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How to have vaginal sex

There are lots of different ways to have sex. Different people enjoy different things, and what you try out is up to you.   

For great, pleasurable sex, you and your partner need to talk about what feels good and what you both want. Talking about sex helps you make decisions together and is the best way to make sure you both feel comfortable and enjoy it!  

If you are having sex, it’s important to think about how you will prevent sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. There are different options for this including condoms, PrEP and different types of long-lasting contraception.   

What is vaginal sex?

During vaginal sex (also known as penetrative vaginal sex, sexual intercourse, coitus and just sex) the penis goes into the vagina.

How do you have vaginal sex?

There is no one right way of having vaginal sex. It can be a very gentle, intimate, passionate, adventurous  and many other things in between. You can try having sex however you and your partner would like to.

Finding out which kind of sex works best for you and your partner might take a few tries, so don’t worry if you’re unsure at first. 

Both partners should want and agree to vaginal sex. This is called sexual consent. It’s important that you keep talking to each other. Tell each other what feels good, what you like and don’t like so you can both have the best sex possible. If you are uncomfortable or want to stop, you can say so at any point.  

Before putting the penis in the vagina (also known as penetration), it’s important for both partners to be aroused through foreplay. This gets the vagina wet and the penis erect, making sex easier and more enjoyable for both partners.  

What is foreplay?

Foreplay can involve kissing, stroking, caressing, rubbing, touching or oral sex. It helps to get both people sexually aroused (turned on) and ready for penetrative vaginal sex. Foreplay should be enjoyable for both partners, so think and talk about what feels good for you both. Some people choose to stick to foreplay and not have penetrative sex.

How will I know I’m aroused?

You’ll know you’re getting aroused if your vagina begins to moisten or your penis becomes erect, getting bigger and harder. 

The more aroused you both are, the easier it will be for the penis to go into the vagina.  

When should I put on a condom?

Once you are both aroused and feeling ready to have penetrative sex, you can put an external(sometimes called a male) condom on. Either of you can put the condom on the penis. You can only put a condom on an erect penis, and it should go on before the penis touches or goes into the vagina. 

Remember, use a new condom every time you have sex and put on a new condom if you move from anal sex to vaginal sex – this helps to make sure you do not put bacteria into the vagina. 

If you are using an internal(sometimes called a female) condom it can be put in up to eight hours before sex.  

How do you get the penis into the vagina?

When you are ready, one of you can use your hand to gently guide the penis into the vagina. Take your time, and don’t worry if it takes time to get it in properly – especially when you are still getting to know each other’s bodies. 

Once the penis is inside, you can move your bodies so that the penis pushes into the vagina and then pulls partly out again. Do what comes naturally and feels good - take it slowly, be gentle and make sure you are both comfortable. After a while you might find certain movements, positions and ways of touching that lead to one or both of you having an orgasm. 

Remember: just because you started something doesn’t mean you have to continue. You or your partner can pause or stop at any time if you are not comfortable with what you are doing. 

Should I have vaginal sex?

Deciding whether to have sex is a very personal thing. You may think that everyone around you is having sex but that simply isn’t true. Some don’t enjoy it, others choose not to, and some decide to wait.  

It’s important that both people are enthusiastic about having sex and that no one feels pressured or forced into doing anything they don’t want to do. Talk to your partner and keep communicating to make sure you have their consent. If you and your partner are keen and relaxed, sex can be a very pleasurable experience for you both. But, if one of you feels pressured into doing something they are not excited about, and may not feel ready for, then something is going wrong.

The main things to consider are whether it feels right, and whether you and your partner are both sure.  

Am I ready for sex?

What is the best position for vaginal sex?

Different people enjoy different things and there are many possible options. One position that many people try is the ‘missionary position’, which involves the woman lying down, with the man lying or sitting on top. Alternatively, the woman can be on top, you can both lie on your sides or you can have vaginal sex from behind (where the woman’s back is turned towards the man). 

Choose a position you both feel comfortable with. As you get to know each other’s bodies better, you can experiment with different positions and work out what you both like.

Personal story: Refilwe

Personal story: Refilwe

We had been talking about taking this next step in our relationship for a long time

How can I maximise pleasure and make sure me and my partner orgasm during vaginal sex?

You might find that you need time and practice to get to know your body, along with your partner’s. This is totally normal, so don’t be alarmed if your first few sexual experiences aren’t as perfect as you imagined! There are a few things that can help make sure you’re both enjoying sex.  

