I've Never Had Sex Before and I'm Worried About Hygiene
I have tried educating myself on what to expect... However, I just find no information regarding the hygiene logistics around having sex.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly yell at people to either stop dating someone or ask their crush out or to go through their grief. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A PERFECT ANGEL:
Some background is that, well, I am a 35 year old virgin. Straight, female. I only know Hollywood love scenes and whatever romance novels describe. I have tried educating myself on what to expect when it come to choosing a partner, and making sure you’re fully consenting, ready and comfortable, which is all well and clear. However, I just find no information regarding the hygiene logistics around having sex.
What are you supposed to do beforehand? Is one supposed to take a shower before and after? Should the room be aired afterwards, the sheets washed...or burned? And what if someone suggests less traditional things like anal sex, is one supposed to scrub extra to be ready to avoid a UTI (I don’t think this is in my interest, but I am curious)? Is one really supposed to pee after sex? But what if your bladder isn’t full, so does one drink a glass of water before? Should one play music to hide all the squelching (sorry, I’m a little immature!). And how long does sex last?
And when it comes to kissing, should I be popping mints all the time? I see people kissing all the time and just wonder about that...what if you spent the whole day working, running up and down...should you just go ahead a kiss someone without first brushing up? What if one is just...not fresh overall?!
Anyway, maybe I’m making a mountain of a molehill, but they’re nagging considerations. Every time I consider diving into dating, I crumble at not knowing this (no, I lie. I am actively ignoring the crippling fear of being naked). I wish I could be more sophisticated, but I just know I’ll be like a lump of fish (ugh, no pun intended) the first time...and I’d honestly, at least, like to be a clean one.
Everything you’re asking is perfectly normal to be worried about, or at least to wonder about. None of it is a big deal in practice, but it certainly can feel like a MASSIVE deal in theory.
The truth of the matter (sexual hygiene) is that there are individual preferences and gradations for what is “clean enough.” Some people are more sensitive to their body being immaculate than others. Please think of what I tell you below as guidelines, rather than rigid rules that everyone else has agreed upon without you. Ultimately, the sex you have is about and FOR you and your partner’s pleasure and nothing else. So whatever works for you both is good. That said, hygiene can be an incredibly uncomfortable thing to talk about, so I get why you’re asking the questions now!
Let’s go question by question:
What are you supposed to do beforehand? Is one supposed to take a shower before and after? If you have showered that day and haven’t worked up a sweat, you are, I’m virtually certain just fine. If it makes you feel more comfortable to shower before (or after), that’s ok, too. Women in particular have been made to feel like their body parts are dirty or smelly and they are not. If they are, that’s usually a sign of a (very normal, very treatable) health issue. Most bodies simply are bodies. They don’t smell like perfume naturally, but they also aren’t nasty. Mature adults who are having sex know this. If you want to put in extra effort to smell extra nice, lovely! Wear perfume or body spray if you feel like it. (PLEASE DONT SPRAY PERFUMES ANYWHERE NEAR YOUR VAGINA!!!!!) If you’re feeling really really anxious about how you smell or if you’re clean down there, you can bring a baby wipe with you on the date and use that. Don’t pick one with perfume or scent because that can mess up your vagina. Just a regular wipe. It’s not necessary, but it might make you feel better.
Should the room be aired afterwards, the sheets washed...or burned? Please do not burn your sheets haha. You should wash them afterward, but I would also argue that most people in long term relationships who have frequent sex are likely not washing their sheets literally every single time they have sex. Some sex is messy though—please note that that’s no big deal!!! And usually messy sex is good sex!!!—and it’s likely that you’ll have something make a mess of your sheets at one point or another (cum, lube, candle wax, food you bring into the bedroom. I don’t know your life!) Wash your sheets for sure then. [This is also all assuming that you’re washing your sheets regularly like a good adult human]. Airing out a room is nice afterward, but you don’t need to like jump up the minute sex is over and open windows.
