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Vaginal sex

Vaginal sex is a type of sex where a penis is inserted into a vagina. It is a type of sex that can lead to pregnancy if you don’t use contraception.  

What is vaginal sex?

Many types of sex involve the vagina, such as penetration using fingers or a sex toy, but the term “vaginal sex” most often refers to sex where a penis is inserted into a vagina. It is also known as vaginal penetrative sex, vaginal intercourse and penis-in-vagina sex. 

While many people enjoy vaginal sex, not everyone chooses to have vaginal sex as part of their sex life. Either is totally fine and normal, and there are many ways to have sex other than vaginal sex.  

If you haven’t had vaginal sex before and are thinking of trying it, you can read our page on having sex for the first time.

Sex and consent

It’s important that you and your partner feel comfortable and don’t feel pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do. If you feel uncomfortable at any point beforehand, or during sex, you can change your mind and stop. More about consent

Staying safe

If sperm comes into contact with the vagina, vaginal sex can lead to pregnancy. There is also a risk of STIs as bodily fluids and your pubic areas come into contact with each other. 

If you don’t want to become pregnant, it’s important to use contraception- there are 15 different methods available on the NHS.

Remember, condoms are the only type of contraception which also protect against STIs and they can be used in addition to many contraceptive methods.

Condoms are widely available and affordable. You can buy them in shops. supermarkets, vending machines and pharmacies, even if you are under 16. You can also get condoms for free.

I’ve had sex without a condom or contraception, what do I do?

If it was within the last five days, you can use  emergency contraception to prevent a pregnancy. There are two types of emergency contraception, the emergency contraceptive pill (morning after pill) or the emergency copper coil (IUD). You should also get tested for STIs.

Our Risk of Pregnancy calculator can help you work out your options.

Vaginal sex and pleasure

While lots of people with vaginas enjoy vaginal sex, many don’t  orgasm through vaginal sex alone, and you may find that some kind of stimulation of the clitoris is also needed to reach orgasm. This could be from rubbing the clitoris with your fingers or a vibrator, oral sex, or the ‘position’ you choose when having sex. The clitoris is also a lot bigger than just the part you can see from the outside, so often the feeling of general pressure in the vagina can stimulate the clitoris as well.  

You may have heard of the ‘G-spot’ which is inside the vagina and is another area which when rubbed can be pleasurable for some people. 

The penis is made up of tissue and nerves, and sexual sensation is mostly felt because of the nerves sending signals to the rest of the body. During vaginal sex, the movement provides stimulation to the penis and many people with penises find that they reach orgasm through vaginal sex, although this doesn’t always happen. 

Let go of the script

Expectations of sex often centre around a certain order of activities, and often around penetrative sex. However, there are so many different ways to have sex, and you will only find out what things you enjoy by trying them!   

Another part of the ‘script’ of sex can be the expectation to have an orgasm. Orgasms are fun, but if that is your only aim it can take the fun out of sex. Also, putting pressure on yourself or your partner to have an orgasm can actually make it harder to do, and can encourage performance anxiety rather than enjoyment.   

Our advice is to let go of any ‘scripts’ about how sex should be and go with the flow! Taking the pressure off certain activities and being flexible with your expectations can help you relax and enjoy being intimate with someone. 

How to have vaginal sex

As with any type of sex, to enjoy vaginal sex, both partners need to be turned on. Everyone enjoys different things, but this could include cuddling, kissing and stroking each other’s erogenous zones. As you become more aroused your body will relax and you may feel more sensitive to touch.  

What are erogenous zones?

An erogenous zone is an area of your body which is very sensitive, and can produce a sexual response when it is touched. An important part of discovering your sexuality is learning which parts of your body feel good to be touched.  
Common examples of erogenous zones for people with penises include the penis, scrotum, anus, prostate and nipples. Common examples of erogenous zones for people with vulvas include the vulva, vagina, anus and nipples. They can also include, but are not limited to, other areas of your body such as your neck, ears, back, hips and thighs. 

Explore on your own

If you’re unsure of what to expect from vaginal sex, or want to work out what to ask for, you could start by figuring out what feels good to you. 

Masturbation is one of the best ways of getting to know your body and what you want from sex and exploring your own body and learning what feels good is a great stepping stone to having good sex with someone else, because you can tell them what you like or don’t like. 

More about masturbation

Pain during vaginal sex

Vaginal sex can feel really good and, as long as you take your time and go gently, it shouldn’t be painful or uncomfortable (though it might feel a bit strange to start with – it’s a new experience).  

If you find that vaginal sex is painful

This can be caused by not being turned on enough – your mind might be but sometimes our bodies can take a bit longer to respond. Spending more time “warming up” to penetrative sex can help.

Using a water-based lube can help with penetrative sex by adding to the natural fluids produced by the vagina and making things more slippery and comfortable. There are different types of lubricant available and you can get these from some sexual health services, pharmacies and supermarkets in the same section where you would usually find condoms. Remember: if you are using condoms you should use a water-based or silicone-based lube, as oil-based lubes and lotions can damage condoms. You also shouldn’t use anything on your vagina or vulva which isn’t designed to be used there, as substances with lots of chemicals or scents can cause yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).  

Other causes of painful sex can include; not being fully aroused, allergies to spermicides or latex condoms (latex-free condoms are available), sexually transmitted infections (STIs), infections such as thrush, and other skin conditions or pelvic issues. If you are worried about anything you should speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible. This could be a Brook service, another sexual health service or your GP.  

Get help

Healthcare professionals are used to supporting people with looking after all parts of their bodies. Whilst it can feel awkward or embarrassing seeking help for pain or concerns with your vagina, vulva, penis or testicles, it’s really important that you don’t avoid speaking to someone if something is wrong. 

Healthcare professional are there to help, not to judge, and chances are it’s something they will have seen lots of times before. 

Find your nearest sexual health clinic
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