RESEARCH DEEP DIVE: How does a couple’s FIRST TIME affect her LIBIDO?

by | Oct 5, 2022 | Libido, Making Sex Feel Good | 26 comments

How does a woman's first time having sex affect her libido? New research is out and it's very telling. Read more!
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What if women don’t naturally want sex less than men do? 

Rebecca here again on the blog with another study for you! Researchers from the University of Toronto have come out with really interesting research about what impacts women’s enjoyment of sex. 

Note from Rebecca: survivors of rape may find this post difficult, as it discusses the effects of your first time having sex on your later sex life. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that this choice was taken away from you, and that the way it happened was so completely against what you deserved or should have had. 

For so long, culture has just accepted the fact that men tend to want sex more than women and women just don’t tend to have as high libidos as men. But research hasn’t really put a lot of energy into asking “why,” so Peragine et al. set out to ask that question. (And you can read a plain-English article where the head researcher was interviewed here.)

What they wanted to find out is whether or not libido is an innate drive that women simply feel less, or if libido is more a learned experience. What was the impact of the way sex felt during your “first time”?

What these researchers found is that women who had an orgasm the first time they had sex showed NO DIFFERENCE in libido compared to men. 

They were just as likely to have a high libido as men were. It was only when a woman’s first time having sex did not result in an orgasm that her chances of a low libido increased. 

[The study] found that women only differed from men in their desire for partnered sex if their first experience of sex wasn’t an enjoyable one – that is, if their “first time” was lacking in orgasm. 

“Women compared to men were half as likely to report being satisfied at first intercourse, and about eight times less likely to have an orgasm,” Peragine says, adding that women who had an orgasm the first time they had sex were more interested in partnered sex, and their current levels of desire for it were equal to men’s.

She says this suggests that, if first experiences are powerful lessons, first intercourse is no exception.

Kristy Strauss, article here.

Let that sink in: if a woman has an orgasm, there is NO DIFFERENCE in likelihood for desire for partnered sex. 

The research in monday’s post and today’s post work together to help us get a better picture of what goes into developing a woman’s libido. 

And it seems equality really is the answer. Equality of pleasure from the get-go teaches women that they matter, that sex is enjoyable, and that it’s for them, too, and so their brains put energy towards fostering sexual desire. 

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Now, from what I can tell,many of the participants for this study were students at the university, so I would love to see a study that took this stuff into consideration with long-term relationships.

I’d love to see how this study and the one we talked about on Monday intersect. To me, it makes sense that orgasm on first time sets a couple up for an easier road libido-wise–they’re more likely to have matched ones, low libido isn’t a struggle, because her pleasure is a priority. But then if inequality creeps in in other areas over the years, like with mental load or emotional labour, even if sex feels really good and she’s always had a good time, she just begins to want less of it over the years anyway because inequality is a major libido killer.

So what do we do with this new information? 

Now, from what I can tell,many of the participants for this study were students at the university, so I would love to see a study that took this stuff into consideration with long-term relationships. I’d love to see how this study and the one we talked about on Monday intersect. To me, it makes sense that orgasm on first time sets a couple up for an easier road libido-wise–they’re more likely to have matched ones, low libido isn’t a struggle, because her pleasure is a priority. But then if inequality creeps in in other areas over the years, like with mental load or emotional labour, even if sex feels really good and she’s always had a good time, she just begins to want less of it over the years anyway because inequality is a major libido killer.

Just like we did on Monday, let’s go through a few steps to take now that we know this data. 

First, to the men–recognize that research really is showing that in multiple ways, you do create the sex life you have. 

Obviously many men had no influence over how their wife’s first time having sex went, so I’m not talking to those men. But to those who did have the chance to make it good and who didn’t–I do think there’s cause for apologies. Even if unintentional, she deserved better for her first time, and now you can work on giving her your best and your all today!

I recognize that often things go wrong because of ignorance rather than selfishness, but it still has an impact. 

Now, the answer isn’t to throw in the towel or feel like everything’s ruined–not at all! The answer is to start today to re-build from the ground up and recognize that even if it’s never as “easy” as it could have been, you have the chance to truly love your wife as you love your own body. Take that opportunity! Starting today, become the partner you wish you could have been from day one, and replace resentment about sex with service!

Second, recognize that if you had a bad first time, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have an awesome sex life now. 

