Academic journal article
By Higgins, Jenny A.; Trussell, James; Moore, Nelwyn B.; Davidson, J. Kenneth
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 47, No. 4
No sexual milestone carries as much cultural significance as virginity loss, which we define here as first vaginal intercourse. (1) The experience of first coitus is imbued with enormous personal and social meaning, representing an important rite of passage into sexual adulthood (Carpenter, 2005), as well as important connections to future sexual experiences and sexual health. First vaginal intercourse often symbolizes an important touchstone of adolescent development, one in which young people learn to engage in romantic or sexual relationships (O'Sullivan, Cheng, Harris, & Brooks-Gunn, 2007).
Both the sexuality and public health fields have devoted considerable attention to the timing, context, and sequelae of adolescents' heterosexual initiation (Buhi & Goodson, 2007; Michels, Kropp, Eyre, & Halpern-Felsher, 2005; Rosenthal et al., 2001; Skinner, Smith, Fenwick, Fyfe, & Hendriks, 2008). We have seen great interest in who's "doing it," when, whether contraceptives are used, and the other kinds of sexual behaviors and relationships to which "losing it" leads. Far less attention has been devoted to the degree to which young people actually gain satisfaction from their first intercourse experience, let alone the different dimensions of that satisfaction (e.g., physical, emotional, and relational). Yet, initial sexual experiences that are positive, satisfying, and healthy have the potential to lay an important foundation for young people's sexual and relationship development (Blank, 2007; Wight et al., 2008), and thus deserve scholarly attention.
The majority of the literature that does explore the subjective experience of first intercourse tends to highlight lack of positive affect, especially among young women (Weis, 1983). These studies reveal significant gender disparities in the enjoyment of first heterosex, focusing on women's less frequent reports of excitement and pleasure than men, combined with significantly greater reports of guilt, nervousness, tension, embarrassment, sadness, and fear (Darling, Davidson, & Passarello, 1992; Guggino & Ponzetti, 1997; Sprecher, Barbee, & Schwartz, 1995). In Sprecher et al.'s survey of 1,600 college students, on a pleasure scale that ranged from 1 (not at all) to 7 (a great deal), women rated first intercourse a 2.95 compared to men's 5.00. (2)
Few studies have explored satisfaction explicitly, focusing instead on phenomena such as pleasure or guilt (Moore & Davidson, 1997), degree of personal control (Skinner et al., 2008), or overall quality (Thompson, 1990). However, evidence suggests a similar gender asymmetry with satisfaction. Darling et al. (1992) found that only 28% of young college women reported both physiological and psychological satisfaction, compared with 81% and 67% of men, respectively. More than 15 years later, an update on the prevalence of satisfaction at first vaginal intercourse is needed.
Several reasons can help explain the gendered disparities we have just described. For example, women's access to sexual enjoyment and satisfaction, let alone desire, can be compromised at the onset by a sexual double standard that expects or even promotes young men's masturbation and (hetero)sexuality, but stigmatizes the same sexual behaviors in young women (Holland, Ramazanoglu, Sharpe, & Thomson, 1998; Tolman, 2002). Women's virginity holds a greater social value than men's, often both perceived and portrayed as a gift to give away to the right (male) partner (Carpenter, 2002, 2005); women may be disappointed by the actual experience after so much buildup is given to its importance and significance. Women are also much more likely than men to have a first intercourse experience that is unwanted or forced (Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994), which can drastically shape the overall affective experience. Finally, physiological differences between women and men, as well as greater cultural premium on men's orgasm and on vaginal intercourse in general (as opposed to the sexual activities, such as oral sex, that are more affiliated with women's orgasm), can also contribute to women's lesser sexual satisfaction. …