  • Keep talking to each other – your partner may well appreciate hearing if something they’re doing is something you like, and likewise you should ask them how they’re enjoying what you’re doing. 
  • It’s not all about penetration – for many women, penetration is just one part of sexual pleasure – remember that gentle stimulation of other areas such as the clitoris can feel great! 
  • Consider condoms and lube – not only do these help you stay safe while enjoying sex, but they can help make sex feel even better! Lube helps penetration, and feels good. There are a variety of different condoms that add to the pleasure of sex.

An orgasm (coming or climaxing) happens when you are very aroused, tension builds up in your body, the sexual pressure is then released in a sudden pleasurable rush. For women the most sensitive part of their body is the clitoris, a small bump just above the opening to the vagina. It is full of nerve endings and very sensitive to touch. Many women need their clitoris to be stimulated to have an orgasm. You can try different positions for vaginal sex that allow you to move your bodies in a way that rubs the clitoris. Some people choose for them or their partner to touch the clitoris during penetrative sex to stimulate it.

For most men the action involved in thrusting the penis in the vagina stimulates the nerve endings in the penis and causes them to orgasm.

Don’t worry if you don’t have an orgasm straight away or even at all. It takes time to get to know what works for you and for your partner. Both men and women can enjoy vaginal sex even if it does not make them climax.

Do I need to protect myself from unplanned pregnancy, STIs and HIV during vaginal sex?

Using modern contraception methods to prevent pregnancy, and practicing safer sex to protect you and your partner from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), is always a good idea. Having vaginal sex without using a condom can put you and your partner at risk of an unplanned pregnancy and STIs including HIV

While there are many different types of contraception to prevent pregnancy, only condoms will also protect you and your partner from STIs including HIV. Remember that not all STIs have obvious symptoms, so either of you may have an STI and not know it. 

If one of you has HIV, is on medication and has an undetectableviral load, there is zero risk of passing on HIV during sex. If your partner has HIV but you don’t, you may want to consider taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV infection, but be aware that it only protects against HIV, not other STIs. 

If you are having sex, it’s a good idea to get tested for HIV and other STIs regularly. This will help keep you and any partner you have healthy.  

I’ve had unprotected vaginal sex – what now?

If you’ve got carried away in the moment, don’t worry – it happens. Try to find healthcare advice as soon as possible. You’ll be able to:  

You can also get advice on your options for preventing pregnancy and STIs in the future so you can make sure you are protected next time. 

How much do you know about sex?

How to have sex quiz

Let's talk about having vaginal sex!

Here are a few questions to help kick-off discussions on the issues you need to talk about! You can share them on social, on WhatsApp or just get talking.

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Looking for more detailed information?

How do I talk about safer sex with my partner?

Responsibility for preventing pregnancy and STIs should be shared between you and your partner, so it’s a good idea to talk to each other about protection before you are in the heat of the moment.  

If you’re nervous about talking with your partner, check out our tips for getting started.

Lead with the positives 

Sex is a delicate topic so be sensitive to your partner’s feelings and start by telling them what you enjoy, and then ease into what you’d like to try or change. 

This could sound like: “I really like it when we…, and wondered how you feel about trying…?” 

Listen in 

While you might have things on your mind, don’t forget that your partner might do too – so listen in and give them a chance to tell you what they’re thinking about sex.  

Keep talking 

If you’re having sex, it’s worth remembering that talking about sex is important and helps strengthen your relationship – your partner can’t read your mind, so speak up. 

If you find the idea of talking about safer sex with your partner is too difficult or embarrassing, it could be a sign that you aren’t ready to start having sex just yet.  

This is fine – remember that there are lots of ways to enjoy being together and to explore your sexual feelings. 

How to talk about condoms with your partner

Who else can I talk to about sexual health?

Being able to talk openly and honestly about sexual health is important. This can include talking about condoms, pregnancy, who you’re attracted to, and many other things to do with having or not having sex.

Though it might feel difficult at first, talking about sexual health and getting good advice from people you trust will help you take actions that keep you healthy, happy and in control of your life. Think about the people in your life – parents, other family members, older friends, teachers or healthcare workers. Who do you feel comfortable talking to about more sensitive issues? Whose advise do you trust? Finding the right person to talk to will mean you can get the support you need and won’t have to deal with the challenges of sex and relationships on your own.

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  • Last updated: 23 April 2024
  • Last full review: 01 December 2023
  • Next full review: 01 December 2026
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