Like we’ve been discussing this week, female libido is very susceptible to the environment. So don’t take this as a “once-and-for-all” proclamation of how your libido is likely to be–it is very possible to boost your libido, and you can reawaken desire. Absolutely! 

What this research shows is that we need to equip couples before they have sex with the information they need so that, frankly, more couples can have an easier go at it. But if you’re in a position where things are mismatched and sex hasn’t always been pleasurable for you, there’s no reason you can’t revitalize your sex life! 

Third, we need to change how we talk about sex. 

This may seem like an obvious one, but reading through this all I could think of was the stories of women frustrated when they got married after waiting their entire life to have sex and then–blah. It just didn’t feel good. And then they were frustrated because they didn’t want sex, and he did, and it started fights, and wasn’t marriage supposed to be easy? Wasn’t sex supposed to be fun? 

I believe this problem starts very, very young. In the church in particular, we teach boys to have quite a bit of entitlement over women’s bodies (e.g., the modesty message that tells girls to cover up rather than telling boys to not stare, even when girls are wearing things that are genuinely culturally appropriate). Then we tell the couple you can’t have sex until the wedding night, but we don’t tell them you don’t HAVE to have sex on the wedding night–you can wait until you’re not exhausted! And then so many women have sex even when fully not aroused the first time because she feels, “Well it would be unfair to say no, he’s waited so long.” 

That’s not exactly a recipe for an orgasm. 

Is it any wonder that so many Christian wives’ first times having sex, even when it’s with a wonderful guy they love very much, are incredibly one-sided? Our teachings MUST change.

How does a woman's first time having sex affect her libido? New research is out and it's very telling. Read more!

What do you think of this new research? Let me know in the comments below!

Rebecca Lindenbach

Author at Bare Marriage

Rebecca Lindenbach is a psychology graduate, Sheila’s daughter, co-author of The Great Sex Rescue, and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. Working alongside her husband Connor, she develops websites focusing on building Jesus-centered marriages and families. Living the work-from-home dream, they take turns bouncing their toddler son and baby daughter, and appeasing their curmudgeonly blind rescue Yorkshire terrier, Winston. ENTJ, 9w8

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  1. Stefanie

    This article is illuminating, for sure. I guess I’m glad I live in the time and place I do when research is being done to answer these questions and make progress. This is certainly important and exciting news for lots of people.

    Thanks, Rebecca, for your contributions to make the world a better place for Christian wives. I hope this information makes it into the hands of all the Christian sex educators out there.

    For me, it’s a little late. It’s taking a lot of time, money and therapy to repair the trauma that was inflicted on my marriage by toxic Christian sex teachings. It’s been over a year of trying to fix the mess, and I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. I feel bad for my kids because they are growing up in a dysfunctional family, and they’re going to need therapy themselves. Thanks Eggerich, et. al.!

  2. Angela

    Reminds me of how the insatiability of wives was a common joke in the Middle Ages, but the Victorians changed it to the Angel of the House who is too pure to want sex (if it wasn’t already changing before.) This is one of those studies that is incredibly common sense. First impressions are important in many areas, so undoubtedly in sex.

  3. Stefanie

    “The answer is to start today to re-build from the ground up”

    Some couples are not starting to rebuild “from the ground up.” Some couples are 6 feet underground trying to get to ground zero before they can start to make progress into positive territory.

    I really hope men can hear this message, that they have the sex life they’ve built. I can see some husbands getting defensive because their self worth as men is partially resting on their self image of sexual prowess. I think it may hit on male insecurities.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      So true!

  4. Blue

    This message is great but I’m not sure the research shows the arrow of causality pointing the way this article suggests. It could just be that women who orgasm the first time are women who orgasm easily in general for some hormonal/physiological reason that also gives them a higher sex drive. Not sure this indicates a casual effect from orgasm the first time—->desires sex more later.

    • Stefanie

      I think the common wisdom is that men have higher sex drives because they have more testosterone. Do women with higher sex drives have higher testosterone? Did the researchers examine that?

      I think the Gregoire/Lindenbach/Sawatsky’s own research also corroborates this theory, because if you compared couples who only had one sexual partner, and compared those who had sex before the wedding and those who waited for the wedding night, I think it showed those who had sex before, the women were more likely to orgasm and I think the results impacted the rest of the marriage. So, I think there may be something to this “first experience determines libido” idea.

      Do I think you are doomed for failure if the first time was not good? No, but maybe the point is that lived experience affects libido.

