So, you've met the girl or guy of your dreams, and one of you got up the nerve to make it official. You go, girl! Now, there's just one problem: this new SO feels light-years ahead of you when it comes to experience, and your heart’s racing at the possibilities. What will this mismatch mean for your relationship? Will your partner be disappointed when they find out? Will sex be super awk? Halp.
Fear not, collegiette, we've got you covered. Whether you're a relationship newbie or a sexual novice, there's nothing to fear. Here's what you can expect upon entering your new relationship, straight from the lips of those who've been there, done that.
Be prepared for your partner to ask (potentially awkward) questions.
Whether we like it or not, inexperience can come with a stigma. Anyone who's gone through middle school has heard the word "prude" thrown around as a taunt, and unfortunately, some partners may make judgments based on your lack of relationships or sexual encounters.
If you've never been in a relationship before, don't assume your partner thinks something is wrong with you—if they did, why would they be dating you? They may, however, think you have unusually high standards, which could or could not be the case. If it is, comfort them by letting them know that your standards don't mean you're constantly waiting for them to mess up! And if that's not the reason behind your relationship virginity, stand up for yourself and let them know what's really going on. Whatever your reason, state it with confidence and make it clear that you aren't ashamed and shouldn't be shamed. A good match will validate your experience, whatever the reason behind it is—a lack of time to date, a subpar dating pool to choose from or just not feeling ready.
As for sexual inexperience, the same advice stands. Religion, upbringing, personal values or just a lack of opportunity can all contribute to holding off on sex (or even just first, second or third base). Be open and honest, and ask to be understood.
Rose*, a senior at Siena College, is confident that virginity is "a total social construct aimed to make men think that their penis is important enough to change who a woman fundamentally is." Preach, girl! But that didn't stop her from worrying about dating her much-older boyfriend Evan*. "Because Evan* had nearly double the life experience I had, I was afraid that me being sexually inexperienced would be a huge turn off for him and send him running. Conversely, if he was too turned on by my being a virgin, I thought that would be a red flag for me because of my awareness of the misogynistic concept of 'deflowering' women." But lo and behold, "what really happened was neither of those things," she says."The truth is, if your SO isn't willing to handle your sexual inexperience delicately and respectfully, they are probably not the right SO for you."
Relationships aren't a competitive sport.
Why keep score if there's no competition? When it comes to a mismatch in experience, comparing stats may do more harm than good. Think of it this way: bragging leads to bitterness, and comparison can cause feelings of inadequacy—two emotions no relationship needs. If your significant other demands a detailed description of your past, they probably aren't the one. And if they take to comparing you to past conquests, they definitely aren't the one—yuck.
"When I first started dating my SO, I felt self-conscious about being the less experienced one in the relationship," says Rachel*, a sophomore at Indiana University. "However, I quickly learned that if the person is right for you, they won't care about your number, how much experience you've had in the past, or anything like that." But for her, putting everything on the table from the get-go was a relief. "While a lot of couples are afraid to talk about sex and experience at the beginning, I [find] it better to just get those conversations out of the way [so that] everyone is on the same page—it makes things so much easier in the long term, and you'll have a much stronger foundation to build off of." The take-away? Don't make it a game of who's done what with who, and never feel a need to dish out your number unless you’re comfortable—you do you, girl.
Relationships are a give and take.
The good news about being less experienced? You can give up the sexual reigns until you feel confident enough to take charge.
"When I got involved with my first college hookup, I immediately knew that he had more experience," says Ana*, a junior at Vassar College. "Honestly, it made the experience weirdly thrilling, and never once was I expected to lead, which, as a (lazy) girl trying to learn the ropes, didn't bother me in the slightest."
That being said, not everyone enjoys playing the passive role, and who can blame them? If you're feeling overpowered by your partner's extra experience, speak up. In most cases, the extra effort on their end is probably out of courtesy, and chances are they'll be more than willing to step back and let you give it a go. If not, you may need to reevaluate the relationship. Unless an unequal power dynamic is what you've consented to, a dominating partner personality could be a warning sign of disrespect.
Feeling uneasy about your uneven histories is normal.
Feeling awkward at the start of a new relationship is completely normal, no matter the circumstances. Throw in the nerves associated with being inexperienced, and stomach butterflies are basically a given. "My first boyfriend was much more experienced than me, and it caused a bunch of mixed feelings," says Hannah*, a sophomore at the University of Alabama. "I couldn't help but think about his past relationships and how I measured up," she says, and she's not alone. But it's perfectly okay to be open about these emotions with your SO. Holding tension in can lead to misunderstandings later on, so airing out concerns immediately may improve the prospects of your relationship.