And what if someone suggests less traditional things like anal sex, is one supposed to scrub extra to be ready to avoid a UTI (I don’t think this is in my interest, but I am curious)? You don’t need to be ready for anal sex or any other kind of sex that is out of your comfort zone the first time you have sex with a new partner. Anal sex in particular requires a lot of preparation, so you should definitely have had a conversation about it with clothes on before you actually have anal sex. (If you aren’t ready to talk about anal sex, you are likely not ready to have anal sex). If you do decide to have anal sex and you’ve talked with your partner about your expectations for how that will go you can look up a guide for how to prepare for it. Nota bene: If someone is sticking anything up a butthole, they should expect and be able to maturely handle the occasionally unclean consequences of that. That said, obviously do not let someone put anything in your butthole that they then put in your vagina.
Is one really supposed to pee after sex? Yep, it apparently helps prevent UTIs, however, please note that you shouldn’t be forcing yourself to pee after sex. (Note: it seems to help, but there isn’t an official study that confirms that peeing after sex is effective at UTI prevention). If you’re the type of person who is prone to UTIs, peeing post-sex is a good measure, but also just take D-Mannose.
But what if your bladder isn’t full, so does one drink a glass of water before? If your bladder isn’t full, that’s ok. Don’t force yourself. The sooner you pee after sex if you have to, the better, but you also don’t need to RUN to the bathroom. You have about a 30 minute window.
Should one play music to hide all the squelching (sorry, I’m a little immature!). That’s not immature at all. Sex definitely causes weird sounds sometimes. If playing music or having something on in the background helps you relax and be more in the moment, great! Music can be very helpful in setting the tone. It’s not a requirement at all, though.
And how long does sex last? As long as you’d like! I know that’s not a perfect answer but seriously… there’s no time frame for sex just like there’s no time frame for playing tennis at the park. Do it for as long as you’re having fun. You can stop when you’ve both come, you can keep going. You can have quick sex sometimes and very long sex other times. Usually vaginas need a good amount of foreplay to be ready for penetrative sex, so especially in the beginning you should make sure to include that. Once you’re turned on, though, it’s up to you two! Often orgasming doesn’t take as long as people think sex takes, especially with partners who know one another well. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have sex that is longer or shorter. The time is irrelevant.
And when it comes to kissing, should I be popping mints all the time? I see people kissing all the time and just wonder about that...what if you spent the whole day working, running up and down...should you just go ahead a kiss someone without first brushing up? Personally, I struggle with this one because I think bad breath is really gross. It’s not that I think it’s bad or makes a bad person— I hate my own bad breath. I brush my teeth a fair amount throughout the day because I hate bad breath. That said, you don’t need to pop mints constantly. If you have mints or gum on a date and you want to use them, great. But you don’t need to be eating them like candy. Your mouth is probably not that gross (unless you’re dehydrated, in which case, you might be getting bad breath faster). No one is expecting every single kiss to taste like mouthwash, they just want to kiss a person who doesn’t have awful breath.
What if one is just...not fresh overall?! You are. I promise you, you are. The very fact that you’re concerned about your hygiene suggests that you care about it. If you’re really really really worried still after this, ask a friend or family member, “Hey, do I ever smell bad to you?” and go from there. The answer is almost for sure going to be no.
There is some evidence that sexual arousal lowers human’s feelings of disgust, which is why often things that would normally gross us out become less of a big deal in bed. In general, most people kind of accept that sex can be gross and messy at times; it’s not always pristine and perfect.
The very best thing you can do is give yourself a break and laugh things off. It’s ok. It’s a human body. It’s normal. I swear. The more pressure and shame you put on yourself, the worse the sex you have is going to be for you. I know it’s easy to say “let go and have fun!” and much harder to actually do that, but please try your best to enjoy yourself rather than to guess at what some hypothetical partner might not like about you.
I strongly, strongly encourage you to not be a “lump of fish” when you have sex, and rather to try to actively participate. I know it feels scary, but it’s very normal and honestly, it’s not as big of a deal as it has been made out to be. It’s supposed to be fun and feel good FOR YOU!!! Not just for the other person!
You’ve got this!
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org