      • Rebecca Lindenbach

        What our research found was that among Christian couples who only ever had sex with each other, if the first time they had sex was after they were married, their risk of vaginismus went up considerably. In other words, those who had sex before they were married were less likely to have vaginismus in their marriages. When we took that finding and went through our focus group data and our survey data and looked at what made women with vaginismus different from women who did not experience vaginismus, a big trend was how they felt the first time they had sex. Almost every single woman we talked with who had vaginismus and had sex for the first time after the wedding had sex for the first time while unaroused. In essence, “time’s up”–you got to put out because he’s waited this long! So a woman who has been waiting, looking forward to sex, and excited for sex, then has an arbitrary deadline placed on it–and she forces herself to have sex before she’s aroused. Which leads to a lack of orgasm and, worse, pain. Thus, vaginismus rates going up.

        Whereas people who have sex before the wedding who are Christians are statistically speaking, likely to be trying to wait until after they tie the knot! So why would a couple who is waiting for sex actually have sex? Often it’s because they are really aroused and can’t stop themselves. That level of arousal is more likely to lead to enjoyable sex for her, so less vaginismus. So we didn’t outright measure whether or not a couple orgasmed the first time, that is our theory based on our data and our focus groups data. 🙂 But we think it makes sense, and it is in line with what other research on determinants of orgasm and sexual pain disorders have found, as well!

        So what’s the solution to all of this? I think it’s proper sexual education that includes the arousal cycle, and to tell couples that the wedding night is not a deadline. Don’t just wait until you’re married–wait until you’re married and aroused! I think if we stop seeing sex as an “event” and more as a relationship, where you’re exploring and discovering each other and truly connecting in an intimate way, we’ll also have fewer wedding nights where it’s a quick encounter with very little foreplay that leaves her frustrated and confused. Not a great start, and it’s not surprising that it can have ramifications long-term.

        And I love your last sentence, absolutely. Doomed? Of course not! But it does change things.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I understand what you’re saying, but they also found that previous masturbation habits did not predict later libido in relationships. So that means that girls with very high felt sex-drives who masturbated but who did not orgasm during first intercourse were included in that reduced likelihood of having a partnered libido (i.e., being in a relationship and wanting sex far less than their partner did). So it’s not that they don’t have a high sex drive, it’s that they don’t feel a draw towards sex with their partner. I’d take a closer look at the links provided, because they discuss all of this and it’s really fascinating!!

      • elf

        The study asks about first intercourse – did it ask about a first partnered sexual experience that did not involve intercourse but did result in orgasm? That seems worthy of investigation, given it’s one of the take home messages from the Good Girl’s / Good Guy’s guides about the first time/s.

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          They seem to waffle between “sexual debut” and “first intercourse” so I can’t be 100% sure, but I’d LOVE to know that, too! I know that other studies have found that manual and oral stimulation are far more accessible to women in terms of orgasm, and it makes sense to try it on “easy mode” first before having intercourse, but I’d love to see if they asked about if couples had engaged in other forms of sex before intercourse, if orgasm was present then, and how that affected her libido down the line!

  5. Natalie

    This is probably a chicken/egg thing, but I’d imagine that how the first time goes indicates a lot about what the couple thinks about sex and how comfortable they are with their own sexualities. A couple (woman especially) that is comfortable with their sexuality and is sex positive will of course have spent time preparing themselves physically and mentally/emotionally for the sexual encounter, thus increasing their arousal in the moment, thus improving their odds of her cumming too.

    This overall tone of the sexual side of their relationship is what would carry on into future months/years, effecting her rates of orgasm as the years go on.

    Do I think the first time is a make or break moment for her libido and ability to orgasm over the years? No. But do I think that how the first time goes tells a lot about the quality of the relationship and the likelihood that she’s at a place emotionally and mentally and physically where she’d be able to orgasm and continue having an interest in sex as the years go on? Yes!!

    • Stefanie

      I don’t think the study looked at couples in long term relationships. It looked at college students. So there might have been students in committed relationships and also students whose first time sexual encounter was a hook up. And considering that many of the students lost their virginity in high school, many of the participants in the study probably were not currently sexually active with their first partner. So I don’t know if you can say that this study says anything about the health of the relationships affecting libido.

      • Natalie

        That’s the problem with a lot of relationship and sex data we have. Much of it comes from college students. Married Christian couples who’ve been married for years & may have been each other’s only sexual partner simply have a very different life experience and type of relationship than your average, secular college student today.