It's also okay to not want to hear about every single detail of your partner's previous sex or love life—when you're really digging someone, you probably don't want to imagine their hand holding someone else's! Again, it's important to let your partner know if a conversation about their past is making you feel uncomfortable. Just explain to them why, and ask if they would mind cutting back on similar conversations in the future.
Okay, okay, but what about nerves in the bedroom? Chill out, girl! As it turns out, almost everyone has an awkward sex story to share, whether they were a newbie at the time or not. Sex in itself is an awkward process, and nothing like the movies (trust us). If you make a mistake (or just don't know what to do), let out a giggle and ask for help or try again—we promise, it's cute. If your SO laughs with you, they're adorbs. If they laugh at you, send them out the door!
But bite jealously in the butt before it consumes you.
Being butterfly-filled with new-relationship nerves is one thing. But if a healthy discussion of your partner's past stirs up a strong sense of jealousy or judgment, you might need to reevaluate how you're approaching the relationship. A new partner can't reverse the relationship decisions they made in the past, and honestly, they shouldn't feel the need to. Chances are, they aren't too happy about their exes either—otherwise, they wouldn't be exes! And even if things with previous hook-ups or dates ended amicably, they're with you now, which is all that matters. You should never judge your partner's experience, just as you expect them to not judge your lack of experience.
"As for jealousy, you have to come to terms with the fact that you can't control your SO's past relationships and know that each of your past experiences has brought you to the point where you are together," says Rachel*. "With acceptance, communication, and an open mind, it's pretty easy to overcome any jealous or uneasy feelings you may have about being the less experienced one in the relationship."
Setting boundaries is a must for a healthy love and sex life.
Humans learn from experience, so an SO might unintentionally make generalizations about all relationships based on their specific experiences in past relationships. Who can blame them? These expectations can exist in all aspects of a relationship, sexual or otherwise. Let's say Sarah and Sasha are dating, and Sasha's old girlfriend was a huge proponent of hanging out together all the time. Sasha may expect Sarah to be just as social, while Sarah may require more personal space than Sasha's ex. Is their relationship destined to fail? As if. Expectations aren't synonymous with wants, and any experienced SO is going to have to adapt to different types of partners—that's what dating is all about. Laying out what each party needs in an SO from the onset is a surefire way to set boundaries, but we understand that serious talks aren't always practical in new or un-defined relationships. In that case, just drop (clear) hints as you go along—don't expect to be dating a mind-reader!
Sexual boundaries are immensely important. For a happy and healthy sex life, both parties should always be consenting and never pressured into anything they're uncomfortable with. There's no need to feel guilty about saying no to sex (or oral, or even excessive cuddling) if you aren't feeling into it, and don't let your partner convince you otherwise. If they're mean to you about "missing out," they can go back to their ex! Of course, going back to the give-and-take, validate how your partner's feeling and work on coming to an un-coerced compromise.
Still not convinced? Take it from Carly*, a junior at the University of New Haven. "I've been open with [my boyfriend] from the start about everything. He's my first boyfriend, and [the] first guy I've done anything with, so I told him that I wanted to take it slow, and he's done just that." Knowing that he'll never push boundaries or ignore her set pace makes Carly* incredibly comfortable, which is something every collegiette should strive for.
But having experience isn't a must.
Your new relationship is about you and your partner, and no amount of previous experience can automatically generate chemistry between you two! So all in all, don't sweat it if you're feeling inexperienced. There's nothing more rewarding than learning together in a relationship, and as long as neither of you get muddled up in the past, it probably won't have any effect on your success at all!
Diana,* a sophomore at the University of Michigan, was more experienced than her boyfriend when they started hooking up. "When we started sleeping together, neither of us knew about the other's ‘number’ and it was fabulous sex," she says, adding that she "would've never known his lack of experience" if he hadn't opened up about it. To her, it was a revelation. "It shocked me more than anything only because I'd had the idea you had to ‘work’ to become that good."
New relationships are tricky territory, regardless of the circumstances. So hold your head high, and flaunt your experience (or lack-thereof) with pride. Being inexperienced is a-okay, and besides, you have more important things to worry about (like where to go for your next adorable date).
*Names have been changed.