From puberty to menopause, women experience a lot of “firsts” when it comes to our bodies and reproductive health. For a lot of us, these moments — whether it’s our first period or our first time getting pregnant — can be surprising, confusing, and downright overwhelming. One of the best things we can do to prepare ourselves and each other is to talk: about what we know, and what we don’t know when it comes to our first time experiencing a new stage of our reproductive journey.

To help kickstart the conversation, LOLA recently surveyed our community about their first time having sex. Unsurprisingly, over half of respondents said they felt unprepared for their first sexual experience. But when asked what advice they would give their younger selves about having sex for the first time, your responses were diverse, wise, and touchingly vulnerable. 

Here is what you had to say.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self about sex?

“Sex is messy and awkward, and having an orgasm is so much more complicated than books and movies make it seem. And that’s ok!” — Sadie, 26

“Pick someone who sincerely cares about you. Trust your intuition, especially when it tells you the other person is not being honest.” — Stephanie, 45

“It doesn’t have to be with someone you care about every time, but you’ll feel better when it is. And slow down, just because other people are having sex doesn’t mean you need to right now.” — Caitlin, 31

“I’d tell myself to wait just a little longer. It’s really better to be with someone who deserves it. You will shortly meet someone who will find you sexy in oversized PJ’s and messy hair, or a nice dress.” — Kaleigh, 24

“ALWAYS use a condom. Yes, really.” — Paige, 35

“Ask for what you need during sex. Be assertive. If the guy finishes first, don’t say ‘it’s okay’ if you haven’t had an orgasm yet. Worry less about what you look like while you’re having sex. Don’t assume a guy won’t have sex with you just because you’re on your period.” — Hannah, 33

“It’s a big deal. It will not feel good. Wait until you’re a little older and educated, and don’t have your first time with Rhett!! He’s a brute.” — Erica, 40

“Oh boy. The religion I was raised in formed a lot of negative thoughts for me. I would tell myself that it’s okay to want sex, and to lighten up about it.” — Tracie, 33

“Waiting doesn’t make you weak or “uncool.” Sex is confusing and emotionally charged most of the time, so waiting will you help you be able to sort through those feelings much easier.” — Adrienne, 31

“Penetrative sex isn’t as terrifying as you think! I always thought it would be so painful, and that I would bleed, and it would be wildly dramatic. My partner was very patient and took it slow. It was not at all like I had built it up to be.” — Dani, 26

“Don’t worry about society’s pressure telling you to have sex in high school. If you don’t want to or don’t feel ready — or even if you want to and are ready but don’t have anyone to share that with — it’s okay. Everyone experiences things on their own time.” — Hannah, 21

“Don’t worry about shaving everything down there. The hair is there for a reason, and if someone wants to have sex with you they can deal with pubic hair. It’s also perfectly okay to ask your partners to get tested.” — Sage, 23

“Open communication and proper education makes such a huge difference! Most importantly, I accredit a lot of my sexual education to LOLA. I feel so much more comfortable with myself, and with talking about sex. I have such a great appreciation for the resources LOLA provides to women. I would tell my younger self to follow LOLA sooner!” — Emily, 18

“Take more time to explore yourself and find out what you actually like so that you can teach someone how to treat your body. Less guesswork for your partner.” — Calystra, 29

“Intimacy with someone is special and sacred, and it’s best to do for the first time with someone you trust. It’s something everyone needs as they mature and it doesn’t have to be as mystical and taboo as it’s often made out to be.” — Jenny, 37

What advice would you give your younger self about having sex for the first time? Tell us in the comments. 

Liz Mead is a writer and content strategist living in Brooklyn. She's passionate about technology and sustainability. For more of her work visit www.mizlead.com.