vagina in a stressed out body, doesn’t relax, doesn’t get wet, and doesn’t throb. When vaginas don’t do these things, then any kind of insertive sex (penis, or finger, or sex toy in vagina) can hurt. Sadly society does not tell women how to avoid painful first time sex, but to expect it.
Learning about our sexual bodies
This means that a lot of women experience pain the first time they have sex. (It upsets me how common this is because it’s caused by very bad sex education.) However, most of those women go on to have non-painful sex, and many of them go on to have super enjoyable vaginal sex. We learn by doing, reflecting on what happened, and doing differently.
This is something that, in the future, if and when you might be ready to have sex again, you could come back to. Have a look at all of the resources I have here about how to have more enjoyable sex. See if you can find someone you fancy who wants to make things more consensual, who can be slow, attentive, and kind. Until then, look after yourself first and take really good care of yourself. See if you can bring in a bit more consent into your everyday life, give yourself some more choices.
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© Justin Hancock, 2022
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Justin Hancock has been a trained sex and relationships educator since 1999. In that time he’s taught and given advice about sex and relationships with thousands of young people in person and millions online. He’s a member of the World Association for Sexual Health.