      • Elf

        You’re right, it didn’t look at long term relationships per se. Here’s the inclusion criteria from the full text:

        “Participants were 563 women and 275 men recruited from
        undergraduate research pools at three Canadian universities,
        and online advertisements targeting Canadian residents.

        Inclusion criteria were: English competency, emerging adult
        age (18 to 25 years); previous sexual experience (dyadic and
        solitary); no childhood (before age 10), non-consensual, or
        “non-preferred” (same-gender) coital debut experience; no
        missing data on variables of interest; and, to achieve a more
        uniform interpretation of dyadic sexual desire, current involvement in an exclusive dating relationship for at least two
        months. “

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yes I think that research like this does an excellent job of showing especially men why it’s so important they slow down, consider their partner, and make sure that they start off well rather than just plowing ahead as soon as thye’re “allowed” to!

  6. Stefanie

    I had always heard that the reason men had a higher sex drive was because of testosterone. But this study would question that idea.

  7. Kylie

    If you flip it around and say “women who have a high sex drive orgasm the first time they have sex with a partner”, you can imagine that’s because they have learned to orgasm reliably on their own. Whether or not masturbation during puberty pushes the sex drive higher, it will be an effect of a higher sex drive. Especially in non-Christians who don’t shame around it,

    So high sex drive + masturbation (whichever causes which) lead to an easier orgasm with a partner.

    I suspect the high sex drive comes first, not the first sexual experience.

    Not saying the first experience couldn’t tank a higher sex drive if it was a violation or a bad experience.

    It is fascinating that women can be so equal to men in drive though.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Actually, previous masturbation did not increase rates of dyadic desire, or felt libido in relationship, according to the study.

      So whether or not a woman had a high sex drive for masturbatory activities, if she did not orgasm her risk of low libido went up.

      The researchers did ask this exact question that you’re bringing up, if you read the links I included in the post! It’s really interesting, it really does seem that it’s about orgasm at first intercourse rather than just ability to orgasm period.

      And it is fascinating, isn’t it?

  8. Jo R

    Can any man really understand what PIV is like for so very many women, especially Christian women?

    First, a woman can have PIV without being aroused. A man cannot, by definition.

    Second, very few men experience pain during PIV. How can a man even begin to understand? Imagine that at the end of every thrust, a pin or nail pokes the tip of his penis, or that that sharp tip rakes down the side of his penis with every thrust. Or that he’s kicked in the testicles with every thrust, both on the inward and outward stroke.

    Third, imagine the man has PIV without ever, EVER having an orgasm.

    Fourth, imagine the man being told ad infinitum and ad nauseum that he must have sex on his wife’s demand while experiencing the issues described above.

    Fifth, imagine that every time he tries to explain his difficulties to his wife, she trivializes them and declares that it’s all in his head. And that she tells him he’s in actual sin if he ever says no.

    Sixth, wash, rinse, and repeat for a decade or two.

    Does any of that help the guys understand where so many of us women are coming from?

    • Elf

      That’s the most honest and realistic description I’ve read. Thank you for putting words to it.

  9. Jane Eyre

    Makes perfect sense. A woman who has an orgasm the first time she has sex learns that sex is pleasurable to her.

    Most likely, she’s having sex with a man who makes her pleasure a priority. That is likely going to be reflected in later relationships – she will figure out pretty quickly if the guy is selfish in bed and kick him to the curb and probably be more attracted to giving lovers.

    In subsequent relationships, the man doesn’t have the cop-out excuse. He can’t say it’s her – she takes too long, she’s too hard to please, she should just be happy with pain – because it’s obviously not her. He can’t say that his other girlfriends orgasmed from him so it’s a her problem. Her response will be: I never had trouble except with you.

    And people want to do things that are enjoyable. We like eating food that has always tasted good. We like going to parks that are always fun. We like going to the ocean if the ocean is always fun and dislike it when the initial and subsequent experiences are bad.

  10. Kylie

    I find the idea that a woman need to orgasm the first time puts a huge amount of pressure on a couple that have never had sex. Our first time was a mess but we both had the attitude that sex was meant for mutual pleasure and that we would work it out. And it only took a few days to find a way to give me pleasure. I think the attutude of wanting sex to be pleasurable for both and working towards that is more important than putting all the importance on the first time.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Yeah, I worry about the pressure, too. My concern, though, is that if we’re going to be evidence-based about it, the first time DOES seem to matter. Couples should know that, so that they are fully informed. But I think we can approach it in a more encouraging way–rather than “she MUST have an orgasm or you are DOOOOOOMED” we can say, “Follow your body, do what feels good, and explore each other to find out what makes your partner feel great!” But I think that if we put too little emphasis on the first time couples are likely to keep doing what happens now–she doesn’t quite get there because the focus is on HIM having an orgasm, not HER, even though he’s far, FAR more likely to have an orgasm the first time they have sex (in fact, it’s so likely that we typically define sex by his orgasm!)

    • anonymous

      As Sheila said before, I think this is why we have to add the message that sex doesn’t have to happen on the wedding night. There is already a lot of pressure as it is but if we can take the pressure off of that night being the culmination of everything we’ve waited for our whole lives and wait for the “right time” to be when it happens naturally (after marriage), many young couples would be in a much better place. After all didn’t many of us have to work really hard before getting married to “stay pure”? It seems as though natural desire for the person you deeply love would eventually take its course…maybe on the wedding night or maybe a few days/weeks later.

  11. somuchregret

    This whole article is very interesting. My wedding day/night story….We went back to our house after the wedding, and I was changing out if my wedding dress into something more comfortable. I had barely started to unbuttom my dress and my husband asked “can I?” I new exactly what he was asking and didn’t want to disappoint him, after all I wanted to be a good wife. About 3 minutes later it was over. He was so happy and I was left wondering why I had agreed to that. Later that evening once we checked into our hotel, again he wanted to be in the shower with me. I was the blushing, self-conscious bride and felt very awkward just jumping naked into the shower, (I had pictured things going much slower and differently) but he wouldn’t stop asking/coaxing, so finally I agreed, I wanted to be the good wife. Again he enjoyed himself, I did not. It was several days of this on our honeymoon until I finally was comfortable enough to orgasm during sex. This was not how I had envisioned things would go and it was very indicative of what was to come for us in the bedroom.

    We had been teens during the purity movement and had soaked in every word taught to us in youth group and church. We had exchanged our purity rings in our wedding ceremony and had anxiously waited for our wedding night. We had been given “The Act of Marriage” a month or so before our wedding so we would be prepared and I would know how to meet his needs as his wife.

    We’ve been married almost 20 years now….things have been very difficult for us in this area of our marriage. And now I am perfectly happy with very little or no sex. I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m done and I don’t care any more how much he wants it or needs it. Most days I just don’t want to be touched.

    Finding this website has been a little earth shaking for me…I thought this was just the way things were supposed to be but I am slowly learning there is a different perspective out there and that maybe, just maybe, things could change. I have such a long way to go and I find myself very angry after reading these posts. Angry I believed what I was told, angry at Christian culture for teaching this stuff, angry at the people I was told to repect and never question because questioning the Bible was heresy, angry at my husband for buying into all of this and treating me this way (even though I bought into it too).

  12. JoB

    I can’t read the whole article cited (and might not be smart enough to understand it if I could 😜), but can anyone comment on how the equality of desire was measured? Was it a self-reported “I desire partnered sex so many times per week?” Or a self-reported “I desire partnered sex more/less/equally compared to my current partner”? If the latter, did they poll the partners to see if their assessment of the desire equality or inequality agreed? Did they look into the age, sexual experience, sexual dysfunction (such as PE) or other factors of the partners, especially for those women who reported orgasm at first intercourse?

    My guess is that this outcome might be influenced by the fact that there are some (very lucky) women whose anatomy is such that they get clitoral stimulation from intercourse, and can therefore orgasm with PIV intercourse. It’s my understanding that such women are in the minority. If you are anatomically gifted in that way, your experience is more, though not exclusively, due to your own anatomy rather than your partner’s skill or caring. Honestly, call me cynical, but I can’t imagine that many high school or college age men are super skillful lovers.

    I’d compare it to having a natural gift for hitting home runs. If you hit a home run on your very first time playing with a baseball team, yes, you’re probably going to be eager to sign up for a team in the future and keep playing. But it seems this is mostly influenced by your own innate physiological talent, although your teammates, coach and the opposing team all have a role to play.

    It would be interesting to know more about the role a woman’s anatomy plays in enjoying intercourse, in her initial experience and in a long term relationship. Just out of curiosity, what % of married Christian women in the TLHV survey reported being able to orgasm through PIV intercourse?


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